Quarantine Games and Digging Deeper: In the Hall of the Mountain King
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
This week over on the Instagram, we did a challenge to post about seven games that are good for quarantine-times. Ours is currently a household of two (though the call of the wild has been stronger these days), and we enjoy this set of dueling and cooperative games. Many of these support up to four players and a few have a solo mode, so you'll be sure to find something for you on this list.
Kepler Run - short, 2–4 players
Star Realms - short, 2 players + more with expansion
Patchwork - short, 2 players
One Deck Dungeon - medium, 1–2 players + more with expansion
Star Trek Fluxx - very short, 2–6 players
Tesla vs. Edison: Duel - short (very short once you know what is going on), 2 players
In the Hall of the Mountain King - medium, 2–5 players + teams and solo mode
Time scale — very short = under 30 mins, short = 30–60 mins, medium = 60–120 mins, long = over 120 mins
Check out the review below for In the Hall of the Mountain King and the TomCardGames Instagram for a profile of each game listed..
In the Hall of the Mountain King
Of all the games we went through this week, I want to talk in a little more depth (pun intended) on In the Hall of the Mountain King, a beautifully done Kickstarter project I backed last year. In this 2–5 player competitive board game, you lead a band of trolls into the mountain, attempting to gain influence and solidify your place as the Mountain King. The game manages to be straightforward despite having several different facets to gameplay. Don't let the large footprint scare you — this game is approachable and well done.
At the end of In the Hall of the Mountain King
Be the most mountainly (AKA have the most points) at the end of the game, triggered by one player completing their troll squad. You gain said mountain-ness by digging tunnels, building great halls to showcase your power, and placing statues of different troll clans as close to the center of the mountain as possible. Most of the points come from great halls and statue placement.
On your turn
Cast a spell — one of 3 randomized spells that assist in various digging tasks, resource gathering or movement — and use workshops to convert resources between types.
Dig a tunnel with various types of rock under your control or recruit a troll to your growing faction. The more powerful the troll, the more money you need to spend to bribe their underlings.
Dedicate a Great Hall to show off just how mountastic you are.
Move statues of the three Mountain troll clans to attempt to get them closer to the center and gain more points.
Troll love (early game, before the competitive madness set in)
In the Hall of the Mountain King has a few different things going on in parallel, but the following are the main mechanics at work in the game.
Drafting — the setup of your troll faction is determined by drafting cards from a random starting hand. You simply pick one of two starting cards, then draw a new troll and choose between the two until you have four starting trolls. It is pretty simple, but can determine a decent amount of your game strategy — likely what resources you will prioritize and which trolls you will recruit to bolster your starting trolls.
Engine building — usually, an engine building mechanic is something along these lines: get x resources of each type per turn, and try to increase x throughout the game to accelerate your resource growth. In this case, adding trolls to your tree adds to your engine and triggers a cascade that grants you resources for that section of your "engine."
One recruited troll triggers the resources of that troll and the trolls beneath it.
This progression is also a fun way to have an engine-building mechanic that is both thematic and forces a decision to progress the game. Do you recruit a troll leader to your Trollsmoot, triggering your resource engine and moving closer to ending the game, or do you dig a tunnel with your stone, iron, and heartstone for points and positioning, potentially blocking your opponents and preventing them from moving statues and creating great halls?
A full Trollsmoot warms the heart (and the heartstone).
An important note here: if your trolls have resources on them that you haven't used, those slots won't generate additional resources when you recruit a troll. This means you have to balance spending your resources and gathering trolls. The trade-off provides good replay value, especially if a particular opponent blazes towards ending the game with their own Trollsmoot.
Territory and Resource Denial — There are several ways to fight over the game's limited resources. Players interact with each other by prioritizing recruiting trolls that your opponents need for any variety of resources, placing paths that block expansion, building great halls of specific sizes before your opponents manage to, taking certain workshops to prevent resource exchange, casting spells that become exhausted after three uses, accepting bribes that other players have used to pay for higher level trolls, and placing pedestals of different types in each tier of the mountain (blocking opponents from doing so). Whew! That's a lot. This strategic denial is integrated into the way you build troll factions and tunnels, and even when you are far away from each other on the board there are many ways to deny opponents points or resources.
Now that you have a breakdown of the mechanics, here are a few of my favorite and least-favorite points from In the Hall of the Mountain King.
I won this playthrough.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Turns have four different steps with multiple options but still manage to be short, especially at the beginning of the game.
The Trollsmoot (your personal tree of trolls) provides an excellent ramp into the game; as you get further into the game, you get more resources and have a better idea of what to do with them. This feeling of progression helps level the playing field for first-time players, but also makes higher resource gain towards the end satisfying, even if you have played many times.
Progress: does one ever truly have enough life force? Source – YouTube
There is interaction between players in several different places through the game. Many engine builders seem to encourage players to focus more exclusively on their own engine. This is not so for In the Hall of the Mountain King. See the game mechanic section on resource denial for more.
The components are themed wonderfully and feel just right for the game (metal coins for bribery, purple sparkly acrylic gems for spells, etc.). It's a wonder this game isn't $120 with all of the premium components. The Kickstarter had a slightly different set of components, so double check what you get if you do spring for the retail version of the game. It appears the publisher has some extra components on their shop.
This game tray (another Kickstarter perk) deserves its own bullet point; they managed to prop up all of the various sized great halls so they are displayed perfectly in the tray for gameplay, and stored securely stacked in a position that lets you pull up each in order. I'm utterly gobsmacked; good work, Game Trayz.
I do have two qualms with the way the game plays out.
This may be specific to two-player mode — it is very easy to simply avoid the other player on the map. Each player's troll tunnels don't get in each other's way (which would generate more strategy in positioning and tunnel shape). Playing with two players also has a positive though, you are less likely to run out of tunnels of a specific shape.
There are bonuses for placing pedestals of different troll clans on each level of the mountain. The values of each bonus are hidden and have random point values between 1 and 4, and I think the mechanic would be improved without the randomness. The bonus doesn't apply immediately, as when you dig tunnels, but the tile is revealed to all players at the end of the game. I'm not convinced that the wide range of randomness in conjunction with the end-of-game reveal is particularly enjoyable, as it feels like an annoying footnote to the overall scoring. That said, the random reveal spices up the endgame — something I added to my in-development game, Element of Surprise, to provoke excitement by springing unknowns on your opponents. Edit: as pointed out in a comment (thanks Benjamin Hélie!), evidently the the values of each are not meant to be hidden, just randomized and placed face up. I think this makes them more interesting as an added element to fight over.
Overall, I see In the Hall of the Mountain King becoming one of our favorites for a medium length game. It has enough player interaction for the social replay value ('take that!) with enough depth of strategy to leave us mining for more (sorry; just trolling with the mountain puns). Maybe I should come up with a rating system for future reviews, but for now I'll call this one 8/10.
Fun Games of the Week: In the Hall of the Mountain King, Star Realms (my favorites of this bunch at the moment), Super Mario Sunshine
P.S. it is often the case that board game reviews are given by people who received the game for free. This is not the case here. Though I did not go to these (satirical) extremes to ensure my review was "ethically" sound, I did not receive a free copy and tried to give an honest overview.