Saturday 30 October 2021

Gloomhaven - Euro dungeon adventuring (Cephalofair)

I've been playing a lot of Gloomhaven since I moved to Norway. If you've missed the hype, it's a Euro-style dungeon bash game with a big campaign and a legacy mechanic that changes the game permanently as you adventure. It also weighs 10kg, which nearly killed me getting it up the hill to my flat. It has two things I particularly like about it.

The first is that each dungeon you enter is a puzzle to be solved. You have a limited number of actions for the scenario defined by how many cards you get in your hand. Some character classes get more cards, but the effect is balanced overall by the power and synergies between cards. This means that you have to find the most effective and efficient way through the dungeon for the combination of characters in your party.

The Gloomhaven board at the end of my campaign

The second is the legacy mechanic. I get to stick stickers on the main gameboard and on the cards in each character's decks. Sticking stickers down is fun. The stickers on the board are for dungeon locations that I have made accessible to my party, and for global achievements that affect the larger campaign. When I first set out to play the campaign, I thought I should get card sleeves so that I could remove enhancement stickers if I decided to reset the game, and removable stickers for the board. In the end, I did not. If I want to reset the whole campaign, I can use one or more of the many apps and websites to record progress instead. Enhancements on the character cards are limited and generally expensive, so I figure I can just dial up the difficulty for scenarios, if the enhancements make them too easy. I also don't see me returning quickly to Gloomhaven to play a full campaign now that I have finished the current one, simply because it's a huge undertaking that has taken me 18 months to complete with regular game play. So, that means that stickering and enhancements are not really an issue.

I have recorded 145 plays of Gloomhaven since getting the game. These are all solo scenarios, and many were losses. Especially in the early days, it took me several goes to 'solve' the scenarios I was playing. I am still very keen on the game, even after all these plays. It's fun, engaging and challenging, which is not always the case with games played solo, and it still feels quite fresh. This is partly because of the way the scenarios are created. There are 'kill all the monster' scenarios, but there are others with different objectives, so each game can be different. The game also remains fresh because there are a lot of different character classes to try. Each character gets a personal goal when it starts and will retire once that is achieved. This leaves you free to try different character classes as the game progresses. I mean, you could stick to the same class and start a new character of the same class as the one you have just retired, but where is the fun in that?

One other advantage of the game is that scenarios can be quite quick, so it is easy to fit a game in of a weekday evening when you have a spare moment. This fits well with where my life is at. I can leave most of the game set up and run through a scenario in an evening if the mood takes me. It helps keep the momentum going.

Overall, this is a game I would recommend. It's not your typical dungeon crawl. It feels more like a video game where you try to solve the level by finding the most efficient way through it. Each of the character classes is different, some being more difficult to play effectively than others, and with different strengths and weaknesses. It's also cooperative and I am much more interested in cooperative games than competitive ones these days. Given how much I have got out of this game, it may well be one of my best purchases after Advanced Squad Leader.

Having played little but Gloomhaven for 18 months now, it is time for a change. Still, I do have plans for the game components. I just received the pdf of Fantasy Fistful of Lead in advance of them sending me the hardcopy rules, and I think that my Gloomhaven tiles, figures and standees may well see the table as FFoL teams and monsters once I have read the rules. Playing fantasy skirmish games with the components was certainly in my mind when I bought Gloomhaven originally and it is something I intend to try at some point in the near future.