Board game designer Alf Seegert has a thing for trolls.
He's pretty sure it grew out of a childhood experience watching "The Muppet Show" episode featuring troll-like Viking pigs plundering villages while singing the Village People's "In the Navy."
"That image just stuck in my 10-year-old brain. It's still one of my favorite clips," he says. You can see it on his website, www.alfseegert.com.
So, when he grew up and began designing board games, trolls came to mind. His first published game, Bridge Troll, came out in 2009 with Z-Man Games, and features trolls that hide under bridges and capture unwary (the fatter, the better) travelers and their treasures. But the goal of the game is not to avoid these trolls, but to be them.
Now comes his second game with Z-Man Games, called Trollhalla, again illustrated by Ryan Laukat. In this one trolls who are tired of living under moldering bridges have decided on a career change and have taken to the seas, where they find lots of treasure-laden islands to pillage. Once again, you get to be the trolls.
"I think it's more fun being the bad guys," says Seegert. He admits it's something that probably grows out of his day-job — assistant professor/lecturer in the department of English at the University of Utah. He has always been intrigued by the way novelists create characters to do the things they would never do themselves. It's what literature is all about, he says.
In Trollhalla, trolls join forces (and this time there is a female troll. "We got a lot of complaints about the fact that Bridge Troll didn't have female trolls," says Laukat). Being trolls, they don't work together perfectly; there's always the desire to out-pillage the shipmates. But there are plenty of opportunities to collect crunchy livestock, nervous monks, panicked princesses, piles of gold and casks of grog. The trolls must beware of billy goats, who can knock treasure right out of the boat. Weather plays a factor in the voyages; storms can change directions; winds can flip boats upside-down; sunny days add bonuses.
The rules are actually very simple, which makes it a great family game, says Seegert. But there are lots of things going on. "There's no way to do just one thing. There are lots of ways to score, a need to pay attention to what other trolls are doing."
His chief aim, he says, was for "simplexity — simple rules, but lots of outcomes. That's what drives games like chess."
Another goal was to make it fun and engaging, and the graphics are a big part of that. "We wanted to make it more like a painting than a cartoon," says Laukat, who is "very excited about how it turned out. It is kind of a sequel. Some of the characters are similar to Bridge Troll, but there are new options."
He likes the game a lot. "It plays equally well with two, three or four players. And I really like how the rules are designed to make restrictions, and you have to find ways to overcome them."
Seegert sees it as a "mid-level strategy game. It works well for families, but gamers like a lot of the hidden twists."
Trollhalla is done very much in the style of European strategy games, a genre where Seegert has had a lot of success. Since he started designing games in 2001, five of his designs have been end-round finalists at the prestigious Hippodice competition in Germany; two have been in the top three.
"That's huge," says Laukat. "He may have placed more games than any other American."
This one placed third at Hippodice in 2008 — except that it wasn't exactly this one. For all that he likes trolls, Seegert's original idea used elephants, and was called Tembo. The basic rules and strategies were the same, but the graphics very different.
Tembo was considered by a couple of German publishers, but eventually not picked up. That may have had something to do with the fact that another game using elephants was released that year. After Bridge Troll was published, Seegert took Tembo to Z-Man Games, "and they were the ones who suggested we change it to trolls," a decision both he and Laukat have been very happy with.
But there are more things than trolls in Seegert's brain. He has another game coming out this summer with FRED/Gryphon Games. It's a parody inspired by Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales." Called The Road to Canterbury: A Game of Pilgrims, Pardoners and the Seven Deadly Sins, it also allows you to play the bad guy, the pardoner who tries to lure people into trouble, so you can sell them forgiveness.
Laukat also has another design coming out, a game called Rails of New England, published by Rio Grande Games.
Both Seegert and Laukat give credit to the Board Game Designers Guild of Utah for input and help with their designs and ideas. Game publishing is a tough, very competitive market, says Laukat. But, in large part because of the guild, this area is becoming known for quality game design and is attracting the attention of major game publishers, he says.
This year, no fewer than five games designed by guild members will be published. Sean D. MacDonald's Pastiche, set in the world of fine art, was recently released by Gryphon Games. Also on the list are King's Vineyard, designed by Dave Haslam and Sandeep Kharkar; and The Heavens of Olympus, designed by Mike Compton.
The guild meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month for prototype play-testing and discussion, from 7-10 p.m. at Game Night Games, located at 2030 S. 900 East. Anyone interested in game design is welcome to attend. (For more information, go to www.bgdg.info.)
"Games are popular here because we have so many families," Laukat says. "They are also a great way to break the ice, get conversation going."
"You get to know people much better by playing games with them than by, say, going to a movie," says Seegert. "And they are highly economical." Even if the initial price seems a bit high, "if you count the cost per time played and per person, they are a bargain. They'll last for years, and can be played over and over again."
A special launch party for Trollhalla will be held March 12, at Game Night Games, 2030 S. 900 East, noon-5 p.m. The event will feature demonstrations, opportunities to play the game, and a chance to meet and talk with designer Alf Seegert and illustrator Ryan Laukat.
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