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Gloomhaven: Mindthief Strategy (Early Game)

Since the end of last year, I have been lucky enough to be playing the Mindthief in the epic dungeon crawler board game, Gloomhaven. We have a party of four – the Tinkerer, the Scoundrel, the Brute, and myself as the ratling psychic.

It took a couple of sessions to really get the feeling of our characters but now, a good number of missions in, we are starting to synergise. We are starting to understand both the rest of the team and, of course, ourselves.

Now, we know our characters well enough to really get under their skins. We know what makes them tick and what they are good at. We are getting a feel for how to be as effective as possible in combat and what actions work well together. Today I want to explore that for the Mindthief. Today I want to share what I learned trying to devise a Mindthief strategy.

It is worth noting, before we begin, that this is a series of strategy tips and explorations that have worked for me. That being said, there are a thousand different ways to play the Mindthief. It is worth looking at the BGG forums for more ideas.

Please note that this is for the early game. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so will refrain from going past first level and second level. In due course I will release spoiler-esque articles about the mid and then high levels, but this is not that day.

The Mindthief Strategy: Spoiler Alert


Since Gloomhaven is a legacy game, I don’t want to give any spoilers in this article, so, bar talking about ability names this article will keep cards that aren’t starting cards to general principals. The last thing I want to do is give something away that you haven’t come across yet.

Be aware though – I will be mentioning some of the abilities of the game. If your group isn’t using the Mindthief and you don’t want to know what it is like playing the Mindthief…then what are you doing reading this article? Go and read about what you do want to read about.

Where I will mention abilities for the earlier cards in the game I will not go into huge amounts of detail about the upgrade cards collected later on in the game. I may mention names, but very little on the cards themselves. If you don’t want to read anything to do with those cards, then please leave now. This is ultimately the reason why this is an early game strategy – I don’t want to give away any spoilers – not just yet.

There will also be pictures that could be considered spoilers in this article. If you don’t want to see them…you know the drill…leave now.

Right, okay, CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED – if you want to continue then let’s talk about Mindthief strategy.

What is the Mindthief good at?

It takes a while, I believe, for any Mindthief player to really blend into the role. Out of the basic initial starting characters, it is the one that least stands out from a unique ability perspective. The Tinkerer, for instance, is the healer of the group. Their ability can benefit all those around them. The Brute is, for want of a better word, a tank when played correctly. They can absorb damage as well as deal it out. The Scoundrel is fast – probably faster than any other character, and they just get faster as they level up.

The Mindthief however…well…they don’t really have anything that initially stands out. They have the fewest hit points, they don’t have a huge amount of stamina, they don’t do a huge amount of damage, and they aren’t hugely fast. Yes, they’re faster than most enemies, but they are not Scoundrel fast.

So, what are they good at? Well, it turns out the Mindthief can do a huge amount of damage, as well as deal out negative effects, and augment themselves. The Mindthief is the king of altering the battlefield and can gain experience relatively easily, and this is where they truly shine.

This time Nigel, my Mindthief, kicked butt. There is a summoning Mindthief strategy which we will talk about later in this article.

This time Nigel, my Mindthief, kicked butt. There is a summoning Mindthief strategy which we will talk about later in this article.

What is the Fundamental Rule of Gloomhaven?

Okay, so Gloomhaven as a whole has a fundamental rule and one that should be observed by all characters throughout the game. It is the following:

Like most Gloomhaven groups, we have failed a scenario on more than one occasion, and the primary reason for this is because we use our discard cards too early. They have some incredible abilities on them, that you just want to use up, however, unless there is a lasting effect from the discarded card then do not use them until the moment you really have to. This is for two reasons:

  1. Bosses are bloody difficult in Gloomhaven. Boss fights can become overwhelming, so save those big cards back for when you really need them.
  2. You only have a stamina of 10 cards as the Mindthief. Don’t burn cards you don’t have to so you don’t become exhausted.

There are exceptions to this, as mentioned before, in the form of lasting effects, but we will come onto these in due course.

If you want to know the best times to burn cards and what it means then (and this is a later edit) I have since written an article focused around that exact subject. It works out when the best time to burn is and when it isn’t a viable option. You can read that article here.


Mindthief taking on the big boys.

Mindthief Strategy and Gaining Experience

If you ask me, which by default you kind of are since you are reading this, there is one thing the Mindthief does better than any other character type, and that is gain experience. The Mindthief has a lot of ways of getting experience, and these can be manipulated in such a way that he/she is getting experience almost every turn, especially when the Mindthief is at level two or three and up. This is, granted, trickier at the lower levels; however, that growth mindset, the view of trying to gain as much experience possible, is a positive one to get into.

Oddly, it was this mindset that allowed me to find a few awesome combinations of cards within the game. It also meant there are certain cards I would do my best never to discard. Reusing the top of a card is often better than blowing the bottom. It allows for more long-term damage, as well as more experience over the course of the game. This is difficult at low levels, but combining attacks like the bottom of Perverse Edge with the top of Fearsome Blade is an attack that does:

  • 3 Damage
  • Stun
  • Push
  • 2 Experience

If pulled off correctly, that’s pretty good for such a small character. You can then play Frigid Apparation the next turn to use up the frost that Perverse Edge imbued the battlefield with.

Another alternative, straight off the bat is Perverse Edge with Frigid Apparation to do more damage (however, you do not get the second experience as the target cannot be stunned by Perverse Edge and then again by Frigid Apparition, and somehow the battlefield already needs to be imbued with frost.).

This double up on attacks that award damage and experience, as well as extra effects, is the basis of Mindthief combat. It allows for you to hit the enemy so hard, with so many effects, that it makes the Mindthief a fairly decent fighter.

The reason you want experience points is to level up fast, becoming a force to be reckoned with. Some of the later cards can be used to swap out the weaker cards in those combinations. For instance, using the original combination Fearsome Blade can be swapped out for Hostile Takeover (the latter is a level 2 card and so I won’t mention any more about it bar its name).

Mindthief Strategy - My character was not built for combat.

Taking on a bandit.

Augmenting Yourself

One of the most powerful tools in the Mindthief’s repertoire and one of the cornerstones to playing a Mindthief (one of the paving stones of Mindthief strategy) is to augment their own abilities. These are cards that give +2 attack value (like The Mind’s Weakness) or allow you to poison or muddle an opponent (like Withering Claw). The augmentations are a way of seriously changing how your character plays if the right one is applied at the right moment.

There are a few things to say about augmentations, however, that do need to be taken into account.

  1. In my humble opinion (of which I fully accept I may be wrong), the additional melee attacks/damage are the best bet for the Mindthief early on. Several of the other augmentation effects are available through other types of attack or through using items, and if you are playing with a Tinkerer then fingers crossed you won’t need the healing.
  2. Play the augmentation, after having moved into combat but within the same turn (so as the second card). This allows you to get an attack in (+2 if you are using The Mind’s Weakness) whilst also gaining you experience points. It’s really worth doing as all those “1 point here” and “1 point there” moments add up.
  3. It’s not ideal to have a hand made up of augmentations. When playing your first few games, the odds are 3-4 of the cards will be augmentations. I would actually recommend never having more than two in your hand at any one time. Have a primary one you like (for example The Mind’s Weakness is my augmentation of choice) and then use the second augmentation primarily for the bottom effect on the card.

Augmenting the Battlefield

Keep an eye out for cards that affect enemies as well. There are certain Mindthief abilities that allow you to affect how the bad guys are played. These get more and more powerful as the Mindthief levels up, but even at the lower levels there are some good abilities. The bottom half of Submissive Affliction is one such card, allowing you to use an enemy to target another enemy.

Without wanting to give much away, there are a few cards in the Mindthief arsenal later on that are worth keeping an eye on. These cards do similar things, allowing you to attack as enemies but, naturally enough, become more aggressive. The first one of these is Hostile Takeover [level 2], which is definitely worth playing around with. There are two or three later on as well that are definitely worth looking at.


Using a Rat Swarm as a shield.

Summoning the Swarm

One of the biggest benefits and one of the strongest lures of playing the Mindthief is the ability to summon the Rat Swarm with Gnawing Hoard at the very first level. Where this is a disposable card, it is also a card with a lasting effect in play. There are, however, three big things to note about the rat swarm.

  1. The rat swarm only moves 1, and it will do so towards the nearest opponent.
  2. The rat swarm will attack for 2, and poison.
  3. The rat swarm has 6 hit points.

What this means is that its attack is average, made slightly better by the poison, and it is slow; however, it is also a bit of a tank. In fact, the Rat Swarm has almost as many hit points as the Mindthief himself at level 1.

So, what better to use as a bodyguard than the Rat Swarm?

The Rat Swarm is one of two things to the Mindthief. The first is as heavy support. Waiting until the big boss of each level (assuming the level has a big boss) gives an additional two attacks and poison, as well as six extra wounds, that the bad guy has to deal with. This just increases and gets better if you decide to upgrade summons later on.

Secondly, it can be used (and this is how I usually use it) as a distraction. The Mindthief isn’t terrible with ranged attacks, and so summoning a Rat Swarm directly in front of you can act as a shield. What’s even better – it’s a shield that can deal damage and poison as well. It’s hardy, and can hurt – what more could you want?

How Not To Use A Swarm: Mindthief Strategy Blunders

If, however, I was going to offer one piece of advice it would be this – don’t summon the rat swarm in the first room you enter. Most scenarios are more than one room and, because it is so slow, it can take absolutely forever traversing a single room, yet alone more than one. Summon it where you need it, taking into account where it will be the most use for the game, not just for exact position you find yourself in.

I feel like there could be a whole article dedicated to completely messing up when playing Gloomhaven. That may have to wait for another time.

Early Game Items for the Mindthief

In the early game, there are a few cards I like to pair with the Mindthief. The first point is that where thematic items have their place, there is nothing an early poison item can do that the Mindthief can’t do within his/her abilities.

Instead, I like to go with the Minor Stamina Potion, allowing for the aforementioned two card combos to be used without losing the cards. Spend the Minor Stamina Potion to get them back.

The other thing I like is the Iron Helmet. It allows for you to avoid critical hits, which can be so valuable when you don’t have many hit points.

And on that note, it’s probably time to draw this article to a close. Please let me know what you think in the comments below as your comments help me write better articles. What do you like doing as a Mindthief? What did I miss? What are you playing as? Have you ever played Gloomhaven? Do you want to play Gloomhaven? Let me know in the comments.

Other Gloomhaven Strategies:

The Cragheart

The Brute


  1. Just as a note on this sentence:
    “Another alternative, straight off the bat is Perverse Edge with Frigid Apparation to do more damage (however, you do not get the second experience as the target cannot be stunned by Perverse Edge and then again by Frigid Apparition, and somehow the battlefield already needs to be imbued with frost.).”

    This is incorrect. If you are able to consume frost for Frigid Apparition, you WILL gain XP, even though stun can’t be applied again. You choose whether to consume an element before you attack, and you can ALWAYS consume the element if you wish, and you will gain XP regardless of whether the effect that is provided is applied or not.

    Another example is Cragheart’s Crater, where you can consume earth to push two. Even if the target dies from the attack, you still gain 1 XP from consuming earth, even though you may not get to apply the push.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “NEVER DISCARD A CARD YOU DON’T HAVE TO.” — here, did you mean never BURN a card you don’t have to? because you have to play (and thus discard) on every turn.

    ” the primary reason for this is because we use our discard cards too early.”, again I think this should be worded as “we use our BURN cards too early”.


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