Rage of the Trolls: A Gruff Look at More Fearsome Fiends
In our last review we looked at the game Gruff from Studio Woe. This week we’ll look at the recently published second expansion, Rage of the Trolls. Unlike their first expansion, Clash of the Battle Goats, (released in 2016) Rage of the Trolls includes a brand new play mode completely unlike anything before it.
By way of reminder, in the Norwegian fairy tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the three goat brothers are trying to cross a bridge to graze peacefully in the fields beyond. They’re stopped by a troll until the oldest, biggest goat knocks the troll into the stream below.
Rage of the Trolls explores the flip side, expanding the Gruff universe to include the malefactious Trolls of legend.
Clash of the Battle Goats was designed to be an entry-level starter pack for the Gruff universe. It contained just enough Gruffs to play a two-player game, and a few different shepherds to choose from.
Rage of the Trolls provides similar supplies, with six Gruffs and a collection of Shepherds available to choose from. It’s fully compatible with both Clash and the original Gruff release. Combining all of them together makes for a large stable of available characters to enjoy.
The shining accomplishment of Rage of the Trolls however isn’t just the new Gruffs and Shepherds; it’s the addition of Trolls. Rather than just developing AI decks for Shepherds to support solo gameplay, Studio Woe developed a completely new mechanic using Trolls. There are four Trolls in the package to challenge yourself with.
Trolls are solitary “boss” monsters with their own AI cards (Behavior cards). Trolls count as both Gruffs AND Shepherds, and Gruffs can attack it from all three positions. Cards that can target Gruffs OR Shepherds can also target Trolls. However, cards that would immediately kill Gruffs or Shepherds without dealing damage won’t kill Trolls.
Trolls have Fat and Life just like Gruffs, but instead of Mean, they have a stat called Rage. Much like the gradual increase of Gruff and Shepherd stats over the course of a game, Rage slowly grows as the game continues on. Rage serves as the Weird, Mean, and Crazy stats for the Trolls, so any abilities that affect those stats will affect Trolls’ Rage ability.
Setup for a game of Rage of the Trolls is identical to the setup of any other game of Gruff with two notable exceptions. First, if multiple players are playing co-operatively against the Troll, these players set up a normal game, but with the Troll aligned between the players’ middle Gruffs.
Second, a Troll can be battled by a single player. In this case, instead of two players setting up aligned against each other, a single player sets up with the Troll aligned against their middle Gruff.
Any Gruff attacking a Troll that is not directly in front of the Troll is said to be attacking the Troll’s side.
In Rage of the Trolls the player Phases remain the same as the normal base game rules. However, before each player’s turn the Troll has an opportunity to go through its Phases. The Troll first goes through a Resolution (Cleanup) Phase, followed by a Rage phase, and finally a Troll Behavior Phase.
In the Resolution Phase, attacks declared by the Troll in the last player’s turn are resolved and temporary condition abilities disappear. This is just like a regular cleanup phase in any game of Gruff.
In the Rage Phase, the Troll gains Rage (slide the marker on the Rage counter). When it is a co-operative game, the Troll spins to face the active player and gains one Rage. If a player is fighting solo, the Troll is always focused on them and gains two Rage instead of one.
Finally, in the Behavior Phase, the Troll uses a Behavior card to dictate what actions to perform based on the Troll’s Rage ability. The active player draws the top card from the Behavior deck and the Troll performs all abilities on the card that are equal to or less than the Troll’s rage ability.
In our example above, once Schnark’s Rage has grown to four, the top three abilities on the card are performed in the order of lowest to highest. If his Rage score drops below four for any reason, even during the turn, it may result in him performing less actions by the time the lower tier actions are completed.
The players win if the Troll’s life is reduced to zero. In the co-operative game, both players lose if either player dies. Both players can play cards during each other’s Play Cards phase, but Crazy only refreshes during the active player’s Cleanup Phase, so the inactive player would need leftover Crazy to play more cards.
Despite their interest in Gruff, it’s sometimes hard to get my family members to play complicated LCG battle games. The new single player variant in Rage of the Trolls keeps the theme of Gruff consistent. In this way, Rage of the Trolls creates a new avenue to enjoy the Gruff universe. Beyond this, the co-operative battle mode offers a less antagonistic LCG experience, which absolutely helps in the Family Fun department.
However, these Trolls are HARD. Either I’m the world’s worst Gruff player or these Trolls are just brutal. It’s a fun challenge for us to try to beat these tough enemies, but I do think it might have been helpful to have a few Trolls of different difficulty levels (or, perhaps, variants in the rulebook). It’s unclear from the cards or the rulebook whether different trolls represent different difficulties.
The mechanics of the Trolls and their Behavior cards are more streamlined than the base Gruff mechanics too. If your family can understand the mechanics of Gruff, Rage of the Trolls won’t offer anything you can’t handle. If you’ve never played Gruff before, Rage of the Trolls is an excellent place to start. The rulebook explains all of the Gruff game play mechanics for each play method.
Either way, Rage of the Trolls continues to embrace the Weird that is the Gruff universe. I eagerly look forward to my next combat date with Gildfisk.
You can order Rage of the Trolls NOW directly from Studio Woe.
Studio Woe provided a review copy of Rage of the Trolls to The Family Gamers.