For anyone looking for a dungeon crawling adventure, look no further than the world of Gloomhaven by Isaac Childres. Published by Cephalofair, this is a game of epic proportions, set in a world which is affected by choices your party makes. A narrative is effected through missions and cards to help or thwart various denizens of Gloomhaven and its neighbouring areas. The choices made by the party are realised in permanent changes, affecting the prosperity of the town, opening up access to new dungeons and allies, with others becoming inaccessible. Through the completion of dungeon missions and interacting with road and city cards, the party reputation will change, affecting the potential outcomes of future events.
Initially, players can choose from six starting characters. The other eleven become available on completion of objectives or when a character completes their personal objective and retires. Each character is packaged in a sealed box with just a symbol to identify it.
There is a brief introduction to the starting characters in the manual, enabling players to take a character to suit their playstyle. Our party started with a scoundrel, mindthief, tinkerer and spellweaver.
Each character gets a personal objective, which is kept secret from other players. These are fairly long term goals, and will take a number of adventures to achieve. Once a character has completed their objective, a new character may be unlocked. (If there are other effects, we have not yet encountered these yet). The original character may then retire, and their details are entered into the town records book
Each character comes with a character reference sheet to keep track of experience, money, possessions, and perks gained. Perks are personal bonuses allowing players to improve combat modifier decks, or in some cases negate certain negative effects. Perks are gained through completing battle goals during adventures, (which give one or two ticks – three ticks earns a perk) and levelling (one perk).
As characters level up, more cards are unlocked, though hand size remains the same for the number of cards each character can use. This enables characters to become more specialised by selecting one card from the new level (or from one of the levels below the new level) each time a new level is achieved.
The game comes with a book of over 90 dungeon scenarios. Some of these are
quite simply kill all enemies in the dungeon, whereas some have more specific aims, for instance, may require the party to place an item in a certain position, or carry out an escort mission. The scenarios will gradually become unlocked as a result of party actions. Personal quests, or those to help various persons in Gloomhaven can sometimes carry over a number of scenarios before reaching the final quest goal.
Loot is available from killing enemies and is sometimes found randomly placed in the dungeon. Loot can be acquired by ending movement on a space with a loot marker, or using the “loot” action on a card. (The scoundrel has excellent looting ability through use of cards). Loot tokens convert to money at the end of a mission (the higher the level of dungeon means each token is worth more loot. Characters can use their money to help increase the prosperity of Gloomhaven, buy themselves items, or increase the abilities of their cards.
I really like the combat in this, partially due to the lack of dice. Each character has a unique deck of cards. The amount of cards any given character can take on an adventure is identified on the top of the character sheet. (For example, the Scoundrel can take 9 cards).
Card text is split into two. In each round, two cards will be played. The top ability of one card and the bottom ability the other is used. If the player does not wish to use the special abilities on the card, the top can always be used as a default attack 2 and the bottom as a default move 2. All movement and actions is controlled by cards for the duration of the mission.
The number in the middle of the card indicates initiative. Players can choose either a lower number, and go earlier in the round, or a higher number and go later in the round. Selection of cards is done without the other players knowing how early each will go. Some indication of whether early or late (e.g. “I’m going very early” or “I’ll be going late”) is permitted, but “I’m on number 27” is not. (Note that there is an option for players to play with open information, by increasing the difficulty). Once cards have been spent (discarded), players can take a long rest (initiative 99) to heal and recover most of their discarded cards. Short rests can also enable discarded cards to be recovered, but this involves discarding a random card, so may not always be ideal.
Some of the more powerful abilities the characters have require that the card is lost. Lost cards are not recovered except by special card ability which enables a character to recover a lost card.
Depending on the character type, the skills and abilities on the card will differ. Some may have ranged multi-target options, others more close combat, and the use of some cards will gain xp. The scoundrel, for instance, has a fairly high movement range, a mix of range and close combat skills, poisoning, and the ability to stealth (go invisible) which is ideal in a rogue-type character. (The scoundrel was my first character, and I grew rather fond of her. With the right combination of cards, she had been known to cause 27 damage to a single target. )
With something like 45 different enemy types in the game, you can be sure that,as your party travels and completes various missions,you will encounter many different foes. As the heroes, each enemy type has its own base abilities (these will be e.g. movement, basic damage, number of wounds, and attack range), and some special abilities (e.g. insert example) The base abilities scale up as the party levels up. Enemies can be normal, or elite, where the elite versions have a higher potential for damage, and can sustain more hits than their normal counterparts.
The Combat round
Each player chooses their cards, then all reveal. Any enemies in the room will then reveal their special card (which is in addition to their basic abilities).
Starting with the lowest, initiative, players and enemies will take their actions as directed by their cards. When attacking players, the enemies will first attack the closest player. If distance between two players is equal, they will attack the player with the lowest initiative. Enemies and heroes have a combat modifier deck , which adds a random element to the combat.
Example of combat: x is going on initiative number xx with Attack x? The top card of the combat modifier deck is turned over. This may range from -2 to +2 to the original value, or indicate double damage or a miss. Each player has their own combat modifier deck, which gets customised by the use of perks to optimise the cards in the deck (this may add e.g. poision, other negative effects, additional damage cards into the deck).
As the characters progress, level up and become more powerful, so do the enemies, gaining more hit points and higher damage. Traps cause more damage at higher levels, and loot tokens are worth more gold.
This game has been much hyped – has the hype been worth it? For our gaming group, this is a resounding Yes! We’ve played quite a few scenarios now, had a couple of characters complete their personal quests and unlock new characters. On the way we have fought many enemies, recovered artifacts, learned new information, and found a message carved in a secret runic script. We’ve managed a couple of global achievements and increased the prosperity of Gloomhaven a little, but there’s still a lot to do!