Monday, November 23, 2020
Gloomhaven, why and which
I have now played 36 hours of Gloomhaven on Steam, and maybe 15 hours (10 scenarios) of Gloomhaven the board game. Which means that in both cases I am still very much at the beginning of the game in as far as it regards the total amount of content available; but I have played the game enough in different formats to say why I like the game, and which version of the game I would recommend to you.
I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons for 4 decades now. But I don't play D&D with my wife. D&D is best played with about 5 people, and doesn't really work well with 2 people. Furthermore D&D is asymmetric as a game in that there is a dungeon master and the players, which creates its own power dynamic, which is not necessarily compatible with a marriage. So to play with my wife, I would like a game that in many aspects plays like Dungeons & Dragons, but in which both me and my wife are players, co-operating with each other. Gloomhaven as a board game very much provides that. We play like 2 scenarios every weekend together, and it is great!
My wife wasn't a gamer at all before she met me. Now she does play games on her iPad, and board games with me, but she clearly isn't a hardcore gamer. The kind of games we enjoy playing together are co-operative rather than competitive, and we'd rather play games in which we share our successes rather than being set up for failure. So Gloomhaven we play either on easy or normal difficulty, because neither of us enjoys the sort of challenge where you need to optimize your strategy through several playthroughs of the same scenario before you actually win. And Gloomhaven has 95 scenarios, so there is more than enough material to play a different one every time, rather than repeating the same scenario at high difficulty until we get it right.
Now while this may sound very soft to you, on the other hand we do like Gloomhaven because it is significantly more of a thinking person's game compared to other "mini RPG" board games. There are a lot of similar games out there where combat is handled by rolling some dice and adding some stats to achieve a result. In Gloomhaven combat is handled by your choosing 2 cards, and then using the top half of one card, and the bottom half of the other. As you only have around 10 cards, your hand depletes quickly, and there is a whole resource management strategy involved with recovering those cards. You often want to preserve resources, by not playing effects that burn the card for the rest of the scenario, and then use the stronger effects later in the scenario when the end is in sight. Combat is 80% planning and 20% unexpected surprises, rather than 20% planning and 80% randomness. The combat modifier deck in Gloomhaven has less random variation than dice rolls, and during character development you can modify your deck to make it more reliable. Gloomhaven combat is one of these desirable cases where a system is easy to learn, but difficult to master, and that makes it a lot of fun.
If you like the idea of Gloomhaven combat, but don't have anybody to play board games with, I would recommend the PC version of Gloomhaven on Steam. Playing alone the PC version is a lot faster and doesn't require so much time and space to set up. While it is still in Early Access, the Steam game is already very playable. And the "Guildmaster" mode of the game plays very much like an alternative campaign mode, so it doesn't matter that the original campaign will only come of actual release. If you prefer the board game version, I think you probably might want to start with the less intimidating Jaws of the Lion box. It only costs half of the standard game, is a lot easier to set up, and has enough content and the same combat system for you to see whether you like the system or not. Jaws of the Lion also has a better tutorial system, where the rules are introduced over the course of the first five scenarios rather than throwing you in at the deep end.
Labels: Board Games