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January 8, 2020
TableTopTakes: Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles
Back to back board game reviews, though, this one is for the Gloomhaven expansion, not the whole game. If you have read my top 100 games (found here), you know what my #1 game is, but what you won’t know is that we actually wrapped up the main storyline for Gloomhaven a couple of months ago now. When we did that, I already had the Forgotten Circles expansion ready to go. The question is, do I like it as much as the base game?
I’m going to try and do this review with as few spoilers as possible. So I will not be talking about the plot that comes from the scenarios, but the mechanics of the scenarios and the new character show up before you get into any of that, so if you want a complete surprise those will be getting “spoiled” but they aren’t really a “spoiler”. The only thing I’ll say plot wise is that Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles picks up immediately after the final main quest plot for Gloomhaven.
There are a few notable changes for Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles. The first, and primary one, is that scenarios have changed. Now, the basic structure from the original game is having an Introductory section, then special rules, and a conclusion, but when you have doors that trigger more text, that is in another part of the book. So you have to flip through and look on a certain page and a certain section to figure out more and additional layout for the scenario, when the time is right. This normally triggers off of some action that you take in the game, commonly opening a door, but also stepping on a pressure plate can at times also trigger the next session. And a lot of the scenarios now have several of them that are tied together, so you are going to be setting up new parts of the scenario throughout.
This is both a lot of fun and annoying. Let me talk about the annoying part quickly first, this causes scenarios to go longer, normally when we’d set up a scenario we’d lay things out and then only put monsters on as we got into new rooms, and we already know what was going to be in those rooms. In the new set-up, you don’t know that, and while you know the main pieces that you’re going to need, the room layout is going to be a complete unknown. This causes these scenarios to go much longer than the ones from the base game. We could generally get through two scenarios in a night from base Gloomhaven, with the Forgotten Circles expansion scenarios, one generally takes the same time as two, because of some of the start and stop of set-up. However, while that is a negative and annoying, especially for people who feel like set-up is too long or solo players, I do like the fact that the story of a scenario can unfold the way that it does. Hidden information also makes the scenarios harder, and while we have a completely new set of characters which is interesting and the scenarios more challenging, if we had come in with characters we were familiar with and knew the map set-up, the scenarios wouldn’t be much more challenging. I do think that the story in this is better written than in the base game, and some of that is definitely having it unfold.
The couple other new things are abilities that are added into the game. The first being that teleporting is a thing now. Everyone can’t teleport, but the abilities from the main game that cause you to teleport are now getting cards to replace some in the character decks to keep some consistent wording. Having a character that can, if chosen to be played that way, move around the board and ignore terrain is interesting. The other ability added in “regenerate” this is the opposite of “wound” where that one causes you to lose one health a turn and can be healed away, this one causes you to gain a health per turn and if you take damage it goes away. This has been key for us in some scenarios as we don’t have a tank or heavy healing character in our party. I like that trickle effect healing as something to kind of counter wound which can take out a party if you aren’t careful, this can keep you around a little bit longer or a lot longer.
Finally, I should talk about the new class that is added, the Diviner. I’m not considering this a spoiler because when you get the expansion and even if you aren’t playing the expansion scenarios, you gain access to the Diviner class. This class has a few new things that we haven’t seen before, besides being where we get teleporting and the cards that cause regenerate to be placed, the Diviner does a couple other new things. First, they can do a build that allows them to manipulate decks. It’s something that’s very odd, but they can sort the top of the monster attack deck or the top of an allies deck. This is not the build that our player of the Diviner went with, but it’s definitely something new. The other way you can build that character is by using rifts. Rifts are interesting because they can either have a negative effect for the monster, such as disarm or immobilize or they can have a positive effect on the allies such as giving them regenerate or strengthen (not sure if these are 100% accurate examples, but the basic idea is there). However, the rifts come into the play and stay in play, but they are only active for an ability for a single round, and we’ve found with our Diviner because of the speed of the other characters in terms of initiative that the negative ones work better since the other two characters are almost always going ahead of the Diviner.
Let me wrap up by talking about this overall. First, I don’t like this as much as the base game. While that was an easy A+ for me, this is more of an A-/B+ range. I’ll break it down below, simply because Gloomhaven can already be a long game and Forgotten Circles makes each scenario even longer. But I do like some of the other things in it. Regenerate is awesome and the Diviner is a very cool character. Plus the story feels more focused. In Gloomhaven it felt like sometimes the through story thread wasn’t completely there or that it jumped around a little bit, Forgotten Circles definitely has a more fully realized storyline. I don’t know, however, that I would say that it’s a must pick-up. With Frosthaven coming out that’s another big box game that is going to improve upon the linked scenario style to reduce the mid scenario set-up, if you aren’t done with Gloomhaven yet and you think you’ll want Frosthaven, I’d skip Forgotten Circles.