I’ve always been intrigued by fantasy and D&D-esque themes and games. The main problem with these types of games is that you usually have to have an overall game master that creates and runs the entire game world. That’s a lot of pressure. It can be rewarding but very frustrating and difficult too.
Gloomhaven promises an expansive, unfolding world that changes and grows with your characters. The world is built, the heroes stand ready, and a world lays completely open to you.
Will it deliver?
Let’s find out. Welcome to Gloomhaven.
Brief Overview of Gloomhaven
Gloomhaven is a massive legacy-style board game. Don’t let the legacy part push you away, though, because the game can easily be reset with a sticker pack sold separately. Nothing gets destroyed throughout the game either, but that’s a pretty minor factor.
The big picture is the RPG (role-playing game) stylings of the game itself. It’s a massive world that’s easy to get lost in.
Versions & Expansions
I honestly thought this game couldn’t get any bigger and yet there are multiple versions and standalone games in the world of Gloomhaven.
Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles
- This is the first expansion for Gloomhaven featuring twenty new...
- Players will delve into twenty new scenarios that take place...
- Expansion also features seven new monster types (including three...
Founders of Gloomhaven
- Founders of Gloomhaven is a competitive tile-placement,...
- In Founders of Gloomhaven, players use action cards to place...
- The game also features an auction mechanism in which players vote...
Gloomhaven: Solo Scenarios
Let’s see what’s actually in this bad boy.
- 1 rulebook
- 1 scenario book
- 1 Town record Book
- 1 Map
- 18 character minis
- 17 character boards
- 1700+ cards
- 236 monster standees
- 24 stands
- 35 character boxes
- 6 wooden element discs
- 1 element board
- 200 tokens
- 4 hp dials
- 17 character pads
- 1 party pad
- 3 sealed envelopes
- 4 sticker sheets
Normally, I like to list the game components as an easy reference for players checking out a game. Sometimes you’ll get a giant box with only a handful of actual components. I’m thinking of games like Machi Koro and Splendor, which are both games I like but have more air in the box than components.
Gloomhaven is the exact opposite. I first saw a picture of the Gloomhaven box just like everyone else but when you actually get it in front of you, you begin to realize what kind of rabbit hole you just fell into. It’s massive, to say the least.
There are thousands of cards, hundreds of tokens, hundreds of cardboard monsters, and miniatures for your characters. I’m honestly surprised the game is as inexpensive as it is. They definitely couldn’t make minis for every monster and I’m honestly glad they didn’t. I don’t have the budget to purchase them, nor do I have the budget to purchase the inevitable storage unit to keep them.
I’m very happy with the quality of everything in the box.
How to Play Gloomhaven
The amazing thing I’ve found with most massive RPG games is that it’s really intimidating the first time you open the box and take a look.
Gloomhaven is no exception but after a few rounds, it all becomes second nature. There are a lot of moving parts and bits for setup but running around the board beating up thieves and monsters is actually pretty easy.
Gloomhaven is played in an episodic way. As you progress through the story booklet, you’ll have different scenarios that will level-up not only your characters but the city of Gloomhaven as well. The world actually changes depending upon your actions. That’s a bold claim that most video games can’t pull off well (I’m looking at you Fable).
Each episode gives a short story and then a setup for the encounters. How well you do during that encounter determines the amount of loot and experience points you get. If you do really well on a mission, you’ll usually come away with more experience points and gold than if you just barely made it out alive.
If you’re not feeling like dedicating tons of time to a story, there are also one-off missions that can be played that give players randomly-made missions by building a random map and filling it with baddies.
Overall, it’s a very ambitious task and for the most part the designers have nailed it.
I want to give you an idea of how the system works but keep in mind, it’s going to be abridged.
There are 47 different types of monsters and baddies ripe for slaughter. That’s a pretty fair variety – but what happens when your characters are all leveled-up? Can you run through a level Schwarzeneggar style? Not really.
Each enemy card has 4 different sides that represent their difficulty. The stats on each side scale up with the players and the scenario. If you play the first scenario with only 2 characters, there’s going to be fewer baddies to beat up but if you play with a full table of 4 players, you’ll find there are a lot more enemies than usual. It’s a nice way to deal with the power curve that happens with additional heroes.
You’ll also notice that Gloomhaven comes with sheets for each enemy card that not only look nice but also cover up the other stat lines that you aren’t using.
Ah, form and function… my favorite.
Gloomhaven Heroes aren’t necessarily your typical fantasy rogue-warrior-mage mashup. The tropes are there but named slightly differently. Each one has a different play style that they’re better at but each character still feels like a solid member of the team. There’s no one class that’s absolutely essential to winning the game.
The problem with big-box RPG board games is that they’re always going to be compared to Pen & Paper RPGs. Gloomhaven’s answer to this is a simple card mechanic that allows for quite a lot of flexibility.
Each character comes equipped with a custom deck of cards that represent their actions or bag of tricks that they can perform. There’s actually quite a lot of information on each card, letting players know all the different options the card provides during a turn.
During a player’s turn, they’ll select 2 cards to perform actions. Each card is split in half (upper & lower). You’ll have to perform the upper half of one card and the lower of the other. This gives players the opportunity to move and attack, move twice, or really wail on the baddies. It’s completely up to the cards you have in your deck.
The experience system in Gloomhaven is pretty impressive. Naturally, when you think of a dungeon-crawler or an RPG system you think, “If I can kill it, I get XP for it.” That’s not necessarily the case here.
If everyone just got XP for kills then it would cease to be a cooperative game. Everyone would be going for kill shots and damage without a care for the other party members. Instead, each player will have certain cards that in addition to performing an action, will also grant experience points if certain criteria are met.
This way, players can perform actions that make sense within the context of their characters and still get XP. You wouldn’t have the mage run to the front of a knife fight to get XP, right?
Gloomhaven is far from a static world. The city of Gloomhaven will grow throughout the campaign. As the party completes missions and helps out the city, they’ll find that better equipment and facilities become available to them, and their reputation affects how the city reacts to them. Heroes get a discount at stores, after all.
There is something a little weird that I haven’t quite come to terms with, though. As players continue on their journey, there comes a point when an adventurer has delved all the dungeons and saved all the damsels they can handle… so they retire.
After an individual character maxes-out their experience, they’ll go into retirement. You’ll then have to start a new character but there will be some overall campaign bonuses as well after retirement.
Your First Game of Gloomhaven
The first game is where all the questions are going to come up. After that, you’ll be an expert on Gloomhaven. With some board games, you’ll have to really get into the 4th or 5th game before you feel like you know what’s going on but Gloomhaven does a great job at piecing it out for you.
For your first mission, everybody will pick one of the standard characters and create a party of adventurers. From there, everyone gets 30 gold to spend in town and upgrade their characters with stuff. Everybody loves loot, right? Since this is the beginning, you’ll only have access to the lowest tier of equipment in the shops.
Scenario 1 sets up the game and lovingly shoves your adventurers out the door for a pretty standard call to adventure. The only thing it really misses is the “Slay some rats” in the cellar mission. Instead, you’re being paid to kill some bandits who stole some goods. It seems pretty standard… until it isn’t.
You’ll only use 3 different enemy types for this first round and it’s a nice intro into the game. The first mission is straightforward and challenging without being insanely overwhelming.
Pros & Cons
- Massive, full RPG experience
- Resettable legacy game
- Intimidating at first
- Can be a chore to take off the shelf
As with most big-box games, the intimidation factor of the game itself can turn a lot of people off. It’s a lot to ask unless you’re really committed. This is definitely not a game I would bust out unless I knew for a fact that my players were either seriously into board games or seriously into fantasy. Personally, I think those two interests tend to overlap.
Because the world is so massive and packed with fantasy goodness, it comes in a REALLY big box. That’s cool but it can be impractical. Gloomhaven simply won’t hit the table if you have some time to kill with friends and want to play a board game. Gloomhaven is THE event that you invite friends over specifically to play and order pizza for.
It’s a huge commitment to not only play but to set-up and tear-down too, especially if you don’t keep everything meticulously organized. That can be a real turn off for a lot of people and a real detriment to actually getting it to the table.
Once it hits the table, it’s fantastic but it’s hard to get it there.
Gloomhaven is an epic big-box fantasy game. An average run-through of the campaign is about 70+ missions and a full campaign won’t cover everything in the box. There’s an insane amount of gameplay.
It is pricey but you get a lot for the price tag.
The only real problem I’ve seen is that it’s hard to get a group committed to sitting down to play, due to the set-up and tear-down of the game.
I’ve been super excited ever since I first heard about Gloomhaven and (no surprise) I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that big box of goodies.
The price tag is a little steep but this is a game that is meant to be played with a group. That’s not to say solo is bad, because it’s quite good. What I mean is that the game itself is best played with a group of mates over the course of months. That being said, if the price tag is divided among a dedicated game group, it’s a lot easier to swallow. It’s also hours and hours of gameplay.
Is it worth the money?
Absolutely. It’s also understandable, however, that a gamer on a budget will need to save up a bit before they can pull the trigger.
Have you tried Gloomhaven? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think.