When it comes to modern board games there are few as iconic as Gloomhaven. Weighing in at over 10 kilos of physical mass, and boasting one of the largest boxes you could imagine, it’s also the one game that is perhaps most suited to a digital conversion. A few months ago Fantasy Flight Games released Gloomhaven on Steam, and while it’s still in its early days, all signs are promising.
First and foremost, you don’t need to be a diehard fan of the board game to make the most out of this adaptation. In some ways, the opposite is almost true. Many Gloomhaven fans love the way that the board game expands into a living, physical world as their quest unfolds. Stickers are added to the board, cards are permanently removed from the game and aging heroes retire, potentially appearing later as non-player characters.
The video game adaptation feels much more like a classic video game RPG, to me, and thus the circle is complete once again. I say that because there’s no doubt that Gloomhaven itself has been heavily influenced by computerised RPG’s, which were in turn influenced by RPG’s of the 1980’s, as well as early miniatures board games.
The mere fact that Gloomhaven has a storied history — that extends something like thirty years before it was even produced — makes playing it on a modern PC a bit of an odd experience, for me. As a video game, it’s completely fine — as I’ll obviously explain in more detail later — but if you’re looking for Gloomhaven The Board Game, then please, just stick with Gloomhaven The Board Game (assuming of course that you can afford its £120 RRP).
Assuming that the board gamer in you isn’t weirded out by what digital Gloomhaven actually is, or that you’re simply interested in having a really good time playing a turn based RPG, then read on, because it almost certainly has something to offer you. What ‘something’ you say? Well, loads of interesting classes, very cool action and combat systems and what appears to be probably limitless content, all underpinned by solid visuals.
OK, so Gloomhaven is good, then? Well, yes, it’s good. For now, the version we’ve been testing is clearly still in the relatively early stages of development. The opening menu has many greyed out options, and when choosing which characters will make up your party (from several of those in the base game) there are some key omissions. Some of these might be deliberate for the purposes of unlocking or DLC, but parties consisting of more than two heroes are not allowed at present, for example.
Choose a pairing from the likes of the Cragheart, Scoundrel, Brute and Spellweaver and you’ll be ready to step into the dark and stormy night. The opening narrative explains something about occult artifacts, bad guys and so on, before then sending players out onto the world map. A few choices are available here, each of which will lead to a mission that will either progress the main story, or act as an opportunity to gain skills, treasure and experience.
Once the actual mission starts, the game will transition to a top-down view of a stylish and attractive representation of the board game. While Gloomhaven had notoriously dull and/or spartan levels in cardboard form, those on offer in the digital version are populated by tables, tombs and other paraphernalia, offering a bit of welcome visual diversity.
Monsters and enemies are fairly diverse as well, although I didn’t see anything during my plays that hadn’t appeared in the board game. In any case, both the player characters and the enemies all look fantastic, with good scaling, a nice amount of detail and fairly good animation. Most importantly, the interface is clear about current health and other key information, such as who will act next.
As most Gloomhaven fans will know, the really unique aspect of this game is in the combat system, which is driven by a deck of cards unique to each character. As combat unfolds, the players will need to choose two cards per round, taking the first action from one and the second action from the other. Once used these cards will usually be placed into their discard pile to be reshuffled when resting, however, some effects will cause cards to be discarded permanently, effectively reducing your options for the remainder of the mission.
Each character has a health value that is specific to their class and when taking damage they will usually have the option to either take that damage from their health, or to discard cards. Ultimately, what this means is that the core of Gloomhaven’s gameplay is at all times linked to the way you manage your cards. Spending big, single use effects on small enemies can leave you vulnerable later, but on some turns, it is simply unavoidable.
The Gloomhaven blurb promises quite a lot for the asking price of just under £20. There are allegedly 95 scenarios (I’m not going to count them in order to disagree) and over 45 enemy races. The 17 playable characters promised by the blurb aren’t yet in place, but I have no reason to think that it won’t be. It’s also very, very, very likely (some might say that means it’s inevitable) that DLC content will be added as well, assuming any level of commercial success.
Gloomhaven in digital form is a fine rendition of the original board game. It has loads of characters, enemies, and dungeons to fight through, and it retains the board games unique card combat system, which is among the best you’ll see in any game. With that said, it does lose the awesome table presence of its physical parent, and at the same time, the tactile nature that makes board games what they are. On the plus side, it takes ten seconds to setup, rather than an hour.
You can find Gloomhaven on PC.