Gloomhaven is a tactical combat and dungeon-crawling board game. Players take on the role of adventurers with their own special skills and motives. During gameplay, players will work together to clear dungeons as they enhance their abilities, gain experience, earn loot, discover new locations, and play through a decision-based storyline. This game uses a card system to determine the order of play and what actions you will take every turn. The story unfolds in a "Choose your own adventure" style in which players will make group decisions about where to take the story next.
Pro Intense card management
Cards in Gloomhaven represent all of your attacks and movements, as well as determine the order these actions will take place. Furthermore, every class in the game has their own unique deck of cards.
Most of the cards have unique and complex mechanics, but they all follow a simple rule when brought into play: you must choose whether to play the top action (attack) or the bottom action (movement). Once a card is played, it goes into a discard pile. However, by "resting" a few turns and sitting out of the action, you can put them back in your hand.
Managing your cards each round and trying to get a victory in every scenario can be a very intense experience. Knowing when and how to use an card in your hand results in some really tense play where some tough, on-the-fly decisions have to be made. Do you attack or move? Do you save this attack for a tougher enemy later? Is this card worth playing now? Is it worth resting to retrieve cards?, etc.
Pro Character classes are distinctly unique
Each and every class represented in-game has their own deck of cards. These cards feature skills and abilities that are entirely unique to that specific class. Whether you're attacking, moving, or looting - each class carries out these actions with their own distinct style. Thanks to the sheer amount of variety offered between the classes, no two ever feel alike, and you're guaranteed to get a unique game experience based on the class you select.
Pro Exciting enemy encounter variations
There are a whopping 45 different enemies and 12 bosses. Each enemy in the game has their own unique stats along with combat modifiers such as additional damage. As such, each enemy acts and performs differently. Additionally, monsters can be set to various difficulty levels and scale based on how many players are in the encounter. All of this combined allows for a huge amount of variation, and keeps each encounter feeling fresh and exciting throughout numerous game sessions.
Pro Heavy immersion in the world thanks to events
Outside of the dungeon crawling, there are Road Events and City Events that can occur. Road Events take place when traveling to a new location, whereas City Events happen when you visit the city of Gloomhaven.
These events present players with unique and interesting situations and choices, such as meeting a traveler, running into monsters, or finding a new quest. The choices you make during events also influence the course of the story and may provide you with a buff (or debuff) for your upcoming dungeon crawl.
These additional story elements help the world-building along, as they take place during what would be otherwise mundane things (such as traveling a road, or visiting town) and make it easy to stay connected and feel like you're a part of the game world at all times.
Pro Easy to understand
Although the sheer size of the board, tons of cards, and numerous game pieces/tokens make the game appear intimidating, it is quite easy to understand the basics after a short amount of time spent playing. This is due to its clearly defined rules, detailed cards/iconography, and the clean visual presentation of the game board.
Pro Players can join and leave at will
A game can still run at maximum efficiency, even with a "revolving door" of players.
Monsters can be set to scale based on the number of players, so if your friend suddenly has to leave mid-game, it won't be a huge detriment to the group. Players can also drop in or leave the game at any point, as it's easy to add or subtract players to the party between scenarios.
It's all the little details like this that make it a great game to play with a group of friends who all have varying amounts of availability.
Pro Can play solo
Even if you can't find anyone to play with, the game is able to be played solo. You can still tackle events and dungeons solo, progress your character, and enjoy the story without the need for a game master or even a group to play with. This makes it a great choice when the the urge to dungeon crawl strikes, but nobody is available for a long play session.
Con Takes a long time to set up
Setting up the board between each scenario is very time consuming as pieces have to be carefully arranged according to diagrams, cards have to be shuffled and placed into multiple piles, and character boards have to be configured. This process tends to take much longer than other similar board games.
Con Not good for short gaming sessions
While it's possible to play one scenario at a time, the story and encounters are best appreciated and experienced as a full campaign which will play out over several long sessions. Additionally, the board takes quite a while to set up between scenarios, which isn't great when you only have limited time to play.