Most tabletop games fall into a specific genre, or at least a combination of the same old genres. There are fantasy RPGs, tile-based games, cooperative games, games of chance, strategy games, and many more in between. Gloomhaven, however, stands out by blending together several different genres in order to make something completely new.
On the surface, Gloomhaven is just another fantasy dungeon crawler (which is still really cool). However, It is much more than that. During the game, the actions of the characters are represented by cards each player can play from their deck. These actions can include moving the character miniature, attacking enemies, healing, setting traps, and more. Each card has two actions on it: one on the top and one on the bottom. Every turn, each player plays two cards and chooses one top action and one bottom action.
Characters move across the board on hexagon spaces, similar to other games. The board is made up of many different room tiles in several different combinations depending on the dungeon scenario.
The characters all have cool designs and play very differently from each other through the abilities they specialize in. Some may specialize in moving around the board quickly while other may be better for healing, dealing high damage, or attacking from afar. There are a lot of characters, too. When starting the game, there are six characters to choose from. While playing through the game, you and your party can unlock up to eleven additional characters, making the total playable character count seventeen. That’s seventeen different play styles.
Similar to RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, players can level up their characters throughout the game and upgrade their abilities. These upgrades become permanent for each class. Each player is also given a specific goal for their character when they choose which class to play as. This goal could be to defeat a specific amount of bosses, to collect a certain sum of gold, or to complete many other forms of challenges.
The goal given to you is essential to your character’s own story arc. It’s your character’s primary motivation for these adventures, and once you complete the task, your character retires. When my first character reached retirement, we read an excerpt included with the game about him reaching the end of his journey. I named him, became an expert in his play style, and helped him reach his goal. I actually got pretty emotional as my little friend ended his adventure.
Having different goals for the characters, choosing how to upgrade your character, and the unlimited strategies players can use in each dungeon give everyone who has played Gloomhaven a very different experience. Another huge element of the game that changes up everyone’s experiences with it is the decision-making throughout the story.
Throughout the game, you and your party reach certain points where you make major decisions that completely alter the story, how NPCs view your characters, and even what enemies you end up facing in scenarios. One party can play through the entire campaign and be seen as criminals who assist a necromancer and slaughter all the guards in town (my party forced me down this path, I swear). Another group can become the town’s saviors, defeat a zombie hoard, and experience an entirely different story. There are tons of intricate paths your party can take through the cleverly designed decision-making.
The game’s lore and story are extraordinarily well thought-out. Even with you and your party making your own decisions, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. You never know what decisions, like choosing to help an old merchant repair his kart or stealing from him, could lead to. It’s always a surprise finding out what sorts of challenges you will face. You meet all kinds of interesting NPCs along the way.
Even the creatures and character species in Gloomhaven are unique. Countless games feature orcs, elves, and goblins, but Gloomhaven features Inox, Vermling, Quatryls, and other original creatures and races. The original species you encounter throughout the game make the game stand out that much more.
Overall, Gloomhaven is a truly one of a kind tabletop gaming experience. It stands out from other games due to its unique gameplay mechanics, the interwoven story line, how much you become connected to the characters, and its original lore. Imagine playing a tabletop RPG, but the GM is the game itself. It is like no other game I have ever played or even heard of.
I would absolutely love to see more games use the idea of this new “Gloomhaven” genre, but find new ways of going about it. I can definitely see a similar game that’s set in a futuristic sci-fi world, or a wild west version that has classes like sheriff, outlaw, and sharpshooter that all have unique play styles. There is a lot that can be done with this idea that has been created with Gloomhaven. If you haven’t played Gloomhaven yet, you need to get a group of your friends together and play through its exciting campaign to see exactly what I’m talking about.