You’ve heard the hype and you’ve seen the reviews, but what is it like to live in the world contained in that enormous box?
Once you get your copy home and team-lift it onto your game table, the first thing you will notice is the huge number of cutout-filled cardboard sheets, stacked layer upon layer. This, my friend, is where I must advise the “baggie shy” people to open their internet browsers and type in “Gloomhaven insert.” Inserts are containers you can purchase to put into game boxes to help organize game pieces, chits, and other bits. There are various makers and types of inserts, including one by noted accessory company Broken Token © .
Some of these high-quality game aids may seem expensive, but the way they facilitate setup and play is priceless. For those brave enough to delve into the world of baggies then carry on!
After punching out and sorting countless bits and pieces, thus enjoying one of the things that few other hobbies give us – the ability to “play” before we play, you get to start the game properly.
First, each player chooses one of the available starting classes.
Do you want to be a Brute who hits first and, perhaps, asks questions later?
How about a Spellweaver – squishy, but effective?
Tinkerer is the ultimate support class.
Scoundrel is chock full of back-stabby goodness.
Cragheart, a Gloomhaven original, lets you dole out area of effect spells and get-in-their-face damage.
Mindthiefs are rat-people (in a good way!) with attitude, and, eventually, pets to help in the fray.
Having assembled the party of 2-4 characters, players must now name and determine life goals for them. Unlike many adventure games, in Gloomhaven characters’ lives don’t end in death but with retirement. Have you seen what the world has to offer and grown weary? Or have you faced so many of the same foe you feel complete? Only you will know when your adventure with this character is done.
Next, players gather their starting equipment (nicely suggested in the rulebook) and set up for the first adventure. Lay out the tiles and monsters (per the rules) that await you and prepare for battle.
The game consists of a series of random road encounters that prompt questions:
To shoot or not to shoot? To help or not to help? Success and failure in various scenarios determine where you travel on the map and which subsequent quests you’re offered. Your choices also determine your fortune – whether you go up in prosperity and reputation or down. These changes have an effect on prices and decisions you can make later during your travels.
One of the notable features of Gloomhaven you’ll note is there are no dice!
What is this?
In place of dice, each class has a set of cards. Just cards. These cards are your life, literally. Once you have exhausted all of your cards during any battle, your character becomes exhausted and is out of the round. The cards show you everything you need to know: Initiative, movement, damage, spells, area of effect abilities, and much, much more. It takes a little time to become familiar with each class’ abilities and how they interact with others so the party can be tactically effective.
As in many cooperative games, players should discuss strategies and plans, but in Gloomhaven it’s best to keep such discussions “vague.” Focus on story and experience over statistics. For example, you can say things along the lines of, “I’m going to go in fast and hit hard,” not, “I have initiative 4 and can 6 damage to two of them.” You’re on an adventure, not just playing the numbers!
During combat, each player chooses two of his/her cards, places them face down on the table, and, when everyone is ready, flips them face up. Both players and monsters have actions they can perform this turn. Check initiative, and then begin. You may find your well-planned maneuver of flanking and stabbing the baddie is thwarted by the early initiative of the monster, as he is no longer there when it’s a player’s turn to act. But have no fear – there is almost always a way to use your cards effectively. You may just do the basic move and stab this time, not as glorious, but still effective.
No matter how well you plan, you may find your party is just a bit outmatched by monsters, fate, or a combination of the two. Gloomhaven is a game of cooperation, tactics, and adventure. Do not be discouraged if you find your party decimated by the time you hit the second door. This is part of the adventure (and may actually be helpful to someone’s retirement condition.) Many people have played the first scenario more than once, and that is just fine. Play through however you want – It’s your adventure.
As you play, traveling companions will come and go, riches and loot will enhance and then be outgrown by your character. All the while you will level up and gain skills (more of those precious cards!) to make your adventurers the best they can be.
There are many paths to follow and many things to discover. To say there are hours and hours and hours AND HOURS of enjoyment and fun in this coffee-table-sized box is not an overstatement. Because of the availability of removable stickers and/or companion apps, choose to begin your adventure anew with different parties and people at any time. Be forewarned: once you start, you won’t want to stop.