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Subject: My Adventures Through Gloomhaven - Part 1 rss

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Ben Baker
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I very rarely formally write my thoughts down as an official review, but today I felt like doing something a little different.

Who am I?
For a little context, I prefer euro games. Theme is optional. For me, a board game lives or dies by its mechanics and the strategy that arises. El Grande, Agricola, and Through the Ages are some of my all time favourites. In recent years I have been wowed by games like Concordia, Five Tribes, Orleans, and Grand Austria Hotel. I really enjoy Splotter games, and don't mind that the Food Chain Magnate map tiles look like they are from a prototype. It's important to note that there are virtually no "Ameritrash" games on my favourites list, although some of my greatest earliest memories is playing HeroQuest with my father, so I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for the idea of high adventure.

With all that said, as the years have progressed, so have board games. I have been very impressed by hybrid games such as Cyclades, Kemet, and Eclipse. You could almost say that these have acted as my gateway games into the Ameritrash side of gaming.

So, now that you know who you're dealing with, let me tell you a little bit about...

Why Gloomhaven?
When the Gloomhaven kickstarter went live, Isaac Childres the designer touted the game as being a Euro Dungeon Crawler with a compelling story with legacy like choices. Colour me interested by a description like that, but I quickly scoffed at such a bold claim from a relatively unknown designer. I couldn't believe the game would be good and live up to such a lofty description.

Fast forward about a year... Really, to the cold of December, 2016. After doing a little research on board games, a common past time of mine, I came across Gloomhaven once again, but this time it was in the form of Paul Grogan's rules videos. (This and This)

I was in disbelief. Is this the same game I passed on so readily so long ago. These rules did seem mechanically deep, strategically deep, and thematically and narratively rich. Was it true that this game could live up to that initial description?

After that I was hooked! I read the rule book, preordered a copy, read the FAQ, subscribed to the forum, and read about Gloomhaven several times a day. I couldn't wait for this game to arrive. However, then the great shortage came. This is the event that left thousands of interested gamers without. Those were dark days. I unsubscribed to the forum, and had decided to just give up and wait for the reprint.

But if cliche fantasy has taught me anything, it is that in the darkest of times, burns the brightest of lights, and a true hero will arise. My true hero happened to be a kickstarter on the other side of the country. He put the game up on kijiji for about its Canadian MSRP. Shipping wasn't even too insane. Somehow, I was able to snag the game. After a week of waiting, the game arrived unannounced on my door, in perfect condition, just crying to be played.

So Where are we Now?
Well, that arrival was five days ago. I was able to unpack the contents of the box, organize most of it, play the introductory scenario one night with three, and then the following scenario earlier today with the same three people. That is it. That is all I have played. We won both scenarios, and I as the Spellweaver, ended up with 50 exp and so I am ready to level up. My teammate the Tinkerer has 44 exp (so he's just 1 short), and the poor Scoundrel is a little behind, although he got his third check today for his first perk. My brother in law, who has been at a dental conference, will also be joining us for the next outing, so we will be a party of 4 most days, yet it looks as though if someone can't make it, it is no big deal to move on without them.

Because we have played such a tiny fragment of what this game has to offer, this is going to be my initial impressions. Part 1 of a series that I plan on continuing as we play more. Spoiler alert: I do plan on playing more. A lot more!

So, let the "review" begin!

Components and Art
It seems the thing to do here on bgg, is to start every review with a review of the components. How things look and feel as well as their durability. The funny thing is, as a Euro gamer, this is nowhere near the top of what I find important in a game, but it can make a difference - especially when you are paying big bucks for something.

If you haven't watched one of the million unboxing videos, you should know that Gloomhaven is big. No, bigger than that - it's BIG. Nope, bigger. It's
BIG!!!

It is actually ridiculous how much is crammed into this ginormous box! Really, I don't think I have ever seen a game packed with so much content in my life with dozens and dozens and DOZENS of different monster types and 95 scenarios in the box (plus Isaac just released 17 extra free ones you can download). It is a sight of awe.

Component quality is a little bit all over the place. The cardboard is nice and thick. The minis are nice (but I don't really know anything about minis, so don't ask me if you want more info). The cards themselves are fully functional, and feel good in your hands - yet are not the thickest linen finished cards you'll find in some premium games. Some find this annoying, yet it doesn't bother me - however - I do NOT normally sleeve cards, but I am sleeving the cards in my attack modifier decks (just over 100) - not because I don't think the cards will last, but because you keep using the same deck game after game, but you add new cards to it - which may look nice and crisp compared to the well worn usuals, and it's important to not know what is coming next. It is something I would recommend doing - but in my opinion, it is the only sleeving that is necessary.

The art is fantastic, and the graphic design is clean, simple, and easy to understand. Well done good sirs!

Everyone's complaint seems to be with the exp and health trackers, which I guess is being scrapped in the second printing for new dials, so that's good news. Although I haven't had any problems 2 games in, I can see how problems could arise over time.

Another complaint is how do you store all of this stuff? Really, you're going to need to invest in a storage option. You can peruse the geek for the multitude of organizational strategies people from around the world are implementing. I think there is more discussion on that than there is on strategy, so it goes to show you how big of a deal it is.

All in all, I'm very happy with the components.

Gameplay
Ok, so this is the big one. How does it play? Is it fun? Does it take too long? Is it too thinky? Too random? Too childish?

Well, let's break it down. The game can last a little while, depending on who you are playing with and what character they are playing. Our poor tinkerer, who has a hand of 12 cards, often times must look at three or four times as many cards as the other players have, and as a result, it takes him a lot longer to take turns. I could see this game leading to a good dose of Analysis Paralysis, but you can always talk it out with your fellow team mates since it is fully cooperative, so that can take a bit of the edge off and can make the wait much more tolerable. Speaking of the cooperative aspect, it is so wonderful that you have your own hand of cards, thus making it nearly impossible for the alpha gamer to run the game. Each player is making meaningful decisions that will affect the course of the game. Each player feels important, and contributing. That deserves an applause!

Now, I won't explain the choose two cards and do a top action and a bottom action here (Dope, I just did it), but the card play is brilliant. You have to play smart, and you feel smart when you are able to pull of just the right moves in an efficient manner. Timing is very important in this game, not only when to do things, but also racing against the ever ticking clock which will gradually lead your character to exhaustion. It feels like a solid euro - only I'm throwing fireballs at skeletons and looting treasure from a dungeon. Again, this deserves an applause!

As mechanically sound as the cardplay is, there is a heavy dose of randomness introduced into the game as well (heavy for a euro, very very light for an ameritrash). The combat modifier decks can change the fate an action - either buffing it, or nerfing it. After a single play (one where we thouroughly trounced the enemies, partially due to some good luck) we decided that we would prefer to play with the optional reduced randomness variant as described in the rule book. The modifier decks do keep you guessing, and they prevent you from min/maxing a turn to perfection, which can help speed up gameplay, so I don't hate it, but I'm not sure I looove it either. However, the first item I bought were the Eagle Eyed Goggles which help me mitigate that random element to my favour for my big attacks, so I think many players will enjoy it thouroughly.

With regards to balance, things are feeling just right for us right now. We've been playing on normal difficulty so far (so lvl one), and on the first scenario, we won quite easily. That's ok, though, since we were learning how to play. The second scenario was a lot more tense. We initially thought it would be impossible to win, then as we knew we could win, we were able to push ourselves. By the end, we were able to get the chest and kill the last monster on the very last possible turn. Our tinkerer was exhausted the turn before, and the scoundrel and I had only the 2 cards that we were playing left that were not lost yet. Wowzers, talk about cutting it close. It was nail biting and exciting! Now, having only have played the opening two scenarios, I really can't say much about the balance of the game, but so far, my initial impressions is that it is again, deserving of applause.

The big question to ask is, "Is it fun?" I can gladly and confidently say, "YES!" I cannot stop thinking about this game. It has me completely engrossed in its world and mechanics. At first I thought it might just be me, but today, speaking to our Scoundrel, he said that after our first game he went home and dreamt about Gloomhaven all night. That, my friends, is the sign of a fun game!

So, there is a lot more to Gloomhaven to be discussed. The narrative has a lot of potential, but we've barely scratched the surface so I don't have much to say yet. The events also were exciting - one allowed us to put in another event into the deck. We'll see how that plays out in the future, but we all want to know. Really, it's got my wanting to know more, but I can't really comment on the quality of it yet, just because we have gotten so little of it.

It also should be noted that setting up and cleaning up are not little chores. This is a huge game that requires dedication. It is not a game to just whip out for a quick game. This is a game that requires planning and time. That can lead to shorter sessions, and so I have a hard time docking points from gameplay because of it, it does cause me to get less gameplay.

Conclusion
Gloomhaven is not a perfect game. It is large and a bit unwieldy. It requires a dedicated group to dedicate hundreds of hours to get the full experience out of it. It also has slight component isssues. Yet despite all these issues, Gloomhaven has impressed me like no other game has before. It has quickly and easily become the only game I want to play - and a game I can't stop thinking about. It's legacy like story has me chomping at the bit to learn more. It's character progression has me giddy with joy to level up my character the next time we play. The clever card play has me agonizing over the difficult decisions I must make every round. And did I mention the game runs smoothly and easily (as long as someone knows the rules well). This game has certainly won its way into my heart and a permanent place in my collection. It is far too early for me to give it a number ranking yet, but if my initial impressions continue to be correct, this game could find its way at the top of my rankings.

Congratulations, Isaac, on designing a game that has actually surpassed my expectations and has accomplished what I thought could not be done.
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Endevor Rovedne
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50xp in just 2 scenarios?
It feels really high and a little odd but maybe i am not experienced enouth with the game.
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Joao F. Falaschi
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Endevor wrote:
50xp in just 2 scenarios?
It feels really high and a little odd but maybe i am not experienced enouth with the game.


Yeah, that seemed odd. Considering 6 bonus xp per scenario, that would mean 19 xp from cards per scenario. Good review, though.
 
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Jo Bartok
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I don't think it really requires a dedicated group. It shines with a dedicated group but it plays all right if you swap people around. You can easily play it with 6... and after a short while with 7-8 people maybe a core of 2-3 and switching 1-2 around. They won't gather all the story parts but the game will still be good for them!
 
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Jo Bartok
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Endevor wrote:
50xp in just 2 scenarios?
It feels really high and a little odd but maybe i am not experienced enouth with the game.


Totally possible... 6 bonus XP on level 1... so you would only require 38 and getting 19 per scenario works. Also some scenarios will yield extra xp as a winning condition/bonus.
 
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David Tsang
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jffalaschi wrote:
Endevor wrote:
50xp in just 2 scenarios?
It feels really high and a little odd but maybe i am not experienced enouth with the game.


Yeah, that seemed odd. Considering 6 bonus xp per scenario, that would mean 19 xp from cards per scenario. Good review, though.


This is not hard to do with the spellweaver, particularly if you allow yourself to alpha-strike instead of conserving cards, as most of the big damage/xp generation cards can be used twice by bringing them back from lost. After the first two scenarios my spellweaver had 54 xp. At level 2, on scenario 3, I generated 22 xp + 6xp for the scenario bonus.
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Ben Baker
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As the spellweaver, I tried to maximize my exp gain as much as possible. I got 17 exp the first game + the 6 bonus, and then I got 21 the next which was literally using the maximum number of moves possible (also, our tinkerer let me get my discarded cards back). The area of affect attacks gives you 3 or 4 exp each, twice in the scenario, so that is 12-14 exp right there.

Edit - To clarify which cards are giving me the experience:

Lost Card Uses
Fire Orbs 3xp x 2 = 6xp
Impaling Eruption. 3 or 4xp x2 = 6 - 8xp
Frost Armor. x1 = 2xp
Subtotal. = 14-16xp

Discarded Card Uses
Flame Strike (bottom attack) = 1xp
Consuming an Element on Mana Bolt. = 1xp
Or Frost Armor top. = 1xp

Even if I only use each discarded use card once, that gives me 17-19xp, and I use flame strikes bottom attack as frequently as possible.
I think the Spellweaver is an absolute beast when it comes to xp gain, and I'm loving playing as her.
 
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Jo Bartok
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Indeed maybe something was off because the tinkerer is not good at infusing the room. The spellweaver can do an 1xp attack every turn if the room is infused afair... e.g. A cragheart spamming nature could have supported that.

But without... don't see it happening
 
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David Tsang
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Your big starting multi-target attacks give 3-4 XP each, used twice, gives 12-14 XP. Using Crackling Air and Frost Armour each twice could give up to (2 x 2 x 2 =) 8 XP. Summoning Aid from the Ether twice could give (2 x 2 =)4 XP. If you have infusions efficiently placed, you can pick up XP from non-lost cards several times, plus one of those has a bottom ranged attack that generates an XP.

So I think it's not that hard to generate 20+XP per scenario. A level 1 spellweaver would probably cap out at something like 29-30+ XP just from cards depending on infusions.
 
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Brandon Wickersham
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We've played a 4 man team 18 times now, roughly 12 successful scenarios (hard to remember how many off the top of my head). No one has retired yet, though a couple are VERY close.

Our Spellweaver unfortunately has not lucked out on his career goal and hasn't seen one enemy type of what he needs to kill, and because of this is in danger of capping out at lvl 9. He just got to level 8 (the rest of us are level 6) and is a bit bummed that he might start getting tons of experience for no real reason.

So yeah, 50 experience in two scenarios is completely doable. The Spellweaver is a level up maniac.
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Jo Bartok
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Its possible if infusions are there.

However, imho what matters most are prosperity, money and perks/checkmarks - xp not so much
 
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David Tsang
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ionas wrote:
Its possible if infusions are there.


It's possible even without infusions, and at level 1.

Impaling Eruption *top* 1-4 XP x 2 = 8 max
Fire Orbs *top* 1-3 XP x 2 = 6 max
Aid from the Ether *bottom* 2 XP x 2 = 4
Crackling Air *top* 0-2 XP x 2 = 4 XP max
Frost Armor *bottom* 0-2 XP x 2 = 4 XP max
Reviving Ether *top* to enable all the double uses
============================================
That's already 26 XP/scenario possible from only 6/8 first level cards, without needing any infusions.
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Damien
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Nicely written review that covers a good range of pros and cons. The randomness doesn't bother me all that much. Agree wholeheartedly on the ridiculousness of the amount of content (for better and worse).
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Jason B
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combat modifier decks are what sold me on the game. I can't even see the game not having them.
 
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Daniel Nedeljkovic
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With your party composition, the Scoundrel will have A LOT OF problems getting XP.
 
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