|Game Name:||Gloomhaven||Published Year:||2017|
|Game Publisher:||Cephalofair Games||Player Scale:||1-4|
|Game Designer:||Isaac Childres||Run Time:||90-150 min|
“The far east of the kingdom, a new city, full of adventures, treasures and opportunities.” At least is what they sold you when you decided to move to these lands. You found a decaying town, full of shady figures in every corner and full of dangers outside its walls. And that persistent fog doesn’t help with the gloomy atmosphere all over town. At least there seems to be plenty of work for a mercenary looking to make a quick gold, and that is why you decide to stay, there is always time to move on to another place. Your first visit into town is the only tavern, the Sleeping Lion, that has to be the place to be to look for news and work. You ask for the house Ale, which is better than you expected, and look around to find out there are a few mercenaries around too. Someone approaches and ask you “Hey! You look like you’re new around town and you’re looking for a job, do you want to join our group?”. Your story starts here.
Gloomhaven is a dungeon crawler made of interconnected quests that form a persistent campaign. The common denominator is going to be the band of mercenaries that you are going to create at the very beginning of the game, on which heroes will come and go.The premise of the game is that you’re going to play an epic campaign of around 70 scenarios in total, including secondary quests where your decisions will alter how the city evolves. This is a legacy game, which means your decisions during gameplay will have permanent effects.
How it plays
You start with 6 different classes unlocked that you can chose from to create your heroes, and as you keep advancing in the game you’ll be able to unlock new classes up to a total of 17. Each class has its own ability deck and plays quite differently, adding a lot of variety during the whole game. When you create a new character, it will get a personal goal, that once completed will retire the character and unlock a new class, this is not optional and even if you get a bit attached to your character after a few quests you’ll be very excited to see what is coming with the new unlocked one.
In town, you’ll be able to level up between quests, buy new objects at the shop with the hard-earned gold from your adventures and donate to the town’s church among other activities. New objects get added to the shop via designs found in the dungeons and increasing the prosperity of the city. As you keep playing some of your decisions will affect the city and how it will grow. Between quests you will also have small encounters, that get solved via chose A or B kind of decisions.
The quests are quite varied although most of the objectives consist in killing everything in the dungeon, but from time to time you get something quite different. The gameplay usually feels more of a puzzle than the usual dungeon crawler, as there are no dice in Gloomhaven, which for me personally is welcome to this genre. There is still a bit of randomness via the battle deck which I’ll explain in a bit.
At the beginning of the quest you get to choose a limited number of cards (depending on your character) from your total card pool. These will be your actions for the game and will also act as a timer. Every round, the players will choose two cards from their hand, that they will commit for the round, and use one of them as initiative. The initiative will determine the order of play for the round. In your turn then you’ll be able to use the upper part of one of the cards and the lower part of the other card, these being your actions. Some actions will discard the card and others will force you to lose it. After your hand is depleted you’ll have to rest, before you get back your discard pile except one card that gets lost. This way, little by little, your hand will be reduced until you don’t have cards to play and you’re exhausted. Brilliant system, it is very strategic and keeps the whole game tense.
As I said before, there are no dice in the game, but the battle deck will have a similar effect. It will add a modifier to your attack, like -1 or +2, critical hits (x2) or a miss. The advantage of having this deck of cards is that you can modify it with perks that you gain by accomplishing battle goals and levelling up. A very dynamic system that keep things interesting for building your character as you want. Talking about levelling up, each time it happens apart from the perk you also get to add a new card to your pool. This means that even if you want to play the same class you can build a different kind of character.
In the dungeons you’ll face multiple foes, 34 different kind of enemies and 13 bosses in total. As this is a pure co-op game the enemies will be controlled by an AI deck, which will be unique for each kind of monster with different actions. Some of the enemies share an AI deck, for example archers from different races, they all have the same actions but different statistics. Rules for controlling the enemies are simple and quite straightforward not requiring too much time to manage their turn. They all share a monster battle deck in the game.
Being a full co-op game you can play solo running a couple of characters, here it will depend how much your brain can take, I particularly found the sweet-spot running 3. One of the things I like about the game is that you can keep playing with the same group of mercenaries but using different characters, as they can drop in and out quite easily, though you can always make a different group, they won’t share some achievements necessary for some quests, but there is so much content that they will play wonderfully. You can always try to start the game from the beginning with a second group keeping track of everything unlocked separately, but I think the effort is not worth it seeing as how much content the game has.
After the game got delivered Isaac released 17 extra scenarios, one for each class, meant to be played with only one character that will unlock an especial item for that class. You can find them for free here, the original post from Isaac at BoardGameGeek or as there is right now a second Kickstarter campaign you can purchase a printed copy with the extra cards as an addon.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the 50 pages rulebook, I actually found that is quite an easy read and the rules are straightforward and easy to remember. The game is oozing with theme all over, is refreshing to see different races and some of the encounters’ results will depend on race/class sometimes. The quests are quite typical for a fantasy game, but the story they create keeps you engaged for whole time, in our group we are around 15 quests in, with only one character retired and we are far from getting tired of the game.
I found the gameplay quite innovative with the use of cards, very strategic and leaving little to luck, in that aspect the game feels more of a puzzle to solve than the usual dungeon crawler. You have to plan the quests carefully so you don’t get exhausted too soon; all of the quests we’ve played so far were never an easy win. The quests themselves also feel very well balanced for all player counts, that will change the number of enemies you’ll encounter. Talking about difficulty, the game gives you the option to play in an easier or a more difficult mode changing the level of the enemies. This is calculated depending on your group average, so it won’t matter if you have low characters in more advanced quests at it will balance itself out, and so far it has worked pretty well.
I would say that the game is on the medium/heavy spectrum, though not difficult to pick up it will take a couple of games to start seeing how to use wisely your cards. We lost our first game by exhausting too soon, and we learned our lesson. If you lose the quest, you’ll need to replay it, but the good thing is you keep the XP and loot gained in the failed run. All in all, the learning curve for the game is appropriate, keeping the game challenging at all times without it being overwhelmingly difficult, and if you want a greater challenge you can always increase the difficulty.
Component wise, the quality is good, I would have liked to have thicker cards, but as they don’t get shuffled they are holding pretty well. The art is good and there is a lot of variety. The ability cards don’t have any pictures, but this means the abilities text can take the whole card making it very easy to read and more practical. One thing I would have liked is to see a bit more variety in the terrain tiles for the dungeons. All in all, the production is excellent for the price tag and how much content is in the box. If you’re a fantasy or RPG fan, and love dungeon crawlers, I would recommend you run out right now and book a copy in the next reprint through Kickstarter, for me is the closest thing to an RPG in a box that I’ve played so far. If you are not, go get it anyway!
The Good: Thematic, strategic puzzle-like gameplay without dice, legacy aspects of the game, the classes play very differently, so much content…
The Bad: With such a big game, you’ll need a big time commitment to fully enjoy the whole experience it offers. The game is heavier than the bookcase is holding it at the moment.
That’s all for the Gloomhaven review folks!
If you like what you’ve read and were doubting about picking up the game you still have a couple of days left to support Isaac directly through Kickstarter and jump into the second print of the game. The game has rapidly risen in the BoardGameGeek ranks (currently #7) and is gaining its own place in the podium with merits.
Time to finish the Ale at the Sleeping Lion and head out looking for new adventures, I’ll see you around in Gloomhaven!