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Gruff: Rage of the Trolls Kickstarter Preview

Gristle the shepherd led his mutant herd of battle goats into the Betwixt, the portal separating this realm from the next. His goats trudged along, their oozing bodies, mechanical limbs, and deformed appearances adding little to their motivation.

As if from nowhere, a massive troll roared from the side as it charged towards Gristle and his battle goats. Gristle lined up his gruffs in attack formation, ready to defend himself from the ancient evil. The troll, however, turned sharply at a new sound: another shepherd stood ready to fight! Gristle made eye contact with the newcomer who, nodding, hummed a foreboding tune to her goats, bringing them around to face the attacking troll. The two shepherds - and lifelong rivals - joined together to fight off a more dire threat…

Fast Facts:
Designer: Brent Critchfield
Artist: Virginia Critchfield 
Publisher: Studio Woe
Players: 1-2
Age: 12+
Playtime: 20-45 minutes

Heads Up: This is a preview for Gruff: Rage of the Trolls. As such, rules, cards, and components are subject to change before final release.

NoteGruff: Rage of the Trolls is a standalone expansion to Gruff, and can either be played solo or cooperatively with another player. While Gruff: Rage of the Trolls does not require previous editions of Gruff to play, gruffs and shepherds from the base game may also be combined with Gruff: Rage of the Trolls for more combinations and possibilities.

In Gruff: Rage of the Trolls, players team up (or venture forth on their own) to defeat trolls before the trolls defeat the shepherds. This is done through combat, pitting mutated gruffs against trolls and dealing enough damage to defeat them. Alternatively, players may simply battle each other, just like in the base game (in which case you can “troll” each other!).

Gildfisk is the new troll in town and must be defeated!

To begin, each player selects a shepherd he or she wishes to control, along with three gruffs. Players then take the individual deck for each of their gruffs, choose 8 from the 15 ability cards available to that specific gruff, and then return the unused cards to the box. This way, each player will have a deck of 24 ability cards (8 from each of their three gruffs’ decks) that will help them claim victory on the field of battle. Each player places his or her three gruffs in front of their shepherd and draw 5 cards to form their opening hands.

When battling a troll, place the troll in the middle of the playing area between the two players. Choose which player will go first (perhaps the person who looks most like their shepherd?), and let the games begin!

Everything's set up, so it's time to take the fight to the troll!

On each turn, players will first resolve the troll’s attack and any effects in play. Following that, the active player increases the troll’s Rage by 1 (Rage = Attack Power) and then draws the top card on the troll’s Behavior deck. This card will have different numbers on various colored circles (type of ability). Resolve each effect (beginning at the lowest number on the card) until the numbers on the card are higher than the troll’s current Rage.

Note: The troll cannot perform actions if its Rage is less than the ability's number. Once all actions and abilities have been resolved (or as many as the troll's Rage allows to be resolved), it is now the active player’s turn.

This is a troll's Behavior card. Starting with the lowest number and moving down, the troll will take all actions/abilities for which he has equal (or lower) amounts of Rage. More rage is bad news for your shepherd!

First, however, any attacks from the previous player’s turn are resolved, as well as any Condition cards played the previous turn. (Condition cards have a lingering effect that rolls over until the next player's turn.)

Once that’s settled, the active player draws a card and activates any gruff that is ready. (Gruffs previously activated should be turned 90 degrees to indicate they are unavailable. If no gruffs are ready, the active player may then ready all his or her gruffs that aren’t dead.) Follow any abilities that happen during activation.

Now it’s time to play cards. Cards are played based on the level of Crazy on the player’s shepherd (whenever a gruff is activated, increase the shepherd’s Crazy meter according to the number of Weird the newly activated gruff has). If a shepherd has 12 Crazy, that player may play any number of cards from his or her hand until the total cost of all cards played reaches 12 (players may not play cards if the total cost would go over the shepherd’s total Crazy). If the game played is a cooperative game against the troll, the other player may also play cards during the Play Cards phase. However, the number of cards the inactive player may play is determined by that player’s excess Crazy, or the amount of Crazy left over from that player’s turn. (i.e. The inactive player only played cards reaching a total cost 12, yet that player’s shepherd had a Crazy level of 21. This means that the inactive player could play cards with a total of 9 cost on the active player’s turn.)

New to Gruff: Rage of the Trolls is keeping track of excess Crazy. For example, if your shepherd has 10 Crazy, but you only spend 5 Crazy worth of cards, then you will have 5 Crazy left over, which you can use to play your cards during the other player's turn. 

Once all cards have been played, the active player may choose to Attack (which is resolved after the troll’s turn but before the next player’s turn), Grow (increase any stat of the active gruff by 1), Move (swap places with an adjacent gruff), or Resurrect (revive a dead gruff owned by that player).

From here, play returns to the troll and continues in this manner until the troll is defeated or any one shepherd dies.

Gruff: Rage of the Trolls packs quite a punch. The prototype for this expansion to Gruff only contained 1 troll, 2 shepherds, and 6 gruffs (the precise amount necessary for a two player game), but I still found there to be quite a bit of game with that small selection. Of course, more of everything will become available with the Kickstarter campaign, so that’s certainly something to look forward to.

What I Liked

I was impressed by how well the troll’s AI worked. The steps the troll takes on each of its turns are fluid and become more and more dangerous as the game progresses. This allows the game to start off calmly, only to end in a blaze of buzzer-beater glory—or defeat. Before my first play through against the troll, I mentioned how the troll appeared too easy. Of course, I had yet to face off against it, but when I did, we lost miserably (and only I was to blame). That being said, losing in that manner was quite enjoyable! I love a good challenge. After that, I was more cautious in subsequent games, and found the troll to be a worthy adversary. I’m very pleased with the addition of the troll.

As a cooperative game, the mechanics are well thought out and flowed nicely. Being able to save Crazy points in order to play cards during the other player’s turn adds more thought to each turn and more interaction between players. Rather than each player taking his or her turn individually, players must work together in order to save the other (and themselves) from certain destruction.

I enjoy a good solo game, and Gruff: Rage of the Trolls did not disappoint. The only difference between solo and cooperative gameplay is the player count. Even though it was just me against the troll, I still felt as if I was playing against a worthy, real-life opponent, having to outthink and outplay it just as I would a friend playing against me.

Just like the original Gruff, the mechanics in Rage of the Trolls are spot on. I find the attacking and defending to be a good balance, and the give-and-take for increasing your gruff’s stats is a smart part of the game. Yes, it’s always good to bump up Mean, Fat, and Weird, but by doing so, am I passing up a better option, such as attacking? Yup, I do like the way it all comes together.

What I Didn't Like

Please note these “dislikes” are merely personal preference, and may in fact be a selling point to you, the reader.

First, choosing my gruffs and building my decks isn’t my favorite part of the game (although this does add to the overall strategy of the game). Sure, it’s nice to be able to personalize the deck, but I’d just as soon have it pre-built for me (call me lazy). At the same time, however, I appreciate the way it allows a player to customize his or her deck according to the strategic choices of the day. Personally, I just found it took too long to get started playing the game. However, the more familiar you are with each gruff's deck, the faster you'll be at building your deck.

Next, while the game’s time frame suggests 20-45 minutes, I found that most games took over an hour to complete (sometimes getting dangerously close to 2 hours). Of course, the first play-through with the troll involved some familiarization with the additional rules, but many subsequent games seemed to be drawn out. That is in part, I’m sure, to the amount of time we, the players, took to choose which cards to play and when, including reading over them more than a few times to ensure we were making the right moves. This is also probably due to the fact that at least one of the players was unfamiliar with the cards in their hand. Still, shorter games of 30 minutes have been achieved (yay!), so again, this is most likely due to players’ analysis paralysis (of which I’ve been found guilty from time to time).

Final Verdict:
There is a lot of replayablilty in this game. Even with just the six gruffs for two players, we were able to mix up what cards we added to our deck during each play, providing different gameplay strategies and outcomes. The troll’s AI is well done, and the solo mode plays smooth as butter (or margarine, if you prefer). There can be some down time while you wait for the other player to finish building their deck, but all in all it’s a rock-solid game.

Overall, I give Gruff: Rage of the Trolls an 8/10.

Additional Images:

Fury and Fester Mutation Tokens are new to Gruff: Rage of the Trolls. These come into play by the troll's actions or those of various gruffs, and can be a blessing or a curse.

Brat is just one of the new shepherd with Gruff: Rage of the Trolls. The "2" in the upper right corner (similar icons with varying numbers can be found on other shepherds) is a new addition to the Gruff game. This 2 represents Brat's Breaking Point, or the number of Ultimate cards that can be added to your play deck. In this case, Brat may only have 2 Ultimate cards in her deck.

And here's an example of a cute lil' gruff that resembles something between a centipede, a bison, and an alien. Mutations certainly do weird things to gruffs...

Check out Gruff: Rage of the Trolls on:


About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada and now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He’s a copywriter, social media manager, freelance blogger, and SFF author. When he’s not writing, Benjamin loves to lose himself in the wonderful world of tabletop games, especially those with a rich, engaging theme. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Gruff: Rage of the Trolls Kickstarter Preview Gruff: Rage of the Trolls Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on May 31, 2017 Rating: 5

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