And all the hotness: Gloomhaven Review

While members of our group have been dabbling in Gloomhaven for a while now, we finally took on all the hotness from Boardgamegeek as a group to see for ourselves.  It may not quite have been up to such hype, but it delivered as a game and is probably the best fantasy adventure board game going right now.

Overall Feeling

The overall feeling is probably what the game does best.  Gloomhaven is gorgeous fantasy adventure, a Dungeons & Dragons sort of delve with swords and sorcery but in a genre that has been rather saturated, it’s to the game creators’ credit that the game has its own unique, gloomy feeling.  The characters are interesting and all different from one another, unique from other games yet still feel like part of the genre.

Setup Highlights

Our group already had everything separated into trays, we just had to sleeve the cards we were playing with and we were fairly good to go.  I expect there can be quite a lot of set up for the first time and for those less familiar with the game, but I didn’t experience it first-hand.  One very cool thing is that each character has his own “envelope” with his unique deck of cards in it.

Theme and Components

Ours were first rate, already painted up in fun colors, but these were very detailed figures to begin with.  The map pieces are also very nice, and the NPC villains are all character chits inserted into plastic stands – cheap, but effective – why can’t more games do this?  The stands we use are large enough to hold the plastic chit plus two small 6-sided dice to track hit points.

The game cards are also very high quality, and all of the components work together to create a gloom-fantasy feel that is unique to Gloomhaven.  There isn’t a whole lot that I’d want the game to do better from a components standpoint.

Interesting Mechanics and Game Play

This is another unique and interesting aspect of the game, though you have to get the hang of them.  The main thing we learned is, you can’t spend your cards too early.  The adventure held quite a lot for us, and we weren’t quite experienced enough to hold back for the long haul.

A very unique mechanic is that you pair up 2 cards, and that you play the top half of one and the bottom half of the other, in any order.  It really makes for some unique turns that each character can have, and allows for very interesting ways for the party to interact.  This is one of the best aspects of the game and is unique to Gloomhaven.

There are also mechanics to rest, but they require you to permanently “lose” a card in your deck, which is a big deal.  It also means that you can only rest so many times before completely exhausting your character.  This in turn means that you don’t want to lose too many cards early and have to economize your actions.  Not knowing this, our party got spent before we could dispense with our final set of foes.  I’m not the biggest fan of the fact that just existing and moving through the dungeon exhausts your character, whether you’re fighting or not, but it makes for a challenging game.

Do-Something Ability

This is some top-notch monster slaying.  You will use your cards together in interesting combinations to deal damage to enemies, move through the dungeon, and pick up loot.  If you’re into this sort of theme, it has plenty for you to do.  You also build your character some in terms of gold, experience, and personality, all fun elements to add to the game.  Finally, I assume there is some sense of accomplishment from finishing out a scenario, not that I would know because we didn’t complete ours.

Replay Ability

Very high.  I wouldn’t be disappointed to play our same scenario again, even after several hours of playing it.  I figure we could plow through and conquer it fairly quickly, and I’m interested in seeing what the next adventure is.  For now, I could see myself playing a campaign of Gloomhaven because it’s enough fun.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a fantasy adventure, Gloomhaven is probably the way to go.  I like the map, interaction and enemies better than Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game, yet prefer having some structure to a pure roleplaying game.  I think I prefer the overall mechanics in Pathfinder, but these are good, too, they just take some getting used to.

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