Gloomhaven Brute Imps

Genre: fantasy card battler, turn-based combat, dungeon crawl, digital board game

Release Date: 2021 

Developer: Flaming Fowl Studios

Publisher: Asmodee Digital

We’ve played board games since before the advent of computers, from the early versions of Dungeons and Dragons to the Pathfinder fork and after… Gloomhaven is a trendy and popular fantasy board game, replete with sword and sorcery and high adventures. Can the digital version overcome the board game’s lengthy set up and byzantine rulebook?

Story:

Gloomhaven the well-named, a city of dejection where murkiness competes with melancholy. As long as it doesn’t spill beyond the streets and sewers into gameplay… Lead a small party of sellswords with allegiance to gold and adventures. Clean up local monster infestations, pillage crypts, loot warehouses, rescue hapless villagers, and draw more deadly cards from your expanding collection. Gloomhaven is a series of mini-dungeon fights (from town squares to abandoned gem mines) that form a larger narrated medieval fantasy campaign.

Playability: Search everywhere for beginner tutorials in plain English

Gloomhaven’s learning curve is steeper than steep, it’s abruptly vertical. The lengthy in-game tutorials are grossly insufficient because of the sheer complexity of the game’s rules. Gloomhaven is the type of game that will require you to trawl the internet for how to play videos. Since the digital game is a faithful rendition of the board game, online help fortunately abounds. Once we had mastered the basics of the game, a process that will challenge casual gamers, we went up close and personal with the optimisation heavy gameplay. We found possession of the actual physical game board box, a 10 kilogram mastodon, helpful for getting a quicker introduction to the gameplay mechanics than the digital version. Gloomhaven is a cooperative game, a game without a Dungeon Master to hand hold newbies and tell tall tales.

Annoyance: Precipitous learning curve for superlative difficulty

Gloomhaven is not a role playing game per se, it is more akin to a puzzle game where you are dealt a limited number of possible action cards (attack or move) and you attempt to solve the riddle of the board. In these conditions, moving your character becomes a hassle. You need to move six hexes for melee attack, but you only have a two hex card. You can’t use your bow… because you don’t have any bow attack card in hand. Frustration quickly builds up to the point of rage, even for the calmest soothsayer… At easy level, Gloomhaven is way beyond the reach of the average tactical gamer, with tweaks to the gameplay bordering on the unnecessary and unreasonable (near endless spawning of enemies, not using special weapons or potions, anything else you can think of to make your play miserable). Levelling up your heroes and getting a larger party of mercenaries are pointless since the game is designed to throw bigger and badder monsters should you and your ilk have the gall to return to the same location (that you are yet to beat for the first time in order to progress through the epic).

Beauty: Big bold graphics

For a card battler, Gloomhaven’s cards are as plain a can be (don’t expect Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering card collections). Cards are simple blue and white descriptions of actions and abilities, with forgettable names for the visually inclined. Gloomhaven shines in the up close colourful 3D rendering of battle maps, monsters and heroes. Beautiful and creative, beyond the usual monster fare of trolls and orcs. However, having to repeat the same dungeons for the nth time to get to the next episode of Gloomhaven’s grand adventure makes the storytelling pointless. Imagine having to read every chapter of the Game of Thrones a dozen times to beat the associated mini-map, so you could move on to the next cliff-hanger in the script?

The Old Video Gamer’s Prattle: Gloomy exhausting gameplay with a straightjacket 6/10

If you are obsessed with puzzles and head scratchers, Gloomhaven may provide the fantasy setting you were questing for. Role players who regularly complain about railroading and the lack of meaningful and consequential choices, absurdly complex rules and insanely masochistic difficulty settings, may find the Gloomhaven experience gloomily troublesome. Nice visuals and finishings, and the occasional win make Gloomhaven a slow moving trudge rather than a fun frolic. We’ll be waiting for a digital version of Jaws of the Lion, a simplified more cheerful sibling of Gloomhaven.

Looking for more turn based tactical combat? You can captain a medieval mercenary company with the classic Battle Brothers who will take you from the frozen north to the scorching south. Fans of tactical card battlers may also appreciate the high speed and colourful Monster Train.