Gloomhaven

1-4 players, Cooperative, Legacy Dungeon Crawler

Designer: Isaac Childres

Artwork: Alexandr Elichev, Josh T. McDowell

Publisher: Cephalofair Games

Overview of Gameplay

You start out in the town of Gloomhaven and must take on quests to proceed in the massive story the game book provides. Along the way there are optional side quests you can partake in to get more loot and experience. After each quest whether you succeed or fail, you travel back to town where you can visit the shop to spend your hard earned gold on new equipment and gear, level up your character that you are playing from the experience you gained from the quests, donate to the local church (which gives a benefit) , start a new character AND/OR take part in city events.

The town itself has a prosperity level that is raised as you do specific quests. It starts at level 1 and every time it gains a new level more different items get added to the town shop to pick through for purchase. The city events are randomized and they supply an interesting story of something happening in the city that allows you and your group to make a choice on how you want to proceed with the event. The choice you make determines whether something good, bad or neutral happens to your group.

There are 6 characters/classes that you can choose from at the start. When you start the game you randomly choose a character quest card as well. This card has some specific thing you need to complete in the game to unlock its benefits, such as discovering a new character/class. Because of this there are numerous other characters/classes included with the game that unlock for players as the game progresses. Each character comes with its own mini as well AND each one is in its own little tuckbox so you cannot see what it is.

Battling beasts and other critters in the game is very unique. Each character has a specific amount of ability cards in hand each dungeon run. It’s different for each character but as an example let’s say there are 13 cards…..for each of your turns you play 2 of the cards. Each card has a top and bottom ability that you can use. On the 2 cards you play you pick 1 top and 1 bottom ability to be used, whether it’s movement, setting traps, healing, casting spells or just attacking plus more. After you use the cards they either get discarded or “lost”. Cards generally get lost if they have a decently powerful ability so you can only use it once during a quest and they go in a specific pile next to your character board. The discarded cards go in a different pile and you can choose a “rest” action to collect those back but lose one to the lost pile.

Basically as you traverse the dungeon, you will get more and more “tired” because of lost cards and if you ever “lose” all your ability cards and can’t rest to get some back, you then become exhausted and have to head back to town, leaving the rest of the party to contend on their own. This creates a very strategic playstyle in where you only use your powerful “lost” cards sparingly when you absolutely need them. And that is the game in a nutshell. There is a ton to ingest here and I have just scratched the surface.

Win Condition /Length

Let me start out by saying, this game is LONG. The first few quests till take a group of about 4 around 2 or so hours to complete. However as the game progresses you can expect those times to increase. About 15 quests in and we were seeing 5-6 hour play times per quest. This of course will vary based on how much discussion you and your team has and what quest you are partaking in. The rulebook even has recommendations on what you can and cannot discuss just to keep the game moving along at a decent pace. 

There are a number of different quests, 98 in fact in the book that comes with the game. Each of these has different objectives in order to beat the particular quest you are working. However they mostly boil down to similar stuff you have seen before such as kill all the enemies or collect a trinket or some kind, or just escape. It makes the game easier to digest if you think of each quest being its own game and not going in thinking you have to beat 98 quests to win. 

Setup/Takedown

This is just the worst. Far and away my worst game for setup and takedown on both counts. There are SO many tokens and pieces and tiles and cards and minis and papers. And don’t even get me started on the organization of everything. Yes, the game is massive in not only scope but also in components. There is so much packed into that box you for sure get your monies worth….but is it worth it?

To some the mess will be for sure. For those hardcore gamers that have a dedicated group and can set aside time to play this on the regular you will come to get used to the setup and more than likely most reading this probably already have bought an insert to manage the tremendous avalanche of components. However for those wanting a game they can pop out and play every once in awhile I say give this a hard pass. 

To set up ANY quest scenario you will have to sift through a downpour of tiles to find the particular ones needed for that scenario. Then through the onslaught of tokens to find the proper ones for that scenario. After the playing field is set up (or before) it’s time to get your characters all set up and ready. Each character comes with specific cards and a paper pad with details and the mini and the attack card deck and…..there’s probably more I’m forgetting. Oh which reminds me of the enemy setup. There are a TON of different enemies in this game. You NEED some sort of organization for these or you will spend forever trying to find everything you need for each one. From standees to action decks to the general monster attack deck. 

I tried to get this out the other day to play a solo game. By the time I got everything setup, I no longer wanted to play the game. It’s just not worth it from a solo standpoint. The setup kills it for me. 

Components/Game Board

I mentioned this above a bit already but each quest has a completely different setup and they are all played on modular pieces that make up the game board. Each piece will snap together to form the current dungeon or area and there are doors throughout usually that separate the individual rooms.

There is another game board that acts as a map of Gloomhaven (the town) and its surrounding land. On this gameboard you will keep track of all the locations you have unlocked and beaten via stickers that are included with the game. When you beat a location you check a little box on the sticker with a marker or pen to show you have completed it. And when you unlock a new location, you find that location sticker and place it on the gameboard in its specific spot. This is also where you keep track of the town’s prosperity level and any global achievements that you have completed.

Beyond the horrendous setup the components and gameboards are really good. I especially like the big map of Gloomhaven board that you, over time, alter with stickers to fill it out as you are exploring the land. That is such an awesome idea and the way it’s implemented is superb. The cards all feel nice and the minis are detailed and durable. The other tokens that come with the game all have a decent thickness and honestly I cannot think of a single component that has given me trouble. 

The player boards have some nice information listed on them to help you play and the health and experience tracker devices are also really nice as well. I said it before but you really do get a good value here for the money you spend. 

Box/Storage

It’s a very deep, very large box and let’s be honest, it HAS to be. There is just so much packed into this beast. There is a small insert at the very bottom but that thing is laughable at best. It serves mostly to hold in the huge amount of tuck boxes that you will eventually be opening over the course of the game and not much else. You will soon discover packing everything back in the box and getting everything to fit, is a game unto itself. Packing everything back in and actually having it organized….is a godly affair. It kinda reminds me of a child’s toy box. A huge box just piled high with toys in no discernible order and you have to sit atop the lid to get it to close. And yet…..the lid still slight pops open when you get off. 

Personally I have everything bagged up into a million bags (ok not THAT many but there are a bunch) in an effort to have some organization in there. Heck even with the way I have all the monsters separated out in individual bags it still takes forever to find the ones I need, because there are so damn many! I never though having too much variation would be a downside in a game, and for some this won’t be. For me though it is. 

Visual Appeal /Theme

Visually this game is great! The artwork is very well done and really sets the theme. There is an overarching story to be had from the quests you partake in but it sadly does boil down to your pretty typical fantasy dungeon theme. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but the story never really jumped out and grabbed me as it were. 

Rulebook

Fair warning though that it will take you about 2 hours to fully learn the game, not to mention the time to fully get prepared to play your first game from punching out all the assorted enemy standees, tokens and map tiles. This rulebook is pretty bad. The information is scattered all over the place and the way it is laid out is confusing. Granted there is a TON of stuff to learn going in but I found I had a very difficult time following along with the rulebook to get into it. After our group got the gist of how to play we still had to whip out that rulebook to find little odds and ends, which, honestly isn’t uncommon for more complex games. What stinks about that however is that because of the confusing layout of information it took me far longer to find those specific rules questions that I was looking for. 

Table Talk/Fun Factor

Now this is a HUGE part of the game and honestly my favorite thing. This game create tremendous table talk if played with a group which lends to the overall fun factor. With my group of 4 playing we discussed so much from the quests to the decisions that had to be made when in the town and traveling on the road. It really FELT like we were a team of adventurers out questing. You have so much pull on the way the town develops and the way your character develops. And not only that but how your team develops as a whole. Do you want to be evil or good? Does your team want to be evil or good? These are just a fraction of the decisions you will be making WITH the other players. 

Because of all the incredible table talk it really amps up that fun factor. I mentioned earlier that I setup a solo game to play and the want to play it just died. That was partially because of the incredibly long setup but also because it was a solo game. I knew I wouldn’t have that amazing table talk with my friends and the enjoyment just kinda faded. 

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

You can play the game solo or with a group of up to 4 however I would recommend playing with a group. I already alluded to this twice previously but for me, this game is just not fun solo. It’s not that the mechanics don’t work it’s just that I don’t enjoy this kind of game by myself. Especially after playing it with a group and having a blast. All the decisions that you end up making with a group really brings this game to life. 

Hmmm replayabilty is an interesting one for this particular game. On one hand I would say it is incredibly high considering there are 98 different scenarios out of the box to quest through (which will take you a year at least) but on the other hand once you play through all those quests, well, you’re done. This IS a Legacy game, so you will be putting stickers all over the board, tossing cards that are no longer used and going through all the characters over the course of this extremely lengthy game. 

Personally I wouldn’t worry at all about the legacy aspect of it. You DO get your monies worth with the crazy amount of stuff in this box. And once you finally finish all the quests (if you do) you will have such grand memories of everything that you and your team experienced throughout. Not many games can give you that. 

Final Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed this game. If you have a dedicated group that would get into this sort of fantasy theme and has the time to delve into this game for months on end then I would very highly recommend it. However if you are delving alone and/or don’t have the time to put into this grand adventure I would probably pass. There is a lot to love in this box, and that is both the games strongest weakness and its greatest strength.

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