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Subject: Why I rate Gloomhaven a 6 after 1 play and general thoughts on the game rss

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Ian Allen
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Disclaimer - review after only 1 session and I am a huge Ameritrash fan and not much of a euro fan although I do like many hybrids. My 3 favorite games are Battlestar Galactica, Dune, and Cosmic Encounter.

Gloomhaven!

I have only played Gloomhaven once. I found it interesting and hope to play it again, but some aspects of it caused me to cancel my pre-order and just plan to play my friends copy. I no longer feel the need to own it. Let me explain why.

Legacy Aspect


I think the Legacy aspect of this game and the campaign mode look very promising. As of right now, there is not much competition and this game is kind of unique. I think Seafall was a bit of a disappointment to a lot of people and so this is going to be the crown jewel for the near future of the Legacy games, which is currently the "next big mechanic" like deckbuilding was before every 3rd game became a deckbuilder over the last few years. We've seen Pandemic Legacy rise to the top of the charts and Risk Legacy revived an older game that many didn't feel the urge to play ever again.

high level vs. low level play


While there is a lot to love about the high level play of Gloomhaven, the thing I didn't like as much was the low level play. The actual dungeon crawling. There were aspects of it that were abstracted and puzzle-solvey. This may or may not be a bad thing depending on what type of gamer you are.

It felt to me like a dumbed-down, more accessible version of Mage Knight in several areas. You have a deck of personal cards, like in Mage Knight, and you have to spend most of your time figuring out how to play your cards - which each have multiple options on them. Do you use them for minor effects or do you use them for their major effects which give you XP bonuses, but in most cases cause you to burn the card? Sometimes you have cards which you can burn which will allow you to get the OTHER burned cards back into your hand.

There was also an element of Pathfinder: TACG here with the "your cards are your life" feeling.

This card/hand management problem is going to be interesting to a lot of folks because it adds a level of complexity to the standard move/attack/grab loot type play of many dungeon crawls. This should appeal to people of the more "eurogame" nature and people that love hybrid games with euro-ish mechanics but "ameritrash" style themes.

The people it probably won't appeal to quite as much might be people who are died-in-the-wool ameritrashers like me. I found myself wishing for the simplicity of a Descent style system that could move forward a little bit faster.

With the puzzle-solving choices you had to pick 2 cards out of your dwindling hand of cards and then you were forced to implement the top choice on one of the two cards and the bottom choice on the other. This caused a slow-down of AP for some folks at our table, although I am sure that decision making process would only speed up over multiple plays of the same character deck.

This is one area where I was not happy personally though - why can't I choose from all my cards each round? Why must I pick only 2 and then have to use actions from just those 2 cards? Why must I only be able to go with a top/bottom action pairing? Why can't I use the 2 top actions or the 2 bottom actions of those 2 cards?

abstract mana generation

Then there is the mana situation.
Different players have different abilities on various cards in their deck that "charge the room" with different types of mana. People that don't mind abstract mechanisms in their games won't care one way or another about the "why" of this and just roll with it. I personally am a stickler for thematic use of mechanisms and I want things to "make sense". Different people doing different actions and almost randomly "charging the room" with one of a half dozen different types of spell energy made zero sense to me thematically. This reminded me of Mage Knight, where you roll the dice and only certain spells can be played each round because you only rolled certain mana symbols on the dice. To me, the mana systems were roughly equivalent. I know that people will say that you can coordinate this between players, and I guess that on repeated plays this might prove true.

You could say - "Hey, does anybody have an attack or spell that will charge the room with Ice Mana? Because if you do then next round, assuming I am in the right position and it makes sense at that point, I can use an Ice attack or spell that will do double damage and give me some bonus XP and then the card gets burned."

All the different types of mana seemed less planned and more "let me see if I can take advantage of whichever random symbol gets popped up onto the chart this round" though to me so far.

Also, the mana has to "decay" so if you don't use it on the round you generate it or the next round after, it goes away. Tracking and using all the mana symbols up and down on the chart just kind of annoyed me. I would much rather just "have a spell, play a spell" personally.

discard and burn cards


With the puzzle-solvey aspect of the card choices between "discard and burned" cards and the limited subset and the dwindling "life points as cards" kind of thing, some rounds you can move 2, some rounds you might be able to move 8 and burn the card, some rounds you aren't going to be able to move at all, in order to be effective or maximize your actions. I found myself trying to make combos happen that would give me bonus XP points. I became obsessed with it. I was just assuming the team was going to win on our current difficulty level, so I wanted to end the game with the most gold I could grab and the most personal XP I could generate.

attack deck of cards/no dice

Also - the attack dice. There weren't any. Normally I can't tell you how much having no dice excites me. 2 of my top 3 favorite games - Dune and Cosmic Encounter are diceless. However, those games don't need dice. In this case a card decks become dice substitutes.

We had to use a deck of cards that was filled with +1, 0, -1 type cards, with a single X2 and reshuffle card and single complete miss and reshuffle card in the deck. This deck mechanic seemed annoying to me. I thought, why can't I just roll dice? That would be quicker and more satisfying.
Well the answer is that as you level up you remove cards you don't like from your attack deck and add cards that make it better for you. Eventually I guess you get your deck stacked so that you are swinging with only plusses and have removed all the minuses. You probably always keep the X2 and complete miss cards in the deck, but stack the rest in your favor.

Final Thoughts:
For me, the questions are - does all this work? Is it too complex? Is it fun? Are the components nice? What should I rate it? Do you need to own and/or play it?

For me the answers are:
1. Yes it all works. When I saw all this abstracted, puzzle solvey stuff I started to sweat. I thought we might be looking at a Myth type situation. That game was just a clusterf@ck in a box.
But no - everything I saw seemed well thought out and well executed. Nice job on that. The game hummed along pretty well with only minor consultations into the rulebook.

2. Is it too complex? I'd say no. Its more complex then Descent, but a whole lot of folks are going to enjoy the complexity level of making all those tactical, card-based puzzle-solvey movement and attack actions during a round. Is it the complexity level of Mage Knight, that had elements that felt similar to me? No. I would say its about 1/3rd the complexity level of Mage Knight. I liked what Mage Knight was going for, but I had a love-hate relationship with Mage Knight's abstractedness and especially the complexity level. Dungeon crawling, indoor OR outdoor, should NOT HURT MY HEAD.
I think the complexity level is high enough that it will interest a decent sized sub-set of eurogamers and most of the hybrid gamers and also not so high that it will turn off most ameritrashers.

3. Is it fun? Here is where I am going to adopt a more wait-and-see approach. I was not blown away by my first round of fighting the monsters. What I did enjoy was the choices and consulting the big book in a choose-your-own-adventure style of play. Everything about the campaign mode and the Legacy aspect seems deep and enjoyable and will probably keep me coming back for more.
Will the low level dungeon crawl part grow on me as I level up? I hope so. If I had to predict the future, I would say no, but I have been wrong before. If I am wrong here I will be pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, after only 1 play, I found the puzzle-solvey combat mode to be slightly tedious and I wished we could just fast forward and say "we win!" and get to move through the cool Legacy choices and read more from the choose-your-own-adventure big book.
If there was a mode where you could just roll some dice and say either "We win - pass out the xP." or "We lose - move to the next encounter", I would not have dropped my pre-order and would probably just start solo-playing the game and play it all the way through.

4. Components? For the most part, everything seemed top notch. While I am a lover of a handful of plastic, the super-sized, epic nature of this world makes the choice of using standees for the bad guys an attractive choice. The standees worked fine in my opinion. This is probably the first and last time anyone will ever hear me say this in the history of boardgaming, but I almost would rather have a big plano box full of hundreds of colorful standees in this game than to have to dedicate my shelves to storing hundreds of miniatures.
I would always have voted for minis in the past, but CMON has made the upper floor of my house start to creak and groan and I am seriously starting to look at alternatives to juicy plastic if only to keep my house from falling in like a deck of cards.
There is a weird situation which is the reverse of what usually happens here. Normally this type of game would come with standees for the heroes in retail, while the minis for them would be available from the kickstarter and be in high demand. With this release, the standees FOR THE HEROES are the limited KS release and are in high demand, while the plastic hero minis are going to be included in every retail box.
There is a nice touch in that while there are dozens and dozens of monster standees, they various groups have their own, slightly different shape to them. This helps quite a bit in grabbing just the standees that you need, although there is still going to be a bit of searching around through the plano box for the right group.


Summary:
So there you have it. I think this game is going to rocket to the top of the charts and make many different types of gamers happy on many levels.
I predict HUGE success for Gloomhaven, just like with Dominion, for cornering the market in a new, exciting mechanic category.

I think if there were 20 options for Legacy Campaign-style Dungeoncrawlers competing with it, it might settle to the middle of the heap fairly quickly and games with tighter, less abstracted low level play might surpass it, but there are not a lot of competitors right now, so this will get to be King for a bit until someone comes along and does it better.
This is not an easy thing to do though - the designers obviously put a LOT of work into this and the giant box full of goodness is not something that other designers or game companies are going to be able to just pull out of their hat. It may be a while before we see some serious competitors for the crown.
But see them we will.

Remember when Dominion was the big boy on the block and then came Ascension and Thunderstone and etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.?

3 or 4 years from now there are going to be a lot more Legacy games on the market and hopefully at least a good handful of them will be fantasy oriented.

I am currently rating Gloomhaven a 6, which in my rating system means that I like it enough to play it when my friends put it out on the table, but I don't feel the need to own it.
This is not entirely due to my not completely enjoying the low level aspect, but also due to the nature of Legacy games. If my friend owns a copy and I can play through his, I probably
am not going to be running a separate campaign of the same game.
If this were not a Legacy game, I would be owning it and would be rating it a 7 - with the possibility of the rating rising if I got to where I enjoyed the low level play more over time.

If there was a mode where I could "fast forward" the combats, I would probably be rating this an 8 and owning it and playing it solo because I am super interested in seeing where the game
goes on the high level and making all those "choose-your-own-adventure" style choices.

I think Gloomhaven is going to do VERY well in the near future and I don't see how it couldn't make it into the top 100 really quickly once it hits retail.
I would imagine it is going to win some awards here and there by the end of the year.
You may not need to own this game since its a big campaign style adventure, but you need to make sure one of your friends does and check it out.
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C&H Schmidt
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Thanks for the analysis!
Since Gloomhaven is basically advertised as a campaign euro dungeon crawler, I am not surprised that an Ameritrash fan would not be so enarmored with the gameplay -- I think it all comes down to what you like.

I am primarily a euro gamer, and I bought the game because it promised interesting euro-style gameplay. (And also because the thematic campaign looked super cool. But I'm not interested in the more traditional dungeon-crawlers with dice-rolling.)
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Marc Alexandre
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The mana management makes perfect sense regarding the basic heroic fantasy knowledge. In most HF worlds, the magic is not owned by mages and others, it's just everywhere in the universe. Mages are just people able to catalyze this energy and use it for spells. After this energy is used, it's not here anymore, so so you need to bring it back before using it. And the mechanics in Gloomhaven is really in this mindset.

Besides that, nice review. Too bad you didn't like it, but at least you knew before spending a lot of bucks on it.
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Eric T
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Nice review , after 1 play , I think you did recap very well on most points of the game.

I have 9 plays and can tell you that , yes , the combat is too long to me.

I wish the town / travel phase was longer and the combat shorter, just my personal preference.
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Dundy O
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Excellent review. Very nice, Ian. This is the way a review should be. You gave us other games to compare/contrast Gloomhaven with, and described play well enough without pedantically boring the reader.

I've yet to play the game, but will play it tonight and tomorrow. I'll see how it plays out. It seems more interesting to me than straight out dungeon crawls, because they can be a bit boring. Roll, move, and use a few cards to enhance/mitigate abilities.

The legacy aspect has me very excited.

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J Mathews
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This is a fair review. As someone who stopped playing Descent (partially) due to its lower level simplicity (but mostly due to the OL role), I can see how Gloomhaven would find a more difficult audience for those that like Descent for its simplicity.
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K G
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glookose wrote:


This is one area where I was not happy personally though - why can't I choose from all my cards each round? Why must I pick only 2 and then have to use actions from just those 2 cards? Why must I only be able to go with a top/bottom action pairing? Why can't I use the 2 top actions or the 2 bottom actions of those 2 cards?


I think this is part of the beauty. You have to pick 2 to establish initiative, which adds a huge strategic element. Want to stay invisible for 2 turns? Act early on turn 1, act late on turn 2. Enemy out of range? Act late turn 1, hope it moves closer, attack it, then act early in turn 2 for a follow up attack. That is the answer, but not one you'd welcome since you're looking for something more straight forward.

The top/bottom mechanic is also great. Top generally = attack and bottom generally = movement, so I've come to cherish rare cards that have attack on the bottom, or rarer cards with movement on the top, which may help set up double attacks/movements as needed.

Several times I've changed my intended top/bottom actions in response to what monster/ally abilities are flipped over. If you could choose from your entire repertoire in response to every action, not only would it be unbalanced, but it'd also be tedious, especially in a 4 player game.
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Jo Bartok
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I am also a big fan of Battlestar Galactica, Cosmic Encounter and Dune/Rex, however... I can't see how "legacy" is a game mechanic. It is instead a play-once-throw-away-campaign.

Edit: More Complex Than Descent 2nd Edition - easily. More complex than Descent 1st Edition with the complex orders and Feats, then add Road to Legend? Not likely.

E.g. in our 150 hours D1E Road to Legend Campaign Heroes took like 10/15 minutes per turn due to massive AP because it was so complex.
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Simon Skov
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Interesting that you would want a way to cut the actual gameplay out of Gloomhaven, because that sounds absolutely dreadful to me! I would never have been the least interested in Gloomhaven had it not been for the puzzle-like mechanics, hard decisions, and Mage Knight feel.
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Luke
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ionas wrote:
I can't see how "legacy" is a game mechanic. It is instead a play-once-throw-away-campaign.


I think that statement is becoming less true as Legacy evolves. It will continue to evolve, much like deck-building, worker placement, etc.

Gloomhaven is Legacy in the sense that you build something and have a play artifact later. An artifact in which you can continue to explore.

I think we're going to see more Legacy style games move in that direction, and move away from "destroy all these components."
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Jo Bartok
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Luke so tell me in 3 sentences the essence of what makes s game mechanically a legacy game?

Note: campaign games always has choose your own adventure, persistent world changes, stories and things to discover. After a Descent 1st Road to Legend 200 hours campaing ended you could continue to dubgeon delve. So what?
The obly reason it wasnt and isnt legacy is that the game material allows to kerp record of the persistent game world changes without permantly locking the naterial.

Legacy is imho for the snob board gamer to differentiate: i have the money - you do not - this I play then throw away (eventually). Beyond that its just a new name for persistent game worlds/player choices which existed in rpg and board games for a very long time.
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Nicole Hatch
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TLDR the last quarter, but it sounds like you would probably prefer a pure RPG since you found the puzzle solving nature "tedious". Coincidentally, that is my favorite part.
Different strokes for different folks.
 
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Nicole Hatch
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I also love Mage Knight, so there's that.
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Luke
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I appreciate your general attitude of, "I see how people are going to really like this if they like X"

This is a great example of people liking different things.

So many of those things you think you won't enjoy because of X or Y, are things I've been enjoying.

Gloomhaven captured me on the first play. I see how it could lose people there too.

I want to say, "Oh! but think about it this way, or that way!" but I have a friend who keeps handing me beers to try. I have never, in our relationship, enjoyed a beer he has offered me. We like very different beers. Yet he continues to insist that I try whichever beer it is, hopeful(I imagine) that one day I'll suddenly like the same thing as much as he does.

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Jo Bartok
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In general a good review. I like negative reviews. Aside undifferentiated "legacy argument" and comparing to "whatever" Descent (which makes your argument either true or false depending on what you compare it to) this review will help people decide if they want to get into the game or not.

I will keep an open eye for your criticism once my box arrives and gets some plays.
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Luke
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ionas wrote:
Luke so tell me in 3 sentences the essence of what makes s game mechanically a legacy game?

Note: campaign games always has choose your own adventure, persistent world changes, stories and things to discover.


Hmmm, good question.

First I think we have to limit Legacy to board/card games for the purpose of discussion, only because RPG's(pen and paper) are by their nature Legacy in many ways.

Let me give a shot at three sentences in that context.

A game in which components or rules are added, removed or revealed over the course of multiple plays either through destruction or separation. Choices or outcomes of one session make permanent changes to the experience which uniquely shape future plays in a particular instance of that game. Legacy games leave a "play artifact" which will differ slightly from group to group depending on how they played the game.

Didn't put a ton of thought into that, but it's a good starting point.

Charterstone, for example, is also heading in that direction. Legacy not because it destroys things, but because it leaves something you've crafted behind. Literally a Legacy.

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Luke
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ionas wrote:

Legacy is imho for the snob board gamer to differentiate: i have the money - you font - this I play then throw away (eventually). Beyond that its just a new name for persistent game worlds/player choices which existed in rpg and board games for a very long time.


You added this part while I was replying to the first part, I was too fast.

I hear you. Board game snobs exist.

I am not that snob, I assure you.

Although I am curious to hear about these other boardgames with persistent worlds. Those are probably right up my alley. Suggestions?
 
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Jo Bartok
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mournful wrote:
ionas wrote:
Luke so tell me in 3 sentences the essence of what makes s game mechanically a legacy game?

Note: campaign games always has choose your own adventure, persistent world changes, stories and things to discover.


Hmmm, good question.

First I think we have to limit Legacy to board/card games for the purpose of discussion, only because RPG's(pen and paper) are by their nature Legacy in many ways.

Let me give a shot at three sentences in that context.

A game in which components or rules are added, removed or revealed over the course of multiple plays either through destruction or separation. Choices or outcomes of one session make permanent changes to the experience which uniquely shape future plays in a particular instance of that game. Legacy games leave a "play artifact" which will differ slightly from group to group depending on how they played the game.

Didn't put a ton of thought into that, but it's a good starting point.

Charterstone, for example, is also heading in that direction. Legacy not because it destroys things, but because it leaves something you've crafted behind. Literally a Legacy.



As for charterstone I can even see a bit of your argument. However even then I'd not say it is a new type of mechanic at all. It does not compare to say, deck building or secret action slection - But a new type of physical game. Like P&P RPG, Legacy-Euro... however most of what you say has been done, just not to Euro games. Its not a mechanic still. And the hype is closely related to destruction/no-reset. And that's the mostly "new" part and its more a degeneration than an evolution (despite Risk'S name).

 
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C Sandifer
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I'll never quite understand why some folks strongly dislike Legacy games. Though I have OCD friends who literally cringe whenever we tear up a card or mark the board.

Our Pandemic Legacy campaign lasted 22 games, and it was a blast. Daviau took a pretty good co-op game and made it amazing. I look at the hundreds of games on my shelves, and there are only a handful that I've played 20+ times. So I definitely got my money's worth, particularly since I only paid $35. I'll never play it again, but I don't need to. I'm happy to move onto Season 2 when it's released.

And Risk Legacy? Out of all the board games that I've played with my kids, their fondest memories are of Risk Legacy. "Legacy" was such a mind-blowing approach for them that they still haven't recovered.

It sounds like you think that people who play Legacy games also light their cigars with fifty dollar bills. I use twenties, so you're totally wrong.

Edit: The one thing that's really, really, REALLY important for a Legacy game is crystal clear rules - because you only have one chance to get it right. Rules errors disrupted our Pandemic campaign, but I hear it's 10X worse with SeaFall.
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Eric Bridge
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Sorry you didn't like it. Not going to try to convince you otherwise.

I love it. Moving on.
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Jerry
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KBusterG wrote:

I think this is part of the beauty. You have to pick 2 to establish initiative, which adds a huge strategic element. Want to stay invisible for 2 turns? Act early on turn 1, act late on turn 2. Enemy out of range? Act late turn 1, hope it moves closer, attack it, then act early in turn 2 for a follow up attack. That is the answer, but not one you'd welcome since you're looking for something more straight forward.

I don't quite understand what you mean here. Only one of the cards matters for intiative. While your examples could still make sense, they would only do so in the context of two whole turns, each turn with 2 cards. Why would that have anything to do with picking two cards for each turn?
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Marc Alexandre
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gversace wrote:

I don't quite understand what you mean here. Only one of the cards matters for intiative. While your examples could still make sense, they would only do so in the context of two whole turns, each turn with 2 cards. Why would that have anything to do with picking two cards for each turn?


I see it exactly like any other dungeon crawlers or even DnD. You got one move and one action each turn (DnD does it, The Others too, and some other Dungeon crawlers). In this case, the move is the bottom action, the "action" is the top action. Sometimes the bottom action is not a move, but it's like in DnD when you use your action to make a second move. Here you use your move to make a second action.
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Mike Oehler
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It seems like most of the reasons you didn't like it all that much are reasons why I do. Planning out how to use my hand of cards is a lot more interesting to me than moving 4 and rolling an attack in Imperial Assault (not that I don't also like that game). And town/road events - flip a card, then make a blind decision that leads to random stuff... Not exactly the great.
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Lorin Silver
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I don't have the game yet, but I do have to agree that the parts I'm looking forward to most, are the Legacy parts, the road events, the story, the secrets,... Not so much the "puzzling things out to survive the encounter".
I mean, I played the first scenario (print & play) and enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed an ameritrash dice-chucker just as much.
 
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ionas wrote:
Legacy is imho for the snob board gamer to differentiate: i have the money - you do not - this I play then throw away (eventually). Beyond that its just a new name for persistent game worlds/player choices which existed in rpg and board games for a very long time.


This could be the definition of Pandemic, Risk and Seafall, but I don't think Gloomhaven fits the bill for a few reasons:
- it is possible to reset the game with DIY glue and print or about $20-30 and get it professionally printed (except the enhanced cards but that is fine imo)
- Gloomhaven rules, as far as I know, do not change as you progress the campaing, you don't make changes to the rule book, once you understand the rules you don't have to go back to the rulebook ever again *Seafall I'm talking to you.
- To complete the GH campaign will likely take anything between 100 and 150 hours, and if you manage to finish this game you are tottally entiled to trash it, because you deserve it... maybe this is what the 4th envelop says.
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