28 July 2018

Gloomhaven megapost! Review, pictures and player aids and accessories!

It has been weeks since I posted something, the warm weather has made pretty much put a halt to any creative efforts. However, we purchased Gloomhaven a couple of weeks ago and have been playing it like mad, we have probably played it more than 30 hours in total since we play for most weekends and almost every evening!

I was very skeptical about this game, but both Caroline and I are greatly impressed with how damn good it is. It warrants a megapost combining my review, pictures of painted characters and some information about valuable player aids that I highly recommend!

The game

Let's start with the game and what it is about. Gloomhaven is a legacy based tactical dungeon crawler. It is also a co-op game for 2-4 players.

This means that the game evolves during gameplay, characters level up and retire, new characters are unlocked, locations are unlocked on a map, stuff can be upgraded and things carry over from one game to the next. A large world map is slowly covered in stickers and you track your progress on several tracks and paper character sheets. Cards get added and removed from random encounter decks and parts of the game are removed forever after certain encounters or achievements have been performed.

The game is also a tactical dungeon crawler in the sense that most of the gameplay is about combat stretching over 95 written scenarios (half of which make up a branched narrative story, and half are standalone scenarios and personal quests tied to certain characters) and there are also endless random dungeons that are generated by a "dungeon deck". Players visit the various scenarios as they are unlocked, and  for the most part combat through them, though some scenarios are not about killing everything but rather performing a certain task. But combat is the core gameplay.

Combat in Gloomhaven is performed with action cards and a combat deck instead of dice. Each character can start at level 1 and can be leveled up to a maximum of level 9. The starting level comes with beginner action cards that are tied to your class  only and unique to that character. As you level up, you get two new cards unlocked and you pick one of them to add to your deck.

This simulates a computer roleplaying game where you have a branching character skill tree. Each character however, is limited to a set number of cards to be brought into each scenario. The barbarian "Brute" can have a hand of 11 cards at the beginning of a scenario, while the roguish "Scoundrel" is limited to a hand of 9 cards. The hand of action cards is never increased, but you are allowed to swap and change cards in your hand before each scenario begins to customize your character abilities.

Each of those action cards are divided into two parts, upper and bottom half. The bottom half most of the time has actions related to movement, while the upper half is most of the time related to combat.


At the beginning of each turn players pick two cards and then perform one bottom and one top half action. Once your hand is empty you need to forfeit one of the played cards, which will be discarded for the rest of the game, and you pick up your cards and are allowed to play with the remaining deck.

This means that after each cycle of your deck, it will get smaller - simulating how your character gets exhausted. Played cards can also be picked up by resting, but discarded cards can never return back to your hand. This creates a sense of urgency and prevents characters from just camping in a corner, or standing and healing each turn as you will ultimately run out of cards and if you are no longer able to play two cards at the beginning of your turn - the character is exhausted and removed from the battle.

With this in mind, you will understand why most of the scenarios have a relatively small dungeon limited to a couple of rooms. The challenge of the game comes from being able to utilize your deck in such a way so that you can both move through the dungeon, and fight your enemies. The use of a combat deck instead of dice is also a nice touch, as this deck can be manipulated by perks when your character levels up by adding positive cards, removing negative cards or add additional effects such as stun, poison or curse!

This means that the combat deck of each character/player will be different as the characters evolve. The enemy characters and monsters in the game are controlled by an individual AI-deck for each monster type and depending on the level currently played the monster scale up to keep the game challenging. The monsters also have their own combat deck, that too can be manipulated by scenario effects, or by players who can add curse cards (critical miss) to the deck using their abilities.

The town of Gloomhaven will also evolve as the game proceeds, with increased wealth brought in by player actions and gold donations the marketplace will unlock new tiers of items for purchase.

I will be honest in sayin that I was worried that the game would become repetitive and boring since most scenarios are about combat and combat is what you do almost all the time in the game. But, both Caroline and I are amazed at how good and fun the gameplay is. We've sunk dozens of hours into the game without getting tired of it. It's a testament to how well composed the scenarios and the combat mechanics are. There is a lot of variation between the playable characters in the game, and since you play roughly 15-30 battles with a character before that character retires and you unlock a new one, you never get tired of your characters. The changing of characters was another reason I was worried about, but it turned out to work really well within the framework of the whole gaming experience of Gloomhaven.

Painted characters

I have painted up a bunch of characters for the game, at the moment I only have to paint the "Spellweaver" from the core set starting characters. I have already painted the 6 core characters once for a friend at work who also owns a copy of the game (you can check the pictures on my Facebook group).

There are 15 classes in total, and we have yet to unlock 7 characters. The quality of the plastic miniatures range from "OK" to "so-so". Painted up they look great, but the painting requires a bit of work to look the part to be honest. These are no beginner friendly miniatures, though they are average board game models made out of that semi-soft grey plastic. The nice thing about the game is that you can paint up the miniatures you are playing with only as there is no need to have them all painted up from the beginning. I painted our miniatures as we progressed through the game, swapping  classes or unlocking new content. I still don't know what the remaining 7 classes look like.





Played aids and accessories

1) Card sleeves
Gloomhaven is a HUGE game. This can't be stressed enough. Without exaggeration, the game weighs 10kg/22 pounds. It has 723 Standard sized cards (2.5" x 3.5") and 975 Mini Euro sized cards (44mm x 68mm)!!!

My advice is to sleeve most of the game. Fortunately you don't need to sleeve all the cards. A very good guide can be found on Reddit "
Comprehensive Sleeving Guide" telling you the minimum/average number of sleeves you need for the core components that are shuffled a lot, and which cards don't need sleeves at all. This was a huge money saver. Bear in mind that cards are added and removed as the game goes on, but the number of sleeves required stays roughly the same throughout the course of the game.

My advise is also to avoid the over priced Fantasy Flight Sleeves, and go for a more affordable quality option such as sleeves from "The Arcane Tinmen" which are sold in packs of 100 sleeves. 

2) Interactive map and campaign tracker
Second advice is to check out the interactive Gloomhaven map and interactive campaign/character sheet made by user "paddim" over at the Board Game Geek site in the Gloomhaven Files section: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/174430/gloomhaven/files

You need to register a free account to download them. They work primarily on desktop computers and laptops. I use a laptop when we play as we stream background music during gameplay and the interactive tools. The Gloomhaven map that comes with the game is fine, but I found it to be a bit fragile to frequent handling. The interactive map for the game works exactly the same way, but instead of putting physical stickers on a cardboard map, you click on location numbers which adds digital stickers and ticks "completed" boxes on locations.

The interactive character/campaign tool is also great as it is much easier to keep track of campaign and character progress this way rather than using a pen and paper method (you will erase and change things VERY often). The tool also helps you to keep track of Gloomhaven prosperity, market discounts and the average level that scenarios should be played at depending on the level of player characters. Highly recommended!

 
3) Organizer
After a couple of hours of gameplay you would have come to the conclusion that sifting through zip bags for monster cards and tokens puts a huge dent into actual playtime. When we bought the game I had a couple of small organizers for wound tokens, but the rest of the components were put in individual zip bags. Since there are a LOT of cards, characters etc in the game you will have to cardboard boxes filled with bags. This will get annoying in the long run. 

The game of Gloomhaven costs me 1200 Swedish crowns. Having purchased sleeves for some 400 Swedish crowns I figured dropping a few more hundred into a game that was really damn good and that had provided us with so many hours of entertainment would be fair. 

There are a lot of organizers out there. Unfortunately for us, most of the nice ones are all the way out in the USA and shipping cost would kill me. But I managed to find a European manufacturer in Poland that had a reasonably affordable organizer and bought one. It is made out of lightweight wood and needs to be glued together with PVA glue, and it took me some 5 hours to get it all built with the help of Caroline who put the parts together to see how they fit while I was brushing everything with glue. A lot of work and additional money spent on the game - but it is definitely worth it, and I may even go so far as to say it is needed.


Conclusion

Gloomhaven was hyped like hell, and I must admit that I bought it mainly because the 2nd print of the game here in Sweden was about to sell out. I figured if I didn't like the game I could always sell it. I had also played it once over at a friend's house and was not overly impressed by that game session alone.

However, having purchased the game, and having played it a LOT for 30+ hours I will say that this is one of the best board games in my collection. It's a perfect co-op game that offers excellent combat and a very nice variation of dungeon crawling and grinding. It feels very satisfying unlocking new scenarios, content and characters. It's fun to learn the abilities of new classes as you play them and the difficulty level feel really well balanced (it also allows you to increase or decrease difficulty by a sliding scale depending on level played).

The amount of original content, with the 95 scenarios, and endless possibilities with the random dungeons that can be used to grind for experience or money, replay value of the game (if you don't rip apart components) and overall quality content is awesome. The legacy aspect should not put you off. We play the game as intended for the most part, though we use the full co-op mode. We use a "trash bag" for all the discarded cards in the game, so that we can replay the game without problem. The stickers on the map can be removed, and I initially purchased an additional folder with extra stickers for the game. With the digital map this is not necessary and allows you even greater possibility to replay the game. A reason to re-play the game once you finish it would be to explore different options and branches of the story.

In "casual mode" you can also play scenarios that were locked due to your actions.

If I had to complain about something it would be that the quality of the material that the cards are made of is not the best so cards that need to be shuffled must be sleeved. Some people may also find it boring that the monsters use standees instead of miniatures, I was one of those people. But I got over it real fast and do not think about it when we play. The map itself is also very fragile, the parts where the map folds are sensitive and will tear if you handle it too roughly or keep folding/unfolding it. Players with small gaming areas, small tables and who are not able to leave the game standing overnight may also be put off by the amount of table space required.

Final words
To whom would I recommend the game? Well, if you like co-operative games this one is one of the best. If you like dungeon crawlers this one is also great, since the game handles the enemy with an AI-deck for each monster type so you don't need a game master. If you like computer action heavy RPGs such as Diablo, Icewind Dale or Darkest Dungeon then Gloomhaven has elements from games like those woven into its core mechanics.

Be ready to fork over a lot of cash for the game and everything around it, but rest assured that it is well worth it. If you are uncertain, buy the game first and the other stuff later when you are convinced that you like it. 

Gloomhaven 10/10



5 comments:

  1. Nice review. Thanks very much.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the review and all the useful info for getting the most out of it! I'll be sure to share this with people thinking of getting into Gloomhaven

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks guys, glad you enjoyed the article :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. This was awesome I’m starting to look more into this game now

    ReplyDelete
  5. You are a pretty good blogger and I’ve just started up my blog on game reviews so if you could tell me what I’m doing right and wrong that would be helpful http://gamechief123.blogspot.com/?m=1

    ReplyDelete

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