It’s a game that you’ll frequently see sitting at the top of ‘Greatest Board Game Of All Time’ lists, but Gloomhaven can be an intimidating option when you first begin unboxing and getting ready to play. If you’ve been put off from starting, or if you’ve had a try but struggled to make much progress, we’re here to give you some helpful tips that will soon have your adventure back on track! It might be a complex game, but as we indicated in our review this one is well worth the effort once you get going.
Failure To Prepare Is Preparing To Fail
That’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin, and whilst you don’t need to worry about anything quite so large as founding a country his words are equally fitting when you start playing Gloomhaven. The game is effectively a series of individual missions in a persistent world, with each one potentially being a full afternoon of gaming in itself. Helpfully the game has in-built mechanics that make it possible to play each mission with different characters, and even different numbers of players. I have to stress though that the most satisfying experience is working your way through these connected scenarios with the same group of friends. Try and pick a group who you can regularly meet up with and progress through the world of Gloomhaven together.
The other two key ingredients in this preparation step are time and space. This game is a bit of a beast, and you will need a decent size table to accommodate the various dungeon tiles, resource cards, player mats, etc. Setting up all these things can take a bit of time in itself, but even once that’s done you’ll need at least an hour or two to complete even one mission. Make sure you’re being realistic and giving yourself enough playtime, or you’ll have to stop mid-mission and inevitably lose a bit of momentum!
Assemble The Right Team
Each player in Gloomhaven will pick a character to use in their adventures. As you might expect they all have different strengths and weaknesses and different situations in which they excel. An Inox Brute might be the ideal choice for a player looking to dive straight into combat, whereas a Spellweaver will give you strong ranged options and the opportunity to heal your allies. Getting a good balance of characters will make your life far easier in almost every mission, so if your friends have all taken melee-focused tank characters it might be worth looking at the Tinkerer or Mindthief to give yourselves more options. This is especially important for beginners at the start of the game, but later on as characters retire and are replaced by new adventurers you should still be mindful of where your party might have gaps in their skill sets. If you know that you’re skewing heavily towards one sort of playstyle then think about which cards you take into your missions so that you don’t get left without any way to heal, or do meaningful damage to bosses.
Speaking of your cards…
Understand Your Deck
Every character has a unique deck of action cards that you will pick a hand from for your next mission. Picking the right hand starts with understanding what each card does, and perhaps more importantly what compromises it demands. Sure, the top action of this card might give you a great way to heal a party member who’s taken a big hit, but what if the bottom action is the only way you can jump over an obstacle to reach that all-important treasure chest? You can only do one or the other on a given turn, so the power of this card may become more limited. Consider how to build a hand of cards that will give you options in combat, and pay close attention to those initiative numbers too. You may have a great set of cards for dishing out damage, but if the enemy monsters are always going before you and immobilising or disarming then those cards become worthless.
It’s also worth noting that you won’t know ahead of time exactly what threats you’ll be facing when you pick your cards, but you can probably make some guesses if you know the mission name. A mission titled ‘Inox Encampment’ is unlikely to give you a lot of elements to use for your Spellweaver magic, but a mission called ‘Temple Of The Elements’ could be a different story…
Burnout Is Real!
Characters don’t die in Gloomhaven, but they do become exhausted and have to retreat if they lose enough health or if they burn through all their cards. Action cards that are burned upon use are often the most powerful in your deck, but you need to be cautious and strategic about when you use that option. Burning cards too early can seriously limit the overall number of turns you’re going to get before you are exhausted, and for my party this was a real challenge in the early missions.
Thinking carefully about when to rest to refresh your cards is also vital. A long rest is usually preferable but it does leave you vulnerable for a turn where your character cannot move or defend themselves. If you were planning to open that door to the final boss encounter, maybe take a moment to consider whether it’s better to take a long rest first, while there are no monsters running at you!
Understand Your Enemy
When a new monster is revealed, pay attention to their movement and abilities, as shown on their monster card. If they have a ranged attack then you might want to close the distance to put them at a disadvantage, whereas if they have a shield you might need to use a more powerful damage card to get some meaningful hits.
Status effects and special moves are particularly important. An enemy that wounds with melee attacks is best kept at arm's length, but one who will summon other monsters should be dealt with as quickly as possible. You’ll also start to understand how fast or slow these monsters tend to act after a couple of turns have passed, so think about whether you need to use higher initiative actions in order to be effective.
Shop Till You Drop
Our final tip is something you can take care of before you even leave town for your mission, and that’s making sure you have stocked up on items and blessings. Items can be real game-changers in Gloomhaven and many of them will be usable more than once in a scenario as they will be refreshed after a long rest. A net that immobilises your enemies can keep a monster from surrounding your allies, or a pair of boots that lets you move faster through difficult terrain can give you the extra reach you need to get to a mission objective. At a minimum having a couple of healing potions in your party can be the difference between victory and defeat against those hard-hitting bosses.
You can also pay a small fee to the Sanctuary Of The Great Oak in order to get blessings added to your modifier deck. A blessing will give you double damage on an attack, which can lead to some huge hits in crucial moments. Having blessings and items will often change the odds dramatically in your favour, so take a moment to do that shopping in town before you head out. Pay attention to new items that may also appear in the shop as you continue your adventures, they can often be the perfect complement to a particular character’s playstyle.
That’s it for this guide, hopefully these Gloomhaven top tips will have you living your best adventuring life in no time.