|Players:||1 - 4|
|Time:||60 - 120 minutes|
Players will take on the role of a wandering mercenary with their own special set of skills and their own reasons for traveling to this remote corner of the world. Players must work together out of necessity to clear out menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins. In the process they will enhance their abilities with experience and loot, discover new locations to explore and plunder, and expand an ever-branching story fueled by the decisions they make. This is a persistent game that is intended to be played over many game sessions. After a scenario, players will make decisions on what to do, which will determine how the story continues, kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.
Playing through a scenario is a cooperative affair where players will fight against automated monsters using an innovative card system to determine the order of play and what a player does on their turn.
Essentially, every turn a player will play two cards out of their hand. Each card has a number in the center, and the number on the first card played will determine their initiative order. Each card also has a top and bottom power, and when it is a player’s turn in the initiative order, they determine whether to use the top power of one card and the bottom power of the other, or vice-versa. Players must be careful, though, because over time they will permanently lose cards from their hands. If they take too long to clear a dungeon, they may end up exhausted and be forced to retreat. I’ve written a comprehensive series of blog posts about the inception and development of Gloomhaven. If you’re interested in knowing more about the game, please read on!
Gloomhaven is a beast. The game is an investment, not only in money but in space and time. With that said, it is a delight to play with a campaign that offers an array of paths for players to take.
Gloomhaven is a 'legacy' game, which means that players will modify the game as they play it, unlocking new characters, retiring old ones, adding stickers to a map, and checking milestones off. While it is designed to be played through once, it's certainly possible to play through again. However, the first playthrough will take many hours. I estimate that I've played 100 - 200 hours of Gloomhaven and haven't completed the main story yet (but I'm close). My group has dived into the side quests a bit, so if you're really keen to knock the game off, you can probably do that in under 100 hours. But why buy a game just to complete it? it's all about the journey I say.
As a role-playing game you will get attached to your character and not only will you unlock new and interesting abilities, but equipment and perks as well. Gloomhaven is a cooperative game, but players are also incentivised to pursue their own goals on a mission-by-mission basis which adds a bit of spice when you're never quite sure what your friends are going to do.
My favourite part about the game is the combat. There is no dice rolling in Gloomhaven and everything is driven by cards so, in a way, it's a hand management role-playing game. It's a thrill to plan and execute a well-timed ability that happens perfectly in sequence with what the other players around you are doing, and as you unlock additional cards, you'll keep coming back for more. Note however that while it's based entirely on cards, there is an element of luck through an attack modifier deck that each player has. This can really make or break the game for some people. I don't mind RNG (random number generation) because it adds to the suspense and unpredictability, but some people may not find that enjoyable. Bear in mind that the attack modifier deck applies to the monsters as well, so it works both ways!
A drawback of this game is the setup and tear downtime. Gloomhaven comes with a ton of components and if you don't have a box insert organsier (3rd party, not included with the game), it will take 20 - 30 minutes to get set up and about the same length of time to pack back in the box.
I highly recommend this game for anyone interested in a deep role-playing game with a persistent campaign and a decent storyline. The playable characters are interesting and become more-so as you unlock additional content, and the card-based combat means that players keep coming back for more.