Gloomhaven is the digital version of a beloved board game. In fact, the tabletop edition is ranked as the best board game on boardgamegeek.com. Being such a successful game on the tabletop, the pressure is huge for developer Flaming Foul Studios to create a fitting recreation in the digital world. Thankfully, they did so perfectly. Gloomhaven digital is perhaps the best conversion from board to video game I’ve ever seen.
Here’s a brief rundown on how the game works. Being a recreation of a board game, the gameplay takes center stage.
The game itself is a complex card based tactical game, taking place in hexed based scenarios, where you control a group of 1-4 mercenaries through various missions. At the start of the round each friendly characters select two cards to use. However, each card has two uses, one is written on top, the other on the bottom of the card. You can only use one top effect and one bottom per round. Once a card is played, it is discarded and can be reclaimed after taking a short or long rest. Some more powerful cards get ‘burned,’ meaning you can only play it once per scenario unless you have a special way to retrieve it, such as via the spellweavers ‘reviving ether’ card.
As the scenario progresses, you have less and less cards, and if you run out of cards that character is exhausted. To further shake things up, every character (and enemy) has a modifier deck. A modifier is drawn each time an attack is made. These can be useful things such as +1 or x2, or detrimental such as -1 or x0. This adds an element of chance in an otherwise fairly deterministic game.
All of this may sound fairly complicated to a new player, and it is! But don’t worry, the mechanics don’t take very long to learn, and there is a good tutorial to help out. I usually dislike tutorials as they’re too restrictive, but in this game they tell you what to do, and then let you figure out how to do it, which I appreciated. Once you’ve learnt the mechanics, the real complexity then comes from learning the synergies between your cards, the synergies between classes, manipulating the initiative order, planning based on what your enemy will do etc. It is easy to get into but there is a lot of depth to the gameplay which kept me invested.
Campaign & Difficulty
Outside of the tactical battles, there is a large campaign map. You’ll make frequent trips to the city of Gloomhaven where you can buy items, get boons and do city encounters. Encounters are like little choose your own adventure moments, where your choice can reward or punish you. You also have road encounters when you are travelling to a scenario. The main campaign features 95 scenarios, though you won’t play all of them in one campaign, as there are branching story elements.
Lastly, the game is hard. If this is your first experience with Gloomhaven, you may find it particularly challenging. Figuring out how to manage your hand to defeat the encounters without running out of cards can be tough. Thankfully there is an easy mode, which you may want to consider starting on.
Your power increases as your mercenaries level up and you unlock new cards and classes. Though the games difficulty automatically scales based on the amount of characters in your party, and their level.
Design & Audio
The menus, UI and controls all work fluidly and well. The narration of the scenarios is very immersive and emulates the feeling of a listening to a dungeon master. The audio is great, the card effects feel impactful when they hit. All of this topped with a wonderful soundtrack makes for a great experience. The only issue I ran into was occasional spouts of lag which lasted for minutes at a time.
When compared to the board game, there are even some elements that this digital version has done better. For one, the price. With the board game being over 100 USD, this much cheaper version makes for an ideal entry point for those unable or unwilling to fork over the hefty amount for the physical version. Also, the board game is a legacy game, which means your progression carries over until you finish the campaign. This makes the game a pain to reset and start a new campaign. So there are some advantages to getting this edition, if you don’t mind not playing over the board.
All of these elements come together to form a really compelling strategy game that is immensely satisfying. The feeling of overcoming a scenario you’ve been struggling with is fantastic. Plus, with a full campaign of 95 scenarios, plus the guildmaster mode which adds even more, there is a ton of content here. Boasting 6 starting classes, with 11 more which are unlocked once your characters ‘retire,’ the replayability here is high. All in all, a near perfect recreation of the original title. Gloomhaven is fantastic.