GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

Editor’s Note: Still getting around to my posts from Gathering of Friends 2017 last month. They’ll come out as soon as I can get a moment to write and edit them. Bless you for your patience with this busy blogger. Gloomhaven here also got a little long.

Editor’s Other Note: If you are a Gloomhaven Groupie and want your opinion validated, Ars Technica has a good article for you. Ye will find no validation here.

Having a limited time at the Gathering of Friends this year, I had not really made a proper list of must-play games. Yet, Gloomhaven was high on my mental list to try because of all the hype that has been spread online about this game for some time, culminating in their highly successful Kickstarter campaign, which just closed. People I respected had been pushing it hard, talking about how amazing the whole thing was and putting a whole lot of money into the admittedly giant box offered by the publisher. The hype, not shied away from by the publisher, was massive and growing. My expectations were high.

So, I was quite appreciative when my friend Jeff gave me his slot in a planned Gloomhaven session on Thursday morning. As it happens, a big fan of the game had been running daily games for novices, teaching them the game and then running them through his campaign with prescribed characters he had been developing. I turned up early to my designated time all ready to be dazzled. While my recent investment in Descent 2.0 to play with my son and friends is substantial, maybe Gloomhaven will give me the eurogame-powered alternative that will be worth the switch. I recall how in the late 80’s, I switched to GURPS from AD&D 1st edition for similar reasons. More control, less randomness, a more serious design. Deja vu, game edition.

Expectations are a tough thing. Having been raised in the business world by the Pixie Dusters at Disney, where one of the key concepts is to exceed expectations, I’m keenly in tune with how important it is to go into a situation with them set properly. For the most part, the Gloomhyping had worked on me. I was considering supporting the Kickstarter even as I had sworn to not buy unplayed games this year (probably not an unfamiliar refrain to you, dear reader). The one bright (dark?) spot here was that the night before, a highly-respected game designer had run through his list of games played and offered his quick opinions. When he got to Gloomhaven, his review was two words:

“Hated it.”

Still Gloomhotin

On Thursday morning, I sat down with his words in mind, hoping they would lower my expectations sufficiently that I would love Gloomhaven. As the box was opened, the components were an inauspicious start. There’s a lot of stuff inside that big chest but I was immediately underwhelmed by the boring game boards and cardboard standees for monsters. Hey, Descent 2.0 has made me love detailed boards and cool miniatures while this felt like a throwback to the sad days when Steve Jackson Games tried to get us excited about Cardboard Heroes! Didn’t work on me then, not impressed now (I had similar misgivings about Dead of Winter, which hasn’t been to the table in a long while). The mix of figures for the heroes and cardboard for the monsters just felt wrong.

When we got to the rules, things seemed better. Gloomhaven has some interesting mechanisms, at least starting with the personal deck play options that let you come up with interesting card combos unique to your character. Players have a custom deck that can be upgraded with stickers and they’re double-purposed like what you find in Card Driven Wargames, with two ways to use them. You play two per turn, using the top combat-oriented option on one card, and the bottom movement-focused option at the bottom. I liked the idea of how they worked and interacted with power-ups that you could inspire and then people could use. Kind of like magic that hasn’t faded in the air, these elemental and such type of conditions can give players extended powers, which seems cool. I was intrigued but also felt like the options often limited what you could do for the turn.

Gloomhaven

The game has also worked hard to make the characters and classes unique in a way that shows these folks have been playing RPGs in the last nearly thirty years when I wasn’t. They’re exploding stereotypes and limitations. Clerics can have knives, dwarf-types can cast spells. This ain’t your father’s RPG class system! Er, I guess I’m the dad. This ain’t my old RPG class system! I mock because I’m given to do it, but this is actually a good thing. The characters have no attributes either, so you’re really using the card decks to do most of the work in combat and hand management. Some cards go away after a single use, others can go away if used in a certain way. Managing how you use these options is interesting but, a few hours in, you might grow weary of the work going into it. I did.

Like most dungeon crawlers, you have equipment to help you on your way and they add to what they should (armor helps with defense, weapons with killing stuff). Sounds good, so far – the description of those rules include lots of eurogame touches that look like they will make the game more balanced and interesting. As we get through an hour of rules, I’m excited but maybe a little concerned about how much there is to track and that I won’t be able to do what I want sometimes. Maybe kind of a lot of the time.

We hear a brief description of where we are in the world, being that this is eight scenarios in, and then we start. Much like Descent and other dungeon crawlers, we’re in conflict with some kind of monsters pretty quickly. Unfortunately, with the way the initiative mechanisms work, my rock-guy Tank runs up to the front but the dungeon jerks we are fighting sidestep me and go after our mage-thing run by our rules teacher. They promptly kill him.

I say ‘promptly’ but that’s just in Gloomhaven time, which moves like a snail crawling through barely-wet cement while covered in molasses and dragging an anvil. Did I mention the snail is really old?

More on that point later. We reboot.

We go in again and spread out a little differently. Now, the same rule plagues us and the creepy crawlies grab our rogue-thing. He’s killed and reboot two happens.

We’re over two hours in and we have yet to fight anyone but it’s noisy, we have three new players and while I’m getting it, there is a fair amount to think about on an individual turn so the other two guys are doing their best. Also, I have a work emergency going on and I’m Slacking between turns. This actually helps because the downtime in Gloomhangin is powerful.

As we play, some of the mechanisms that I found interesting start to feel unsatisfying. The ‘elemental effect’ or whatever mechanism only appears to have a single turn of impact, meaning it takes a lot of coordination to get an often minor impact on your turn. I hope the rules master had this one wrong because it turns something really cool into something lukewarm.

The standard equipment also appears to have a lot less utility than in any adventure game I’ve played. While my armor and shield help me every single turn in Descent or the D&D board games, Gloomhaltin limits equipment to seemingly minimal uses and then they need repair or untapping (sorry, ‘straightening’ or something – I don’t want to owe Hasbro a license fee). Man, why didn’t I buy armor that works every time? The rules master explains that this is for balance, which was the explanation for a fair number of my questions. Wow, I wish balance and fun could get equal time here. He did acknowledge that point sometime later.

I can do a lot of cool things with my cards…but they are fairly limited, hard to orchestrate, and often what I want to do is unavailable when I really need it. In fact, timing your actions to work well with the tactical situation on the board is hard enough to lack of a spark of pleasure that we get from easily getting into conflicts on the board in Descent, figuring out how our powers can help us beat the baddies. I keep making that comparison because it feels like Fantasy Flight are making a conscious effort to loosen things up with their combat games. Imperial Assault (essentially, Star Wars Descent) even has skirmish mode, acknowledging that sometimes you just want to throw down for 30-45 minutes and not plan a long day of dungeon delving. Gloomhaven seems to only allow the latter.

Four hours in, we have barely survived battle number 1 (on the third try) and just edged into a second room. There are three reasons I haven’t left the table yet, making some kind of excuse about a gaming emergency.

  1. The work emergency is still in the process of getting resolved and the otherwise-painful downtime is helping a lot. I’m making good progress and when it becomes my turn, I quickly move and then I’m off Slacking with my team back in L.A. and S.F.
  2. I appreciate the time the rules guy has put into it and don’t want to screw up his campaign by walking away. The other two players are also having some amount of fun, although it’s often hard to ascertain how much. They do eventually seem to get the game more. They’re all swell folks and I don’t want to ruin the game.
  3. I want to see this through so I can write this rather gonzo session review of Gloomhaven because, of course, I love you all.

Return on Attention

In the end, we spend six hours, finish room two and rush to get to room three. Mind you, these rooms are bare-bones chambers that lack of the character, obstacles, and theming of Descent boards. By this time, I could have played nearly three scenarios of Descent and been in dozens of rooms that would give us a sense of accomplishment. The app helps this immensely, as it helps you feel the experience and travel and exploration. Gloomholdin just feels like we’re running in place, and a nondescript one at that.

In the end, I could see how that designer could have ‘hated’ Gloomhazin. While the eurogame stylings have sawed off the Ameritrash edges in many ways, they make the game feel stilted and labored to me. You have to do so much to get so little, which violates a big rule for me. When I design software, one of my focuses is on “Return on Attention”. We are far too busy to do anything these days. We have only so many mental cycles in the day. I believe games need to deliver on fun and positive experiences for the time put in. If the game starts to feel like a lot of work or if it doesn’t deliver enough regularly to keep you engaged, it isn’t worth my time.

That’s just me, of course. I know many people love to play games that give them the feeling of running a big business, country, or other operation, and that experience and putting a lot of time into it to optimize or otherwise deliver better stuff is exciting. More power to them. If they are loving that experience, I’m glad they are getting what they want out of games. Gloomhaven feels like that to me. If you want to micromanage a dungeon crawl and feel the euro mechanisms slip together like artisanal puzzle pieces, this is your game. You will drown in joy at the 100 hours of play you will get out of the giant box, which will be an excellent deal and money well-spent. I still think replacing all those standees with miniatures and such would be more fun but that would make the box Ogre Designer’s Edition sized. Eeek.

If you want things a little looser, more consistently thrilling, and perhaps a little more in line with the old-school feel of RPGs dungeon-delving, I think you’ll be happier with Descent 2.0 (particularly with the excellent app) or maybe the D&D board games.

I’ll end with my caveats that longtime BGB readers and listeners know well enough: I’m a eurogamer by nature, but I played RPGs back in the 80’s. Ameritrash isn’t normally my thing but we have gotten deeply into Mice & Mystics and also Descent 2.0 primarily because my son wanted to play RPGs and I figured this was a good compromise. We also acquired and played the D&D board games but I think they aren’t as good as the other two RPG-in-a-box titles we have enjoyed regularly for the last couple of years. We’re playing fairly regularly now and, while I would love more variation in games, I’m thrilled that this oldschool play is delighting my son and the close friends with whom I spent a lot of time adventuring back in high school.

One more point: If you coughed up more than $100 for this game because you were Gloomhopin it was going to be a Descent-killer, the Second Coming, or just a really good game that you and your friends love, I hope it gets you to Gloomheaven. The play time situation for my experience wasn’t ideal and while I’d probably give it a second try with a friend who knew the rules really well and pimped it out with real miniatures, I won’t be seeking that situation out. Not all games work for all people so if the hype got you on the bandwagon, I do hope you enjoy the ride…and remember there’s always the secondary market if you also think Gloomhaven is indeed a haven for gaming misery.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Gloomhaven

BIN (Buy It Now)

PIN (P)lay It Now

TIF (Try It First)

NMT (Not My Thing)

36 thoughts on “GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

  1. Wow, it sounds like you had the worst possible experience in playing this. It amazes me how bad it was for you.

    1. Learning in a noisy con environment is bad for any game, let alone a complex one.
    2. Your​ teacher was terrible at teaching. The official rules videos total 30 minutes. There’s no excuse for it to take twice that long.
    3. Your teacher seems to have gotten many rules wrong:
    3a. If your character moved to the front, there’s no way for any monster to walk past you to attack another character.
    3b. It’s literally impossible to die that early in a scenario. Any time you take damage, you can lose a card from your hand to completely negate it. To kill even the weakest character at level 1 on the first round, they would need to take about 6 damage, and then take another 7 hits after that.
    4. Because your teacher was bad and you’re in a noisy environment, things are taking way longer than they should. A 4 player scenario takes between 2 and 3 hours, generally, not including setup. A 2 player mission can be done in 1 to 1.5 hours.
    5. Because things are taking too long, you’re experiencing downtime, when generally there’s very little. Card selection is simultaneous. Monster controlling should be delegated. Actual player turns are generally pretty quick.

    I recognise that your experience has probably soured you on the whole thing, but if you get an opportunity to play it in a more conducive environment, I urge you to give it another shot. It might not be for you, but it deserves better than a crappy demo in a crowded hall.

    1. I’m delighted to hear that he got some things wrong.

      1) The Gathering isn’t a super-noisy environment, but it occasionally distracted the other players. I don’t think this was a big factor. The teacher was easy to hear and I think we heard him fine.
      2) There were many questions from the other players (not me so much – I’m the kind of player who figures if I miss something, I’ll learn it as we play).
      3) The mage was to the side, but the baddies ran toward him because of the initiative on their cards. So, while I described it dramatically, it did happen. Were the rules still wrong? Maybe.
      3a) I do think there was some kind of caveat about discarding cards late in the game (he’d forgotten), now that you bring it up.
      4) This was our teacher’s eighth game at the convention. No idea how many before.
      5) I’d expect that happens after a lot of plays but when situations change and then you have to read a lot of cards, each of which have two things, then consider the combos and other elements…yeah, I don’t see this happening really quickly until you are 20 games in. Even then, don’t invite your AP friends because I expect you will want to smother them with the Gloomhaven box cover before long.

      As I said, I’ll try it again but it’s not high on my list. I want it to be better than my experience. But, yuck, chuck those cardboard standees!

      1. (3) “the baddies ran toward him because of the initiative on their cards. ”
        Closest target always gets attacked first. If there’s a tie in distance, they go for lower initiitative.

    2. The OP has a gripe about standees with real minis – LOL. Did he see how many enemy standees there are – 236 standees in total. You show me the game that provides that many ‘minis’ and I’ll call bullshite. At and avg cost of $2 per mini (and that would be a friggin’ bargain) that’s $572 for the minis alone. The OP is full of himself if he thinks he gave this game a decent go. We had a few pitfalls, and still find rules that we missed (very minor ones these days) but this is easily the best game my group has played for a very long time. (and between us we own a lot of games).

  2. He definitely got rules wrong. Monsters focus on whoever is closest first and foremost. Initiative only breaks ties if there are equidistant people. And with ability to discard cards, reboots were unnecessary.

    I can play three gloomhaven scenarios in the six hours you guys took.

    I have my gripes with the game but it has lived up to the hype for me. Descent without dice would be awesome.

    1. I’m definitely going to give it one more try and appreciate the feedback. I still think the components are crappy coming from use of thematic and fun Descent pieces.

  3. Exactly my feelings.. Probably my biggest complaint is, that this game is not rewarding at all. The combat is not tactical enough, choices limited. There is very limited character development, no useful equipment, etc. So for me it fails on both sides, i beleived it would shine – no RPG, no tactics.

    1. OMG – not tactical – LOL (compared to D&D – which is ‘same move…same move…same move’
      Not rewarding: You get small rewards for even failing a scenario – the difficulty scaling is far better than most RPGs where the monsters hit lvls as you do.

  4. More advanced than I could say after that one play but I would say even Descent isn’t solving that problem – neither is Mice and Mystics. I really think there is a market for a board game that lets you keep more from game to game. I had hopes for the AD&D board game 4th Edition Recursion project – but it seemed like a mess.

  5. Hmm… I respect your opinion but not sure how else the game could have been done without cardboard standees; Any given scenario could have 6 +/- monsters of the same type at one time, and tracking the HP of each individually would be tough if they weren’t numbered. If these were all miniatures each box would be twice as large and cost hundreds more.

  6. Totally agree. Its actually not a good game. Any video game would serve u better and be way cheaper. those who love this game are kickstarter backers who would never admit to wasting $100 and waiting for 2 years for crap, reviewers who were bought or give great reviews to people who send them large and/or highly hyped games, or people just playing it wrong. It takes too much time to play at a level that is fair. The game is aggravatingly unfair at every turn and it takes hours of replaying scenarios and learning the cards u have and what you”l be facing. Do not believe the online play throughs. They’ve either played wrong, cheated, or got tremendously lucky. Do a search for Gloomhaven unfair and see what an honest group of people are trying to educate others on.
    For instance, Tom Vassel is playing the monsters on lvl 0. If u play solo u up the difficulty by 1. To make it easier u lower the difficulty by 1. Tom should be playing w/ lvl 1 monsters. There is no easier lvl in the book so Tom is house ruling that there is an easier lvl where u play monsters lvl -2. This is how it starts, w/ house ruling the unfairness the game puts forth.
    I spent quite a bit of money on this and the time I spent learning it, actually studying it, I count as time wasted. My kids and I, though they are kinda young being early teens, play Mage Knight which is similar, tactical, and strategic etc. We have fun. We immediately loved Pandemic Legacy, a highly rated game by all, from the get go. This game was aggravating for them and they abandoned it very quickly. I compare it to playing a DnD scenario where you realize the encounter is way too difficult right away and you give up not even attempting to proceed. I think many are giving this a high mark due to not wanting to realize they wasted money and time. This happens often on kickstarters. I would even go so far as to say that the reviewers that gave this high marks have some sketchy “behaviors” regarding this game. Rahdo stated Mage Knight wasn’t for him and all the things he said were negatives are multiplied by this game. He also said he played the game with his very non-gamer wife??? For reviewers not to inform on how punishing and basically unfair it is at the beginning is suspect to me. Vassel gave this #1 and he plays easy games and dislikes solo games but he does a playthrough of this solo??
    We got a side encounter through an event card. We wanted to go there as the 3rd mission and I spent time setting the whole thing up. The kids prepared, we looked at the first room, and we saw a lot of bad guys. We still were going to venture on thinking we would lose but it would be a good battle. Then we saw that you start the mission with the wound status. I mean c’mon! That’s when they were done. Didn’t even attempt it and so the game sits. Wasn’t this game about adventure? Being able to explore? To go where you want out of your discoveries? If encounters are not for all levels then they should be labeled as such. Is that too much to ask from a game so highly rated that costs $150????

    1. So, everyone who is better at this game is just a liar? Seriously, wound condition is healed easily, what’s wrong with it? We (Spellweaver + Cragheart + (sometimes) Brute, than Cragheart switched to Tribal Face) played around 15 scenarios on the normal difficulty, lost exactly once (Cragheart got too greedy and literally skipped 2 turns trying to fulfill “aggressor” battle goal) plus were close to defeat twice. A few scenarios were more like roflstomps. I don’t consider myself great strategic mind and our Brute certainly isn’t. Maybe it would become harder, but how can anyone find the first scenario difficult is beyond me.

      1. I think there are plenty of people who clearly enjoy this game and more power to them. I would note that I was playing the 8th scenario into the game, not the very first one. There was someone running the game during the convention and pulling in different people game to game.

        I’m going to give Gloomhaven another try one day but I still don’t care for the components at all.

        1. Stop going on about the components – 1700 cards and 236 enemy tokens that you want as minis – that would cost $550 minimum (and that’s at $2 a mini, which is cheap as chips) for the minis alone. We enjoy the retro feel of the standees, and the fact that it is the only sensible way to package a board game with that much stuff. Can you imagine trying to box that many minis.
          I am 45+ years old – played board games and games in all formats, hell, my family was the first in my neighbourhood to own ‘pong’ on the Atari. My friends own literally 1000s of dollars worth of games between us – and we all agree that Gloomhaven is ‘huge’ value. I was not a ‘backer’ and had no knowledge of the game until I started searching for some top-rated games. This game belongs in that group my good fellow.
          You’d need a very large, padded tool box for the minis. and an extra $500 – so that argument is just out of this world ridiculous.

        2. I really hate standees. Other than spinners, they’re probably my most hated game component. But, the gameplay of Gloomhaven makes me willing to ignore this flaw.

          The cardplay of Gloomhaven combined with retirement keeping classes from getting stale is what works for me. I also like the perks a class gets for leveling or completing tasks. Having my Cragheart attack and hit so hard the monster is knocked back and through an obstacle for extra damage feels heroic. He was throwing rocks, blocking hexes, and overall stomping monsters. The other two classes I’ve unlocked and played have also felt great to play.

          I think the most valid criticism is why a class can do something one turn, but not do it again without a rest. It kind of makes all the characters feel a bit like magic users in a D&D campaign. But, any character can use cards for the basic 2 attack with 2 moment which emulates the default attacks and moves of more typical dungeon crawlers.

    2. I have played through about 20 scenarios so far with a group of four, and love the game; as do the skeptics in our group. The logic, creativity and effort to put this game together is astounding. Props to Isaac and his team! The first few scenarios were tough as we got used to the gameplay and learned the rules, but we added an extra night a week to play this as we have been enjoying it so much. The game has a steep learning curve in the beginning during which it can be frustrating. If you have the patience and intelligence Gloomhaven can be extremely rewarding. If you don’t, as may be the case with the op, there is always Hello Kitty Island.

    3. After about 10 scenarios, my group has lost once. Playing on the recommended difficulty.

      Each scenario has come down to the wire – 0-2 turns left per character, tending toward 0.
      The game is impeccably balanced.

      I think you need to rethink your coordination abilities.

    4. One of my noob mistakes was realzing the # of bad guys is not determined by the number of pictures you see, but by what image is colored on the hex. White/Black/Yellow etc.

      There’s a chart in the rule book that says what to place for the # of players. Our first game we got that wrong and had like 12 monsters in the first room, when it should have been 6.

      We also thought the monsters get their base move/attack every turn in addition to what is drawn from their monster cards – we lost the first scenario twice doing it this way, but no, they only do whats on their card for that round. SO if they don’t have “attack” they don’t attack even if they’re right next to you.

      We had our fourth session and did Scenario 3 and it was a blast! I had a ton of fun and it was challenging to complete the scenario.

  7. Just started a 4-player campaign (Scoundrel, Brute, Mindthief, Tinkerer), and all of us are HOOKED, from me (the most D&D-oriented) to the guy whose closest experience to this is Betrayal at House on the Hill. In two sessions totaling ten hours, we cleared 4 scenarios and all reached Level 2. Taking a peek at our new cards & perks, it looks like the game just gets better from here. We’ve developed a terrific team strategy and are enjoying the rapid proliferation of scenario options and types of monsters. Combat mechanic is elegant and balanced, and the player options emphasize flexibility. In comparing it to tabletop RPGs for my cohort afterwards, I compared it to the ideal of the D&D 3rd Edition—stripping away the *ahem* arcane rules for a coherent game engine and easy scaling & customization.

    In our favor, our lead player had a few scenarios’ experience with another group and committed to the admin role for our campaign. We also allowed my character to replay a single turn in the first scenario that would have otherwise led to my *death* and a time-consuming reboot.

    Slight minuses—the biggest time drag is choosing card combos each turn, and some classes (esp. the Mindthief) take a lot longer to figure out than others (as the Brute, I’m almost always the first down). I was also expecting the conflicting personal goals (Life/Scenario) to lead to more strife, but so far they haven’t complicated our gameplay much. We also wound up with a combo of classes that have almost no Element effects,

    Lastly, I agree with Michael that standees seem like the only practical option for the monsters, which unlike the players are immensely varied and change from chamber to chamber, much less scenario to scenario. Miniatures would be a perfectly legit add-on for those who want a luxury gaming experience, but given how quickly they cycle in and out of use, cardboard makes perfect sense.

  8. I love it.

    Me and my second gaming group play it every fortnight The biggest problem is set up, but the game can hardly be blamed for that.The downtime and options given means you can’t really prepare two sessions quickly at once.

    Currently on our 6th scenario (going into a rift) …

    How we plan out our fortnightly is (assuming full 4 player complement);

    1: I preset up a Gloomhaven scenario
    2: Play an opener game (Fairy Tale, Karmaka, Lotus, etc)
    3: Play Gloomhaven scenario.
    4: If successful, do City/Road evens and pick next scenario
    5: Play 2 games of Netrunner/Legend of the Five Rings (1 game each, 2 games for 1st game winners…must switch between corp/runner and play both).Losers help set up next Gloomhaven scenario and gets the first helping of ‘consolation cake’. I always buy or bake a small cake for our sessions. No chocolate because one player has an allergy.
    7: Play next scenario.
    8: Pick next fortnight’s scenario/do end of scenario stuff.

    And that’s a roughly 5 hour game day.

    That has been our typical gameday every fortnight … .and we love it.

    Gloomhaven is wonderful. It allows players to be jerks, but still nominally ‘allies’. Other dungeon crawlers it feels like there’s always a ‘correct’ way to play, but with Gloomhaven there is that level of emergent gameplay that you never really know what others are going to do. But despite being a dysfunctional collection of self-interested mercenaries, you still pull off that victory and it always feels close because players have hidden agendas that let them push the envelope if they feel like they have time.to do so.

    My secret personal quest unlocks Musical Note. Currently using the Spellweaver, love her to bits. A friend that introduced me to the game and plays it weekly tells me that I will love my next character when she retires..

    Everything in this game has me invested.The dysfunctional party mechanic. The Eurogame stylings … There is a hell ofalot ofcustomization in this straightforward dungeon delving game.through attack modifier deck customization. It feels like we’re missing out on a lot of content with every choice we make. But given the expansion inaround the corner, I feel like we’ll be playing this game for years.

    I can’t help but notice you seemed to make a lot of mistakes, and might not have been playing with the right group.

    You need that group that can accept all the microaggressions you’ll suffer. Where a player will, rather than do what you need them to do, will speed over to the treasure chest. Where you can laugh and grin when it’s your turn to be sly and petty. Gloomhaven as a game kind of needs accompaniments such as a good opener, as set up and the nitty gritty is kind of annoying. It takes me an average of 45 minutes to get everything prepared straight out of the box. Which is why I got into baking. Making cakes or scones in the meantime. I live in a decently sized studio apartment, but a studio apartment nonetheless … so it’s not like I can keep the players stuff out constantly.

    Not as bad as resetting a Mage Knight game, but a 4 player Mage Knight game + opener is all you need for a games day.

    In short, the mechanics are probably the best in a dungeon crawler I’ve ever played, and we haven’t evengotten into the legacy aspects.

    Right now I’m imagining just how much fun it will be when one of our characters retires, and we have to suddenly all learn how to strategize together again. We only just started learning how to play together. Started feeling out eachother’s gameplay styles and hand management…. and suddenly havingto gov through all that chaos again,given one player retires soonish….

    I think Gloomhaven easily deserves all the hype it gets.

    The A.I. is elegant. The characters bleed all sorts of character and gameplay narratives. The customization is deceptively deep. It’s *diceless* (I love Euros), the party politics of greed and manufactured chaos is great…

    I get the criticism, but there ismerit alone that with the right group the game just gets raved about.

  9. I love it

    Before I got my copy, or even decided to buy, I played solo on TTS, and watched Alucard2004 throughways, And to counter EC’s comment – most of the mistakes and randomness they encounter, they play to their disadvantage, and they still play on +1, and sometimes even +2 difficulty.
    I fell sorry for the experience you had. Most of the mistakes of your play through have already been pointed out, but there is also the elemental/magic aspect that I am not sure if you got right. The magic you generate stays on the board and is able to being used on the round it is generated (for everyone after the person who is generating it), and for the entire next round. It does requires some coordination too pull out, but not as much as you make it out to have. Especially if you play Craigheart, who is pretty much self-sufficient elementally=wise. The impact of the magic used also varies, but I will agree that it hardly ever is anything major. But both of those things for me are good. If the elements just lingered on the board indefinitely, the mechanic would be shallow and too easy to use. As it is, it adds depth, because you have to plan your elemental infusions ahead of time, ask your teammates if they infuse anything or use anything already infused, and if multiple people plan on using the same element, you have to agree or fight for it. And as of the impact of the use of the elements, I’m glad that those effects aren’t as major, to make the usage of the action without the element oblivious. IMO That would be a takeaway from the decision making.

    As for our teams play sessions – It takes around 4-4.5h from the moment our playmates step into our apartment, till they leave it, Starting with tea and catch up, ending with discussion and analysis, sometimes with a cigarette break in the middle. If we were to play 2 scenarios back to back, we would probably plan an 8h meet, to be sure we wont run out of time, and to be able to make a lengthy break in the middle.

    We are exactly 10 scenarios in, and have lost only once. Our very first play through ended with a single enemy standing with a single HP left. But we had a few very clutch games. There were moments that some of the players felt as not having as much of an impact, we had games carried by single player, we had games made by a single action. Our last game we were certain we have physically no way of succeeding, until we noticed one thing, and then preceded to coordinate the next three rounds in a way, for our most tired player to make the absolute most out of his last 3 cards (we needed him to walk 11 hexes, past a group of enemies, and through a trap, with 3 cards left in his hand).

    I’m not claiming this game is perfect, or for everyone. The rules (especially the AI rules) are sometimes cumbersome, and there are a lot of them, which very often ends up with people messing SOMETHING up with the rules..But the tactical depth, character flavor and individual, dicelessnes, and legacy aspect, which further adds to the flavor and individuality make IMO gloomhaven a game worthe the #1 spot on BGG.

  10. Your experiences sound nothing like the ones my friends an I have. 2 rooms for you take longer than a full quest for us. Also elements last 2 rounds not one, and you can get a lot of neat combinations out there. I like that the boards themselves are flexible and filled in by components. It lets you create a lot of different types of quests, and they really do a great job of designing quests that feel very different. Personally I love the game but to each their own. Still I think your experience was not a good example.

    1. Yes, elements lasts “two” rounds, but not effectively, and not in the way it should imo, Since you only produce an element “at the end of the turn in which the ability was used” and since elements wane “at the end of each round”, you can for instance not combo one infusion card and a card which takes advantage of the element on the same turn. Now this isn’t inherently bad, but I personally think it’s a little bit boring. We have only finished 5 scenarios and are playing Brute (me), Mindthief, Tinkerer and Scoundrel. Since I’m the only one able to produce the Wind element (that I know of and so far into the game), I usually have to play suboptimally for one round, and hope I can take advantage of the element the next round. Sure, I just have to plan for it, but I think it would be more fun if i could both produce AND use an element at the same turn.

      So far I love Gloomhaven though, and I think it’s a really fun game.

  11. I’m gonna throw in that I love the cardboard standees. Yes miniatures are much cooler, but painting minis isn’t part of my hobby. So having full color, full artwork versions of the monsters is fan-fucking-tastic. I wish the characters were cardboard too instead of blobs of gray lifeless melted plastic.

    The thing that your group was missing was knowledge of cards. The first scenario is you constantly reading your cards and not knowing what you or your allies do. A couple scenarios in, and you’re like “I’m gonna jump in and smash and kick up some earth so you can pick them off with your consume bonus”. It’s a coop game and when you start teaming up, lots of fun crazy shit happens.

    1. Definitely disagree there. As someone who lived through a time when Steve Jackson games tried to sell people on “Cardboard Heroes” and games were crap in the way of components, I’d rather not go backward. I can’t paint at all, but there are people who will do it for you and the experience is so much better.

      And, no, I don’t want to play a game that requires so much work to card-combo during a dungeon crawl. If that’s what makes you happy, enjoy Gloomhaven. I will stick with Descent 2.0 and D&D when I want to really mix it up.

  12. Couldn’t disagree more with the review. First, this is pretty much NOT a review of Gloomhaven, since with so many rule misplays and unnecessary restarts it’s definitely not the same game. Second, this game has a learning curve which simply cannot be ignored; the mechanisms it uses are incredibly rewarding, but they need to be well understood first, if you expect you will take your deck for the first time and instantly be pulling off incredible combos in perfect synergy with your team…think again. But if you stick around, things start falling into place and by your second or third game you get to enjoy depth unparalleled by anything Descent or Imperial Assault.

    I respect everyone’s right to dislike something, and I would agree Gloomhaven is not for everyone, especially those who want a quick, light, empowering dungeon romp with easy decisions and lots of luxury components. But I still feel Gloomhaven was presented in a wrong light here, with too many inaccuracies, mistakes and misunderstandings. You can hate the game, no problem, but at least give it a fair chance – or at least one game played by the actual rules – before deciding to share your opinion about it publicly.

    1. This is the funniest response yet. Clearly there are some rules that our teacher got wrong but it certainly doesn’t change many of the concerns about the game’s components, the slowness of the system that I have seen in play, nor the experiences of others with whom I spoke (the very well-known designer who ‘hated it’ definitely played with a good rules explanation). I respect your right to love the game – if it floats your boat, enjoy! But this is why I’ve allowed every comment made to come on through. Correct the rules, explain why they are so great. But telling me that I can’t share my opinion because rules were taught wrong? No thanks – I’m not a fan of censorship.

      1. I agree that response went a little far at the end, but I think the point he was trying to make is that with how many obvious rule changes and misunderstandings, you are no longer reviewing Gloomhaven, but an entirely different and inferior game. You should feel free to share your opinion, but claiming this is a review of gloomhaven is a bit unfair. It is rather a review of why it is important to read the rules. It kind of reminds me of reviews people post online about dinner recipes: “I didn’t have chicken or garlic so I replaced it with hotdogs and cinnamon. It was so gross! This recipe for garlic chicken is terrible! Do not recommend!”

        The game can still be tough sometimes, true, but even the time spent agonizing over your turn and general slowness, restarting over and over, etc., would be drastically reduced with the correct rules; you can play for fun with some decent tactics thrown in, instead of trying to fight the system which is making things unnecessarily difficult.

        1. All fair, although I am pretty particular about not calling what I write “Reviews”. I don’t do reviews because they are restrictive in a way that I find uninteresting to write. If you want reviews, there are people who write good ones. Dale Yu on Opinionated Gamers writes comprehensive ones (TL;DR for me, but detailed). Others do capsules, which I think are terrific to give you what you need (some OP writers do these). I write session reviews, which means that it’s about the game itself but it’s infused heavily with my personality. And if you don’t like that last aspect of it, I can understand it. When I’m nice to myself, I’d call it ‘gonzo’ journalism and it’s what I write here because I’m a professional writer elsewhere and this is blogging and just fun.

          So, if the rules are wrong (in this case, the fault of a guy who was clearly playing this game before the launch of 1,000’s of pages of FAQ for Gloomhaven), I’d still stand by it because of all the community members that have corrected the rules. I’m not going to re-edit anything.

          What I am doing is investing in this situation. Those who follow me on social media will see that I bought a copy of Gloomhaven recently and one of my 2019 gaming resolutions is to learn the game and play through it sufficiently to see if my opinion changes. Mind you, like Power Grid, Gloomhaven is a game I admire for the hard work that went into it but I just didn’t find it fun to play. That might change when I give it more of a go but it did shock me to see how little I liked it when I played, thus the story.

          Plus, the designer who ‘hated it’ – well, let’s just say he’s the kind of guy who should love it. No, I won’t name that name but I’m curious to see if he gave it more of a go. I think he learned it from the same guy…

  13. Great to see so many differing views. I have been playing nearly every week for a few months now and I do really like the game. It did take me a few weeks before I was sold on it. One play-through doesn’t do it justice as there’s a steep learning curve and plenty of game management. However once you get to grips with your character and those in your party it starts to come alive. I think given the scale of the game, the component quality is forgiveable – if they had miniatures for that many monsters the game would cost hundreds of pounds and take up even more room than it does. We took the decision to use an app to handle the monster damage. While it’s a little bit of a shame to have to use tech for a board game it takes out a lot of setup and game management time and doesn’t spoil the feel of the game at all. It speeds things up but still feels like a board game experience. OK – the game isn’t perfect but I admire the ambition of what it’s trying to do – create a grand campaign and epic story that could reasonably last a couple of years. Truly an RPG in a box. I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to all and I can certainly see why one play-through could feel very unsatisfying. I guess it’s like test cricket – to a beginner it seems overly complicated and takes forever without much happening and frequently resulting in a draw. But once you get to know it and take the time to learn the intricacies, it becomes rewarding in a way other games/sports are not. But it will only ever appeal to those who like that kind of uber-geeky experience,

    1. Yes, it’s a good callout. Quite the reverse of what some are seeking from this experience, I’m finding my return to ‘adventure gaming’ and RPG to be more an interest in the joy of a story. I am currently running D&D 5E with my oldest friends, my son, the son of one of my friends, and my wife. The experience of the collective story and the thrill of a great roll at the right time or a victory from a clever decision is what is thrilling us. Not the rules (which I only pay cursory attention) and certainly not the interplay of mechanisms.

      So, I’m not sure Gloomhaven will ever really appeal to me. While I found the deck-building concept and some of the individual mechanisms quite intriguing, it didn’t translate well to the adventure gaming experience to me personally. For that, the lighter touch of Descent or Imperial Assault works for a board game-RPG experience. Amusingly, I don’t mind using tech for part of the experience. That actually makes me slightly more interested in the game.

      So, yes – geek out all you like about it. But, for me, it’s not a wonder of design worthy of the top spot on the BGG list nor do the justification of the component choices mean much to me in a place where people buy massive games full of tons of gorgeous miniatures. If they had done the basic game with cardboard but offered minis as add-ons galore, they would have made piles of cash AND made it more economical for those who cannot afford the cost of the minis. Win-win.

      As we say, to each, his own. I’m glad the game exists, even if I do think the whole thing is on hype-a-go-go right now.

  14. I’d like to write to the author just to say the following:

    I feel like you are comparing fast food (Descent 2.0) and fine dining (Gloomhaven). One is much quicker and more immediately accessible, but the other is far more satisfying.

    You mention in one of your comments that you don’t want to have to ” put in work to card-combo”. I

    would only like to point out that this “work” is only an up-front cost. After just playing 2-3 scenarios, you will have naturally figured out how to use your cards (since you are sticking with the same character). The same can be said for everyone else playing at your table. Then, no one really has to work at playing their cards and turns occur much faster and more smoothly. Hence, your other point about the system going ‘too slowly and too boring’ will no longer apply.

    I’ve completed only 2 scenarios with my girlfriend (total 3 tries, after failing the first scenario once). That first scenario felt like stumbling in the dark, and we played our cards terribly, but even still we had only one enemy left before failing. On our very second try, we were like a well-oiled machine and we ROFLSTOMPED it, set up the next scenario, and ROFLESTOMOPED it too all in one evenings work. We play on normal difficulty.

    I also want to point out that my girlfriend has never played ‘gaming’ board games before; she’s only played games like Monopoly and Candy Land. (though that is changing, as her first Gen Con has gotten her very excited about the more ‘geeky’ board games out there)..

    So, thank you for the review. But I do think this is the kind of game that can only be ‘fairly’ judged with 3+ (certainly 2+) scenarios of experience…its just that kind of game, and to suggest that it doesn’t deserve the #1 spot on BGG due to having this requirement seems far too limiting and even unfair. It absolutely deserves its spot, though pandemic legacy is pretty amazing too..

  15. I’ve played about 24 sessions with the same group of 4. Only 2 losses, both on the same ridiculous scenario. Every other scenario we won, and most were never in much doubt. They have mostly been easy.
    We all like it, and we are all going to continue. But unanimously, we agree that it is not the “best game EVAR!!” We are all baffled how it got the #1 spot in BGG’s rankings. The game does some things very well. It does a few things poorly. It’s fun enough, but it’s not amazing us on a regular basis.
    Sounds like Eric had a bad experience, sure. But I’m also not going to tell him that playing more often will totally change his mind. He played enough to get the gist, so even if the experience will be improved, the game won’t be radically different.
    For some people, it’s the #1 game.
    For my group and everyone I know, it’s a good enough game.
    For some people, it’s a boring game.
    And those are all equally correct.

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