Here is the only summary you need for Gloomhaven; it is hands down the best RPG tabletop game you can buy. If you are really into RPGs or board games, this is the ultimate experience. But be warned, it requires a fair amount of dedication, as doing the full game and all it's side quests takes about 250-300 hours to complete, at the rate my friend and I play the game anyway, which is about 2.5 hours per scenario. Gloomhaven is a massively entertaining cooperative adventure, where you (and your friends, up to four people max per mission) are part of a team of mercenaries, taking on various jobs around the city of Gloomhaven. This of course leads to world altering events, and thrusts you into the middle of it. I have a foolish friend who has agreed to take on the whole campaign with me, so a few months ago we started our campaign. Our party name is the Wokkels (based on a kind of potato chip she brought from Amsterdam), and we each have two characters we play as. We (she) are going about it from an RPG point of view, only doing things our characters would actually do. Gloomhaven lets you do just that, you can play politics, barter, trade, be the hero, the villain, anything you wish. The concept is (kind of) simple.
Assemble a team and buy gear
Choose a mission to go on and complete the objective (usually kill all enemies, but objectives vary)
Return back to town, do a random event in the city (a Choose Your Own Adventure page essentially), level up if needed
Rinse and repeat for the the next 200 hours
This is a game that you really need a trusted group for. Heck not even a group, you and one person could play it and slowly accomplish it over the span of a year or two. The RPG elements of the game are awesome, as you get a board of the city that you put stickers all over as you accomplish and unlock new scenarios. One of the goals of the game is to level up the "prosperity" of Gloomhaven, and as you level up Gloomhaven you get unique perks, such as new items in the shop, and stronger characters over time, You start the game with six characters to choose from, and each character is given a "personal quest" when you create them. Once you complete that personal quest, your character says "Cool im out" and retires, giving Gloomhaven prosperity. So a main aim of the game is to have your characters retire, so the town increases in wealth. For example one of my missions was to kill X amount of a certain type of monster. So once I killed that amount, my quest was done. I retired the character, got a new class of character as a reward, and made a new character with the new class. The RPG elements of the game are top notch, and I don't want to ruin too many of them, so the rest of this review will focus on the gameplay.
This is what the beginning of a mission looks like. I have my character cards with me (Craig the Cragheart), and the monster cards set up with me (which have their stats on them), and the board is set up so we can only see what is in the first room. There is a COMPREHENSIVE guide that tells me exactly how to set up each scenario. So I knew I had to set up the board like this, so once I found the right parts, I set the board up the way I was instructed, which is super simple. The guide has you set up everything in the first room only, you can see a little game piece right where the two different sized boards meet, that's the door. So you and your party have zero clue what's beyond that door. Once you or an ally open that door, you immediately stop, look at the guide, and see how to set up that room. So as long as you don't peek at the guide ahead of time, you really don't know what configuration the monsters will be in, or how many there are. My friend and I try (mostly her) as much as possible to keep everything a surprise, so it really is a shock sometimes when we open the door to the next room and see what is in there.
The first photo above is just a closer look at my player sheet, and the items I have bought so far. The merchant in the game is awesome, with a lot of supplies that really add variety to the gameplay. You can only use your items once or twice a combat, so you really need to pick the opportune moment to use them. The bottom photo shows the battle goals you get at the beginning of each scenario. You draw two at random, and have to pick one to try to accomplish. I picked Aggressor, which means there needs to be a monster on the map at all times. I accomplished it by banging open the door to the next room even before we had finished clearing out the one we were in, a strategy everyone loves. These goals, and your personal ones for your character, add an interesting element to the game. Do you cooperate with the party to get the mission done? Or do you risk everything to make sure you finish your Battle Goal (shown above) or your personal goal. My Cragheart's personal goal revolves around money, so I THROW myself at coins during the scenarios, and always pick the Choose Your Own Adventure City Event that leads to more money, reputation be damned. Like I said, the RPG elements are perfect if you treat it like an RPG and not just a board game.
The gameplay itself comes down to cards. You get a certain amount of cards for each scenario based on who you play as. When you use all of your cards, you have to get rid of one for the rest of the scenario. You play two cards per turn. My character has ten cards, so after five turns, I have used all ten. Then I have to randomly get rid of one card (other ways around that, but this is just the basics of the game for now), and now I start with nine. Then next time it's eight. So on and so on. So you are really against the clock the entire time. You also have super powerful cards you can use, but once you do, they are removed for the rest of the scenario, making your hand size even smaller, and thus ending the game faster. There is no penalty for death, as you keep all the coins and XP you gained in the game, making it at least worth the grind if you lose along the way. The gameplay is a little complex, but really only takes a game or two to understand.
Here is a better view of the figures. We didn't paint them because, lazy, but they are really well detailed. The enemies get little cutouts, and my friend 3D printed us custom stands for the enemies that keep track of their health. I highly recommend buying or making accessories for the game, they really do make the game a lot more accessible.
So once we opened the door this is what the second room looked like (once I set it up). There were obstacles we didn't expect, damage traps, and the enemies were hanging out in the back so we couldn't get them too easily. The goal was to kill the boss and loot the treasure tile you can kind of see in the back right corner. We had been playing with enemies set on level 0 because we are cowards, so we crushed this level a little too easily. We scaled the difficulty for our scenarios after this, and it felt better to be playing on the actual intended difficulty, definitely required more strategic thinking. Once the mission ended, we used the audiobook of the game I bought from the Forteller App to read the plot to us (with a lot of talented voice artists), and then we collected our gold and XP rewards, and unlocked two new missions to complete. We also use the Gloomhaven Campaign Tracker App to streamline a lot of the stuff we need to track, like XP, total gold, scenarios unlocked, etc. We also have two characters each, and try to mix and match them based on what our characters would actually want to set out to do, which is a fun RPG twist you can add to the game. Gloomhaven has only been out for five years, but there are a bounty of physical and virtual assets that make this game a lot easier to keep track of, so now is the perfect time to dive in if you have been on the fence. I have TWO last important points.
As you can see in the photo above, there actually is a VERY good videogame edition of this game on Steam. It's almost exactly the same as the board game, and obviously lets you play with people worldwide. You can drop in, add new friends to the party, really do whatever you want. The campaign I'm running now has a mercenary party of 14 characters (all run by me), and I just mix and match who I take in. It doesn't have the flavor of the actual board game, but it's still a much more convenient way to play the game if you are inclined. My final and most important point is about the game you should buy BEFORE this, even if you think you want it; Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.
This is a prequel to Gloomhaven, and only has four characters. It's missing the bigger picture things like retiring your characters, but it really helps you learn all the basics. The cards have little helpful tutorials on them to help you along, and each mission introduces a new mechanic one at a time. My party and I got bored about ten scenarios in and stopped playing, but it definitely made me prepared for the beast that is the actual Gloomhaven game. If you are on the fence, I'd highly recommend getting this game first and then seeing if you like it. It comes with two DPS characters, a tank, and a support, so you really get the feel for how the characters can be used. Target has these in stock all the time, and they are only 40 USD, not a bad price for a very well made game. And you can use the four character from this box in the actual Gloomhaven, and they are VERY overpowered, so Id recommend this box for the characters alone.
My Two Cents
Easily one of the best RPG tabletops ever made, with incredible RPG elements, overwhelming virtual and physical support items available to buy, and a unique dungeon crawling card mechanic that really makes you think out each move. Very much worth it if you have the time, and partners, to commit to a VERY long campaign. And here are the pros and cons from the person I play with.
Ever changing game board. Gorgeous character art and pieces. Keeps the game interesting by unlocking new cards, perks, and forcing you to create new characters. Fun storyline. Can change the difficulty based on your confidence/skill.
Incredibly long (we clocked our missions at taking 2.5 hours each). Becomes a lot more difficult when adding more players (more enemies when you play with 3 or 4 people). LOT of stickers to mess up placing and bother your OCD. Retiring characters is heartbreaking
There you have it! I recommend at least getting Jaws of the Lion so you can experience this game, it's truly such a unique experience. Happy hunting