Game Buzz: Gloomhaven

The hype train’s a-rollin’, folks.  And I’m jumping on board today with an overview of a tiny little game called

image by BGG user Cephalofair

Gloomhaven is a fantasy adventure game from designer Isaac Childres that was published by Cephalofair Games.  It’s also currently out of print after JUST being released, though a new print run is planned for the end of this year.  The game is for 1-4 players, and BGG says it takes 90-150 minutes to play.  However, since it’s campaign based, I suspect it’s overall longer than that.  In the game, you’ll be exploring the world and clearing out the monsters that can be found there through a series of scenarios.

First of all, the box is very small.  No it isn’t.  16″ long, 11.5″ wide, 7″ tall, and it weighs 20 pounds.  That’s a heavy game.  Inside the box, you’ll find (deep breath) a rule book, a scenario book, a town records book, a map board, 30 double-sided map tiles, 155 double-sided overlay tiles, 18 character miniatures, 17 character boards, 504 character ability cards, 457 attack modifier cards, 236 monster standees, 232 monster ability cards, 35 character tuck boxes, 24 plastic stands, 47 monster stat sheets, 6 monster stat sleeves, 150 event cards, 253 item cards, 6 wooden element discs, an element infusion board, a round tracker, 24 battle goal cards, 24 personal quest cards, 9 random scenario cards, 40 random dungeon cards, 4 player reference cards, 32 summon tokens, 60 status tokens, 85 character tokens, 50 money tokens, 48 damage tokens, 10 XP tokens, 12 number tokens, 17 character pads, a party pad, 3 sealed envelopes, and 4 sticker sheets (gasp).  That is a lot of stuff, no wonder they need such a big box.

When you start a game, you first need to choose your character class.  Only one character of each class can be used at a time.  You’ll take the corresponding material – a mat and a starting hand of ability cards.  The character mat will track your special abilities, as well as hit points and experience.  Your ability cards have two halves, and you’ll only use one half when you play them.  Each player will also have an attack modifier deck.  The scenario will be set up based on the description in the scenario book (you’ll start with #1 – Black Barrow).  This set up will include map tiles, map overlays, monsters, and starting positions for your heroes.

image from icv2.com – Black Barrow scenario

A scenario will play out over a series of rounds, until the objective is met.  In the case of the first objective, you have to defeat all enemies.  Each round follows the same sequence:

CARD SELECTION: You will choose two cards out of your hand to play this round.  Alternately, you can choose to do a long rest action, which allows you to reshuffle your discard pile.  It also heals you for two HP, but you lose a card in the process.  However, if there are fewer than two cards in your discard, you are considered exhausted and out of the round.

DETERMINE INITIATIVE: From the two cards you played, you’ll choose which one is your leading card.  Every card has a number, and lower numbers will go first.  An ability card for each monster type in play will be drawn, and those numbers count for initiative.  You can choose to try to go later or earlier in the round if you wish, based on the number you choose as your leader.

CHARACTER AND MONSTER TURNS: In initiative order, characters and monsters will take their turns.  Characters will take the top action on one of their cards and the bottom action of the other, in any order.  You can also choose to skip an action to attack for 2 (top half) or move for 2 (bottom half).

To attack, you choose your target and apply your attack value on your chosen card.  You’ll then draw the top card from your modifier deck and adjust your value accordingly.  You then apply that damage to your target (minus any defensive bonuses they have).  If it destroys them, they are removed from the board.  If not, they remain.

Movement simply involves moving from one hex to another.  Depending on the card, you may be able to jump or fly.  If you move onto a closed door, it is opened immediately and you reveal everything on the room on the other side.  Any present monster types will get an action card for initiative.  Any values lower than the current player will act immediately after that player’s turn, and higher values simply get inserted into initiative order.

Monster turns work almost the same way.  Elites of a type go first, followed by normal monsters of that type.  The monster will first move towards the closest hero, then attack.  Monsters also have a modifier deck, so the attack value could go up or down.  If you are hit, you take damage.

Once all players have taken actions, you reshuffle decks that need it (i.e. a 2x or null modifier was drawn, or an ability card had a reshuffle symbol).  Any elements that made an appearance are reduced to their next lower level.  Players may also take this opportunity to take a short rest.  This is like a long rest, except they lose a random card from their deck instead of getting to choose.  But they get all the rest of their cards back and don’t have to spend a turn doing it.

When you complete a scenario, determine experience earned and bust out the campaign map (that is, IF you’re playing a campaign).  You’ll travel to a new scenario, possibly after stopping over in Gloomhaven for new characters, city events, items, leveling up, enhancing ability cards, and retirement (you retire if your character has completed their personal quest).  While traveling to a new scenario, you may encounter road events, which are drawn from the road event deck.

And that’s basically it.  Well, that’s “it” when you consider that I just condensed a 52-page rulebook into a thousand words.  I skipped a lot, but you don’t need to know everything right now.  To see the game in action, I’d point you towards some playthroughs – Rahdo did one with the prototype for the Kickstarter campaign, Slickerdrips did one recently, and Tom Vasel (he who hates solo games) also did a solo run-through because he likes it that much.

For me, I think this looks like a very in-depth game.  It has lots of elements of an RPG in board game form, and I think people who like that style of game will find a lot to like.  I’m not an RPGer myself, but I do enjoy the adventure style games, and this one looks like it would be a really cool experience.  It’s cooperative with its own AI, so you don’t need an overlord as in Descent.  There are no dice involved in the game at all, with all randomness coming from cards.  That’s still plenty random, but it takes away some of the unpredictability.  The two card system seems very intriguing, and I really think that this will be a game that definitely has some legs going ford.  People really love it now – I suspect that it won’t be long before it enters the BGG Top Ten, and with a new print run may even give Pandemic Legacy a run for its money.

That’ll do it for me.  Thanks for reading!

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