Review: Gloomhaven

I’m usually quite resistant when it comes to new & shiny and when I first heard about Gloomhaven, I shrugged it off as yet another Kickstarter hype. However, the more I read about it, the more intrigued I became. When I finally watched the review on Shut Up & Sit Down (which, incidentally, is one of the best video reviews I’ve ever seen) together with K., we both looked at each other and decided: we want this game! I have to admit that I also had a hidden agenda: we’ve been playing D&D with our nephew, but I was really tired of being DM, so I hoped that this game would supplant D&D and get us back to gaming with the kid more often.

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After lugging it home from the local games store – the box weights around nine kilo – K., the nephew and I opened the box and sorted the contents. There really is a lot in there! We were especially fascinated by the sealed stuff – things that you only unpack when certain conditions are met during play.

Gloomhaven is basically a glorified cooperative dungeon crawler. It is also a legacy-style game: The game itself changes permanently when you play it. For example, when you unlock a new scenario, you put a sticker on the map. This, of course, reduces the replay-value, but as the game is designed to take around 100 game session to complete, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem – it will keep you occupied for a long time to come.

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At the core of the game is a card-driven mechanic: Each character has a unique set of action cards which can be played to move, fight and do all sorts of cool special actions. There are no dice – again, each character has his or her unique deck of combat modifier cards. The interesting thing is that those decks can be changed by adding or removing cards, so the probabilities will change with the development of the character – something that would be hard to achieve with dice.

Apart from the single scenarios, which seem to be more or less dungeon bash games, there are also all kinds of events during the travels and in the city of Gloomhaven itself. Together with the branching paths of the scenarios – a finished scenario may unlock two or possibly more other scenarios – this really comes as close to giving the feel of an RPG as a board game without a DM might get. The designer himself compared it with a chose-your-own-adventure book, and this seems about right.

We’ve played three games now. During the first, we where quite overwhelmed by the cards and their interactions, and I already became a bit nervous if this is the right game for us. However, during the second game we already got the hang of it. Gloomhaven is often called a Euro game because luck doesn’t play as big a role as in other dungeon crawlers and knowing when to play the right combination of cards can be the key to success. As a matter of fact, this is not something I usually enjoy, as I prefer a more spontaneous and narrative style of play and get bored by the meticulous bureaucratic planning required by some Euro games. However, when we played it, it worked fine with our style of gaming. Admittedly, after our first abortive try we chose the lowest difficulty setting, which is much more forgiving. And as we are more into it for the story and the crazy action than for the puzzle-solving, we will keep it that way until we are proficient with our characters.

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That Gloomhaven manages to convey a sense of narrative after no more than three games does say something about this game. The branching scenarios as well as the event cards create unique decisions that almost from the outset help to define the group and the characters. Will you be reckless? Will you just do the jobs offered or will you stick your nose into things that shouldn’t concern you? Will you be kind to people you meet, or will you prey on them? Such is the stuff stories are made off.

If you want a unique gaming experience and if you have a dedicated group of two to four players who enjoy an RPG experience without anyone wanting to do the hard work of DMing, I can highly recommend Gloomhaven.

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On the Painting Table

Painting is still going a bit slow. I’m slowly building up my 15mm Native Americans for the ACW and managed to finish a couple more of the Union Indian Brigade. I also painted another one of the Oathsworn anthropomorphic animals.

I modeled the fur colour after the tomcat living at our place!

Some time ago, I also received Annie’s Kickstarter and I finally painted up two of the figures.

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On the painting tray are even more Indians – this time, Confederates. In the end, I want to have four skirmishers group of six figures for each side.

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In the foreground, you can see some mounted Indians. They have been standing there for a while and I’m pretty stuck with those at the moment. They are from 15mm.co.uk and are not the best sculpts and castings, so painting them is a bit of a hassle. I’ll give them one more chance, otherwise I’ll put them away. The snakey guys you can see in between are 28mm serpentmen from EM4. They will be used for our Sellswords & Spellslingers games.

Last week, I suddenly had the desire to build something. I found a nice photograph of the Hilton Head post office during the Civil War and spontaneously decided to model this building. As always, I made the shell out of plastic sheet and added cardboard strips for the weatherboarding. It’s not yet finished, but it’s been a fast and smooth build so far.

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Last but not least, I got myself some pine trees. I’ve been thinking about those for a while now, as many of the ACW actions I’m gaming were fought in or around pine woods, and I finally caved in and got two packs. Let’s see how they look on the tabletop. The tiny animals will also add some detail to the 15mm landscape.

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Missin’ in Action 2018

Two years ago, we had organised a summer gaming event for friends out in the countryside. A month or so ago, K. and I decided spontaneously to do another such event under the title of Missin’ in Action 2018, this time however at our new house (which is in an area of town formerly called Missindorf, hence the name). The idea was to gather friends and host one or two miniature games out in the garden.

Unfortunately, the weather did not agree and we had to move it inside. Fortunately, people turned up nonetheless.

I chose Sellswords & Spellslingers as the event’s game and decided to have two rounds of games. The first was played with six people, of which only three had played it before. The rules are, however, easy to grasp and, being cooperative, work very well to introduce people into miniatures gaming. We played the ‘Healer’ mission from the rule-book and had to rescue the wise woman. My wizard teleported our archer onto the rooftop of the healer’s hut, where he skillfully covered the rescue operation, led by our intrepid halfling Leader riding his pig.

After a short break, reinforcements arrived in the form of Virago and his two kids. For the second round of games, we split a 6’x4′ table into two areas: One with a village in the middle, where one group played the ‘Defend the Village’ scenario, and another with swampy wastelands, where the other group played the ‘Through the Badlands’ scenario. The border between the two playing areas was demarcated by a river, with the added incentive that, if the group crossing the badlands made it to the ford, it could enter the other game and help defend the village.

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The poor heroes defending the village drew a Brain Devourer as their main enemy and struggled hard to bring him down. Meanwhile, Virago’s elven family shot their way through the lizardmen and orcs standing in our way. My dwarven wizard helped to speed the journey by teleporting people ahead, but in the end it was the elves who did the hard work, killing one monster after another with their arrows. We even managed to reach the village, but before the elves could get off a shot, the Brain Devourer was brought down by the brave dwarven fighter.

This was a really great afternoon! I’ve definitely learned from last time’s mistakes: back then, I cramped all players into one game, which ground to a slow crawl as the rules were unable to cope with such an amount of players. Playing two scenario in parallel proved to be a good solution for a large group that nonetheless wants to share a gaming experience. Each game took less than 90 minutes, so it was pretty relaxed and there was plenty of time to chat. It seems that everyone, kids and adults alike, enjoyed the games and had fun. I’m definitely planning on doing this again next year!

Animal House

Well, well, well – it seems that animal ardor, creature craze, fauna frenzy or even zoological zeal are rampant, at least among my mates, as Sigur and Virago have both bought the new Osprey rules-set Burrows & Badgers. How could I resist? Especially since I’ve already got a set of Oathsworn animals, which I bought about two years ago. I’ve occasionally painted the odd figure since then and now have a collection of ten anthropomorphic animals awaiting adventure.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but now that Burrows & Badgers has arrived, they might see the gaming table yet. It’s not that I need another set of small-scale skirmish rules – there is still Songs of Blades and Heroes, which I really like – but Burrows & Badgers is a lovely book with great illustrations by none other than Gary Chalk. And there are some interesting ideas in there.

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I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t tell you more than that, but I will keep you posted if I do. And I will definitely paint the rest of my animals – this is one of my favourite line of miniatures and painting them is a real pleasure.