Gloomhaven Review

The Ultimate Gloomhaven Review

The Ultimate Gloomhaven Review

Remember that chilly Friday night when we first cracked open the massive box of Gloomhaven? It was like staring down at a treasure trove; the anticipation of adventures and battles that lay ahead was palpable. For many, myself included, Gloomhaven isn’t just another board game; it’s a foray into a complex world that demands strategic thinking and offers deep satisfaction. In this Gloomhaven review, I’m going to share that journey with you – the highs, the lows, and the lessons learned in the city of Gloomhaven and beyond.

Here’s the thing: I’ve played a multitude of board games, spanning from lighthearted party games to brain-burning strategy tournaments. But once I experienced Gloomhaven, it became clear that it was a beast of its own kind – a cooperative campaign-driven game that’s bound to test the limits of your decision-making and teamwork skills. With each play, you peel another layer of its vast lore and intricate gameplay, driving you to come back for more.

Throughout this review, expect to hear a lot about the nitty-gritty details – the mechanics, the strategy, the bits, and bobs of gameplay – as well as the sheer awe of the big picture that is Gloomhaven. There’s a reason it has garnered such an enthusiastic following, and by the end of this article, you might just find yourself enthralled by that very same charm that captured so many board gamers’ hearts, including mine.

What Makes Gloomhaven Stand Out?

You’ve likely heard the buzz about Gloomhaven. The sheer size, the depth of the world, the innovative mechanics – they all culminate in an experience that’s far from your average board game night. What sets it apart, truly, are facets such as its unique blend of tactical combat with a perpetual, evolving narrative. This is a game that invites you to invest not just your time but your creativity and problem-solving prowess.

Overview of Gloomhaven’s Unique Features

Gloomhaven packs a punch with several distinct features that have solidified its spot in board gaming history. Firstly, its card-driven gameplay eschews traditional dice for a system that provides control while retaining a sense of unpredictability. You’re constantly wracking your brain on how to use your hand of cards – either as powerful actions or to fuel movement and defenses. It’s like playing a high-stakes game of chess with monsters.

Then there’s the persistent world aspect. Your decisions have long-lasting consequences, shaping the future of your campaign. Each choice, whether it’s which mission to tackle or how to handle an encounter, feels important and weighty. It’s those legacy elements that had me hooked, finding joy in the small details like placing a sticker on the board or unlocking new abilities.

The sheer amount of content and variability in scenarios also cannot go unnoticed. With close to 100 unique scenarios and a myriad of side quests, Gloomhaven promises a new experience every session. The branching storyline ensures that no two campaigns feel alike. Add the constant evolution of your characters and the party, and you’ve got a recipe for never-ending intrigue.

Gloomhaven’s card-driven gameplay, persistent world aspect, and extensive content make it a standout in board gaming history.

The Evolution of Gloomhaven’s Popularity

Back when Gloomhaven first emerged on the scene, it was like a whisper on the wind that rapidly turned into a thunderous roar. It wasn’t long before our local gaming group caught wind of it, and suddenly everyone was buzzing about this leviathan of a game. Word of mouth and glowing crowdfunding success turned it into an overnight sensation of sorts, it seemed.

As time went on, the game didn’t just maintain its popularity – it flourished with an ever-growing community of dedicated players. This expansion in acclaim was fueled not only by the quality of the game itself but also by an inclusive community. The fanbase cultivated house rules, shared strategies, and birthed fan-made content that enriched the experience even further. For every person who found the game a chore, there were many who found it captivating – an attribute to its complexity and depth.

Delving into the World of Gloomhaven

Delving into Gloomhaven is akin to stepping into an epic novel where you’re not just a reader, but a protagonist. The setup alone – with its myriad of cards, tokens, and figurines – is enough to send shivers of anticipation down the spine of any board game enthusiast.

The Story and Setting

The narrative of Gloomhaven is one beset with mystery and darkness – a tapestry of stories interwoven to form a compelling adventure. You’re not merely passing through dungeons; you’re breathing life into a fantasy realm that feels as real as the wooden table you’re playing on. The city of Gloomhaven itself is a character – bustling, ever-changing, and unforgiving.

As you progress through the campaign, you uncover layers of a story that’s both expansive and personal. The quest lines invitingly sprawl before you, offering paths that lead to treasure or treachery. It’s not merely about slaying monsters; it’s about unraveling a narrative tapestry that makes each session a chapter in a saga that only grows more fascinating with each gaming session.

Dive deeper into the scenarios, and you’ll discover backstories that bind you to your character. There’s a sense of progression that feels organic and rewarding, as though you’re steering the fate of not just your character but of Gloomhaven itself.

The Diversity of Characters and Classes

One of the joys of Gloomhaven is the incredible variety of characters and classes available. Each class comes with its own unique set of abilities, playstyle, and background story – all of which are beautifully illustrated on the character mats and ability cards. Playing a new class feels like unwrapping a gift; you’re eager to explore its potential and bring forth its strengths in battles.

The diversity goes beyond mere stats and abilities. Characters must work synergistically, with every class bringing something distinctive to the party. Think of a puzzle where each piece feels indispensable, fostering moments of brilliance when your strategies align perfectly with those of your allies.

This variety also introduces an element of replayability. Often, I’ve found myself reminiscing about past campaigns and the different dynamics each class introduced. From the stealthy rogue-like maneuvers of the Scoundrel to the indomitable fortitude of the Brute, every class has etched a story in my gaming history – a testament to Gloomhaven’s character richness.

The Mechanics of Adventure

The underpinning of Gloomhaven‘s allure might just be the robust, ingeniously crafted mechanics of adventure that govern its world. It’s a system that encourages tactical finesse and punishes rash decisions – the kind of game where every move counts.

Gameplay and Combat System

The gameplay and combat system in Gloomhaven are like orchestrating a ballet where each dancer’s move is sheer tactical precision. You’re constantly assessing the best combination of the top and bottom abilities of your two chosen cards – balancing offense, defense, and special actions. The selection of initiative order adds yet another layer of strategic depth as you attempt to outmaneuver both allies and foes.

Combat asserts itself not through dice rolls but through the modifier decks, introducing an element of probability that feels more controlled yet unpredictable. Perfecting your deck is akin to sharpening a sword, each enhancement and perk a refining stroke that makes your character more precise, more deadly, more fit for the journey ahead.

The combat system in Gloomhaven requires tactical precision and strategy, with each decision impacting offense, defense, and special actions.

Campaign Structure and Progression

The campaign structure in Gloomhaven is, for lack of a better term, an odyssey. Each session is a stepping stone along a path fraught with choices. The way scenarios branch out based on your decisions is reminiscent of a choose-your-own-adventure book, but the stakes feel immeasurably higher.

This intricate branching is coupled with a sense of progression that is both character-driven and narrative-focused. As you level up, choose new abilities, and outfit your adventurer, you’re also shaping the destiny of Gloomhaven. Whether improving the town’s prosperity or following a personal quest, the weight of progression is palpable; it’s evolution and growth with every step, every victory, every defeat.

Scenarios and Branching Paths

Remember that time we were exploring a derelict library deep within the Ruinous Crypt? The choices we had to make in Gloomhaven felt like pages torn from a choose-your-own-adventure book, rich with consequences and unexpected twists. Each scenario in Gloomhaven is more than just a battle; it’s a branching story that can lead you down bi-furcated paths, each beckoning with unknown rewards or perils. The beauty of it, from my countless gaming sessions, is that you truly feel the weight of your decisions shaping the campaign’s narrative.

One particular scenario had us unanimously decide to aide an estranged character, which unlocked a completely unforeseen side quest with artifacts we hadn’t seen before. The thrill is in discovering how each decision impacts the game’s world, inspiring discussions and strategies around the gaming table. What makes Gloomhaven’s scenarios truly stand out is their ability to surprise even the most veteran gaming groups with outcomes that can steer the entire campaign in fresh and exciting directions. And that’s the magic ingredient for engrossing story-driven gameplay.

The beauty of Gloomhaven lies in the weight of your decisions shaping the campaign’s narrative, with scenarios offering unexpected twists and consequences that can lead to fresh and exciting directions.

Unlockables and Character Growth

Character growth in Gloomhaven is akin to nurturing a sapling into a mighty oak within the forest of this game’s vast campaign. Every decision made, every scenario completed, and every battle survived contributes to the unfolding tale of your character. There’s a palpable sense of accomplishment when you unlock new abilities, equipment, or even entire new classes – a rewarding undercurrent to the larger narrative arc. I vividly recall the giddiness I felt unveiling a new character class, its abilities shrouded in mystery until that pivotal moment of revelation.

Moreover, Gloomhaven doesn’t just hand you power-ups on a silver platter; you earn every ounce of progress with clever plays and strategic foresight. Unlockables aren’t mere high-fives for participation; they’re cherished trophies for overcoming the game’s formidable challenges. The progression system feels organic as you pore over which perks to choose with each level-up or which cards to incorporate into your battle deck, fine-tuning your combat strategy and playstyle. It’s a deeply gratifying journey that keeps the experience fresh and the players perpetually engaged.

The evolution of both player and character is particularly compelling. Every new ability or perk represents growth that feeds back into the game’s rich mosaic. As your adventurers evolve, so too does your narrative, with each unlocked secret or enhanced ability opening up new potential scenarios or playstyles. This interconnectivity is what drives players to dive back in, scenario after scenario, hungry for the next piece of growth, the next chapter of their character’s legend.

Comparing Digital vs. Tabletop Versions

Embarking on the adventure of Gloomhaven wildly differs between digital and tabletop experiences. While the core of this immersive tactical combat remains steadfast, the medium you choose can shape the way you interact with the world of Gloomhaven.

Gloomhaven on Steam – A New Experience?

Ah, Gloomhaven on Steam. The digital version echoes the strategic depth of the physical board game while streamlining some of its more cumbersome aspects. Picture this: no more setting up intricate maps or managing fiddly monster AI; it’s all taken care of within the digital landscape. The digital platform turns hours of housekeeping into mere moments, getting you straight into the action with a few clicks.

While these quality-of-life improvements are welcomed, the physicality of the tabletop version – manipulating cards and miniatures, and the shared glances as you collectively strategize – can’t quite be replicated on the screen. The digital format does, however, offer unique advantages, like online play that transcends the need for physical proximity, a boon for friends separated by miles.

Pros and Cons of Digital vs. Physical Play

Choosing the ideal Gloomhaven experience often depends on the gamer’s preferences and circumstances. Digital play strips away the labor of the setup and takedown, presenting a sleek and swift alternative to the board game experience. You’ll find that hopping into a game is as effortless as launching an app, bringing a distinct suitability for solo gamers or those with a limited time window to dive into a scenario.

However, the physical version carries with it an undeniable magic, generating tangible moments of excitement as the board takes shape on your table and each player readies their meticulously cultivated deck. This experience is often at the heart of board gaming culture – the ritual of game nights, the shared tension, and triumph. One must consider the social dimensions and the personal touch that digital play may not fully capture. Collective decision-making and joyous celebration with friends in front of an expansive board – that’s a sensation hard to replicate virtually.

Community and Support

Joining the Gloomhaven community feels similar to mapping out uncharted territories with trusted allies – there’s a sense of camaraderie that envelops you, brimming with support and shared enthusiasm.

Expansions and Fan-Made Content

In true testament to the game’s versatility and the creativity of its fans, Gloomhaven has sprouted a rich ecosystem of expansions and fan-made content. The official expansions, such as Forgotten Circles, add not only new scenarios and classes but also layers of complexity and depth to the base game. Trust me, the day you add an expansion to your campaign, it will feel like an unwrapped gift – a whole new world with fresh challenges and narrative threads.

On the other hand, fan-made scenarios and modifications have been a personal joy to discover. Imagine our delight when we stumbled upon a custom-built adventure online, with clever twists and ingenious mechanics, all crafted by a fellow Gloomhaven aficionado. These contributions showcase the game’s robust modding potential and the vitality of its community, breathing new life into the game and redefining replayability.

Adding expansions to your Gloomhaven campaign can bring a whole new world of challenges and narrative threads, making it feel like unwrapping a gift.

Publisher Support and Updates

Support from the game’s publisher, Cephalofair Games, is robust, with updates and revisions keeping the game’s content crisp and its mechanisms tight. One of the hallmarks of good publisher support, which Gloomhaven enjoys, is the commitment to address feedback and improve upon the game even after release. This includes everything from tweaked rules to clarifications, ensuring that the experience remains polished.

Moreover, their openness for community involvement and fan suggestions not only strengthens the link between creator and consumer but enhances the game’s relevance overtime. For board gamers, myself included, watching a favorite game receive careful attention after it’s hit our shelves is comforting and compelling. It assures us that our much-loved escape into the world of adventure and strategy will remain engaging for years to come.


1. How long does it typically take to complete a Gloomhaven campaign?

Completing a Gloomhaven campaign can vary greatly, but typically it spans from 50 to 200 hours of playtime. This sizable range accounts for the variable pace different groups might take, exploring side scenarios or dealing with the intricacies of the more complex missions.

2. Can Gloomhaven be played solo, and if so, how does it compare to group play?

Gloomhaven can indeed be played solo, offering a challenging and rewarding experience. Solo play allows for deep strategic planning and unmitigated control over the campaign’s progression, though it does sacrifice the dynamic and collaborative storytelling found in group play.

3. What is the learning curve like for new Gloomhaven players?

For new Gloomhaven players, the learning curve is substantial but not insurmountable. There’s a density to the rules and mechanics that requires a commitment to learning, but once overcome, it paves the way for a thoroughly engaging and rewarding experience.

4. Are there any resources available for players who need help with Gloomhaven’s rules?

For players needing assistance with Gloomhaven’s rules, a variety of resources are available, including official FAQ sections, how-to-play videos, and an app to facilitate gameplay by streamlining setup and rule management.


If my Gloomhaven review can offer one takeaway, it’s that this is a game of grand adventure, strategy, and exploration where every decision feels significant. The tapestry of Gloomhaven’s world is stitched together with the threads of tactical combat, rich character evolution, and a vast branching narrative. Yes, there may be lengthy setup times and a steep learning curve, but to those who navigate these challenges, the game unfolds into an unparalleled board gaming odyssey.

In retrospect, the most valuable aspect isn’t just playing Gloomhaven; it’s the stories we craft, the friends who become allies in battle, and the satisfaction of a well-executed plan. As part of an incredible gaming community, whether digital or physical, the shared experience of Gloomhaven invites us to become part of something greater than ourselves. I hope this Gloomhaven review sparks your curiosity or resonates with your own adventures.

Now, as we gather our cards and prepare for the next foray into the unknown, I’ll leave you with a warm farewell. Until our next game night, may your hand be steady and your strategy sound. Happy gaming, my friends.


This article uses material from BoardGameGeek and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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