This won’t be a full review, as I’ve only played the first scenario in Gloomhaven, but I’ve done it twice, since we didn’t win the first time. But I did want to get up some initial thoughts quickly.
Legacy Game vs. Dungeon Crawler
One of the things I wanted to talk about was where this game fits on the game spectrum. The reason I want to do that is that oftentimes, people say “Oh, this game is X type of game,” and try to stick something into a single category. But Gloomhaven can be compared to both legacy games and dungeon crawlers. There are things about it that are typical of legacy games — for example, you can upgrade cards and place stickers on them. Even if you go back and play the same class again later, the cards still have the stickers on them, and that will be impact your game. At the same time, this doesn’t fit so well into the legacy game category when compared to true legacy games like Pandemic Legacy or Seafall. Unlike these, Gloomhaven can be played through again, and actually seems to have solid replay value, in my opinion. In fact, at some point I’ll probably start streaming a solo playthrough if I have time (but I want to get further ahead first, and I’m going to have 7th Continent to stream first), and it’ll be different, because I can pick different starting classes and swap in different abilities. And the game is also a dungeon crawler in that you are going through various dungeons and scenarios, and fighting and killing bad guys. But it isn’t just that, because the world changes and your party changes in those legacy-style ways I mentioned. And there is just a feeling of more when compared to a dungeon crawler like Shadows over Brimstone, which is still a fun game, but Gloomhaven just feels like more than your standard.
Eurogame vs. Amerithrash/Ameritrash
I know the term is Ameritrash, but I feel like Amerithrash is a more fun term to describe the same thing. So with that out of the way, what do I mean when I use that term? It’s a style of game that is quite strategic in terms of combat. And while it doesn’t have the Eurogame point salad like you can end up with — here’s a point, there’s a point, everybody gets a point — Gloomhaven has a strategic level that allows you to plan more and be less swingy than in an Amerithrash game. However, it still has the “kill the bad guys, grind it out, go in guns blazing” feel that I expect from Amerithrash games. And there are some swinging points in the game, and your best laid plans might not work out as well as you had hoped. This game walks a line of being something that can be highly strategic and could be looked at as simply a puzzle, but that also feels like, if you divorced the theme and epicness from it, it wouldn’t carry the same weight.
Battle is a Blast
In my opinion, one of the coolest parts of the game is having your own unique class-based combat deck of cards. You have access to your full collection of combat cards, specific to each character. This means when I’m playing my character, it feels different than when someone else is playing theirs, and after playing once, or maybe twice, you know what your character is good at and how they work. Each combat card has a top and bottom half, and you play out two of them each round. You are going to do the top of one and the bottom of the other. When you put them down, you select one of the cards to give you your initiative value. That is an interesting thing in that, most of the time, you want to go fast before the bad guys can get a chance to go, but to set up combos with other characters, a very fast character might have to go slower to get that benefit. That makes it quite strategic, and because you’re on the same side, you can talk about it, but you can’t give specifics. You can’t say, I’m going to move 4 spaces and then do 3 damage to that guy. You can say something like, I’m going to go as quickly as I can and rush that skeleton and try and take him out. But you never know if what you have planned is going to work. Maybe the monsters go before you and they move and ruin your plan. Or maybe an ally does, even if you’ve tried to talk it through. But even when you’ve picked which parts of which cards you want to use, you can always swap that around. Or maybe the attack you planned that would get rid of your card for the scenario isn’t worth it anymore — if that happens, you can always just do a basic attack instead. This helps with analysis paralysis, as you always have something to do.
You’re Running out of Time
With the combat deck for each character, it also works as a timing mechanism for how long you can keep going in the battle. Eventually, you’ll run out of cards. Cards you’ve discarded can come back to your hand, but at a cost. Either you take a short rest and randomly lose one of those cards, or you take a long rest, which takes your whole next turn. If you take a long rest, you get to choose the card you lose and gain some health, which is often key, but it costs you a turn, and you then take your turn at the end of the round, so you’d better not be in a spot where you might just creamed damage-wise if you really need to heal up. This causes each decision to have a lot more pressure, because when you’re out of cards and you can’t play two anymore, you are out of the scenario and can’t help your teammates anymore. This is also made trickier because your best cards, when you use them for their best feature, don’t go into the discard pile — they are lost right away, so that can speed up how long you are able to hang on in combat. It’s a very cool timing mechanism that really forces you to think and makes you feel the pressure of beating the scenario quickly.
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