Centuries ago, a brutal war took place in the halls and tunnels deep below a giant mountain. Trolls and Gnomes fought for territory and glory, and the Gnomes prevailed, driving the Trolls from their ancestral home. Since that time, they’ve survived out in the wilderness, living in the ramshackle shelters they could create, scavenging for food, and dreaming of the day they could go home. That day has finally come!
In In the Hall of the Mountain King (HotMK), you take on the role of a Troll trying to restore your mountain home to its former glory. A massive collapse has taken care of the Gnome problem you had been experiencing (lousy Gnomes!), but it also caved in all of the halls and tunnels that formed your home. Great wealth and statues of the Troll heroes of the past have also been buried and await discovery. It’s a race between you and the other Trolls to earn enough glory to take your place at the side of the Mountain King.
The main action in HotMK takes place on the mountain board which features different tiers of the mountain, becoming more and more valuable as you head towards its heart. Scattered throughout the terrain of the board are different buried resources, Statues, and Workshops.
You are going to start with a simple gate leading into the mountain, but during the game, you’ll have the chance to build an entire network of halls and tunnels.
Right off the bat, players are going to have some decisions to make to give them an asymmetrical start. From their starting Troll deck, they draw two cards and choose one to place in one of the four slots above their personal board. The Trolls have a starting resource they’ll provide immediately and an ongoing resource they’ll provide when activated during the game. Choosing, not only, which Troll to take, but where to put it on your board is an important decision. This is the start of your Trollsmoot.
You are going to be building your Trollsmoot all game long in a pyramid form. The contents and timing of the construction is super important and one of the coolest and most unique elements of the game. The first row of four forms the bottom of the pyramid. As you recruit new Trolls, they are added above triggering a cascade where each Troll gains you resources, placed on the Trolls themselves. However, if a Troll already has resources loaded on the card, they won’t gain any more. You have to plan your cascades carefully to maximize the items gained each time.
So what are the resources you’ll be collecting? There are three different types of minerals that are used to carve out new tunnels, Stone, Iron, and Heartstone. You can also collect coins to hire new Trolls, carts to move Statues deeper into the mountain, Runes to cast Spells, and Hammers to break through some of the more solid parts of the mountain. Trust me, you don’t want to sleep on Hammers.
HotMK is played over a series of turns rather than being broken down into rounds. On a turn, you’ll have a few options in different steps. You can start by casting a Spell and/or activating a Workshop you have access to. Three Spells are always available and they’ll cost you a Rune to use them. They all do something helpful, like increase your points for the tunnels you create or allow you to gain resources, or move buried Statues. Once a Spell has been cast three times, it’s retired to the bottom of the deck and a new one appears. Workshops start to become available once your tunnel system reaches Workshop areas in the mountain. At that point, you can choose from the available Workshops in the game. They usually provide you with the ability to swap resources.
The next step on a turn is either hiring a new Troll, adding them to your Trollsmoot, or digging a new tunnel and scoring glory points for that. There are levels 1 2, and 3 Trolls available to be hired. The level 1 Trolls are free, but of course not as good as some of the higher levels. Level 2 Trolls come with a Pedestal, and the Level 3 Trolls offer some sort of awesome ability. To recruit the higher level Trolls, you have to leave a coin on all of the lower level ones you want to bypass. Getting all the way up to level three is expensive, but can be worth it. Those coins are now available for anyone else who might recruit the Trolls, but if any even reach four coins they retire happily to live the rest of their days with their Troll family.
Instead of hiring a Troll, you can build tunnels into the mountain. To build a tunnel, you return resources to the supply of the mineral you want to build with. A 3-square tunnel of Stone, requires three Stone returned to the supply. It will earn you three points. Not bad, but a 3-square Heartstone tunnel gets you five points, so, you know…more. The biggest tunnels are 5-squares in a few different Tetris-style shapes. While a 5-square Stone tunnel will only get you five points, Iron earns eight, and Heartstone gets you 11. So, it can be worth it to build with the more coveted resources.
Tunnels must be laid either touching your Gate or another tunnel you already built. Your tunnel system can’t grow into anyone else’s, so space can start to be a premium, especially at higher player counts. If you want to build over rubble symbols, you have to spend Hammers for each one you want to cover, but if your tunnel uncovers resources you gain them, or Statues they are now in your system. When you place a tunnel, if it has an anchor, you may at that time add a Pedestal. They double the points that Statues are worth at the end of the game, if they are mounted on the same colour Pedestal.
Next, you can spend carts to move Statues deeper into the mountain. The higher the tier your Statue is in at the end of the game, the more glory they will be worth.
Finally, you can dedicate a Great Hall. There are a number of square and rectangular Great Halls in the game of varying sizes. If your tunnel system, can completely support the Great Hall, you can place it for no additional cost. Great Halls have a lower point value if the game ends with a Statue in them and a higher one if you manage to get one in there.
Play continues with everyone either adding to their tunnel network or recruiting new Trolls, until someone hires their 10th Troll capping their Trollsmoot and winning the Coronation token worth five points. The current round is completed, then each player gets two more turns. If a second player caps their Trollsmoot they get a three point Coronation token.
For game end scoring, you get points for the Great Halls you’ve constructed, the Statues you’ve moved into the mountain, the Coronation tokens you’ve collected, and every set of three identical leftover resource earns you a point.
HotMK has a ruleset that is very simple to learn, but decisions that are tricky and challenging throughout, exactly the type of game I love. I really appreciate a game with slightly asymmetrical starting points and the way the cascades of the Trollsmoot work is super cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that mechanic in a game. It’s one of those titles you enjoy whether you’re winning or losing, because you’re about to create your own little engine and empire. At lower player counts, the main interactions come in the form of other players hiring the Troll you wanted, or taking the Workshop or Great Hall you had your eye on. But with higher players counts, you’ll be fighting for tunnel space in the mountain.
In the Hall of the Mountain King is a competitive game for 2 to 5 players designed by Jay Cormier and Graeme Jahns, featuring art by Kwanchai Moriya. It is published by Burnt Island Games.
Sean J. is a member of the Burnt Island Games team. This article is meant to inform about the game, rather than a traditional review.