I was hoping to get it all in one part, but two parts are needed, because, man…it’s just a ton to talk about.
It’s a Classy Game
By that (as you’ll know if you’ve been following along with my D&D posts recently), I mean that you get to play a character class, and eventually you unlock so many more. We have a three-player game, and we got to pick the classes we wanted just based off their names. And while there are things that correlate to some standard classes — for example, the Brute is pretty obviously a fighter of some sort — they don’t follow typical fantasy naming conventions. For example, I’m playing a Tinkerer. That doesn’t really have a connection to any Dungeons & Dragons class, and while you certainly have an idea of what that character might do, it isn’t standard for your typical fantasy game tropes. What works even better for the classes is that each of them have multiple things that feel unique about them. As you level them up, you can modify your own unique attack modifier deck, so two people playing different classes can choose to modify theirs in different ways. Beyond that, your attack deck is uniquely yours. As the Tinkerer, a lot of my actions can be used at range, and I can create/summon a construct to help soak up damage. The Scoundrel, by comparison, has a deck that allows them to go much faster and to deal out large chunks of damage, up close and personal-like.
Gloomhaven is a game that has a number of secrets in it. Another thing that makes your character feel unique is that they have their own secrets. There are two areas that you have a secret, generally, the first being your character’s reason for adventuring. I’m not going to spoil any of those, but when you create your character, you draw two secret objectives and pick one. This really informs some of your decision-making in terms of what you might do in combat or how you might deal with a road encounter or city encounter. That is another way each character has a unique feel, and it’s also the timer for how long you’re going to play your character. Once they complete that secret objective, they retire when you go back to town, and you get to play another character and probably unlock yet another one. That way, you feel like your initial decision isn’t as tough, because it doesn’t lock you into being that single character for the whole game. It also means that as you grow attached to and familiar with your character, it’ll be sad when they retire. You also get a secret in each scenario. These are things you want to do (or don’t want to do) in combat that, if you can go the whole scenario without doing them, you get a reward for it, which is building toward upgrading your character. It might be that you want to collect as much loot as possible, which won’t help your party, but don’t worry — eventually someone else will have that card and look like the bad guy.
How Many is Too Many?
One thing I did want to address that is a bit of a negative is how the game scales with player count. The box says that a scenario probably can take 30 minutes per player in the game. So with 3 players, it should be about an hour and a half, and I think that’s pretty accurate. I’m also not sure that I’d want to try it with four players. Four players seems like it would be a bit longer per scenario, but there is a bigger reason, as well, which is that combat would become too random with four players. When you have four players, the person who is last in initiative order wouldn’t be able to plan anything. When you have three, the last person to go still has to change up their plans, but you don’t have to all the time. I think two players would be quite strategic and way less random, so I currently really like the three-player count, as it does make it not a completely strategic game. I do think that a lot of people might find that frustrating, but you can negate that, if you do find it frustrating, with a lower player count.
All the Things
This is a positive and a negative — or maybe it’s just something to be aware of. This game has all the pieces in the world, possibly literally. There are thousands of cards and thousands of cardboard pieces. And the box is huge! These things allows the game to be really diverse and feel epic, but at the same time, it’s a lot of moving/sorting/housekeeping. The design makes it pretty smooth, but without figuring out a way to organize everything, it would be a complete cluster. I’ve used envelopes to sort monsters out, large manila envelopes to sort the terrain, and a jewelry/bead case to sort even more of the tokens. And I’m hoping I’ve sorted the cards well enough, but I can’t sort them as finely as I’d like. There are certainly inserts that you could consider getting, but the cheapest I’ve found, after shipping, is $70. So if you’ve already spent $140 on the game (I got it through Kickstarter for $100), that takes the cost of the game over $200. Now, it is a game that can get you 100 hours or so of gameplay without really repeating anything or starting it over again, so if you have three players and you spend $200 on it, that’s not much per person per hour, but it is still a big investment, and I wish that it came with a way to sort it better. But for everything you’re getting and with the way it’s packed, I understand why not.
This isn’t my final review of the game; just my opening thoughts on it. Gloomhaven is a really fun game, and I don’t think it’s exceedingly hard to learn. However, there is a good amount to know and look up as you play. After playing it last night, we were already talking about finding a Saturday when we can play for hours instead of just getting through one scenario. This game, if you have a group, is worth the money for it — even if you’re a solo gamer, there are options for that that would probably be worth it. Just save up for it, and probably save up for an organizer to go with it.
Initial Grade: A+
Gamer Grade: A+
Casual Grade: B+ (I do think it would be probably too intimidating for a lot of casual gamers, but it isn’t too hard to wrap your head around)
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