Totally Worth a Roll of the Dice (If There Were Any…)
by: Nico Maturo Follow Nico on Twitter by clicking here!
Let me preface this article by saying I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I would like anyone who ends up purchasing Gloomhaven from this article to experience as much joy and excitement as I have from unlocking new parts of this game.
Gloomhaven is a campaign-based, legacy board game, meaning the choices your party makes throughout the story alters the surrounding landscape, your future missions and even your interactions with the citizens of the city of Gloomhaven. At the core, Gloomhaven is a dungeon-crawling RPG, having you select from one of the six starting classes and battling your way through thousands of foes for fame and precious loot. And it is freaking awesome.
After opening the whopping 20 pound box and punching out all the necessary tiles and various items, you are given the choice to start as one of the six starting classes, each with their own personal backstories, stats, and abilities. My group that I play with has only used four out of the six, but each class feels very unique and well-balanced. There is no completely overpowered class that just carries the group to victory; we all have to rely on one another to play with strategy and efficiency if we want to survive. Your character also starts with the choice of two life goals: a complex task that your character wishes to achieve over the course of their life. This life goal will easily take hours and dozens of scenarios to complete, but all of your hard work will pay off. Upon completing your life goal, you get to “retire” your character, and unlock one of the additional eleven playable classes that come with the game. Which class you unlock depends on your life goal, as each goal card has an emblem on the bottom that matches one of the unlockable classes in box. I don’t know if other games have a feature similar to this since I haven’t played a ton of tabletop games in my life, but this was one of the coolest additions to a game I have ever seen.
Not only does the life goal give players an achievement to work towards while just playing the game, it creates hundreds of hours of replay value all while keeping things fresh for the player. A small part of the game, but something I wanted to spotlight because it was a very nice touch.
In Gloomhaven, you will spend 95 percent of your time fighting enemies. I am glad to say the fighting system is unique, challenging and hasn’t gotten the least bit stale in my 25+ hours of play so far. There are no dice required to do battle, instead a card based system has been implemented here. Each character enters the scenario with a fixed number of playable cards, each with a different action on the top and bottom half. These actions cover all of your attacks, movement, and heals. Each player picks one top action and one bottom action as their turn for the round.
Where this system really shines is the way these cards are lost from your hand. After completing your turn, your cards are sent to a discard pile, and can not be used again unless you take a rest in the next round. Once you lose all cards from your hand, you are obviously forced to rest since you have no actions to play. When you rest, you are forced to look through your discard pile and pick a card to send to your “lost” pile.
Being sent to the lost pile works exactly as it sounds, the card is lost for the duration of your mission. Some actions are even a one-time use – once a specific action with a red X next to it is used in battle, the entire card is sent to the lost pile immediately and cannot be recovered until you win or die. While this system seems fairly simple, it does a great job replicating a character’s stamina and creates a sense of urgency while fighting. Being down to your last three or four cards while fighting a boss or a group of monsters has led our group to some extremely tense moments.
photo courtesy of TabletopGaming.UK
Using certain attacks in battle and completing scenarios rewards you with experience points. These experience points are obviously how you level up your character, and leveling up is vital to your survival in Gloomhaven.Every time you level up, your character may gain additional starting health points, and gets to replace one of their initial action cards with one of two more powerful cards that match the character’s current level. Since you can only pick one of the two new cards to add to your hand, the decisions can be tough and really give you the satisfaction of molding the character to how you want to play.
Your character can also complete mini-quests inside each scenario that reward your character with small buffs like increasing the chance to land a critical hit on every attack, or adding a chance to poison your enemies on an attack. These two perks create a sense of a character tree, similar to how you level characters on console RPGs.
It’s also worth noting just how much content is packed into this game. In the main game, there are 95 total campaign scenarios. Each scenario can take roughly 90 minutes to complete. That makes 8,550 minutes of battle time alone. That doesn’t include reading the city and road cards which can affect your group’s reputation and ability to fight, or the time spent reading all the lore of the world. There is even a random dungeon generator if you beat the main campaign that allows you to create new tasks for your group to face if you want to stray from the campaign for the night. Also, there is one expansion scheduled to release later this year, adding new scenarios, classes, enemies, and items. To say you get your money’s worth for this game is an understatement.
I do have two very minor complaints about Gloomhaven, but these do not affect the actual gameplay at all. First, the price tag of $140 seems pretty steep to me. I don’t have much tabletop experience in my life, but I can’t imagine too many games that cost as much or more than Gloomhaven. Since the game was sold out at the time my group wanted to start playing, we actually had to buy it from an amazon reseller for $160. Since there are four of us that were interested, we decided to each chip in $40, which made the overall cost easier to manage. My other minor nitpick is that all of the enemies in the game are punch-outs that you place in stands. I really wish we could have gotten some enemies, or at least the bosses, as a 3D character piece. Doing so probably would’ve raised the price tag even higher, so I understand the decision, though.
Gloomhaven is without a doubt the very best board game I have ever played. It is just so intricate and fun that all I want to do after work is get together with my group and play again. I love how in-depth and unique each character is, and how each character can be built up to play to your liking. I have found myself watching others play on twitch or looking up more information about the game in most of my free time in the last few weeks. I seriously can’t get enough of this game, and I don’t see myself ever getting fatigued from playing. I would highly recommend picking up Gloomhaven to both tabletop novices and veterans alike.