Rating: (+ ) 3 stars but can be made into 4 1/2 stars.
What is it?
Each choice you make in the game has potential impact on future game sessions. You play the same character each session until a randomly chosen goal is met, and then that character retires.
Cooperative with Self Interest
Right now, this is my favorite game. It is a cooperative game, but you gain a random secret personal goal with each scenario. If the scenario is successful, and you accomplish your goal, your character gains an extra reward that makes them more powerful/capable.
This element encourages each player to occasionally make sub-optimal decisions that benefit their character. Most of the time, these decisions have no impact on the end result for the party, though they add additional stress, and fun.
Deep Strategy with Randomness
There is a lot of strategy in the game, and most often when you loose a scenario it was down to poor choices, often caused by not knowing what to expect. You almost always do better the second and third time through a scenario.
However, there is an element of randomness. Attacking is resolved by drawing a card and applying the number on that card to the damage dealt. However, there are cards that cause you to instantly miss the attack or double the damage dealt. This randomness means that sometimes the odds will just stack against, or for you.
The game is deeply pretty. The artwork, monster standees, and flavor text make the game pretty to participate in.
The game is rewarding. As the story progresses you feel as if you had impact on the world because your choices have literally changed the game. Not to mention, the joy when you overcome a difficult scenario or beat a boss fight.
Easy to Understand
There is a lot going on in the game. The creators did a good job of segmenting the complexity so that you are only dealing with small bits of it at a time.
The few things that are not easily segmented, they have given beautiful game aids to visualize what is going on.
The game is basically unplayable straight out of the box. Don’t get me wrong, it is technically playable, but no one would want to. My family and I tried 3 times, because we loved the game so much. However, it took us an hour to set the game up, and an hour to tear it down and put it away. This was after using a whole box of zip-lock baggies to make it faster. We played it 3 times and put it away, thinking we might never play it again.
The problem is that there is no organization that comes with the game. There are literally hundreds of pieces and no included way to organize them.
Beyond being unplayable out of the box due to no included organization, the game is fiddly. There are a lot of little pieces that easily scatter that are used to keep track of statuses in the game. Bring your elbow to close to the table, and BAM!! you lose the state of the current combat. Hope you can remember all the details of what was happening.
The real good news is most of these problems can be solved. I will go into detail in the next post on how to solve them, as this is a detailed discussion.
Gloomhaven is a fun strategy game with a high barrier to entry. Even though this is one of my most favorite games I must give it 3 stars out of the box. This is due to no internal organization provided, and the fiddly nature of combat counters.
With some work these annoyances can be overcome. When they are overcome, this game is easily a 4-and-a-half-star game.
I recommend it, but not to the casual gamer.