Cave 20Troll

Cave Troll

Oh, my gosh, Ron's right! The game's box really does say

"...a fast-paced dungeon-crawling board game of strategy, looting, and monster-bashing..."

Especially in the end-game, knowing what the score will be if the game ends is an obvious way to know if you should take the necessary step to trigger the end of the game. But figuring out the score is long and tedious. "Fast-paced?" No.

There is no 'looting.' All treasure/points are glued to the floor. You only score them by standing on top of them when a scoring event occurs, and the timing of those is effectively random.

Dungeon-crawl? No. Once the game gets going, the 'dungeon' becomes more crowded than the living room during a fraternity party, with hordes of adventurers hunkered down, going "mine! mine!" over the 'gold' glued to the floor of each room.

The random factor of the token flips is huge. There is no strategy, and only a modicum of tactics.

There is only the barest 'monster bashing.' Each player will control no more than three monsters. The Cave Troll is basically a bomb or cave-in. You drop it on a room to destroy the room's contents. Then it never moves again, and cannot be destroyed. The Wraith pushes adventurers around, and cannot be destroyed. Only the Orc can be killed, but only by the Knight, and each player only gets one of those. However, since Knights can't be killed except by dropping a Cave Troll on them, and even then, they'll escape most of the time, chances are pretty good that you'll get to kill an Orc with your Knight.

It is, however, a board game.

Other Problems

The game box rates it for 2-4. This is also wrong. Despite extensive rules rewrites, I don't see this game ever being good enough to be worth playing with one other person. Play something else instead.

The 4-person game (which I've simulated by myself, and Eric and I have simulated with 2 colors each) is much better. 3 would also probably be fine. However, "much better" doesn't mean "good."

The game is a typical Tom Jolly game. It's clever, but has great lumpy chunks of random factors. It seems like it ought to be a fun game, but often misses.

Cave Troll violates almost half of my Golden Guidelines of Game Design, to no good end. Which is very aggravating, because it's like a little kitten. It's so cute, I really *want* to like it.

Fixing The Game

Luck of the Draw is the predominant mechanism. In and of itself, this doesn't have to be bad. But a few of the tokens you draw and then put into play are vastly superior to the others, so if you don't draw one of the two, and the other player does, well, basically, you're screwed. You have 15 "adventurer" tokens, three monsters, and three 'other.' Of those fifteen adventurer tokens, ten are generic explorers. Then there's a Thief, a Dwarf, a Barbarian, and the Knight. The first three have modest enhancements. The Knight, however, is the only one that can kill a monster (the Orc), and also prevents opponents' adventurers and monsters from entering a room as if the room were already full.

The former power's especially critical, since the Orc can kill adventurers. Move it into a room, and take an action to discard one opponent token. If you get your Orc out when the other players don't have Knights, you can pretty quickly rip through their ranks, removing enough tokens from the board that they'll never recover. They'll start frantically flipping tokens on their turn trying to draw the Knight, increasing the chances they'll trigger a scoring event when they're in a poor position to take advantage of it.

We've been tweaking the rules frantically since the first two games we played, which were slaughters. We each won one game overwhelmingly, and did not think that it was much fun to win or to lose that way.

There's no clear way to enable progressive deceleration (the closer to winning, the slower you go), but it might not be necessary. The key fix is to drastically overhaul the relative powers of the tokens so that 90% of the time, flipping a token is a pretty good thing, but not fabulous or terrible.

1. Handicap the Knight. In our experience, the following additional rule seems to vastly improve this piece: "The Knight may only move one space per turn." Normally, you get four actions per turn, (flip a token and place or play it; move a character on the board; use an artifact you collected earlier), and you can move one character four rooms, or two of them two rooms, or whatever. But the Knight cannot be moved more than one room during each turn; use the other three actions for something else. (All that heavy Plate Mail, doncha know!) That plate mail is also our justification for the "no opposing adventurers or monsters can enter the room once the Knight is in it."

One key mechanism for balancing is that every force needs a nemesis. Paper needs Scissors, Scissors needs Rock, Rock needs Paper. The Orc's nemesis is the Knight. The Knight has no nemesis. So we gave it one; the Wraith. So we exempt the Wraith from the rule that opponents' counters can't enter a room containing your Knight. The Wraith is now the only thing that can move a Knight.

2. Handicap the Orc. The Orc can no longer use two actions to travel two spaces, then use two more to eat/kill the two adventurers in that room. The Orc can occupy a room with multiple adventurers (as per the stock rules), but may only kill an adventurer if he is alone; that is, he (or she, in the case of the Thief) is the only adventurer of that color in that room. If there's two Blue adventurers and one Red one in a room, then the Yellow Orc can enter the room and kill the Red token, but not the Blues.

3. Balance the Wraith. In one game, Eric deployed a beautiful strategy of using the Wraith to scare one of my adventurers out of a room, to then be eaten by the Orc. I had my Knight out, but he was far away, and moving slowly. And the Wraith has no nemesis once we strip the Knight of its ability to prevent the Wraith from entering the room. So I've invented the Cleric (converting one of the generic Explorers for that). The Cleric affects the Wraith much as the Wraith affects others; a Wraith cannot enter a room with a Cleric, and if the Cleric enters a room with a Wraith, he pushes the Wraith into another room.

Now we have Cleric pushes Wraith; Wraith pushes Knight; Knight kills Orc, Orc eats Cleric. For every poison, an antidote; for every curse, a cure.

It's still way too easy for players to gang up against another; it still rewards exhaustive analysis with a provable 'best move' if you're willing to take 10 minutes to work out the possibilities; it still lacks clarity, in that you frequently will have a broad choice of moves, but no way to determine which is better. (Paradox with Analysis Paralysis? Nope. The *current* move is totally known; there is no hidden information. Your *next* turn is practically unknowable because the random factor effect of other players flipping tokens is so strong.) It's still possible to fall behind early in the game and feel like you have no reasonable chance of recovering.

But if you play lightly, keeping your turns relatively quick (do your analysis on other player's turns...) and reasonably fair, then I think Cave Troll can be rather fun. The box also claims that games run 20 to 60 minutes. Strive to play three 20 minute games, not one 60 minute game.


Generally, if you don't see a good move on the board, flip a token. The more pieces you have out, the more options you have, even at the risk of flipping the "Count the Loot!" token while you're poorly positioned.

The improved rules generate a fascinating tension. The presence of an Orc or two makes adventurers clump together for safety, but if a Cave Troll appears in a room, only one character of each player can escape; thus, large gatherings tend to draw a Cave Troll.

I squeaked out a win in one game by using Eric's tactic of scaring his Barbarian out of a room, doing it again, then sendng my Orc over to the now-isolated Barbarian and eating him, thus breaking a scoring stalemate for a very valuable room. The problem is, we'd both forgotten that the Wraith can't scare a Barbarian.

Monsters can use entrances just like adventurers. Having your Orc or Wraith step into one entrance, then jump to a different one, will often surprise your opponents. It's an easy thing to overlook.

On the other hand, Orcs would do well to not stop in entranceways. If somebody flips a Knight, they're almost guaranteed to drop it right onto the Orc. Loitering in a room right next to an entrance is also a bad idea. On the other hand, your Orc's safe in the Pit; no Knight can reach it there.

If you draw your Treasure early, when there's no useful way to place it to your clear advantage, then put it in a room worth 1 or 2 gold, not 4 or 5. Making a good room better means whoever controls that room can take a commanding lead, and you can't ensure that it'll be you. However, adding another good 5-point room to the board improves the odds that you'll be able to control at least one of them, giving you more opportunity to recover if you fall behind.


BoardgameGeek page for Cave Troll