Dungeon Crawl as Subway Punk-Gang Standoff
Everybody knows what a dungeon game is. There’s this underground complex of rooms and corridors, stocked with traps and secret doors, treasures and meanies to guard them. And you are a member (or all of the members) of a Tolkienesque band of vagabonds who descend into the underground, torch in one hand and sword in the other, in search of their fortune. Dungeons & Dragons, DungeonQuest, Descent…
Cave Troll is not that kind of game. Sure, the board depicts an underground complex full of treasure, and you do play a band of adventurers. But there are several competing parties of them, and each has more members than there are meanies in the dungeon. That dungeon is like the subway at rush time. And most of the time the adventurers don’t fight the meanies, they threaten each other over the piles of gold strewn here and there. Every once in a while, someone blows a whistle, and the punks divvy up the loot according to who has more or tougher people in a given room. Treasure, for some reason, cannot be moved.
It’s actually an area control game of a kind harking back all the way to Risk, though little fighting is involved. Each player has his own stack of upside-down cardboard chits, like a deck of cards, only since they’re chits they fit in the dungeon’s rooms. Every turn you can reveal new chits and put them on the board, or move around the chits you’ve already put down, or use a magic item if you have previously been lucky enough to draw the chit that provides you with one of those. And you do your best to take possession of the rooms with the largest piles of treasure, waiting for someone to flip his “divvy-the-treasure time” chit.
You have a couple of pet meanies in your chit stack as well, and you can send them after other players, but at my place we’ve found that it’s usually not worth your time to harass the other players. Better to put more of your punks on the board instead. Time runs out once someone flips his last chit, and one successful strategy is actually to flip yours as fast as possible just to prevent other players from using theirs.
Your party consists mainly of vanilla punks. But then there’s the knight, who is held in such awe in this feudal society that nobody of lower rank dares enter a room where he’s hanging out, and the thief, who is busty and long-eared and can teleport for some reason, and the barber (errr, we call the barbarian the barber, OK?) who is big and scary. But the funniest party member is the dwarf. He’s really good at finding extra gold in those rooms. But he doesn’t give a damn about who wins the game: he happily hands over his loot to whoever is around. Stupid little punk.
As for the meanies, there’s the eponymous cave troll who is basically a nuke you drop on an offending room, the orc who kills punks and the wraith who scares them off. The latter two appear out of something that looks a lot like the dungeon’s central cesspit, which may explain their grumpy manner. But as I said, at my place the orcs and wraiths rarely get to leave the pit, poor things.
All in all, I quite like Cave Troll, giving it an 8 out of 10. It’s a good, simple, short game that offers interesting strategic decisions and little down-time. The artwork is nice to look at. It works well with 6-7-y-o kids, as the only reading you have to do is the brief manual for your magic item. And it travels extremely well: the game is light-weight and easy to pack, fitting into the volume of a trade paperback book if you leave the box at home and put the chits in baggie. The board collapses into four book-size puzzle pieces.
I have the 2002 Fantasy Flight edition of Cave Troll with multi-lingual rules. It was my first thrift-store game. Game thrifting, rescuing good games from the cold and uncaring hands of non-gamers in thrift stores, is almost a hobby in itself.