Saturday Morning Gaming: Gloomhaven
One of the members of the gaming group gathered up all of the Amazon gift cards he got for Christmas and picked up Gloomhaven.
This is an *EPIC* board game for 2-4 players. And when I say “epic”, I mean that this is a board game that will probably take about 100 hours to beat.
If you played Descent (the board game, not the PC shooting game) and then played the Road To Legends expansion for Descent, you’ve kinda got the basics of what this game is going for. For those of you who have not, buckle up.
If you’ve never heard of it, this is the 20 pound box. For those of you from countries that are not the US, this is the 9 kilogram box.
There are dozens of cardboard punchouts for maps, hundreds of cardboard punchouts for various tokens to place on the maps, dozens and dozens of punchouts for the different monsters, 3D printed figurines for the player characters, hundreds of cards, books full of flavor text, tons of achievements, tons of side quests, and, most importantly, unique characters for your players to play on the various maps that the flavor text books will have you build.
It’s a co-op game. You remember when we talked about those single-player RPG books a couple of weeks back? Well, this is one of those for multiple players.
You open the book and it will tell you your starting conditions and give you six characters to choose from. You and your group pick one of the six characters each and go down into The Black Barrow.
And that’s where you lose on the first map as you figure out how the mechanics work.
Each character starts with a deck of 11 cards. Each of the 11 cards is different from each other and these cards are your timer. That is: when you run out of cards in your deck, you are “exhausted” and you go back to town.
So each card has a top half and a bottom half and a number in the middle. The top half *GENERALLY* has an attack on it of some sort. The bottom half *GENERALLY* has a movement of some sort on it. So you pick two cards and you pick the top half of one and the bottom half of the other and you choose which of the two numbers in the middle will be your initiative and that will be your turn.
After your turn is resolved, you put your cards in either a discard pile or a lost pile (the half of the card you use will tell you whether to discard it or lose it… the more powerful attacks or movement portions of the card are use once then lose it… the weaker ones merely get discarded). Once you can no longer pick two cards to play, you can either take a short rest and reshuffle your discards back into your hand and then choose one at random to put into the lost pile *OR* you can take a long rest and skip your turn and reshuffle your discards back into your hand and now you can do it all over again with fewer cards to choose from.
Combat consists of figuring out initiative by all of the players yelling out their initiative score and then an attack card is flipped over for each group of monsters on the map. They have an initiative and a set of instructions for what movement they make and what attacks they do. If they’re all the way on the other side of the map, maybe they’ll just move toward you. If they’re close enough to attack you, you’d better be prepared to take a hit (though you can lose a card from your not-yet-discarded/lost cards to avoid an attack entirely).
Right before you hit, you flip over a multiplier card. Maybe your attack will push the monster. Maybe your attack will muddle the monster. Maybe your attack will do extra damage… but maybe your attack will fumble and you’ll do less damage. (Oh, and the monsters have their own decks of these cards… maybe an attack of theirs will be poisonous or do extra damage! Maybe they’ll crap out and not do much damage at all. Or maybe their damage will be just what it says they do on their attack card.)
The map is considered beaten when your party has killed all of the monsters in the map (including the ones behind closed doors).
While it is pretty easy to kill any given monster or even any given group of monsters, you’re going to find that clearing out the map entirely before you run out of cards is going to be *TOUGH*. You’re likely to run out of cards and have all of your characters get exhausted the first time you play.
Luckily, the dungeon resets and you can come back to it again a second time and then grind away at it.
And then, after you beat the dungeon, you read the flavor text and you may be given a choice between two options. Depending on the option you pick (choose your own adventure!), you’ll get another dungeon to fight your way through.
And probably lose the first time you go into it.
The mechanics of the game are such that it’s considered best for table talk to be somewhat limited. Like, you can say “I need healing” or “I can kill the skeleton archer” but don’t say stuff like “okay, Tommy needs to use his area attack to soften the monsters up while they’re huddled together and then we’ll send Rachel in to kill the first one, then we’ll have Wally use his archery attack on the second one, and then I’ll come in to hit the last one.”
If you meta-game too much you can pretty much break the game. So keep the table talk to something that you can imagine yelling when you’re fighting in a dungeon and you should be fine. (Stepping on each other’s toes is part of the fun. “I *SAID* that you didn’t want to be standing next to the monster AND YOU PLAYED AN INITIATIVE CARD OF 11 AND RAN UP TO HIM TO ATTACK AND NOW I’M GOING TO BE USING MY INITIATIVE 35 AREA ATTACK SPELL AND YOU’RE IN THE BLAST RADIUS!”)
And there are so many little other mechanics that make the game absolute catnip for certain kinds of gaming groups. You gain XP by using certain abilities in the top or bottom half of the card (instead of killing monsters). You pick up coins by ending a turn on them (or using a card that picks them up) so you have to pick between getting money and risking not killing all of the monsters *OR* have a better shot of killing everything before you run out of cards (but being poor). Each player gets a “secret” mission for any given dungeon in order to get a check mark… get three check marks and you can get a perk for your character (like, remove negative cards from your multiplier deck, or add positive cards to it, say… but each character’s perks are unique to the character).
And, on top of that, each character has a personal quest. If you beat the personal quest, you unlock one of the *FOURTEEN* locked playable characters still in the box.
It’s magnificently over-engineered and it comes with so very many maps and books and characters and cards and tokens and if you have a gaming group that meets religiously, you will *NEED* this game. And the best part is that it scales. Dungeons have different difficulties for two players, three players, and four players so if somebody is sick, you can still do a side quest dungeon and fill in the missing player when they come back next week.
The only problem is if you’ve got five (or more) players in your group.
Seriously, if you remember playing Descent: Road to Legends way back a million years ago and you played that out and you remember it wistfully and wish that there was a 2019 version of that… you *NEED* to get Gloomhaven.
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is “This Looks Complicated” by Henry Burrows. Used under a creative commons license.)