If you are new to the board gaming hobby then you may well have visited a site such as Board Game Geek and taken a look at their highest rated games in order to have a better idea of what to buy next.
Maybe you have done this and seen Gloomhaven sitting there proudly at the top of the rankings, the highest rated thematic, strategy and thematic game, and decided to buy it.
Once you looked at the price, though, you might well have taken a sharp intake of breath, because Gloomhaven has a Recommended Retail Price of just shy of £140.
If your first taste of gaming was something like Catan, Carcassonne or Ticket To Ride then £140 seems like a huge amount to pay for a board game.
So why is Gloomhaven so expensive compared to those other great games that only cost a third as much, and is it really three times as good as they are?
The first thing that will strike you about Gloomhaven is that the box is huge, far bigger than the standard size for the likes of Ticket To Ride and its ilk.
If you manage to get your arms around the box and lift it up, you’ll notice Gloomhaven is really heavy, and that’s because it is absolutely packed with components.
Take in the artwork on the top of the box, a scene in the life of Gloomhaven, and then lift the lid and take a look at what your hard-earned money has bought.
There are books for rules and scenarios, bits of dungeons that slot together, boards, maps, stickers, cards, tokens, enemies, heroes, envelopes and sealed boxes – in fact, it is hard to imagine how they could have managed to cram anything else in.
In short, your money buys you a vast amount of material that can easily seem overwhelming, and that is just the beginning.
You can watch the designer unbox an early production copy by clicking this link.
When Gloomhaven was released in 2017 it took the gaming world by storm, because it did something that most gamers thought was only possible in computer games.
It created a whole living world populated by different characters who could grow and develop, and with a land that changed as you went through it.
You and your weak starting adventurers are tasked with exploring dungeons, wandering around the countryside, beefing yourselves up and gathering treasure – all the standard fantasy stuff – but your characters can also retire and be replaced, reinforce various locations on the Gloomhaven map, undertake side quests, all the things that were once the realm of the likes of Final Fantasy.
Gloomhaven achieves this via a vast number of components, and keeps many of them unused or secret, until late in the adventure, so there is always an element of excitement and discovery in the game.
Events also happen between adventures which will have an effect on your heroes and which will alter how they are perceived by the inhabitants of Gloomhaven.
At the beginning of the game you are very restricted in what you can do, but as you progress and open up the world you are allowed to open the sealed boxes with new characters and upgrade your abilities.
Because of the way it plays, with the characters moving from scenario to scenario depending on how they have fared in their most recent adventure, Gloomhaven is not like the games you might have experienced before which you set up, play and then pack away.
Gloomhaven is actually a campaign game, which means that you and your fellow players (and your characters) progress through a long and complicated story rather than playing the same things over and over again.
The world of Gloomhaven will change as you move through it and add stickers to the map, and you will slowly gain more options to explore, but you need to be aware that this is a game that needs you to spend a lot of time with it.
If you shell out for Gloomhaven and play it twice a year then you are never going to get value for money out of it, but if you can make regular time its world, maybe once every couple of weeks, and make regular progress with the story, then it will feel like very little you have experienced before.
Although the bits in between the dungeons are where the story of Gloomhaven happens, most of your time playing the game is going to be spent wandering around various hexes and trying to smash enemies.
This is where you need to do some serious thinking about that big chunk of money that you are about to spend on this game, because while the idea of a wonderful story might seem thrilling there is an awful lot of grindy play in Gloomhaven.
Each dungeon and location will be different, each hero has an entirely different set of abilities, and each type of enemy behaves in a unique way, and you (and maybe your friends) will spend a lot of time puzzling through all the possibilities and then working them out in the right order.
Gloomhaven is definitely not a quick play – in a round each character selects two of their cards to play, using the top half of one and the bottom half of the other, and those cards also determine the order in which things happen.
Then there are modifiers, status changes, rules, exceptions, more rules, tokens, charts…your money buys you a pile of stuff but you will also need to keep track of many variables to make sure that it all works.
The game really comes alive when you have a group of friends who are as emotionally invested in it as you are, because you can discuss actions and timings and all look after your own characters.
However, Gloomhaven can also be played solo, operating more than one character, but this is very complicated and something close to hard work, though at least that way you do not have to try to get the same group of people together every time you want to play a session.
I tried this solo a couple of times and found it really hard going, so it’s definitely not for everybody, but you can take a look at how a scenario plays out by watching this excellent video by Paul Grogan and see what you think of it.
After your initial outlay, which gets you a massive pile of cardboard and plastic, if you want to look at Gloomhaven in terms of value for money, then it will really depend on how much you play it.
If it turns out that you do not like the game – and despite its number one rating there are many people who have not enjoyed the experience it has to offer – then Gloomhaven can turn out to be a very expensive mistake, although your expenditure will be softened by being able to sell it on, as the second hand market is very healthy.
On the other hand, if you really dive in to what Gloomhaven has to offer and explore all the avenues that it contains then you could well get more than a hundred hours of play out of the box, at which point your initial outlay could well look like something of a bargain.
Getting a stable and regular group together to play it is certainly the best way of getting extraordinary value out of the box, but it can be tricky to keep a stable bunch of players going, and you will need to find a bunch of like-minded gamers first.
As you might appreciate, Gloomhaven has a massive amount of material in the box and is a pretty heavy beast, and even sorting it out to play can be an intimidating and forbidding experience, so it could well just end up gathering dust on your shelves.
Because of the issues with sorting through and setting up you may well want to consider buying a bespoke insert, such as the one by Folded Space, which will allow you to store all the bits and pieces in neat little compartments, and which makes the whole business of finding certain monsters and packing them away far less stressful.
This will set you back close to another £30, which is enough for a couple of small card games in itself, but really this should be thought of as an investment if you are serious about getting Gloomhaven to the table regularly.
You may also want to download one of the companion apps to help keep track of things without needing a mountain of tiny tokens, though at least these are free and they keep things much tidier on the table.
If you are even thinking of trying to play this massive beast on your own then one of these apps is a must – it may take time to work it out, but it will definitely be worth it.
So why is Gloomhaven so expensive, or, to be more precise, is it really expensive at all for what it offers?
In terms of the amount of material that is in the box Gloomhaven offers decent value for money, but the real issue at hand is how much you are going to play it.
There is no doubt that buying Gloomhaven could end up being a really expensive mistake if you do not like it, find it too complicated, or cannot get the right group together to enjoy it, and all of these need to be considered as genuine possibilities.
On the other hand, if it turns out that you simply cannot get enough then Gloomhaven has the potential to offer astounding value for money, offering well over a hundred hours of entertainment for about £1 an hour, which is pretty cheap.
Add in more players and it works out even cheaper.
It also looks like something approaching a bargain next to some of the other campaign games that have come out since then, and it also has everything you need in the single box.
In conclusion, if you are thinking of dropping three figures of your hard-earned cash on Gloomhaven, then I would advise you to do some research (link to video), and maybe to consider some of the alternatives that I have listed below.
Gloomhaven has the potential to be a expensive mistake, but it also could turn out to be one of the best gaming experiences you could ever have, opening up a vibrant and busy fantasy world you can share with your friends over many hours of play – in other words, priceless.
|You should buy Gloomhaven if:||You should avoid Gloomhaven if:|
|You are looking for a deep and immersive experience||The idea of a fantasy world sends you to sleep|
|You can devote regular sessions to exploring its world with the same group (or on your own)||You play games only infrequently or have only just started exploring them|
|You have played role playing computer games and want to experience the same thing in cardboard||You tend to play a game once or twice only and then move on to something else|
|You are happy to put up with a challenge that can sometimes be repetitive||You do not have a regular game group or do not play solo games|
|You want to experience the best that board gaming has to offer||You find keeping track of two or three things at once difficult and stressful|
If you are not convinced that Gloomhaven is for you, or maybe think that all that money is just too much for a speculative purchase, then you should possibly look at these alternatives:
- One Deck Dungeon – Dice-based dungeon delver with a basic campaign system running between plays, which is light and fun but can drag a little.
- Legends Untold Weeping Caves Novice Set – A cheap card-based dungeon crawler in a portable box with a short campaign as well as individual scenarios.
- Gloom Of Kilforth – A card-based fantasy adventure over twenty five turns, with a vast amount of replayability, although there is no campaign.
- Gloomhaven: Jaws Of The Lion – A shorter, more compressed (and cheaper!) Gloomhaven to introduce you to the system.