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Gloomhaven (5th Printing)

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Gloomhaven is a co-operative adventure game for 1-4 players which immerses you in the fantasy world, surrounding the town of Gloomhaven, as imagined by designer Issac Childres. By playing the game over many scenarios, you’ll develop your own character and learn to cooperate in the game’s tactical, card driven combat system. The game is scenario based, with a story woven between …
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Awards

Golden Geek
Exceptional Components
Dice Tower
Golden Pear

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Seemingly endless content.
  • Immersive storytelling.
  • Incredibly rich and original fantasy world.
  • Strategic card play.

Might Not Like

  • It's expensive!
  • It's a huge commitment.
  • It takes a long time to play and set-up.
  • Can be difficult.
  • More strategic than you would initially think.
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Description

Gloomhaven is a co-operative adventure game for 1-4 players. It immerses you in the fantasy world surrounding the town of Gloomhaven, as imagined by designer Issac Childres. By playing the game over many scenarios, you’ll develop your own character and learn to cooperate in the game’s tactical, card-driven combat system.

The game is scenario-based, with a story woven between each scenario you will find in the book. As you encounter new characters, they might lead you to discover new areas of the board – applying stickers to customise the board itself. You can choose where to explore, as well as choosing the outcome of different events along the way. For each scenario, you’ll build a unique map of game tiles, populated with terrible creatures, which you must defeat in order to succeed. You’ll gain experience and treasure along the way, allowing you to upgrade your adventurer with skills and items to help in future scenarios.

In terms of gameplay, Gloomhaven is a unique dungeon-crawling experience. Each turn you’ll select two action cards, which determine your speed and also the movement and combat actions you’ll take. Although you’re co-operating, all players choose their actions independently to try and take on different challenges that the group are currently facing. This simple card mechanism is a really effective one for giving you control over your outcomes in the game, as well as driving some really interesting decisions.

Gloomhaven is widely regarded as a fantastic game, with two successful Kickstarters behind it. It is also the number one rated game by gamers on BoardGameGeek. Gloomhaven seems to appeal to gamers with an interest in typical dungeon crawl style board games, as well as a wider range of people who are drawn to the game for its story, campaign and card-driven mechanics.

There is a significant amount of content in the Gloomhaven box! The game includes miniatures to represent each character, as well as a huge amount of cardboard map tiles, tokens and monsters. It’s a great big box, full of adventure, that keeps gamers coming back to the table for tens or hundreds of game sessions.

Player Count: 1-4
Time: 60-120 Minutes
Age: 12+

 

Gloomhaven Board Game Review

Where do I even start with Gloomhaven? Do I tell you about how it was designed by one person: Isaac Childres? Do I bring up how much space it takes up on my shelf? Or maybe I talk about its meteoric rise to the number one spot of Board Game Geek’s rankings?

There is so much to be said about this game so I’ll start with this: I love Gloomhaven. I love the world Isaac has created. I love the story you get to tell. I love that I get to play it with my family and they all love it too. I should mention here that I haven’t completed Gloomhaven. I’ve been through less than 20 of the almost 100 scenarios the game contains. Just something to be aware of before proceeding.

Isaac has crafted something incredible that rivals triple-A video game titles. I’ve heard Gloomhaven be described as the Skyrim of board games (and that’s not completely inaccurate). A huge expansive world with hundreds, if not thousands, of secrets to discover and dungeons to explore? Check. A campaign with twists and turns, side-quests, and incredible characters to meet? Check. Dragons? Check. Gloomhaven can be the board game you use to get your video game friends to join you around the table. Despite this, it’s not an introductory game.

You see, Gloomhaven is quite complex. It can best be described as a cooperative, euro-style, dungeon crawl, hand management, legacy campaign game. Not sure what all of that means? No worries, let’s take a closer look.

The Gameplay

Gloomhaven is played co-operatively from 1-4 players. Each player will have a character unique to them. They may choose to play as the Human Rogue, or the Inox Brute, or maybe the Quatryl Tinkerer. There are six different classes to choose from at the start, with another 11 being locked away that you can unlock after reaching certain gameplay milestones. You will name your character and, throughout the campaign, they will level up and unlock new abilities and perks.

Each character will also be given a retirement card. From a story standpoint, these are goals your character wishes to complete. This is their reason for being in Gloomhaven. Once you have met the requirements on the card, your character retires and you stop playing as them. You unlock a new class and choose a new character to play as. It is very reminiscent of playing a tabletop RPG.

Depending on the number of players, the difficulty level will also change in a very elegant way. When you set up a dungeon to explore, the book tells you to add monsters. Each monster is marked in different ways to show at which player count they are added, and you can tweak the scenario level based on the player’s levels. This ensures you have a nicely balanced dungeon to explore regardless of how many players there are.

However, balanced doesn’t mean easy, and it certainly doesn’t mean balanced. You might run into a type of monster that has strengths that your characters can’t compete with. Maybe everyone is focused on using spells and this creature isn’t too bothered about spells. All of the characters make up the party, and the party needs to be balanced. You need someone that can tank some damage and output even more. You need people that are strong in melee range or from far away. Putting all of your eggs in one basket is generally not a good thing in these situations.

Gloomhaven Review - Spellweaver

I also described Gloomhaven as a euro-style hand management game. This is because dungeon crawl games are typically very thematic. You roll lots of dice and kill all the things. Gloomhaven has a much more thoughtful approach. Everything you do in a scenario is done through cards. Each character has a hand of cards. Each card is broken down into two halves with an initiative number in the middle.

Typically, the top half is used for combat, while the bottom half is used for movement. That’s right, even moving is done through cards. The initiative number determines when in the round you will get to act. Each round you select two cards to play. You will activate the top half of one and the bottom half of the other. In initiative order, people and monsters take turns. Once you’ve taken your turn your cards are sent to a discard pile.

In some cases, cards are lost forever. But these are usually incredibly powerful cards that can swing the tides of battle. If a card is not lost it can be recovered by resting. There are two types of rest. A short rest can happen at the end of your turn. Or, you can take a long rest that takes up your whole turn. Either way, you take back your discarded (not lost, those are gone forever) cards, but send one of them to your lost card pile. If it was a short rest then you do this randomly. If it was a long rest you get to choose which card to lose and you recover two of your hit points.

No matter which option you choose, your selection of cards will slowly start to dwindle. Once you have no cards left or if your hit points reach zero, you are exhausted and out of the scenario. This means you are essentially on a timer. Managing your hand of cards is one of the most important aspects of this game, and will make or break the players.

Each scenario you embark on will have its own unique puzzles and ways to win. The goals may be to just kill everything in the dungeon or to recover a lost ancient artefact. Just to name a couple. No matter what though, you’ll be killing things. Lots of things. Whenever you use an attack you get a chance to draw from your random modifier deck. That’s right, another deck of cards unique to you.

At first, these cards will be filled with simple modifications to your damage. Increasing or reducing your damage by one or two, or keeping it the same. Occasionally it will be a critical hit or a total miss. This is meant to simulate combat in a more thematic way. Maybe you hit their weak spot and did more damage, or maybe you hit their armour and it did less. You get the idea.

The real magic comes as you level up. When you get stronger, you can change the deck. Not only do you get to add new cards to your hand, but you also get to remove the crummy damage reducing modifiers and replace them with better cards. Depending on the class you’re playing, you might get to add special conditions to your cards like stun and poison. Or maybe you’ll get to add special elements to the air. That’s right, there are special elemental conditions.

Certain cards will gain benefits if the element is present. Now your regular sword attack can be a flaming sword attack that will do persistent damage each round to the victim.

Gloomhaven Review - Stock to Buy

We’ve Barely Scratched The Surface

It’s hard to believe that the past 1000+ words have been the simplest explanation of Gloomhaven I could do. This barely scratches the surface of this beast of a game. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about the enchantments. Well, okay… since you asked…

Enchantments are a way to permanently alter cards belonging to a class. You mark these cards by adding stickers. This is part of where the legacy aspect comes in. If you aren’t familiar with the term legacy, it means the game will be altered in permanent ways as the game goes on. Usually, this is done by adding stickers to boards and cards – or actually destroying parts of the game.

Enchantments are one of the ways Gloomhaven uses legacy. Adding stickers to your cards to give them more damage or range, for example. You will also have a world map that stickers will be added to as you explore and unlock achievements.

When you embark on your next adventure, you will also have random events happen. Maybe you come across a group of bandits that demand a toll. Do you pay it and lose money, or do you choose to fight?  If you choose the latter you will begin the scenario with fewer hit points. Though you won that fight, it wasn’t without a few scrapes. But you got to stand your ground and keep your money. Maybe the bandits were holding someone prisoner and you have set them free.

The event may prompt you to add a new card to the event deck that you can now encounter. What will that card be? Who knows? We certainly don’t.

Final Thoughts On Gloomhaven

As we’ve been working our way through Gloomhaven and forging our own stories, it truly feels like the possibilities are endless. I hardly feel like my friends and I have even scratched the surface. We’ve seen about a fifth of the scenarios, played for about 100 hours already, and had someone retire with another on their way out too.

I’ve lived in Gloomhaven for so long already and each time we arrange to play it I am excited. You know how you make plans with people and then wish those plans weren’t happening so you could stay home and do nothing? Gloomhaven is the opposite of that.

If you’re looking for an epic campaign to commit to and truly feel rewarded for your efforts, check out Gloomhaven. It takes a lot of effort and hard work though. The rules are many and initially complex. You will be making mistakes way past the point at which you feel you should be. I play with two other people and everyone has their own jobs. One player tracks the monsters, another tracks the tokens, etc… If you are the only person setting up the scenarios, keeping track of everything, and maintaining the game, you may grow to resent it.

You’re looking at an approximate 30 minutes of set-up, 2-4 hours of gameplay, and another 30 minutes to pack away. It’s a commitment and all of the players around the table need to be alright with that. There’s also the matter of the price. It’s not cheap. You do get more than a bargain, but it’s still a large investment to find out if this game will work for you.

If you’ve heard all of that and it still appeals to you, then go for it! Gloomhaven is an experience I’ve only ever had electronically, or in a tabletop role-playing game run by a great game master.

Editors note: This blog was originally published on June 20th, 2018. Updated on November 2nd, 2021 to improve the information available.

Gloomhaven is, for now at least, one of the biggest, baddest games out there and it is currently sitting pretty on the top of Boardgamegeek’s list of the best games of all time. Take that, chess.

For those not in the know, Gloomhaven is a campaign-based dungeon crawler where a team of plucky heroes will try to uncover a huge sprawling web of storylines set in and around the titular city of Gloomhaven.

Welcome To The Dungeon

There are two halves to the game. The bigger chunk of the game is where you will be heading into various dungeons, caves and castles to deal with the beasties that call them home. You do this by playing down action cards and resolving them in turn. These cards will let you move about the map and dish out spells and attacks to your various foes.

There is treasure to find and loot to equip. And once you’re done and dusted there are story threads that get revealed and you’re off again to do a bit more adventuring. There are also various random events that can get triggered while you are off on the road and these can introduce you to various new characters and start off new side quests.

It is such a unique experience in board gaming and for what it is it comes in a pretty small package. (The only comparable game I can think of is Kingdom Death: Monster which is many times the size and price of Gloomhaven).

One of the big innovations Gloomhaven brought to the table was the fact that this was a fully cooperative experience. The big dungeon crawler type games that came before, Descent, Imperial Assault, etc. All needed one player to take an adversarial role and take control of the many monsters, hazards and traps that the heroes had to wind their way through. Gloomhaven is different.

Enemy Types

With Gloomhaven, each of the enemy types is controlled by a set of AI cards. There are loads of different decks of these meaning different enemies act differently. Archers will hang back and take shots from across the room whereas something a bit bigger may charge at you to give you a good smacking. It’s not quite as good as squaring off against a human player as you can get to learn these AI move sets eventually, but it’s a good facsimile.

And because of this, you can solo play Gloomhaven. You take control of 2 individual heroes and away you go! Also, you don’t quite get the full experience as you know what both characters are going to do each turn, which takes away a little bit of the fuzziness around planning each turn.

You also don’t really get the fun that the hidden objectives bring by players acting a little oddly each game in order to complete their hidden agenda. But apart from those two little downsides, the rest of the game is as good as playing with a group of players.

Dropping In For Tea And Goblins

One of the other nice things about Gloomhaven is that it’s possible for players to drop in and out of a campaign as you go through. This is actually how I ended up discovering the joys of solo Gloomhaven for myself. I started off in a group of 4 players. We all left the city of Gloomhaven with a spring in our step.

Then, after a few months, one of our parties had to drop out as she had a baby. Then covid stopped the other 2 players coming round to dungeon dive a few months later. I didn’t want to give up on our campaign as we were a decent way through it at this point, so I ended up playing solo over the next few months.

I had a great time going off and exploring new regions of the map and heading off on different side quests. Then, as the lockdown eased off a bit, my character headed back to the city of Gloomhaven, walked into a tavern and met 2 of their previous party members and had a big old catch up about what’s been happening on the roads around the city. I showed off all my new shiny gear and then we headed back out on the roads again as a group.

Back Into The Fray

Apart from our character levels being off for a mission or two, it was like old times again. While I’m never going to say that solo is the best way to play Gloomhaven, the camaraderie is a brilliant element of the game, it definitely does have its advantages. For a start, this game is huge. I’ve been playing it for about 2 years now and I don’t feel like I’m near the end of it.

The idea of being able to get the same group of friends together for the amount of time it takes to get through this campaign is bonkers to me. I’m sure there are people who have done it, but I quite liked the flexibility of being able to crack it out on an evening when I had an hour or three to spare and knock through a mission or two.

The story is still brilliant and twists and turns just the same as playing it in a group. What I’m saying is this. If you’ve been intrigued by Gloomhaven and haven’t picked it up because you were worried you wouldn’t be able to get some friends around to play it often enough, I’m here to tell you that you’ll have pretty much the same experience soloing the game.

And then if something changes and you can get a regular game group together you can easily introduce them to the game at a later date with just a little backstory explanation for some context.

A Great Experience

There is a reason Gloomhaven is currently sat at number 1. It is such a great experience and I’ve very rarely heard of anybody who was interested in the idea and then didn’t like the game when they played it.

That said, if you are still unsure about spending what is a large chunk of money on a single, although massive, game. You can always try Jaws of the Lion. Which is a short campaign which contains most of what makes Gloomhaven special. The size is scaled back and you do miss out a little bit of the character progression but it is another great option to get you into the series.

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.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Seemingly endless content.
  • Immersive storytelling.
  • Incredibly rich and original fantasy world.
  • Strategic card play.

Might not like

  • It's expensive!
  • It's a huge commitment.
  • It takes a long time to play and set-up.
  • Can be difficult.
  • More strategic than you would initially think.