How To Kill A Hill Troll
Imagine that you took up boxing, and on just your second day of training, you were asked to step into the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world. That’s kind of what life is like for new LOTR LCG players, who upon tackling the second scenario of the game for the first time, Journey Down the Anduin, find themselves face-to-face with a huge and terrifying Hill Troll. This is truly the initiation that every fresh, wet-behind-the-ears LOTR LCG player has to undergo before getting to a place where they feel that they can start to get a grip on things. It’s not surprising, then, that many newer players end up asking the same question: “How the heck do I beat a Hill Troll?” In this article, you will find a (hopefully) concise but (hopefully) definitive guide to taking down a Hill Troll and taking your first step on a journey to truly heroic status. I will prioritize strategies that are feasible with just a Core Set, as I’m assuming that most new players aren’t starting out with a huge collection. However, I will mention some of the possibilities opened up by more recent cards for completion’s sake.
To begin our quest to defeat a hill troll, we must understand exactly what makes this behemoth such a formidable foe. First, you’re looking at an enemy with 6 attack, which far exceeds anything encountered in Passage Through Mirkwood and seems like an obscene value compared to the average attack strength of other enemies. What’s even worse than this high attack is that the ability of the Hill Troll specifically punishes you for engaging in the most logical defensive strategy: chump blocking. By forcing you to raise your threat for each point of damage that exceeds the combined defense and hit points of a defender, the Hill Troll makes sending that lowly Snowbourn Scout to get dutifully beheaded a less appealing proposition (6 attack – (1 defense + 1 hit point) = 4 points of threat gained). Second, with 3 defense and 9 hit points, it takes a combined 12 hit points to defeat the Hill Troll. This is still formidable even with the current card pool’s arsenal of weapons and tricks, but is much more manageable than when you only have the Core Set available. Dealing enough damage to lay low the Hill Troll seems like a herculean task. So you’re essentially faced with a huge enemy that seemingly can only be defended by heroes (if you don’t want a huge threat gain), but hits so hard that he will kill them if he isn’t dispatched quickly, which seems unrealistic because he’s so tough! The final nail in the coffin, and seemingly a sick joke on the part of the designers, is that the Hill Troll enters play from the very first turn of Journey Down the Anduin. You’re not even given a chance to get set up and prepared before that big brute comes lumbering towards you with a giant axe with your name on it. It leaves a new player wondering exactly what in the name of Eru is going on. Well, hang tight, friends, as there are some tried-and-true strategies for taking down a Hill Troll, all of which are possible with only Core Set cards:
Pick at least one offensive and defensive strategy
1) Start with a low threat and keep it low [General Strategy]
Usually, decks can begin with a wide range of starting threat levels and be successful, but certain situations call for special attention. This is one of them. With the Hill Troll sitting in the staging area from turn one, you will want to start below 30 threat (its engagement cost). With a bigger card pool and more experience, you can experiment with starting at 30 and taking on the Hill Troll immediately, but even then it’s a risky proposition. Since you’ll want a few rounds to prepare before you are forced to engage the Hill Troll, a starting threat of 27 is probably a good absolute ceiling for this scenario. The lower your threat, the more time you will have before the Hill Troll comes down, but this means you will probably also have heroes with weaker stats (generally, a hero’s threat is the sum of all of their stats, but not always). This is an example of the intriguing trade-offs and decisions built into the game’s mechanics. Beyond just starting with a low threat, including threat reduction effects, such as The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Gandalf, will also be important to reduce your threat if it starts getting too high before you’re ready. Fortunately, the Hill Troll only has 1 threat, so you can keep it in the staging area without worrying about making questing too difficult for yourself.
Additional Card Pool Options –> There are more threat reduction options available now (Nori, Elrond’s Counsel, and Lore Aragorn, to name a few), while having more heroes to choose from makes choosing a low-threat starting line-up much easier. Spirit Glorfindel, in particular, provides amazing stats for a low starting threat, which makes this whole strategy easier to employ while having enough combat power to tackle the Hill Troll.
2) Find a big ol’ net and use it [Defensive Strategy]
Forest Snare is a Lore trap in the Core Set and can be your best friend against the Hill Troll. You can play this trap onto a Hill Troll and prevent it from attacking…forever. At that point, it just becomes a matter of whittling down the Hill Troll’s hit points at your leisure and advancing to the next stage. This strategy will usually take a bit of time to put into action (taking us back to strategy #1), because first you need to draw Forest Snare, and then you will need 3 Lore resources to pay for it. The first point is very important to understand, as any strategy that is so dependent on a single card will need card draw to be consistent. Thus, Forest Snare should be paired with card draw effects, which shouldn’t be a problem for Lore as it is the sphere of card draw. Beravor, Gleowine, Lorien’s Wealth, and Gandalf’s Search are all card draw options present in the Core Set, and you should include at least two of these effects (as many copies as possible) to maximize your chances of getting Forest Snare when you need it. Keep in mind that since Forest Snare is an attachment, you will have to let the Hill Troll take one swing at you after the encounter phase in which the Hill Troll engages and before the next planning phase in which you can play Forest Snare. If you have Son of Arnor in your deck, though, you can use it to bring the Hill Troll and trap it during the same planning phase, but this takes a bit of luck (and resources). This approach to the Hill Troll is ideal for decks that are weaker in combat (usually Lore and Spirit) and for those players who don’t mind getting a bit tricksy. For those who feel the Forest Snare is a bit cheap or have already used this technique successfully a few times, there are other options.
Additional Card Pool Options –> Forest Snare is still a perfectly viable option with an expanded card pool, and works even better since there are more card draw effects out there (Mithrandir’s Advice, Ori, Ancient Mathom, Foe-hammer, etc.)
3) Feint and dodge [Defensive Strategy]
The Tactics sphere has its own one turn version of Forest Snare, which is Feint. If you can draw at least one copy of this card before the Hill Troll engages, you can prevent it from attacking for at least one turn. As with Forest Snare, since this strategy also revolves around one card, you’ll have to include some of those Lore draw effects, necessitating a Lore/Tactics combination. Keep in mind that since Feint only stops the Hill Troll for one turn (unless you can draw multiple copies), you’ll have to have an offensive strategy that allows you to kill it within one or two turns, or an alternative defensive strategy. Note that while Thicket of Spears is theoretically an option here, it is much more expensive, and you’re not running a mono-Tactics deck with Core Set cards (at least, you shouldn’t be if you want to win). Quick Strike is a viable alternative/addition to Feint, but only if you have a single character with enough strength to deal damage to the Hill Troll on its own, which is pretty much only Gimli in the Core Set.
Additional Card Pool Options –> Hama can recycle Feint nearly endlessly, and the Book of Eldacar can also allow you to get multiple uses out of a single copy. There also are a bunch of other non-Tactics options for preventing an enemy from attacking: Hobbit-sense (although you can’t attack back), O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! (this will actually put the Hill Troll on the bottom of the encounter deck), and Out of Sight.
4) Defend with a hero [Defensive Strategy]
There are only two heroes in the Core Set that can defend against a Hill Troll without immediately dying (and with no assistance from other cards): Aragorn and Gimili. Both will be left with a single hit point, and you will want to make sure you have shadow cancellation around (Hasty Stroke), in case the Hill Troll’s attack is unexpectedly boosted. Obviously this is only a short-term strategy and will buy you a turn, unless you can throw some healing effects into the mix. Since you’ll need the full 5 hit points back, only Lore of Imladris or Beorn’s Hospitality will do the trick in terms of the Core Set, unless you combine several different effects. The great thing about using Gimli for this strategy is that at least you’ll have him fully powered up for the following turn to swing back at the Hill Troll, or on the same turn if you’ve been fortunate enough to get a copy of Unexpected Courage attached. There are a few defensive boosting options that might allow you to use other heroes (Denethor + For Gondor!, for example) for this purpose or make Aragorn/Gimli better (Blade Mastery or Citadel Plate). The Citadel Plate and Gimli combination is a particularly effective option as it addresses both your defensive and offensive needs, but it is certainly expensive at 4 resources. Stand Together can allow you to pair a few characters together to boost defense against the Hill Troll, but this takes away characters from the counter-attack and so isn’t the best strategy, in my experience. Overall, if you’re going this route, you will need a strong plan of attack to make sure the Hill Troll is defeated in one or two turns.
Additional Card Pool Options –> Again, this is an area where there are now almost too many options to comfortably list. Beregond + Gondorian Shield is an amazing combination that can allow you to completely block a Hill Troll’s entire attack. As such, I’d almost be tempted to suggest that new players buy Heirs of Numenor and The Steward’s Fear for this combination alone, if the HoN quests weren’t so difficult (if that doesn’t bother you, then feel free!). Those two cards truly do solve a ton of defensive issues. Frodo, who was released just a few packs after the Core Set, in the Conflict at the Carrock pack, is also a solid option. He only has 2 defense, but can completely cancel damage that would be placed on him. What this means in practice, as it has been ruled by FFG, is that his ability makes it as if the damage was never placed at all, meaning that while you have to raise your threat for Frodo’s cancellation ability, you don’t have to raise it additionally for the Hill Troll’s effect. So while Frodo as a defender brings up some of the same issues as the chump blocking approach (raising your threat), at least you aren’t losing characters in the process.
5) Defend with an ally [Defensive Strategy]
This is certainly a safer option than #4 in terms of preserving your heroes. However, taking a few rounds of Hill Troll punishment in this form will soon skyrocket your threat. As with #4, you will want to minimize the number of rounds the Hill Troll is engaged with you (meaning you must kill it quickly), and loading up on threat reduction effects will help to cancel out the increases to your threat. There are a couple of strong allies that can chump block and only incur a 1 or 2 threat penalty (Faramir and Longbeard Orc Slayer, for example), but they usually are more expensive and this is probably a wasteful approach. Gondorian Spearman is a cheap ally that will cause a large threat increase if you sacrifice him (4 threat total), but at least provides the satisfaction of dealing 1 damage to the Hill Troll along the way. If you combine his ability with Swift Strike, then the deal is even sweeter (3 damage total), but unfortunately there is only 1 copy of Swift Strike in the Core Set.
Additional Card Pool Options –> There are now much stronger defensive allies that you can sacrifice to the Hill Troll without absorbing a bunch of threat. Defender of Rammas and Winged Guardian, to take just two examples, can take a swing from a Hill Troll and only incur 1 point of threat, and each only costs 2 resources. The direct damage effects only touched on with Gondorian Spearman/Swift Strike can now be complemented with many other similar effects. Spear of the Citadel and Goblin-cleaver are just two examples, and direct damage emerges as a viable way of taking down a Hill Troll quickly.
6) Sneak in the big guns [Defensive/Offensive Strategy]
With just the Core Set cards, Sneak Attack + Gandalf is your best friend. It is a tribute to the power of this combination that it still pops up in current decks with the entirety of the card pool available, but it is even more meaningful when you have to work with only the limited set of Core cards. Sneaking in Gandalf during the combat phase will allow you to not only place 4 damage on the Hill Troll, but you also will have access to 4 points of either attack or defense. Then, barring another copy of Sneak Attack and assuming you have the resources available, you can pay for Gandalf conventionally the next turn since he sneaks back into your hand at the end of the phase. Outside of Forest Snare, Sneak Attack + Gandalf is the quickest and safest way to deal with the threat of a Hill Troll. Note that Gandalf isn’t the only game in town, however, as you can also use Sneak Attack in combination with Beorn. This Tactics ally is often prohibitively expensive, but with Sneak Attack, you can use him either as a strong defender (3 defense and 6 hit points) or as a monstrous attacker (8 attack using his special ability, and then he pops back into your hand before his effect shuffles him back into your deck).
Additional Card Pool Options –> This is still a completely viable and valuable approach, but you have even more options with a broader card pool. Beorn and Gandalf are some of the “biggest guns” around in terms of ally attack power, but Erebor Battle Master, if you are running a Dwarf deck, can quickly bring a Hill Troll down to size. New cards like Elf-stone and A Very Good Tale provide alternatives to Sneak Attack for getting strong allies into play for free. Even better, the Tome of Atanatar opens up the possibility of recycling Sneak Attack, allowing you to drop 8 points of damage on a Hill Troll in a single turn, if you so desire.
7) Power up Gimli [Offensive Strategy]
Beating the Hill Troll with the Core Set means one of two things: creating a swarm of allies or relying on the best troll killer around, Gimli. The Gimli strategy for defeating the Hill Troll is fairly straightforward, and perhaps the most satisfying, but requires several moving pieces to be put in place, again stressing the important of point #1 (keeping your threat low). First, you need to get Citadel Plate on Gimli. Second, you can either use him to absorb the first two swings of the Hill Troll (each attack will deal 4 damage to him, for a total of 8, which is just 1 shy of death with the Citadel Plate) or allow other enemies to damage him. Then, you can counter-attack with Gimli, now that he is powered up. A fully damaged and “charged” Gimli will be hitting with an attack strength of 10, which is enough to deal 7 damage to a Hill Troll. This means that Gimli alone can take out the Hill Troll in two turns. However, if you want to pull off the single turn smash, you need to add in one other character with 2 attack to the party, or give Gimli a Dwarven Axe, which boosts his defense by 2.
Additional Card Pool Options –> Much of the same still applies, but all of the Dwarf cards that have been released since the Core Set make Gimli even stronger. Khazad! Khazad!, Durin’s Song, and Dain Ironfoot can all be used to boost Gimli’s attack strength. There are also now alternatives to Gimli for the one man army approach: Support of the Eagles, Gondorian Fire, Rivendell Blade, and the hero version of Beorn can all work well.
8) Use a swarm to pile on the Hill Troll [Offensive Strategy]
Unlike the Gimli approach, there isn’t necessarily one way to build up a swarm of allies that can defeat the Hill Troll or one cast of characters that can do it. What you need is a deck with a low starting threat and/or threat reduction so that you have time to put 4-5 allies on the board. Steward of Gondor and Horn of Gondor are invaluable to speed up this process. Keeping in mind that you need 12 attack strength total to kill a Hill Troll, the number of allies you need will depend on the strength of your heroes and the strength of the allies themselves. If you have a deck sporting 2 heroes with 3 attack each, say Aragorn and Legolas, then you only need to make up 6 points of attack with allies. If, however, you are running a deck with only 2 or 3 points of attack available from your heroes, then you will need 9 or 10 points of attack from your allies. Given that the latter deck will probably have strong questing ability, you should be able to prioritize allies with strong attack and lower willpower, and generally, for this swarm strategy, you are looking for allies that give you high attack for low cost. For the Core Set, Veteran Axehand is one of the best deals around, giving you 2 attack for 2 resources. In the next tier, allies like Son of Arnor and Silverlode Archer provide 2 attack for 3 resources. Finally, you have expensive options like Longbeard Orc Slayer and Northern Tracker. More than likely, Gandalf will play a key role in this swarm strategy to lower the number of allies you need to successfully reach the damage dealing capacity you need to defeat the Hill Troll.
Additional Card Pool Options –> There are too many new allies to list here, but suffice to say that the swarming option is way easier with an expanded card pool than it is with the Core Set. To take just one example, Vassal of the Windlord provides 3 attack for a single resource. There also are several ways to quickly get allies onto the table as well: Fili/Kili, A Very Good Tale, Thorin/Ori, Elrond/Vilya, etc.
I hope that this guide will prove useful to you in your epic quest to defeat a Hill Troll and save the world. After slaying the troll, you’ll still have to navigate down a river and fight off a flurry of enemies, but at least you’ll be on your way. As always, feel free to share your own insights below if you are a skilled troll hunter, or ask further questions if you are still struggling. Happy hunting!