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Cragheart: Gloomhaven Strategy (Early Game)

The Cragheart is a weird character in Gloomhaven. At the time of writing, my gaming group have two separate Gloomhaven campaigns on the go. In one, our longest running game, I play a Level 5 (soon to be Level 6) Mindthief called Nigel. Nigel is, for all intents and purposes, beyond awesome and I love playing him. In our second campaign I am a Level 2, soon to be Level 3, Cragheart (called Crews). We’ve played a whole host of scenarios, three on hard mode, and the Cragheart has gone through quite a bit of punishment. That being said, in our last hard mode mission I managed to tweak him enough that, for the entire mission, he took only two points of damage and ended with 7 cards still in his hand, whilst all other characters were either nearly dead or exhausted.

What is more, he killed the most bad guys in the mission. How? Well, let’s go through that in some detail today as we look at the Cragheart Gloomhaven strategy in a bit more detail.

Cragheart Gloomhaven Strategy

The Cragheart

The Cragheart Gloomhaven Strategy – Understanding What The Cragheart Is

If Gloomhaven has taught me anything as a player, it is not to accept anything at face value. The Cragheart Gloomhaven strategy hinges on this because, if taken at appearance’s sake, the Cragheart looks like a tank. They start off with a decent amount of health, and they do quite a lot of damage. They have stamina coming out of their ears, and relatively few burn cards. All in all, they should be a phenomenal tank, right?

Now, what I am going to say next may come as a bit of a surprise. Yes, the Cragheart can have some devastating attacks up close and personal. They even get retaliate if the right card is played; however, this is not the best way to use a Cragheart. Instead, the Cragheart is better at range.

“Say what?” I hear you say, “That’s ridiculous!”

Well…yeah…I have to agree with you there, especially when taken at face value; however, if we look at the cards in more detail then we see a different story. Today, in this article we are going to do just that. Before that though, two things need to be said.
FIRSTLY – In case you hadn’t already guessed – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Secondly, to limit those spoilers we’re not going to dive past the Cragheart at Level 1. I have analysed the whole card set, and will post a full spoiler-rific post in due course. For now though, let’s just look at the surface and the early game.

What are the Savvas Cragheart cards?

The Cragheart starts off with a potential 14 cards, including Level 1 and Level X cards. Of those, he/she (I am not an expert on determining the gender of Savvas), can take 11 in his/her hand at any one time. This gives a fair amount of scope. Beside these cards, I have put an * next to cards that I personally used as an optimised hand in Level 1, and which I was personally able to do well with on HARD mode.

This was with a party where we have the Scoundrel, the Spellweaver, and the Brute as well as the Cragheart.

  • Avalanche
  • Backup Amunition *
  • Crater *
  • Crushing Grasp *
  • Dirt Tornado *
  • Earthen Clod *
  • Forceful Storm *
  • Heaving Swing *
  • Massive Boulder *
  • Nature’s Lift
  • Opposing Strike
  • Rock Tunnel
  • Rumbling Advance *
  • Unstable Upheaval *

So those are the cards – the question is – why choose the ones I have chosen? Well, the answer to that is surprisingly simple, and it comes down to synergy – both within the Cragheart’s cards, and also with the other players. These we can summarise as a series of points, the likes of which we will go through below. Here is a list of five core points about the Cragheart.

Savvas Cragheart - Combat

Devastating in so many ways.

#1 – The Cragheart WILL Hurt Your Allies

Interestingly, I’ve played the Cragheart both in a two player scenario and a series of four player scenarios – and the Cragheart is much easier to play, having a lot more freedom on how to play, when the player count is low.

The reason for this is actually very simple – the Cragheart has five cards that can cause allies pain –

  • Crater has a bottom half that causes damaged to all allies and enemies you initially start your move against, and all allies and enemies you end your move against.
  • Dirt Tornado can muddle all allies and enemies within a set area.
  • Massive Boulder is a bouncing effect, dealing damage to all those around the target – good or bad.
  • Rumbling Advance has an awesome move on the bottom half of the card, dealing an instant damage to allies and enemies alike based on where you end up.
  • Unstable Upheaval is a melee attack that targets all adjacent enemies, but also does 2 damage to all adjacent allies. Or, it deals one damage to allies, giving them two shields.

What this means is one of two things – either try and play a Cragheart that does no damage to allies (note: it’s not a fun character to play – trust me, I tried) or make sure all your allies know they will potentially get hurt.

We actually had a bit of a debate around our table as to whether flank denial was a logical strategy if the Cragheart will end up hurting everyone around him, including the Spellweaver who has diddly squit health. In the end, I went off with the Brute and was actually the biggest threat to him for the whole scenario.

This is interestingly one of the many reasons ranged is better. It allows for more control over the damage done to allies, and thus keeps the team alive longer.

#2 – You Are The Healer

Counter to the “you do a lot of damage to friends” debate, the Cragheart is actually one of the best healers (the other being the Tinkerer) out of the base six character options. There are three cards the Cragheart has that can heal other players. What is better is there are options with heal on the top of the card and the bottom meaning it can be pulled off twice in a turn, bringing a nearly dead character back from the brink.

Those three cards, by the way, are:

  • Earthen Clod (Heal 2, Range 3) = Bottom
  • Nature’s Lift (Heal 2, Range 3, Target 2) = Top
  • Rumbling Advance (Heal 4, Range 2) = Top

Now, for the sake of optimisation, you may recall I haven’t taken Nature’s Lift in my base set and actually don’t recommend it. Yes, it heals more people, but the bottom half of Nature’s Lift is exceptionally poor. If you look at the card, you’ll see what I mean – it’s a six action stay-in-play burn card, where it gives the opportunity for 3xp but only when the battle field is imbued with Wind.

It’s a rubbish card because (a) it is highly unlikely to happen in the early game, unless you take perks to make it more likely to be windy, but that would be an incredibly poor use of the attack modifier deck perks and (b) if you do use the bottom, because it stays in play and then gets burned, it means that when it is in play you can’t use the heal.

Nature’s Lift may come into its own later on in the game, but it is absolutely rubbish for the early game.

Earthen Clod and Rumbling Advance are a great combo though and can heal a character for 6 in a turn between them.

The Cragheart in combat.

All the loot!

#3 – Backup Ammunition Is One Of The Best Cards In The Early Game

Ahh Backup Ammunition – it is one of the best cards the Cragheart has and, having seen all the base characters in action, I would argue it is one of the best cards in the game. What it does is, if you weren’t already convinced the Cragheart is a distance character, adds a target to ranged attacks. This combos incredibly nicely, as there are a decent number of ranged cards within the deck, and when the bottom half of Heaving Swing is used at the same time, it means the ranged attacks can do +1 damage at the same time.

The ranged damage cards that the Cragheart has are –

  • Crater
  • Dirt Tornado
  • Earthen Clod
  • Massive Boulder
  • Forceful Storm

A large percentage of those already affect more than one enemy, which means that the Cragheart can be such an effective member of the party.

Now, there is one thing that does need noting, and that is with Dirt Tornado which has a ridiculous area affect already. Adding an additional target using Backup Ammunition and Dirt Tornado can get tricky, and the rules (in the official Gloomhaven FAQ) are insanely un-intuitive.

Here is the official quote –

Add Target always adds a single extra target within the range of your attack to the attack, and this target cannot be an enemy already targeted by the attack (a single attack ability cannot target the same enemy multiple times). So if you got an Add Target effect on an area attack, you could pick one enemy within range but outside of the area (because all enemies in the area are already getting attacked) to get hit by the attack as well. All conditions and other effects of the attack (other than effects that would add additional attack targets) would apply to the added target, as well. Each instance of the Add Target effect adds an additional target to the attack using the above guidelines.

It’s nuts, isn’t it? Essentially, to summarise, it says that you cannot target the same person twice, so you can’t do the same area affect over two people simply by rotating the pattern and the “official target”. Instead, you target someone outside of the effect and hit them as well.

That being said, Backup Ammunition is so worthwhile for so many reasons. It can be paired with Massive Boulder, for example, because that only officially targets one, although it has the option to affect 6 more through a splash damage effect. Those affected by that damage can then be targeted because they were not officially the targets of the first attack.

Likewise, Earthen Clod doesn’t do a huge amount of damage (a base of 2, but potentially 3 with Heaving Swing and with immobilise if there is Earth on the battlefield) but it has a range of 5, which is insanely good. It’s a great way of stopping enemies from encroaching on you from a distance.

#4 – You Can Deal Unblockable Damage

Sometimes you just have to be a rules lawyer.

Shields have a very precise wording in the rules. They say that they can block attack damage. This makes some enemies really tough, and later on there are even enemies that have low health, but insanely high shields making them difficult to take down.

Well…difficult for everyone but the Cragheart. The Cragheart, you see, can deal damage without an attack, meaning it cannot be blocked by a shield, and instead does damage by simply moving.

The two cards that do this are –

  • Crater which, as mentioned above, does a damage to all those before a movement and then a damage to all those after a movement who surround the Cragheart. It can go up to 2 damage for each if the battlefield has Earth imbuing it. The card contains jump and movement 4 in-between.
  • Rumbling Advance, which does damage to those surrounding the Cragheart after a move. It is a movement 2.

Okay, so yes, those can also hurt allies, which is not ideal, but Crater can also seriously damage shielded monsters simply by walking around them. Start off in front of a monster, deal 2 damage, jump through it to the other side, and deal 2 more damage.

There is no shield that can block it, since it wasn’t an attack, making it the perfect tool for difficult enemies.

Cragheart - Slow

The Cragheart

#5 – The Cragheart is Slow

This leads to the final point in this article looking at the basics of the Cragheart Gloomhaven strategy, and that is that the Cragheart is insanely slow. Yes, they have some fast movement cards, allowing them to travel far, but both initiative wise and movement wise, since the bottom of cards are usually used as other things, the Cragheart is slow.

This means a lot of thought needs to be put into keeping the Cragheart up to speed with the rest of the team. It is far too easy for me to fall behind in a party with the Spellweaver and the Scoundrel. This has led to a weird dynamic where we’ll all start off and I’ll deal a load of range damage, then they’ll run off, and I’ll take the next few turns catching up.

What this means is that, relatively frequently, in a three room scenario, I’ll be helping with the first and will have caught up by the time the last room is entered. In the middle…well…I just kind of catch up.

It’s not ideal, but to understand the Cragheart you have to understand how slow he is.

Very…he is very very slow.

Anyway, so there are five core strategic points about the Cragheart in the very early levels of the game. As I said, I’ll release a fuller one in due course. In the meantime, I’ve also written an early Mindthief strategy and also a guide to the Brute at early levels. You can read those by clicking on the links.

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    • My advice, as someone who plays both, is keep the Cragheart away from the Mindthief – the Mindthief isn’t completely weak by all means, but it stands the chance of the Cragheart dealing it a lot of damage purely by accident!


  1. Nice guide – thanks! I’m playing a level 4 Cragheart in a 2P game with a Spellweaver and really enjoying the class. Couple of points though just to be picky! The 2 damage on the bottom of Crater when earth is consumed is only for the damage when you end you move. The damage at the start is always 1 regardless. And Massive Boulder is a third card that does unblockable damage at level 1. The 1 point of damage to enemies and allies adjacent to the target isn’t from the attack itself, so it’s not blocked by shields. Which makes it great with BA when 2 shielded enemies are standing next to each other. Drop a Boulder on 1 and his mate takes damage. Then drop another Boulder on his mate and the first one takes a hit too!


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