They call me Mister...
These contemplations come after having completed half a dozen scenarios having played about a dozen sessions (so a few failures in there!). I don't go over the rules in detail, that is done far better in many other places.
Why I Like Gloomhaven
Firstly, and I think by far the biggest thing you have to like if you are to enjoy this game, is the gameplay. The combat. Essentially (so far for me) the game is one 'dungeon' scenario after another, fighting monsters, looting chests (if you're lucky) and being the last thing standing. How you achieve this is the cool part. The playing two cards and choosing the action on the top of one and the bottom of the other leads to so many interesting decisions and plays. The more I've played the more I've started to look at what my options are if my first choice of top/bottom action turns out to be less than optimal - there can be some cool card pairings where the other option is an excellent back-up plan. Add on to that the decision on initiative - do you want to try to go first so you know what you plan will be able to happen, or do you want to go later so that the monsters/other characters do some work for you moving or attacking.
ON TOP OF all that there is exhaustion. Each time you play two cards they are either Discarded or Lost, depending on the card - Discarded means you can pick them up later when you take a rest, Lost means, for most characters, that you won't get to use this card again during this scenario. So, that's okay, if you rest you get your discards back - except, you have to Lose one card each time you rest. If you do a Long Rest (i.e. put simply miss a turn) you get to choose which card you Lose. If you do a Short Rest (i.e. you don't miss a turn) you must Lose one randomly. Decisions, decisions. Losing cards is rough - all my cards are good(!) - but lose them you must, and if/when you run out of cards (also if you run out of hit points) you are Exhausted, removed from the scenario and hope the rest of your party can successfully finish the scenario. Powerful cards tend to be cards that are Lost as soon as they are used, but you want to use them because they're powerful, but the sooner you use them the closer you get to being exhausted. Decisions, timing, slow and steady, all guns blazing - it's all up to you.
AND THEN when you can throw in the decisions you can make when perking up your character's attack modifier deck (think customising a damage modifying d20 by removing negatives and adding in some cool actions) things just get more deliciously syrupy.
Next are the pre-game or inter-game moments. This includes the Road and/or City events, the equipping of a character and most importantly the deck selection. Each character has a set hand size and so (at Level 1) they must choose to discard 3 cards before each adventure. It doesn't have to be the same three cards so each characters' deck can be adjusted depending on the scenario. This can really shake things up when you lose a scenario - did I choose the wrong cards, did I head for the wrong area or was I just unlucky that time? Further to that, with each level you get access to one new card so at each higher level you are choosing to leave behind one more card each time - so that low level card you've been relying on for a signature move, will the new card really be better than that?
Equipment can give a similar choice but I don't think it supersedes the importance of the cards - but then I haven't unlocked a raft of new items as yet. The City/Road event cards also add to all this but as a bit of a distilled CYOA moment are not such a big impact on gameplay but I still find myself sitting there for a good 5 or more minutes agonising over the two choices. It's a big flavour impact but not nearly as much as...
The writing. The flavour texts for the scenarios, the construction of the story progression, the scenario set ups are in my opinion superb. I love the atmosphere here. Don't get me wrong, it has little to no impact on the "gameplay" as such but crikey, for me, this is what gives this game the "just one more" addictive feel. Obviously, more XP and more Loot helps with that too, but I just want to know what's going on, what's going to happen next? I have currently completed about 6 scenarios (one other remains failed for now which I should get back to) and I currently have 9 other unlocked scenarios that I could attempt. Seeing all the stickers for those locations going on to the map is fab and feels like a world of opportunity opening up before me.
Solo Play - I love this for solo play. Sure, it'd be a lot of fun with a real party of adventurers but who doesn't love overall control, huh? I find it easy to focus on each character one at a time and decide their moves before going to the next one, I also find it easy to forget their initiative (I have a vague idea on occasion) but generally all I remember is who they plan to attack. Even then, you can't be sure their attack will be successful so you might want to double up to be certain, but that'd be a waste if they were, but also this character really needs to get some loot for that Battle Goal or just to spend later, on top of which this other card will do something cool and get them XP....there is so much to consider it is very easy to so and forget what the others might be doing. Yes, you could play openly and "puzzle" out your party's synchronised actions but I prefer the rough and ready fog of war feel. Thanks to the subtle icons for monster placement for 2/3/4 players on each scenario map, I also find it easy to set up the scenario without spoiling the placement/amount of monsters in each room. This makes you really think about the timing for opening doors.
Monsters - the AI cards work so well and so simply. There's much talk on the forums about "but what would they do in this situation" which is fine but I don't stress over it. I feel like I've a good idea what they should do RAW and any situation I'm unsure, I just make it hard for myself with a best move for the monster. After having chosen my characters actions, reaching to flip over the first monster AI card is always a deliciously tense moment. Low initiative!!???? This could hurt. High Initaitive??!!? Ha, ha, ha, they are dead! So good. The AI cards also make adjusting the difficulty a breeze too, just increase the level of the monsters and it is done. Simple.
So what about the future? Well, I think generally speaking, this is the game, repeat ad infinitum. There's loads to look forward to though. I got a real buzz when I not only levelled all my characters up, chose their new card and perked up their attack modifier deck but also got to open my first sealed envelope - it all just turns what is a great card playing combat game into a rich and vibrant experience.
And I think that's probably more than enough for now but just to add that play length is also good - it's generally been about 2-3 hours max per session (some even shorter) for three characters and if you can leave it set up even less than that.
And not a die to be seen...
Entering the Cavern - wonder if the Beatles are playing?
I have very similar feelings as you do. We've only completed four scenarios so far, but the narrative has been rich, the progression exciting, and most importantly the gameplay exhilarating.
I have never been so enamoured with a game.
I'm glad to hear you're enjoying solo play as well - which I haven't tried yet.
Great read. Thanks!
I have started to play solo when I got the game in Feb, in "practice mode", so I could learn the rules and understand the mechanics. Finally, yesterday I had two of my gamer buddies come over, and we started a campaign together (Cragheart, Tinkerer, Scoundrel (me)), and... what a blast! We successfully completed scenario #1 (lvl 0 as a starer, just to be sure) and my friends were positively surprised at how good the game is. They are now hooked! (YEAH!!)
Next weekend, scenario #2 (... or #65?...). Can't wait!!