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When Should Cards Be Burned or Lost In Gloomhaven?

Gloomhaven is a seriously tricky game. We’ve lost a scenario a few times recently, through both dying and lack of stamina, and it has been demoralising. At the start of the campaign we won mission after mission after mission – and then suddenly, as we leveled up, things became really difficult to manage. Sometimes we found ourselves burning cards too often. Other times we wouldn’t play cards we needed to because it meant we would lose them. It has been a difficult balancing act.

Where this isn’t necessarily a fault with our playing style, because anyone who is playing Gloomhaven at the moment will probably sympathise that it is a blumming difficult game, we do recognise a need to optimise our hand management if we want to consistently complete missions again.

What this means is understanding our hands – not from the actual card content perspective (I’m going to make the assumption we all know our own cards when playing, you as well) but rather what they mean from a stamina perspective. When is it okay to burn cards and what does it actually mean if we do?

Understanding Gloomhaven Stamina and Cards

So, in Gloomhaven you play two cards every single turn. These are then discarded from your hand, and put either into a discard pile if you use them normally, or a lost pile if they are cards you need to burn after using. At the end of any round you can rest and recover cards (hit points as well if you perform a long rest) at which point you pick up your discard pile. The downside? You have to discard one at random. If you pick a card to discard that you can’t afford to lose, then you can take 1hp damage to choose another – however, that second choice is permanent.

This means that every time you rest in Gloomhaven you are guaranteed to lose a card. If you burn a card in between rests then you lose two. If you burn two cards then, when you rest, you will lose three. The list goes on.

The opposite is also true. Where it is possible to understand how fast you can burn a set of cards, it is (more usefully) possible to see how long you can optimise a set of cards for.

This is shown in the table below depending on the number of cards you start with. All I will say is I don’t know of any character that starts Gloomhaven with more than twelve cards. There may be some, in which case you need to add an extra row at the top of the table for each additional card, however, I personally have not come across them.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 15.22.04

This means there can be six rounds before losing your first card, if you start with 12 cards. There are five rounds if you start with 11, as cards need to always be played in pairs. There are five rounds before you need to burn if you start with 10 cards as well, and four if you start with 9.

This can be represented by the number of rounds in the game as well as per-rest.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 15.22.18.png

What the above table shows is how many turns you get per number of cards, and how many turns you have left. So, for instance, if you have 12 cards at the beginning of the game, the maximum number of turns you have is 36 – that is if you only ever burn when you rest (so burning no additional cards) and assuming you optimise every single round. This means playing as many cards as you can before you rest each and every turn.

It is difficult, almost impossible, but the graph also works in another way.

The Full Implications of Burning A Card In Gloomhaven

If you burn a card, or work out how many cards you will have after your burn one, then you can see how many turns you will be sacrificing when it comes around to your next rest. So, for instance, if you start with 11 cards, and burn two before your first rest, then you will be starting your next rest period (between your first and second rests) with only 8 cards. This is because you have burned two cards, and you will lose one from your discard pile. What this means is that rather than having a potential 25 turns you will be having a total of 16 remaining. Burning two cards when you have 11 will sacrifice you 9 turns in the game. That’s insane.

A matrix can actually be drawn up for each number of cards per each player stamina and how many turns your player have left. For this I have drawn four up – these are for starting with 12 cards, 11 cards, 10 cards, and 9 cards.


Starting with 12 Cards (And An Explanation of these Matrixes)

Okay, so here we have a matrix. It takes a little bit of explaining because of things happening in different turns. This is for a character like the Tinkerer who starts with 12 cards.

So, down the left-hand side, we have the point in the game. This is where you will be after your next rest, so the very start of the game is not in the matrix as you haven’t yet rested. Generally speaking, you will be burning and discarding cards during and after the round, not before. Since you (generally speaking) cannot lose any cards pre-game then that is the number of rounds you start off with. I hope that makes sense.

The top line of the table shows the number of cards burned in the previous round. So, the easiest way to cross-reference this is to find where you will be in the game after the next rest and move along how many cards you burned or want to burn this round. This will tell you how many turns it will leave you with when the next round begins.

The column “No Additional Burns in Previous Round” takes in mind the natural burning of one card each turn as you rest.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 17.07.25

So, at the very start of the game you want to burn an additional card, then you can check to see the implications. Your next rest will place you after Rest 1 and before Rest 2, so burning an additional card will leave you with 25 turns left after you rest.

This can also be displayed as the next loss of burning a card at any specific point in the game.

To see the net loss of turns for each burn, at whatever point, we are looking at a table like this. This shows how damaging extra burns can be at specific points in the game.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 17.08.14.png

So, burning 4 additional cards pre-rest, will mean that when you are “After Rest 1, Before Rest 2” you will have the equivalent of 18 less turns left in the game. If you are after Rest 2 and you want to burn 2 cards, then your next rest will put you “After Rest 3, Before Rest 4” which will be the equivalent of sacrificing -8 turns in the long run.

How To Use These Tables As A Rolling Modifier Table

This requires some work if you are going to regularly burn to keep the rolling modifier going. If, for instance, you are in between Rest 2 and Rest 3, and you want to know the implication of burning 2 additional cards, then you will go down to “After Rest 3, Before Rest 4” and go across to “Burnt 2 Additional in Previous Round”. The answer is that when you are “After Rest 3, Before Rest 4” you will have 12 cards remaining. This is the equivalent to “After Rest 5, Before Rest 6”, so your next calculation will be using that row.

Realistically, that looks like this kind of table.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 17.28.21

The above is just a visual representation of the numbers where A stands for After and P stands for Pre- (or “Before”). So, A2 P3 stands for “After Rest 2, Before Rest 3”. It’s what the burning does to you in regards to actual rests. Not as helpful, so I’ll only do that once, but you get the idea. That’s only if you want to use them as rolling modifiers.

To show how this works more practically, it looks like this –

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 20.49.12

Of course, that is only if you want to use it as a rolling modifier…which I suppose, looking back, makes sense.

Starting with 11 Cards

So, now you know how it works we can just press on with the numbers and data. Of course, if you have just skipped ahead to this part because your character doesn’t have 12 cards, then you may want to go back to the previous section to read that and how the tables work (I’ve been trying to simplify them, but this is the best I’ve been able to do for now because this is ridiculously complex and my brain hurts).

Interestingly, I don’t actually know any characters that start with 11 cards, but just in case yours does, there are the graphs.

With fewer cards the charts just all shift up one row.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 22.50.08

Likewise, this is the case for the net loss of turns by burning cards –

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 22.50.26

As you can see, there is slightly less risk burning cards early if you have fewer cards. It’s a weird turn of events, but the mathematics are there.

Starting with 10 Cards

This is the part that is relevant to me because I am playing as the Mindthief. Once again, if you don’t understand these charts because you didn’t read the explanation under 12 cards, I would recommend going back up to re-read that section.

For 10 cards the table looks like this –

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 23.22.23.png

With the net turn loss table like this –

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 23.22.35

One thing you may be noticing is how the total number of rests is decreasing. This is because the rests require you to lose a card, and if you don’t have the cards to spare then you can’t lose one to keep playing.

Starting with 9 Cards

Like with not knowing if there is a character who starts with 13+ cards, I don’t know of a character who starts with less than 9 cards. The Scoundrel, however, out of the base characters, starts with 9, and we have the Scoundrel in our group. So, with that in mind, and bringing this article to a close, we’ll look at the tables for 9 cards. This is the turns-left-after-burning table.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 23.31.18

Now the net loss chart.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 23.31.29

Conclusion: When is it alright to burn cards?

So, the original question – when is it right (or alright) to burn cards? Well…the simple answer is “when you really need to”. These charts don’t say whether you should or shouldn’t burn cards; however, they do give some idea as to what that effect will be on the rest of your game. If you reckon you’ll only need a couple of turns, then go nuts – burn away. If, however, you are at the start of a game then you should probably refrain as long as possible. The closer you are to the start of the game, the larger the implications of burning.

I really hope all of this has made sense. I have to admit I have returned to this a few times to clear it up, having done the math just after our last Gloomhaven session (just under a month ago). Tables probably aren’t the best way to explore this, instead there is probably some Google Sheet template I can put together for the calculations and will look at doing so for the future. For now though, here is the working out.

So, there we have it. Assuming they make sense – a few tables just to explore the implications of burning cards within Gloomhaven. The question is – what do you think? When do you believe cards can be burned and when do you believe they should be? Let me know in the comments below.

Other articles to do with Gloomhaven Strategy:
Gloomhaven Attack Modifier Cards: What Are The Odds
Gloomhaven: Mindthief Strategy


  1. Excellent post. It all gets quite complicated, especially when you start taking into consideration cards that enable the return of discarded, or even lost cards. I find it helps not to think about it too hard…It hurts!

    Liked by 1 person

      • To be honest I tend not to have those cards in my deck. I see it as burning a card so that another character can gain one (or more in some cases). Obviously, I use the Spellweavers card to regain her lost cards, but that’s it. I think playing solo you can be more conservative on your use of cards, as you know what each character has in hand.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I can see why. How many characters do you play at any one time in solo? We don’t have the Spellweaver in our group – does he/she/it have many return cards or just one like the Tinkerer?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I play four at a time, but I swap them around from scenario to scenario. The Spellweaver has one card in her initial starting cards, that returns all lost cards. The timing about when to play this is important, you also have to be careful when your down on HP’s. The last thing you need is to be forced to discard instead of taking damage. If you do get to this point you’ve screwed up!


      • Yes they do – 100% correct there. When I wrote this article I hadn’t seen all classes (I still haven’t, thinking about it) so didn’t realise about the Spellweaver.

        Since 2018 though I’ve been with two players playing the Spellweaver, and can say that they are super interesting. Where they start with 8 cards, they also have Reviving Ether allowing them to pick all their lost cards back up…so they kind of start with 15 in a way…but also not…

        I think I’m going to have to do an article just working out the Spellweaver maths at some point! The Spellweaver needs some serious number crunching!


  2. Wow, this is nicely detailed post. So far, I haven’t explored the math in depth regarding the optimal times to burn cards, but I think it’s been hard to really pin down the exact time, as each scenario can dictate the best times to use your more powerful spells. I just started with Tinkerer recently so we will see how it goes, since I know he really needs to burn cards to build experience

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you there. It depends so much on what the scenario is and what you need to do at that precise moment. Gloomhaven is such a mathy game beneath the surface.

      We have the Tinkerer in our group – are you playing solo or with a group? If so, how many?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Playing with a group of 4. I had previously been in a two player campaign, and saw that tinkerer is a bit behind unless he’s got lots of targets to support. So far I’ve enjoyed the different play style but do miss the Spellweavers damage

        Liked by 1 person

          • I’d say definitely. I’m enjoying the different dynamic a four person campaign brings, but having two scales well. If that’s what you’ve planned I’d definitely say go for it. The only advice I’d add is what I mentioned before – some 2 player starting combos are very very difficult (tinkerer+scoundrel). We started with Spellweaver+Brute with no issues. Plus, you can always have multiple characters in the roster, and just choose the two you want to play the scenario with.

            Liked by 2 people

            • It’s an awesome game – genuinely, I think you’d really enjoy it. It’s a bit of an investment, both for time and money, but well worth it if you can make the time 🙂 I’ve only played four player, but I’ve heard good things for groups of all sizes.


        • Oh yeah, he is definitely a support. He either goes big with explosive attacks or helps out. Great in a four player game, but yes, I think he would probably be a bit redundant in a 2 player.


  3. One thing you forgot to take into account (sort of) is the Mindthief’s augments, which work as a sort of burn for this calculation because even though you can convert it to a discard, it’s out of both your hand and your discard pile while you have it in play (and if you don’t have any augments down you’re probably kind of useless to your party).

    Liked by 1 person

    • A very fair point – they act like a burn in a roundabout way, but you don’t discard them, you just can’t redraw them unless you replace them…which limits the card pool by a card as you say. It is certainly worth keeping in mind because it is such a fine balance. Good call.


  4. You can sum up all those tahles really easy:

    Basically, when burning a card you loose a number of rounds equal to half of the sum of cards you have on hand and in your discard pile, rounded down.

    Cards you loose = 1/2*(cards on hand + discarded cards)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think I, and most people, know intuitively that saving our burn cards for the end is better, but it is nice to see all the math laid out to confirm. Thanks for doing the lord’s work.


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