I suppose it was about time I played the top game of the past few years. My friend and I put in 14 hours last weekend on it. We made it through 5 adventures, with 3 loses and replays, and made it to level three. We opened up another 9 locations.
When I first thought about writing about Gloomhaven a few months ago, I had planned on doing a dungeon crawl comparrison between #Warhammer Quest, #Too Many Bones, and #Gloomhaven. That comparrison is much more difficult than I anticipated. Even though all three are fantasy games with dungeon crawl aspects, they are very different games.
In brief on the first two.
Warhammer Quest (the old version) is a typical DM-less dungeon crawl with limited character choices, very little character development, and a wildy swingy system of copmbat. It is a d6 to 2d6 combat system with only a little variation i creatures, dungeons and monsters. It is truly an old-school ameritrash dicefest where a couple of rolls can spell success or doom.
On the campaign side, it is simplistic and offers randomized town events, and straight forward stat based character leveling. It is very hard to survive long enough to level up in this game. One bad dungeoin can be a party wipe, and then you start over. I once made it to fourth level, only to go into town, roll 2d6 and get run over by a wild cart and die.
After playing this recently, I don't really see pulling it out again. It was great for its time, but hasn't aged well. #Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients, clearly has its roots in Warhammer Quest. it is silly in its own way, has a bunch of random stuff that makes it wildly swingy, and continues with the core of ameritrash dicefest.
#Too Many Bones is a very different experience. Much like Warhammer Quest, TMB is largely a sit down and play one adventure. It is different however in that you play a series of unique, escalatig battle scenarios that eventually lead to a boss battle.
Where TMB really shines, is in character development. It is a dice building game. Each character is very different, and has 16 unique skills and dice that make up the options you can develop in a character (in addition to their base stats). I have never played a game that captures the excitement of character development so strongly. Each character develops and plays in completely unique ways. Development is so diverse, that you can even play the same character several different ways. There is a very strong tenstion in development of choosing to upgrade base stats, versus buying that shiny new abiligy that can be used once per battle (typically once, though some are multiple use).
It is a dice fest like WHQ, but instead of rolling the same dice every turn, you have to choose which abilities, attacks and defences to play on any given turn. And to balance those out through a battle against a unique enemy set in each scenario.
The battles are played out on a four by four grid (with a few other spots in Undertow). TMB is completely different from other dungeon crawls in this aspect. Movement is not often used, and it is really about placement, blocking and positioning. It is still a tactical experience, but has very little variation from level to level.
There isn't a campaign to speak of in TMB. They have one in expansions, but really, you are starting a fresh character each time.
The strong point of the game is the unique character development and variation. It is compelling and fun and addicting.
Finally on to #Gloomhaven. GH is a monster. The designers threw everything they could into that giant box. There are many, many aspects to the game that build on top of each other.
It is a dungeon crawl, sort of. It is really a short vinyet adventure hook placed into a 3 or 4 room battle scenario. It is an adventure game, with a staggering number of different adventure hooks all loosely tied together along different thread lines woven into a greater story. It is a hand management game, where you have to manage your cards and abilities over the course of the scenario in order to make it all the way through successfully. It has a deep character development mechanism, where you can build up cards, items, abilities and bonuse.
I came out of playing wondering how I could even compare it to the other dungeon crawls. Simply put, it is not a dungeon crawl, it is a insanely long and deep journey. Yet, there are some comparrions. TMB and Gloomhaven are similar in their resource management during battles. In TMB, you need to figure out the optimal time to use your special dice, while in Gloomhaven it is cards. It is similar to WHQ (and typicaly dungeon crawls) in that you really need to be creative and careful in your positionsing and movement.
Yet those comparrisons don't do GH justice. It is so very deep and full. The tension in hand management is palpable and really drives the game. It is wonderfully expanded by the many ways you can grow stronger, and the very open exploration system of new adventures.
But... it isn't perfect. There is so much in the game, especially in cards and abilities, that it creates a significant amount of 'what about this situation'. This, especially in early game, can really impact game flow, as you have to constantly look up FAQ's and try to determine what the rulebook says. The rulebook isn't bad (at over 50 pages) but it doesn't cover the mutlitude of unique scenarios that constantly arise.
The amount of cards and bits can be overwhelming, which makes setup and teardown a bear. Even with an organizer, which I am so glad I have. There is also a lot of bookkeeping during the game with needing to manage all of the different decks of cards for combat as well as the monsters. I understand that there is an app to help with ths, so there may be some relief there.
All that being said, the game is amazing. It is addicitng and intriguing and fun.
One more side note. All of these games are built upon the glory that is Dungeons and Dragons. D&D offers much of what the games above offer, and adds in a role playing experience beyond compare with any board game made. However, you really need a DM and a party for that, so board games will win on solo or duo play.
There it is. If you read all that, I'm impressed, and I hope it provided some insight for you.