As you may know, we like to review the odd board game here and there, and the more games I play, the more I love the world of table top gaming. I’ve only really been in to table top gaming for a few years now and it’s been a great journey of discovering so many wonderful games to play. Last year I backed my very first kickstarter game and at the end of the year it arrived at my door – well, it was actually at my neighbour’s door because I was away – she’s not very nice, but that’s a different story.
This is a story about Gloomhaven – or rather some tales from the world of Gloomhaven. I wanted to write about the game, but how do you review a game that’s 99 scenarios and hundreds of hours long? There’s just so much to cover where do you possibly begin? The Sleeping Lion seems like a good place to start!
Don’t worry, I won’t spoil things.
First, a bit of background on the game, Gloomhaven is a tactical combat game set in the persistent world of Gloomhaven; you take on the role of a character with a very particular set of skills. Skills they’ve acquired over a… wait, that’s something else. Level them up, fight monsters, gain loot, buy cool things and unlock potentially cooler things as you play across the massive 99 scenario world. As you play you and your group will follow their own stories as branching paths present themselves the more you play. You’ll retire your characters to then start new ones and the cycle continues until… well, I’m not really sure, but probably until everything is dead – we are quite the destructive force.
So, where were we, ah yes The Sleeping Lion!
Let me introduce you to my character – Sparkles, she’s a spell weaving Orchid – an ancient, cave dwelling race with a funky hair do. Why Sparkles? Well because she fires sparkly magic at my foes… and I couldn’t think of anything else at the time. She’s joined forces with a Quatryl Tinkerer named Dr Finkleboom, a Savvas Cragheart by the name of Dwayne Cena – because he’s a rock dude, but Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson was too obvious. A little more recently they’ve also teamed with an Inox Brute called Surfboard Swordlord.
They’re a rag tag bunch with questionable morals and a penchant for doing the wrong thing, although Sparkles has tried to stay somewhat ‘good’, alas democracy rules this little group.
It’s not long before our first quest is brought to our attention from a lady named Jekserah – a dodgy fellow if I do say so myself.
And that is where our first adventure truly starts, which I shall call:-
“Dr Finkleboom and the unfortunate endeavours”
It’s our first game, we’re excited, we know some of the rules and make a lot of mistakes, but we’re making our way through the first room of enemies. We’re kind of treating this like a tutorial, a testing ground, somewhere we can make mistakes and not worry too much about the consequences – the rule book is 50 pages long after all…
Dr Finkleboom is conjuring a plan, a plan that will see his enemies crushed. He has a handy little gadget with him too, some goggles that let him attack with advantage – meaning you get to draw two attack modifier cards, giving you much better chance of landing a good hit.
You see, combat in Gloomhaven is handled with cards, each player has a deck of cards each with abilities on the top half and bottom half, and you can take a set number of these cards to battle with you. On your turn you pick two cards from your hand that you wish to play that round. You then play the top half of one card and the bottom half of the other, potentially allowing for some pretty creative combinations. When attacking you have a ‘modifier’ deck which may give you things like +1 to an attack, or -1 and various other outcomes.
As I said, Dr Finkleboom is lining up his attack, the excitement builds, this attack could be devastating, painstakingly planned over a number of rounds. I imagine the Cragheart and Orchid leaning against the wall watching with expectation and a sort of jovial encouragement “Go on then, do your thing.” Then they’d look at each other and exchange a knowing “this ought to be good” glance Not that we had any idea about what was going to happen… He uses his goggles – we’re expecting big things! First card – null – basically the worst card, the attack does no damage at all. “Don’t worry, he’s got another one because he has advantage” we all think. Second card – null, the entire attack, that was planned so well, is whiffed.
Needless to say both the Cragheart and I had a hearty laugh about it. It’s ok though, as we still went on to complete the scenario. “That wasn’t so bad” we all thought as we packed our first game away. “Famous last words” some malevolent unseen force thought.
On to the next scenario our confidence was riding high – we positively romped through the first one. Things continued in a similar vein as we quickly dispatched the bandits waiting for us in the first room. “I’ll open the door!” Dr Finkleboom exclaims, we all nod in agreement that it’s a good idea as we need to get moving.
You can’t just ‘move’ in Gloomhaven you have to use your cards like you do in combat to move as they all have a default move action on them. But the thing with Gloomhaven is that some cards can be lost for good during a scenario and others go to a discard pile, you can use rests to get some of your discarded cards back in your hand. But if you find yourself with no cards left to play then you become exhausted and are out of the scenario. So it’s a good idea to keep progressing forward each turn.
The door opens, probably with a creak of some kind, and the poor old Dr is pummeled with a hail of arrows and instantly dies – well becomes exhausted.
Needless to say both the Cragheart and I had a hearty laugh about it. We got stomped this time around, but we learnt a valuable lesson that probably has something to do with squishy characters opening doors with archers behind them.
Don’t worry too much though, the Tinkerers day will come, he will have his moment in the spotlight and be hero of the story. But that is a tale for another day.
Our first few forays in to the world of Gloomhaven have honestly been an amazing one. We’ve made a lot of mistakes across the first few scenarios, some big, some not so big and most of them have actually made things harder for us. But damn, this is easily the best table top game I’ve ever played.
I love that combat isn’t down to the roll of a dice, it’s actually tactical and you can effectively plan pretty big attacks. Yes there is some randomness with the modifier cards, but for the most part it’s never overly punishing.
There is such a great level of depth and detail to the game and we’ve barely scratched the surface. The more we play the more characters we will unlock as each of us complete our life goals, we can ‘level up’ the town of Gloomhaven which gives us access to better loot to buy. There is so much going on that it’s almost overwhelming.
Learning the nuances of your character and how to best utilise the cards available to you is challenging but equally rewarding. My character, for example, has a small ‘pool’ of cards available to her compared to the rest, but she has a unique (up to this point) ability of being able to recover all her lost cards, so managing your cards between the discard and lost pile and then knowing when best to recover the lost cards is something that I’ve loved figuring out.
I think that’s what makes Gloomhaven so good, for every challenge you seem to face there appears to be an equal reward, whether that be in the form of loot, or just pulling off an amazing move, it’s extremely satisfying to play.
I can’t wait to see what the rest of our adventures hold for us.