In our first installment of Quick Hits from the Vault, we tackled the classic card drafting game 7 Wonders. This time around, the BGQ staff went with a somewhat newer game in Gloomhaven. You may have heard about this behemoth of a game, because it not only costs $120, but it provides hours upon hours of dungeon crawling adventures.
Gloomhaven is a legacy style, dungeon crawler board game that will have you controlling a fantasy character throughout their career. The goal of the game, other than to beat the scenarios and advance the overall campaign, is to get your character to finish their personal quest, thus retiring them and unlocking new characters for you to play next. The main part of the game is handled in a dice-less dungeon crawl that uses cards for combat abilities and also as a randomizer. There is a wealth of content in Gloomhaven and you can expect to put in 100+ hours if you intend to finish everything.
Gloomhaven was an ambitious project from Cephalofair Games and I have to hand it to them just for the sheer scope of the game. You could literally play this for 200 hours or more. That being said, I was really excited to play Gloomhaven and enjoyed our early sessions. Yet as our campaign marched on, the game seemed to lose a lot of its shine for me. While I loved the thematic elements of the overland and city encounters, many times the battles turned into a giant slog and took way too long. The biggest miss was probably how long it took to retire your character and unlock a new one. As opening boxes is one of the main appeals of a legacy game for me, I felt like I was waiting forever to do that in the game. In the end, Gloomhaven is a good game, but there are just other dungeon crawlers I’d rather play.
I backed Gloomhaven the second go-around on Kickstarter, but was put off by the size of the game in terms of the time duration, which is at least a year, according to most reports online. At that point, Gloomhaven becomes not just a game, but a lifestyle, and one that we were unwilling to commit to.
To be honest, I don’t want to be THAT guy, just unimpressed with Gloomhaven for the sake of age, curmudgeonliness, or standee-rage. However, I have to be. The core reason I’m unimpressed is because Gloomhaven brings together two mechanisms that didn’t need to be brought together. The power of deck building for creating interesting choices and the fluidity of miniatures combat, in my opinion, don’t mix well. Players are forced at times to make choices between suboptimal moves. That creates too much gamey-ness in a miniatures combat format. For skirmish combat to really work, it’s got to feel like a cutthroat battle down to the last HP with tactical choices about positioning and an array of actions available. Gloomhaven more often feels like an optimization against luck of the draw game. Thanks, but that’s not for me.
The reality of scheduling around the multiple grown and grown-ish people in our household plus trying to work in friends’ busy lives means regular RPG campaigns aren’t a good fit for us right now. Gloomhaven scratches that itch. If the stars align we can have a dungeon run set up and ready to go in under 20 minutes with no one having to devote time to prep. There’s even the ability for house guests to drop in and out for a session, or for a regular player to miss a session without entirely wrecking the game for everyone else.
Outside of its accessibility for casual players, I really like certain components like the enemy stat trackers. They’re SO much better than someone trying to maintain a pen and paper list of who’s damaged/stunned/knocked out, etc. I also appreciate that the story isn’t completely linear – having branching side quests as well as decisions that affect the story genuinely make it feel less like a legacy board game and more like an RPG. For me, Gloomhaven gets two thumbs up for design with busy gamers in mind.
I’m still working my way through most of the things that come in the luggage-sized Gloomhaven box. That said, the scenarios I’ve played through thus far have been a good amount of fun. As a campaign game, I want to keep the same players throughout our adventure, so it takes a special day to get it to the table. The story so far is a little thin, but hoping it will pick up and really give us some hooks to start caring out. Big thematic games aren’t really my thing generally (and I don’t buy into Gloomhaven being Euro in any stretch) but I can appreciate everything Cephalofair has be able to put together here.
When I first played Gloomhaven, I loved it. What surprised me the most and what I liked best were using character cards instead of dice – it gave me a sense of control that you don’t have with dice. The game does have a deck builder element and I have to admit I’m not a big fan of deck building. That said it works for the character decks of Gloomhaven. These are not deep decks with less than 20 cards and you have control of what to add and subtract as you level up so I was a fan.
The time commitment of the game is where my enjoyment waned. The personal quest cards that determine when your characters retire and also determine which boxes are unlocked next – I was not a fan. Even with errata tweaks, our group’s personal quest cards seemed unreachable without spending a ton of game time and some were so situational – they felt impossible to complete (and yes we house ruled and revealed ours because none of us seemed close). With all this said, Gloomhaven still a good game but the huge time commitment wore the newness off fairly fast making the game feel more like work.
1-4 Players • Ages 14+ • 60-120 minutes • $120
It’s cool that most of you are comfortable being wrong. ;P
I’m very comfortable with you being wrong too Paul
Our mutual comfort in each other’s wrongness is comforting. Is that wrong?
I should have read this review before buying the game.
I have played tons of fantasy board games throughout the years and I can state that Gloomhaven is probably the best tabletop I’ve ever played. Does it have a huge footprint? Sure. Does it take hours to complete even the shortest adventure? Yup. Is there a huge commitment involved it properly playing it? You bet! Then again most tabletops lack the complexity that Gloomhaven presents without maing the game unplayable. For all you nerds out there who are looking for a long term game that you will be able to play through mutiple times (if you aren’t an idiot who puts their stickers right on the hardware) and experience something different each time; this is it. I’ve played through around 40 adventures so far and have retired only 2 characters, so if you want to experience everything in one campaign think again. Perhaps these reviewers went into the game thinking that it would satisfy them on every level because of the hype surrounding it, but let’s be honest: That’s just a silly expectation. Gloomhaven is deep, rewarding and satisfying if you approach it with an open mind, not a mental checklist that it needs to take care of. Honestly, it doesn’t get better than this…
“Does it take hours to complete even the shortest adventure? Yup. Is there a huge commitment involved it properly playing it? You bet!”
So my concerns about Gloomhaven-as-lifestyle are confirmed. Thanks!
being a gamer is a lifestyle in itself… i suggest you guys break out your old game boys and play a little tetris… that way you dont have to distract yourselves from life too much… it’s clear that hardcore gamers can’t count on your advice because you all have a casual bent towards gaming… gloomhaven is not for the faint of heart
A few points:
I did not say “gamer-as-lifestyle.” I said “Gloomhaven-as-lifestyle.” I have plenty of games that I want to play, and having one giant box monopolize my gaming table is not even remotely in my interests.
Liking Gloomhaven doesn’t make you a “hardcore gamer” any more than not liking Gloomhaven give me a “casual bent.”
Do you like Gloomhaven? Great! I am glad you enjoy it.
Speaking very broadly, there are two very different classes of games and gamers.
There are gamers who want to have a huge closet full of games. They love to try out new games, in part to see how the mechanics evolve over time. A lot of the hobby for them isn’t just playing to win, but it is figuring out how winning is accomplished.
Legacy games were made for these folks- playing 12 sessions of a legacy game is more table time than a lot of their games get, and there is always the sense of newness.
On the other hand, there are “lifestyle games” and gamers who like these. These are people who devote most of their gaming time and budget to a single game, and they play the absolute hell out of it. These games need to have enough variation to keep gamers’ interest for years.
That is where things like Gloomhaven and Kingdom Death fit in. These games really want to monopolize your gaming time.
Neither group is more “hard core” than the other, but there’s a bit disparity of interests between them (especially when we talk about price- for the first group, $30 is the ideal price for a game, while the other prefers something more like $150).
There is no experience in tabletop gaming that has come close to the wonder of Gloomhaven for me. That being said, it’s easy for me to see how it won’t be for everyone. It reminds me a lot of when MMORPGs like World of Warcraft first came out. Not all gamers will appreciate it, but for those that do, nothing comes close. If you think you just MIGHT be one of them, you owe it to yourself to dive into this masterpiece.
I think this is a solid take. There are undoubtedly people who this game is perfect for. I think its worthwhile to recognize that.
There are also people who find it lacking in a number of ways or believe it feels more like work just getting it to the table. They aren’t wrong either.
I land somewhere in the middle. But I went in knowing there are parts of this game that probably are going to make it hard for me to LOVE. I still gladly spent my $120 because its a different experience from what I’m used to and there is clearly a lot that Gloomhaven does right for so many folks to rave about it.
I enjoy Gloomhaven quite a lot- it is one of my favorite dungeon crawlers.
That said, it hasn’t beaten my other DC experiences so entirely.
I think the card action mechanics are very good- probably the biggest shining point in the game.
I think you’re fooling yourself if you think that the cards make this game less random. I have found this game to be easily among the swingiest games I’ve played (mostly the summoning and healing enemies are bad).
And the plot is sometimes nonsensical (tiny spoiler- we went after the villains that wer POISONING the SEWER WATER!).
Hey Drew- totally agree – I love the character decks- but again it gave me a sense of control by building the deck where dice would have been a totally random experience for me. You’re right it’s still random but at least sort of made my own luck by building the deck. Just my two cents. Glad you like it – I enjoyed it at the start and just lost steam 30+ hours in.
Thanks to everyone for the nice reviews! Glad to hear reasonable thoughts from people going into this that aren’t just more hype for this title. Would love to try it one day but not sure I’d ever have time to finish a 100+ hr legacy game and without it starting to feel samey after awhile. Even getting through Pandemic Legacy, as fun as it was to see what happened next, started to feel like work after a few campaigns in.
I love it, personally. Retired my character fairly early on to unlock musical note. Gloomhaven is one of those games you break out every fortnight… play two scenarios (preset planning necessary) … and that’s a solidly enjoyable 7 hour game day.
I think that appeal is lacking in the commentary. No one is saying breaking it out every gameday each week.
The game does not punish you for putting it on hold. It’s flat out the best dungeon delver there is on the market. So the critique people level at Gloomhaven for being ‘too big’ or ‘too long’ or ‘too lifestyle choice’ is just broken commentary IMO.
It has deckbuilding options that are just great and radically change how your character plays, the tactical aspects are nuanced, it has elements of ‘mini hidden role’ through battle goals and how loot and treasure works means each scenario guarantees all players will be a little cheeky once or twice.
The vague tabletop and randomized enemy interactions through their decks and stats gives rise not to the manufactured bullshit of knowing exactly what players will do in D&D and Descent, but gives you moments of truly thinking on your feet.
For what it offers and its pricepoint… it simplys gives you more than Descent 2E does.
Frankly it’s unfair to treat a legacy dungeon delver like Gloomhaven as if a ‘lifestyle game’ being a point against it. It doesn’t demand of players more than Descent, nor could it be any other type of game than a dungeon delver with the problems inherent to dungeon delvers.
If you don’t like dungeon delver legacy games, why pretend such subjective commentary is as if a fault with the game?
Another problem is pretending like Gloomhaven isn’t one of the most forgiving of dungeon delvers in how players can easy slot into a game, or be missing from it, is just bad review form. It’s like blaming Werewolf: the Apocalypse because it requires you to regularly game with a standard group of players at specific timespots and semi regularly at least.
Gloomhaven is not overhyped. It’s the dungeon delver game I’ve been looking for since first playing them… it does everything it needs to. Its complexity of set up and tear down is not so radically removed from other dungeon delvers like it. It emphasises better player dynamics than Descent and balances player greed, with a desire to communally achieve a goal.
Do you know how much ridiculous content I have of Descent 2E? Shitloads. And for what Gloomhaven offers in its box outstrips so much more content and expansions and the pricepoint of what you’d suffer trying to get a similar amount of content out of it.
To put it pointedly…. Dungeon delver fans bought Gloomhaven. Dungeon delver fans with the right groups of players raved about it. The dungeon delver fans were happy with the sheer amount of content for the price point. And the dungeon delver fans already know what they were signing up for with such a massive legacy dungeon delver game tgat streamlines so much complexity into such a relatively small box.
Moreover, let’s not forget, the open nature of its design means you can invent so many of your own campaigns, own stories, as to your heart’s content.
It’s not just a game… it’s a toy chest that gives you so much to work with to create consistently enjoyable moments of tabletop fun and friendly bickering … all without a GM.
And if that sounds like your thing. More power to you, and for the size of the game, how much entertainment you could eke from it, and for all the really cool options you have, and the sheer volume of content …. don’t look at is a luggage bag worth of game…
Look at it not as a big game, but one that packs so much new experiences, a phenomenal game system, great complexity, and nuance and options that would shame any relatize space’s worth of Descent 2E expansions.
Hell… even 3.x era D&D books and their supplements…
And then think of the meagre pricepoint to get all that content!
It’s an economically sized game that delivers the best dungeon drlver fun you could hope for…. with oodles of options, oodles of content, that will consustently be pleasing every round. Where party dynamics fluidly change, where you have to learn to constantly adapt, and where everytime a character retires … suddenly you’re playing a brand new party dynamic that will never be the same again.
And there is nothing stopping you or others making their own campaigns if they wish.
And if that exites you as it does me, a veteran of the ‘lifestyle gamer’ willing to spend a day each week consistently showing up to a gaming group to play (at the moment) a colourful equine in a Roleplaying is Magic 3E chronicle…. I have reasonable expectations you’ll love this product.
Adela, you make some good points. Being a huge game isn’t inherently bad. I think the fact players can jump in and out is a good feature.
That said being a dungeon crawler, perhaps the best dungeon crawler, doesn’t make it a game for everyone. Your idea of spending 7 hours playing Gloomhaven every couple of weeks certainly doesn’t appeal to everyone.
I think the most pointed criticism from our group is the fact after 7 hours it often doesn’t feel like much actually happened. Progression is a slog and can make the game feel a lot like work.
I’m way more likely to plan game nights around a couple heavy euros rather than a couple Gloomhaven scenarios. But that’s just my preference. I still enjoy Gloomhaven for what it is and will gladly (albeit slowly) wind my way through it.
Gloomhaven is probably my favorite game of all time and I almost consider it to be a work of art as much as a game. But it’s also not a game that I would recommend to all or even most board gamers. It’s real target audience is RPG players, people who would play the same character over a year or more of multi-hour sessions, enjoying as he slowly develops. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you and you’ve never player pen and paper RPGs or even devoted a bunch of time to a computer RPG, then this game is not for you.
For my part though, Gloomhaven does by far the best job of simulating traditional P&P RPGs of any other game I’ve played. Taking a long time to retire your character is definitely a feature. Characters are extremely deep with many powers to unlock. It’s intended that you spend a lot of time with them and get attached to them before they retire. RPGs are generally not games where you just play your character a few times and then are done with them. Again, not everyone is going to enjoy this, but for the target audience of this game, doing things differently would have been a huge mistake.
It’s also worth noting that once people become familiar with the rules and their characters they can often complete scenarios much more quickly. I’ve gotten through scenarios in less than 2 hours. The problem is that you only go at the speed of your slowest player so if your constantly swapping in new people or only playing infrequently scenarios will tend to go a lot slower..
GH is a generous masterpiece of a game.
But GH is stingy in one important way: to my mind it doesn’t provide a firm answer to the very personal, semi-rhetorical question “Would I rather be playing a video game version of this?”
I’m half-joking/half-not here, and I should mention I’m not an avid video gamer. I think for many of us, the communal and physical — almost sacramental — aspects of board gaming more than make up for the administrative relief that digitization of the same experience would offer. It’s just more fun to play Carcassone or whatever at the table than than to pass the iPad version back and forth, even though the iPad streamlines everything. But GH represents an inflection point for me, where the tedium of realizing the physical game often does an injustice to what I’ll freely admit is the awesome underlying gameplay.
Basically I see GH, in all its popularity since release, as one of the last major mile markers on the highway of board game complexity. I just can’t envision a heftier, more complicated game meeting or exceeding GH’s audience. But I’d be very interested to be proved wrong!
Personally I have to disagree with the slow progression complaint. My party and I have played about 15 rounds of the game so far, most lasting 1-2 hours. After almost every session, each player has leveled up or gained enough money to buy new equipment. I have already retired two characters in this amount of time. Most of my party mates have also retired a character by now.
Everyone’s expectations for pacing will be different, but I think getting a new item or ability after every round is pretty much perfect pacing. Any faster and you wouldn’t have enough time to experiment with new things.
Another complaint I disagree with is the point that combat feels too random and not tactical enough. I have to completely disagree, to the point that I’m almost not sure we’re playing the same game. I feel it is extremely tactical, I regularly am planning out my moves several turns in advance. Selecting which abilities to bring into battle is an agonizing choice. The only randomization comes in the form of the modifier deck that is applied to attacks. Sometimes your attacks will do more or less damage, or miss entirely depending on the modifier deck. Even this can be tuned as you improve your character, allowing you to add or remove cards from the modifier deck when you level up.
Certainly not a game for everyone, and the time commitment is considerable. However for my money, even homiest playing the occasional battle without the overarching campaign would be fun enough to justify the game