In the Hall of the Mountain King

2-5 players, Competitive, Tunnel Digging Troll Gathering

Designer: Jay Cormier, Graeme Jahns

Artwork: Josh Cappel, Kwanchai Moriya

Publisher: Burnt Island Games

NOTE: Kickstarter Deluxe version reviewed

Origin Story

This game originally caught my eye during the kickstarter campaign they ran last year. The name was elaborate, the premise sounded neat and well, it had Game Trayz to hold the components. Read through the rules and it really seemed like it had some interesting mechanics that all worked together nicely. Wasn’t sure how I would like the “tetris-like” gameplay style but went in with an open mind. Let’s see if the mechanics and feel pulled through for me.

Overview of Gameplay

You are a troll. Yes, you along with your troll horde are digging tunnels through a mountain. You are moving statues around these tunnels, you are creating these great halls to honor these statues. But overall, you and your horde are trying to garner the most honor (victory points) of all the troll hordes by completing these things.

So, on your typical turn you have a couple options on what you can do. You can either Recruit a Troll from the pyramid horde of trolls to further advance your horde that also replenishes your resources OR, you can build a tunnel utilizing said resources. There are a few other actions such as activating a workshop tile and casting a spell but those are dependent on if you have a rune resource or a workshop to use. If you recruit a troll you will grab a particular troll from the mass horde and slowly build up your pyramid of trolls stacking them in that formation above your player board. Then you will stock all the resources that are listed on your troll cards collected thus far in a cascading fashion down from where you placed your troll. This action doesn’t get you any honor points BUT it is needed to restock your spent resources.

On the flip side you can choose to build a tunnel if you have the resources. These tunnel pieces range in size and shape and cost based around their size. You have to spend from 2 to 5 resources to build a tunnel and you have to spend ALL of the same kind of resource when you build it. So, for example if you wanted to build 4-length tunnel and you have 5 iron bars, 4 stone and 2 heart stone resources. You could use either 4 of your iron or all 4 of your stone to build it, cannot mix and match. The catch here is that whatever you use to build it, the points you gain from building a tunnel will vary. Stone earns the least amount then iron and finally that elusive and rare Heart Stone. So, in summary, the longer the tunnel built with the more rare resource will net you the most points. Clear as mud.

There are other things you can build as well during your turn such as a Great Hall. Now to build one of these large areas you will need to have a network of tunnels that can actually hold one Hall fully. The halls start out small and get bigger and bigger and of course more valuable. The workshops are something else you can unearth which allow you to draw and place a small token next to one of your tunnels that opens a new action for you on your turn which usually revolves around switching out resources.

Around and around these actions will go until a player has finally added their 10th troll to their pyramid which will net them the 5 honor points token. Once the second player does this they get the 3 honor points token and triggers the end game where everyone gets two more turns and then the final point calculation is tallied. These points all come from the great halls you have constructed and sets of resources you still have but most importantly, the statues you have managed to “collect” in your tunnels.  As you are building these tunnels you will be opening passages to these orange, blue and white statues that are scattered all inside of the mountain. Now these little critters are worth some points by themselves BUT if you can slap down a pedestal (collected from troll cards) that matches that statues color AND move the statue into it, the point value doubles! Needless to say it is beneficial to get as many of those matched up as possible.

Components/Game Board

I have the kickstarter deluxe version so the components have a bit of an upgrade from the retail version. We are talking metal coins, little plastic wagons and sparkled rune tokens. The iron, stone and heart stone are all shaped wooden tokens. All of the tokens are super nice and I especially like the metal coins as they are very weighty and premium feeling and the sparkling plastic rune tokens, well, just because I didn’t already have sparkling plastic rune tokens and they are rather unique. The little player boards are pretty nice as well, they are small but have a nice turn order printed on them as well as tower point values and point values of tunnels. All of that is pertinent info and VERY helpful when playing the game.

The board itself is also fun and functional. It is double sided depending on player count and both sides have unique artwork! The 2-3 player side has a smaller footprint for building tunnels and is adorned with autumn colors around the edges with very pretty trees and foliage. The flip side for the 4-5 player count has transitioned into winter with snow and rocks around the edges and a much bigger tunnel building footprint.

I’m just gonna come out and say it, there really isn’t anything components-wise that I do not like here. Everything looks nice and feels nice including the cards and tunnel pieces. If I were to nitpick a bit I would say the tiny little plastic hammer tokens need to be a tad bit bigger. Those little beasts are hard to get ahold of. OH! There is one other nitpick that just popped into my mind. The little statue tokens are molded in such a way to make the slightly lean back a bit, which in turn, makes them topple over. Perhaps a more flat cut on the bottom would fix that little minor annoyance. Overall though I am highly impressed with the components and board.

Box/Storage

Now this is my favorite thing about this game. The included gametrayz *fans self* *swoons* *passes out*. I am a nut for an excellent storage solution and GameTrayz never ceases to amaze me with their incredible designs and functionality. For those of you who are not familiar with gametrayz, they are a company that specializes in board game box inserts for storage. And for ANY game that has quite a few different components to separate and sort, gametrayz are a godsend. For this game in particular they work wonders as there ARE a lot of different components to keep track of and players are always needing to collect and spend them which makes passing around the gametrayz insert that holds everything very easy. There is a separate insert that holds all the tunnel pieces and the great halls and this one is even more functional that the last. There are spots for the great hall tiles for storage and when playing the game you can stand up the tiles in tiny slots to display AND since each one is slightly bigger than the last players can easily see all the point values on the tiles.

The bottom of the insert is also plastic and has a clever system for holding the cards and player boards together basically using other components to hold components down. It’s all very well put together and makes setup and take down of the game a breeze and frankly, it just looks cool on the table.

Visual Appeal /Theme

The board artwork looks nice on both sides with some nice colors and designs for the outer edges of the board. The interior of the board is less exciting as it’s just a serious of square spaces with some rocky looking areas and progressively yellow color schemes as you get closer to the middle of the board. The troll artwork on the cards looks pretty good although the box cover leaves much to be desired. I love the colors used however the art itself isn’t very clear and looks more muddled to me. This of course is ART and each different person has a particular style, this style just isn’t my forte.

The theme is pretty cool with each player acting as a troll, collecting a horde of trolls to help dig the tunnels in the mountain all in an effort to reclaim their lost statues to honor their ancestors. Although to me it sounds more like they should be dwarves instead of trolls but perhaps there’s a critical piece of backstory I’m missing here……  In any case I find that the theme works really well with the game mechanics as you build up your horde you gain even MORE resources to spend on more tunnels which would make sense as the more trolls you have working, the faster you can build.

Rulebook

I didn’t have any trouble with the rulebook and the few things that I did question were easy to find. It also helped a TON that the turn structure was printed on each player board since the turns were setup kinda oddly. There are only a handful of things to do in a turn but most of them cannot be done at all at the very beginning so the game turns move pretty quickly with players either recruiting trolls or building a tunnel. However, later on more options become available as you start gaining the ability to use spells and build great halls and those actions are wrapped up within other steps. Players might sometimes forget they have to cast a spell or use their workshop as their FIRST action and build a great hall as their LAST action, well, that is before moving statues. This all sounds rather convoluted at first BUT those actions are printed on the player boards, another godsend. Because of that it trims down the convoluted-ness to just a minor spat of forgetfulness.

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

The player interaction is almost non-existent unfortunately. Each player does play on the main game board building tunnels but they all start far enough apart you really never have much of a fear of getting blocked by another players tunnel unless you purposely build in their direction. As it is the board is littered with enough statues for each starting section that players can easily stick to their own stuff and be just fine. The only real interaction comes from players snatching up trolls from the general horde…BUT…. at the same time it never really feels like you are missing out on anything when a player grabs a troll since there are so many with all different kinds of resources. I never got the dread feeling that there was a troll I needed specifically and it was going to be taken.

Turns ended up being rather dry because of this. For example a player would recruit a troll, collect their resources while everyone watched and then the next player would build a tunnel and decide which resource to spend on said tunnel and decide WHICH tunnel they wanted, tally up their points and move their point tracker up a bit. I wouldn’t say the downtime between turns was crazy long BUT there was literally nothing to do in between your turn and the rest. And because every other player has so little interaction with the rest, there was really nothing to plan or plot out. It literally takes a quick looksee of your resources to determine if you are going to build a tunnel or recruit a troll.

Because of this I just didn’t have much fun with the game. There wasn’t much to think about/plot on my turns and there was zero player interaction off my turns. This created a kind of void in the fun department for me and my group.  The “tetris” like placing of the tunnels is interesting as you DO have to plot a bit on how you want to arrange the tiles to try and get the maximum amount of return on resources and I enjoyed that part a decent amount. The pyramid troll resource system sounds interesting and it works very well as far as a mechanic goes but the action itself just wasn’t very fun. Overall I think the game just felt fiddlier than anything, lots of collecting and spending resources to build tunnels, over and over again. Also wasn’t a big fan of the bonus point tokens that are randomized on the bottom of the board. Those just added to the fiddle and make the scoring a little more complicated when it’s already complicated enough.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

Personally playing at 5 players there wasn’t much downtime between turns BUT because of the lack of player interaction I wouldn’t recommend playing with that many. I think three players would be this games sweet spot so at least players can stay mostly engaged with their own goings ons. With 5 players I could see that other players just didn’t at all care what was happening with everyone else when it wasn’t their turn. I haven’t tried the solo game and indeed you need the Cursed Mountain expansion materials to play the game solo which you will need to pick up separately.

Replayability is pretty meh as well. There is variation for sure with the random drawing of the troll cards and pedestal colors from a bag and this will dictate the choices you ultimately make in the game for sure. But these choices are very minor in the grand scheme of things as all the cards have a nice array of resources to choose from. Yes, some of them are more valuable but it’s arguable if they are even worth it. You very rarely see the rare Heart Stone resource come up so is it really worth it to grab that one when you can grab a regular Stone card that produces 3 stone? You can pump out many more of those tunnels all the while the player that chose Hearth Stone is twiddling their thumbs trying to gather up enough to build even a single tunnel. This all sounds like strategy and indeed some of it is but because these are random card draws, it almost throws out whatever strategy you are going for, for luck.

Positive Final Thoughts

REALLY love the components and storage solutions held within. The game is really a treat to behold on the table as well once you get going playing. It catches the eye that’s for sure with the little colorful statues and tunnels spreading out here and there. The troll pyramids also look cool with the corresponding resources atop them. I also really enjoy the double sided board and the varying seasons of artwork adorned on them.

Negative Final Thoughts

The sum of its parts though was a bit of a letdown for me. The gameplay fell pretty flat for me and my group with the lack of any meaningful player interaction. The tetris game of positioning your tunnels was ok fun but there was just so much of the same stuff over and over and it felt very repetitious. After going through the game a few times I just left feeling like I had seen everything this game had to offer and didn’t have a strong desire to play again.  

The Bottom Line

Overall I think this is a very beautiful game with an amazing storage solution but just not enough meat on its bones to satiate my strong appetite for a deeper gameplay experience.

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