What is Gloomhaven like to play?
There has been an issue on this blog over the past year or so that was kind of brought to my attention recently. Gloomhaven is one amazing game that I refer to a lot – however almost all of my articles about Gloomhaven have spoiler warnings at the beginning of them. For those who just want to know what it is like to play, if they trust my humble opinion, they have to risk spoilers in order to get said opinion.
Well, dear reader, that is about to change. Today we are going to look at what Gloomhaven is like to play without any additional spoilers or nudges at specifics of the game. There will be no pictures or even character names in this article – that will be for you to discover for yourself as you play. Instead, I’m going to simply talk through what the game is like, hopefully giving away no more information than what BGG has on its page about the game. Let’s do this.
What is Gloomhaven like to play? [Spoiler Free]
If you have ever played a tabletop RPG then you know what it is like. There are games on the market like Star Wars: Imperial Assault and Descent: Journeys in the Dark that tell grand tales over the course of a campaign, offering complex stories over several games. These are games where you have a character, you grow them, and you make them your own. You upgrade the way you want to upgrade, and you complete the story how you want to. There may be side missions along the way, or whole sub-story arcs, in which you can go off and add more substance to your games.
Well, Gloomhaven is like that cranked all the way up to 11.
Over the course of the past two years we have been working our way through a Gloomhaven campaign, starting it after finishing an Imperial Assault one, and have often found ourselves surprised by the game. In many ways Gloomhaven shares concepts with all those – you build your character, you choose your missions, you discover more as you play – only, it does those and takes it further than before. As such, Gloomhaven is one of the most immersive, beautiful, and well thought through RPG style games you can play.
In a weird way, the sheer autonomy you have in Gloomhaven makes the game (probably) as close as you can get to a video game without actually being a video game.
Okay, now it is a video game, available on Steam, but that is besides the point.
What is the Strategy Element Like?
Without the shadow of a doubt, Gloomhaven is one of the most strategic games on the market. Each and every round is like a dance or a ballet – the steps need to be placed just right in order to complete each mission. This doesn’t make it feel so much like a puzzle, like other cooperative games can, but instead…well…one of our current players put it like this –
“[Gloomhaven is] like a game of chess – it’s about creating opportunities for future positions.”
All characters are unique within Gloomhaven and all characters have skills or abilities that only they can do. This means that, in order to beat each level of the game, players need to work together to ensure every player fully understands their part in this elaborate dance.
Okay, so it is much harder to write without giving away any spoilers than I first thought – so, let me speak plainly.
Gloomhaven is a difficult game. Levels can be played on various difficulties; however, they all require synergy from the players. That synergy requires the group to work together, as well as to understand how each player can be used. This is where the real trick to Gloomhaven comes in.
What is the Legacy Element Like?
Gloomhaven is a legacy game.
What this means is that the game changes are you play it. Gloomhaven is the best managed and most balanced legacy game I have personally played, and the legacy aspect is incredibly enjoyable. Again, it makes the game feel like something organic and evolving, like a tabletop RPG, rather than just a straightforward board game. The game feels, in many ways, like a living world, and that is really cool.
What is the Theme like?
One of the really cool things about Gloomhaven however, does not come in the form of the mechanics but rather the theme. Without wanting to give too much away, the theme, on the surface, seems like a high fantasy setting – however, digging deeper it gets far more complex than that. The theme to Gloomhaven is actually unique, with beautiful twists and turns you wouldn’t expect. As such characters are far more three dimensional than they are in games like Descent: Journeys in the Dark, where the characters have but a few things differentiating them. Instead, with Gloomhaven, there is so much more. Characters, locations, bosses, and monsters are so incredibly different that they truly stand out as fantastically unique beings. The theme is simply superb.
Oh and the minis – the minis are great.
The only point to make that could be seen as a positive or a negative is that groups tends to create house rules a lot based on certain aspects of the game. There are literally hundreds of permutations of house rules online. This could be seen as a negative, due to the fact that people feel the need to house rule, or it can be seen as a positive that house rules can be seamlessly integrated without it breaking the game. Either way, it’s an interesting point.
Okay, so how can we break all this down without giving too much away? Well, Gloomhaven is currently rated the #1 game of all time on Board Game Geek, with over 13,000 people giving it 10/10. I’ve tried to think about whether I would disagree with that and whether it truly deserves that status. You know what? I think it does.
Gloomhaven is about as all encompassing as an RPG board game can get. If you want cool and unique characters then Gloomhaven has it. If you want a fantastic setting with a fluid and extensive campaign, then Gloomhaven has it. If you want a dungeon crawler with awesome monsters that have a brilliant AI system behind then, then Gloomhaven has it. It is about as extensive and brilliant as campaign games can get.
So, there you have it – Gloomhaven – an insanely highly rated game, and the rating is definitely for a reason. My apologies for the vagueness in this article, but looking at Gloomhaven in a spoiler free way is incredibly difficult to do. Let’s just leave it now on nine words:
In my opinion, it lives up to the hype.