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Starting Gloomhaven – Tips, Tricks, and Advice

Gloomhaven is a fantastic game. The legacy style RPG style game designed by Isaac Childres has well and truly taken the world by storm, with over 13,000 10* reviews on Board Game Geek, and is currently recognised as the highest rated board game of all time.

Of course, there is a steep learning curve, and it defies convention when it comes down to how the characters have been created. Whilst kind of in a high fantasy setting, Gloomhaven also uses aspects of steampunk and just the imagination of its designer, to create a game that really is something unique and special.

My gaming group and I currently have two Gloomhaven campaigns on the go, and three of us are a part of both. I have a Mindthief on the go, as well as a Cragheart, using two completely different styles of gameplay. In our latest campaign we introduced a new player into the fold (who is playing the Brute) and he asked us what our advice would be for new players starting out. As such, we have put our heads together to collate the best advice we can give to someone starting out in Gloomhaven.

This article will talk about the base characters at Level 1, but should not, if I have written it correctly, contain spoilers. Images might contain spoilers though, so please be warned.

Gloomhaven tips and advice - combat

The party in combat.

Gloomhaven Tips, Tricks, and Advice

Below are some of the best Gloomhaven tips, tricks, and pieces of advice we could think of.

#1 – Don’t try to classify your character before playing.

One of the best things about Gloomhaven is how unique the classes and races are. At the start of the game you will have six characters to choose from – the Tinkerer, the Brute, the Scoundrel, the Mindthief, the Cragheart, and the Spellweaver.

Where it is really tempting to say “oh, the Brute must be an anvil – able to soak up damage” or “oh the Cragheart is a hammer – able to deal out loads of damage” it really isn’t that simple and would be a mistake to assume it is that easy to classify.

The characters in Gloomhaven are not two dimensional characters. The Tinkerer may seem like an area affect character, but they are also a healer and a stamina resource. The Mindthief may seem like a summoner, but they are also an augmenter and have some pretty decent glass-cannon style moves. Likewise, the Scoundrel can attack from a range, but they can also move really really fast. You get the idea.

Don’t fall into the trap of “this character has to be played this way” because it simply isn’t true.

#2 – Don’t burn cards too early.

Another great thing about Gloomhaven is that there are some really cool abilities; however, a relatively large percentage of those are also on cards that get burned after use. What this means is you are trading in an effect for one turn, verses a set number of turns later on, risking early exhaustion.

Instead, consider when to use those burn cards carefully. I actually wrote an analysis piece a little while back about how to min/max card burning in Gloomhaven as you want to use the effect but don’t want to exhaust your character. You can read that Gloomhaven analysis here.

That’s not to say you should never burn cards – you totally should and there are some epic combos that can be pulled off by doing so; however, it just means you should try to measure your response. Maybe don’t use that Attack 6 to kill a 4 health enemy, when another card will do. You don’t know when you will need it in the long run.

#3 – Look for synergies in your cards and the cards of your other party members.

Synergies can create some pretty epic effects and turns in Gloomhaven. Being able to fully utilise every part of an action, or ricochet card effects off one another, can create insanely brilliant turns at relatively little cost.

Look specifically for top halves of cards that go well with the bottom halves of cards. If one card imbues the battlefield with an element, see how you can make the most out of that element either on that turn or the next one. Likewise, if you imbue the battlefield, is there someone else in your group who can use that element?

There are certain classes that go well together, and it is worth looking at some of the other cards in your group to see how you can best work together moving forward.

Gloomhaven tips - the party entering combat

It’s going down.

#4 – Movement on the top half of a card and attacks on the bottom half of a card are incredibly valuable.

There are always two things I look for when creating a deck for a mission, and that is the attack on the bottom of a card/movement on the top of the card situations.

Generally speaking, the top half of each card tends to be an attack, and the bottom tends to be movement. Having cards that mix these up, that allow for a character to take a movement as the top action or to take an attack as the bottom action, means it is possible to create an awesomely synergistic round.

Having at attack card on the bottom (which appears to be more common than the movement on the top), means you can hit an enemy hard twice in one turn. Having movement on the top means you can move an additional distance in the turn. They allow for flexibility and fantastic combos that can take down enemies in one hit.

#5 – Three rules to remember about loot, healing, and experience.

Okay, now a bit of a blunder on our behalf that we have only fixed around 10 missions into our first campaign –

  1. Bad guys drop coins when they die. These get converted into gold at the end of the game. This is a rule that is easy to miss in the rule book. You can loot by ending a turn on the coin, or you can use a Loot action to pick up coins from a distance.
  2. Heal Self specifies that it is healing you and only you. Heal Range means you can heal any ally in that range, but you can also Heal yourself. Just because Heal doesn’t specify Self doesn’t mean it can’t be used on the self, but Heal Self must be.
  3. To gain experience from an action you don’t have to complete every aspect of the action UNLESS there is a cost to completing said action. For instance, if it says Attack 2, Move 2, Gain 1 experience then you can Attack 2 or Move 2 or both to gain the experience. If, however, it requires an imbued battlefield to get the experience, you don’t get the experience unless the battlefield is imbued with what you need to complete the action.

#6 – Look for the Minor Stamina Potion and the Minor Healing Potion

Most of the items in Gloomhaven are “nice to have” items that can make the game interesting and give you a special attack, but they aren’t necessarily essential. There are a couple of items where this isn’t the case however, and they are worth every penny. What is more, they’re cheap.

The Minor Healing Potion is useful to have as it allows you to heal without a long rest or a card. Simple and effective.

The Minor Stamina Potion however is absolutely worth its weight in gold. They are fantastic, allowing you to find a combo of cards that works for you where the cards are discard cards and not lost. You play your combo, discard the cards, you spend the Minor Stamina Potion, and you pick them up again. Not only does this ready your awesome combo, but it also means you gain an extra round in the game. It helps both readying combos and gaining stamina.

Gloomhaven tips and advice - The Scoundrel and the Brute in combat.

The Scoundrel and the Brute in combat.

#7 – Don’t be afraid to change the difficulty if your find your party struggle with a few levels

Gloomhaven is a really difficult game and there is absolutely no stigma for recogising that. Sometimes you just need to take it a bit easier, and that is more than okay.

Gloomhaven, like a lot of video game RPGs, has a difficulty scale that can be modified up and down. Changing the difficulty of a level, especially if you are struggling with it, is absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with that, and we have done it a few times. All it does it make the bad guys easier to kill.

There is, unfortunately, a cost associated with taking the game a little bit easier, which, so long as you are aware of it, shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Essentially, taking it slightly easier means you gain less gold per coin you picked up and less bonus experience at the end of the mission.

Difficulty can be changed at any point between missions. It’s awesome and should be utilised if needed.

#8 – Go fast, unless there is a reason to go slower – in which case go slower

Gloomhaven works on an initiative system wherein you determine the order of the rounds by the numbers on the cards. Some cards are slow, some are fast. The downside is that this isn’t just for the players – bad guys also use the same initiative system.

One thing I try to do, when I don’t want to play a specific and awesome combo (see #3), is pair up any slow cards I have with faster ones. This means that I can always choose the faster one as my initiative and ensure I go quickly.

Going fast in Gloomhaven is worth it and worth it for one specific reason – if you can go before your enemies you can try and limit the amount of incoming damage back at you when it comes around to their turn.

There will be times when you need to go slow, and times you need to ensure you go after a specific party member, but when you don’t need to then it is best to just go as fast as you can.

#9 – Communicate and collaborate

This point of advice is really simple – communicate with the rest of your team – you are a team after all.

Collaborating in Gloomhaven can lead to some incredible effects. On one simple side it is “I plan on ending behind the creature, does that work with everyone else?” and on the other side it is pre-embuing a battlefield so someone else can use the element.

This can go too far of course, and we have limits to what we are allowed to share. Most notably this revolves around telling each other specific details regarding the initiative order. We allow “I am going fast for me” or “I am moving as fast as you might when going fast”, but we don’t allow “yes, I’m using 84 for my initiative”.

Gloomhaven Tips and Advice - The Scoundrel

The Scoundrel in deep combat.

So, there we have it – a series of Gloomhaven tips, tricks, and pieces of advice for starting your character and campaign. If you have any advice that I haven’t shared here, please let em know in the comments below. What is the advice you would give first time players? First time players, do you find this useful? Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and enjoy playing Gloomhaven!

Other Gloomhaven Articles:
Mindthief Guide
Brute Guide
Attack Modifier Deck Exploration
Lost/Burned Cards Exploration

7 Comments »

  1. Good advice! My one caveat on “go as fas you can is” when you cast invisibility on yourself. Because the effect lasts until the beginning of your next turn, taking a late initiative the turn after casting invisibility allows you to stay invisible longer and avoid hits from monsters.
    Very useful for melee characters who aren’t too beefy and for taking long rests (since your initiative is 99 when taking a long rest).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh yes – that is a fair point about invisibility – cast it fast in the first turn and then go slow in the second. Yeah, totally get that point – thanks for the suggestion!

      Like

  2. Agree with everything you’ve said – as an extra, keep an eye on when you’ll need to rest and work it out as a team; it’s no good someone throwing open a door just as everyone else is coming to the last cards in their hand!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not going to read this now, but I know it’s here so I can come back to it when(if?) we get around to playing Gloomhaven. Yeah, I know, but *time* is a huge factor – even moreso when it also involves getting friends together and what sounds like some pretty involved setup & breakdown time..

    Liked by 1 person

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