This post has been a long time coming; I’ve been waiting months to talk properly about Gloomhaven! Despite being hooked after just one scenario, I really wanted to give the game some time to show me everything it had to offer. So, after more than 25 hours of gameplay, I feel I can safely reflect on what has been one of my most memorable tabletop experiences to date…
So, what’s all the fuss about?
Gloomhaven is a tabletop RPG set in the fantasy world of the same name. The game is an epic team experience, where adventurers work through scenarios, some a part of overarching story plots, others side quests with glistening rewards. The decisions made through the game gain or lose reputation in the city, and set the group towards a path of dark or light (and occasionally moral ambiguity that leads to a healthy dosage of debate).
Gloomhaven has a longstanding position as #1 on Board Game Geek (now closely rivalled by Pandemic: Legacy), a status I was unsure any game deserved until my friend surprised us with the news that he had bought a copy. Since then, we have squeezed as many board game meets we possibly could into our busy adult schedules, covering 9 scenarios in total (yet, we’re barely 10% of the way through!).
Scenarios are pieced together using different tiles, whose jigsaw like nature mean each scenario slots together uniquely to present new challenges. These challenges are all scripted through a highly detailed instruction manual, but the successful completion of them is down to the tactics and strategy used during combat.
Combat takes a little bit of getting used to, and really the only way to understand it is to just start playing the game. To summarise, players perform actions by playing cards from their hand. They must rest to return used cards to their hand, but each rest results in a card being permanently lost, which eventually leads to the character becoming exhausted.
Depending on your character and build, exhaustion can be reached easily and sometimes by no fault of the player. Particularly punishing hits can be deflected by losing a card, and if a difficult enemy spawns near you then this can be hard to avoid. Becoming exhausted means a player can not participate for the rest of the scenario, so being careful with what cards you play and when is essential.
Managing your deck is a skill, and it certainly takes a couple of scenarios to get confident with the options available to you. As seasoned board gamers, we are still even now rule-checking during combat – Gloomhaven is immensely fun but you definitely need your wits about you if you want to complete missions on the first try.
So, I’ve been playing as a Cragheart called Cronus, a creature of the earth who can manipulate the elements. He is slow – often lumbering far behind his comrades – but with a range that no one else on the team can rival. He also has the ability to heal members of the group, making him one of the most well-rounded characters I have seen in play yet. With an 11-card deck and a generous amount of HP, he is also hard to exhaust, meaning I have room to burn the odd card here and there for a particularly hard-hitting attack.
What is special about Gloomhaven is that each character comes with a personal goal that when completed will allow them to retire. Of our group, I will likely be the first to retire – nine scenarios into the story, I am nearing the end of my life objective, which is to kill 20 elite enemies. Team work has been paramount to this success – my friends stepping aside to give me the final blow means I will soon have to bid farewell to Cronus and enter the game again with someone new. I have loved the versatility of the Cragheart, but I am looking forward to playing someone a little more challenging – watch this space.
Criticisms? Each scenario takes a long while to set up – everything needs to be in the correct place as per the instruction manual. We sometimes alternate who hosts, so the entire game gets packed away between each meeting. It’s probably most sensible to play consistently at the house of the person who owns the game, and also have many, many small containers on hand for the various different tokens – wounds, poison, damage to enemies, stuns, etc. all have their own cardboard tokens that usually require digging around in a bag to find.
Overall, I think Gloomhaven is worth every penny of its £110+ price tag. It’s a truly immersive RPG experience, and I look forward to every single game. The amount of content is unbelievable, with chests, personal objectives and events in the game leading to new items, new locations to quest in, and even new characters. It is a game that has to be experienced to be believed, and after playing I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to agree with its #1 rank on Board Game Geek. Roll on many more adventures!
Have you played the much-loved Gloomhaven? What were your thoughts on the game?