What's Eric Playing? #187: Troika
Only three Oink Games left in the review queue — Troika, Dungeon of Mandom VIII, and the one that started it all, for me, Deep Sea Adventure. I should probably try to find Troll at some point but that seems difficult. Who knows? It’s possible. Maybe they’ll have more weird games at Gen Con that I can pick up and keep this train running forever.
Either way, in Troika, you have heard the rumor of a planet with valuable gems and sought after its treasure. Unfortunately, you’ve arrived to find that not only did you have severe engine trouble, but you are not the first person to have heard this rumor; it’s crawling with explorers looking to get rich (which, to be fair, so are you). Weirdly, you experienced colossal engine trouble on the way to this planet, but even more strangely, so did everyone else. As luck would have it, these precious gems can also be used as fuel, even though it breaks your heart to do so. Can you gather enough gems to get off this rock and still get rich?
Setup is super simple. There’s a bunch of tiles:
There are three tiles numbered 1 – 15, with one exception: there are seven 7 tiles.
There are some scoring tokens because what would an Oink be without a way to extend a short game over multiple rounds? Set them aside:
And that’s kind of … it. Shuffle the tiles and spread them out over the play area. If you’re playing with two players, remove 10 tiles without looking at them. In either case, flip one tile over and have each player take one face-down tile and you’re ready to start!
The game of Troika is pretty straightforward. On your turn, you do the following:
- Flip a tile face-up.
- Take a face-up tile, take a face-down tile, or return a tile.
You may do any one of those three actions, and I’ll explain each of them.
Taking a face-up tile is pretty simple. You just take it and add it face-up to your Container. No sweat, no limit, no problem.
Taking a face-down tile is a bit more complicated. You take it and add it to your hand, but you can only have three tiles in your hand. If you have three already, you cannot perform this action.
Returning a tile is also pretty straightforward. You just … put a face-up tile back into the center (face-up), or put a face-down tile back into the center (face-down). There’s not really much more to it than that.
Your goal is to make at least one set of fuel:
Which is any set of three tokens that have the same number. You also want to make gems:
Which are three-tile straights. When the round ends, any tiles that are not included in these triads are considered “trash”.
After you take your turn, if the following conditions are true:
- You have five face-up tiles in your Container;
- You have one complete fuel triad;
- You have zero trash between your Hand and Container;
You may say “Troika!” to end your participation in the round. You’ll gain 5 bonus points if you’re the first one to do so, but even if you’re not, you will not take any more turns. Uh, just as a side note, if you say “Troika!” and you do not meet those three conditions, you lose instantly. Bummer.
Either way, play continues until either all players have said “Troika!” except for one, or when the last tile is flipped. Once you’ve done that, you score.
So, scoring is a bit weird.
- If you do not have a complete fuel triad, you score 0 points. You were stranded because you forgot to get fuel! Sad times.
- Otherwise, each gem triad scores the rightmost digit of the highest value in the triad. So, 7-8-9 is worth 9 points, 12-13-14 is worth 4 points, and 8-9-10 is worth … 0 points. Don’t do that.
The player with the most points wins! If you’d like to, you can track “score” between rounds using the tried-and-true Oink method seen in Maskmen and Startups — the Scoring Tokens! Give the +2 to the highest scoring player, the +1 to the second-highest scoring player, and the -1 to the lowest scoring player. After three rounds, the player with the most points in Scoring Tokens wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
The main difference at higher player counts is resource scarcity — as you play with 5 – 6 players, a score that wouldn’t have even won a 3- or 4-player game is now thoroughly unattainable. Your best bet is going to be to try to Troika out before it gets too hairy, as you won’t really be able to expect a lot of the game state to stay consistent between turns and it might get away from you. It’s pretty similar to Maskmen in that regard, honestly.
I’d probably say the sweet spot for Troika (for me) is 3 or 4. I tend to like games where I feel like I have a bit more control over the outcome, and I don’t get that quite as much at higher player counts.
- Don’t forget the essentials. Yes, getting lots of points is nice, but you need at least one set of fuel if you’re going to get off of that rock. By the same logic, you should also not hoard fuel; you really only need one set, so once you’ve got that, focus on getting gems and scoring points. That’s not to say you should never take two fuel sets (it might be worth it to avoid taking trash), just that you only need one and shouldn’t burden yourself with more than that. I mean, if you want extra fuel, live your truth. It’s just not going to score you literally any points or push you closer to winning.
- Don’t be afraid to take something someone else needs. You can always return it before the round ends, or worst case it’s -1 point to completely ruin someone’s fuel strategy. If you see a player taking three of a face-up tile, help yourself to one. It’s mean, but, I mean, you’re not here to make friends, probably. You’re here to make money.
- Keep at least one extra tile in your hand. Hidden information is really powerful in this game; it makes you a lot harder to predict. That’s why you can only hold three tiles in hand at a time (and why you need to have a bunch of face-up tiles to declare Troika).
- You want the 7 – 8 – 9 combo. It’s worth the most points, so go for it. 6 – 7 – 8 and 5 – 6 – 7 aren’t too bad, either, and since the 7 is abundant it’s easy to be somewhat flexible around which end of that combo you shoot for. 9’s will be tough to come by, though.
- It’s easy to make fuel from 7’s; just make sure everyone else isn’t doing that. There are seven 7’s in the game, easily enough for fuel for two people. That said, they’re also usually part of some very high-scoring gem combos, so you’re going to see a lot of contention around those. Depending on what you’re going for, it may be worth just letting other players fight over them and leaving them alone, or you might find it valuable to get a couple and try to make two sets of gem combos with them (and some fuel).
- Other good fuel sources: 1’s, 10’s, 11’s. These are the lowest-scoring end tiles in the game, so players typically don’t go for them. While they’re a decent start, they’re not like, the tiles you play to win a game. I’ll often see them left in the center by players; I mean, who’s honestly going to fight you for the worst tiles in the game? Only someone with the same idea.
- Never take 10 within a gem combo. 8 – 9 – 10 scores … 0 points. Don’t do that to yourself.
- Watch when you Troika. If you Troika too early (or as soon as you can), especially at low player counts, you run the pretty significant risk that your opponents will both run out the round and run up their scores and leave you high and dry. It’s a much better idea, in my opinion, at higher player counts, given the increased contention, but watch out at about three players. You should wait until there are only a few tiles left, for maximum effect. Just make sure nobody beats you to it, at that point!
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Cool theme. You’re collecting fancy space rocks and deciding whether you want to sell them for money or burn them for fuel! It’s fun.
- Great art style. The tokens are super colorful and I love the subtle color progression! Again, not terribly surprising from Oink — they’ve always been on point when it comes to game art.
- Easy to learn. The game itself is pretty simple and straightforward, even I can’t always say the same about the rulebook.
- Super portable. A staple for Oinks, but I really appreciate it nonetheless. I have enough now that I can just kind of throw them all into a bag / backpack and have a super awesome (and astonishingly variable) game day pretty much anywhere. It’s an aesthetic schtick that I’ve really come to appreciate — small boxes, fun and solidly replayable games.
- The box art is very nice. I really, really like the blue gradient. It’s not their usual, but it’s quite striking.
- The box isn’t that full, so the tiles can be weird to put back. There’s not really an insert (honestly rather common for Oinks), but it’s not a full enough box to keep the tiles really in any semblance of order. They just kinda bounce around and stuff, which can be a bit of a problem, especially since the tiles are rather thin. I worry about them.
- The actual theme of the game doesn’t really come out in any pieces except for the scoring tokens. Like, this could be a fishing game, honestly, and still basically use the same pieces. For Oink (which is normally super all up on theme) this is a weirdly themeless game. Not a huge problem, but definitely a meh, when I think about it.
- It’s weird that the tiles are thin and the scoring tokens aren’t. I wish the tiles were thicker — it’d give the game more of a table presence, in my opinion, but, oh well.
- Rulebook’s a bit hard to follow. This has also been a common experience with Oink games, but it’s a challenge learning any of them for the first time since the rulebooks tend to be a bit on the vague / confusing side. Just something to watch out for.
- Fairly random. I mean, it’s sort of meant to be, because it’s so light, but you are kind of just flipping over tiles and deciding which one you want to take. It’s a bit hard to have an overarching strategy (I tend to play tactically), and that might be frustrating for players in your group.
OVERALL: 7.5 / 10
Honestly, at this point I just kind of stack-rank the Oinks that I play, and this one is nicely situated with its peer The Pyramid’s Deadline. Both have some randomness issues that I can occasionally find frustrating, but honestly, both are super short, super light, and super simple games with a bit of a press-your-luck element. I think Troika is the simpler of the two, since it has a much more straightforward turn ordering, scoring, and play concept, but it does have that rather weird scoring thing about the rightmost digit. I think this one might be more of a family game since you don’t need to have a super strong grasp on the strategy of it, and honestly, I think that’s fine. Some basic math is required, but even then you could just say “you need three of the same color” and you’ve got half of the rules down pat. Anyways, I think Troika is a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for another solid game from Oink, I think this doesn’t disappoint!