Digital or Board, There is Gameplay For Every Style
Review by Mark Tabler
Before we talk about Gloomhaven the video game, we need to talk about Gloomhaven the board game. The board game is, frankly, not designed for casual play. This is good news to the hardcore game fanatic, who will delight in the complicated map pieces, the rule-laden cards, and a seemingly endless sea of little cardboard tokens. The game has an unapologetically harsh difficulty curve, and if you want to see everything the game has to offer you’re going to need to get pretty good at the tactics of the game.
The good news about the video game is that the computer handles all of the fiddly bits for you. The game plays more smoothly (and much more quickly) when the computer is keeping track of everything for you. There are, however, a few flies in this ointment. My main complaint is that in its effort to streamline the gameplay, it actually obscures some important game mechanics. For example, there is are two decks of cards for Events, and once each Event is resolved, the card is either placed at the bottom of the deck (to be played again later) or is removed from the game entirely. In the board game version, this provides important context as to the nature of the Event; in the video game, players are simply not informed what happens to the Event card. There are many similar experiences that are by their nature obvious while playing the board game, and completely opaque in the digital game.
The story told by the game is fairly solid. I don’t know that I’d sit down and read the novelization if one is ever written, but there’s certainly enough going on to keep players interested and motivated to continue. There are light-hearted moments and plenty of comedy beats, but the overall feeling of the story is… well, gloomy. A good rule of thumb is that a happy character in Gloomhaven is very likely either getting ready to incite some violence, or is unwittingly on the precipice of disaster. Not always, of course, but very, very frequently.
Overall, I feel like Gloomhaven the video game is a sort of ersatz version of the board game. It’s entertaining, and also quick and convenient – but perhaps Gloomhaven was never meant to be quick or convenient. It certainly loses something in the translation. If you’re looking for the full Gloomhaven experience, I’d recommend the board game. If you enjoy the board game but want to skip the token-fiddling, or want to play with a friend online, then the digital edition of the game might be just what you need. Otherwise, I have to say that you can find games with equally good tactical elements, better story, better presentation, and better performance for half the price.
Value: 3 / 15
Story: 12 / 15
Gameplay / Mechanics: 10 / 15
Presentation: 4./ 15
Fun: 32 / 40
Add 15 points if you’re a fan of the board game
Add 10 points if you’ve got a deep tactical itch that needs scratching
Overall score out of 100:: 61 – 86
Value: how well does the game reward your investment of both dollars and time?
Story: Would you watch a video of someone else playing this game just for the sake of the story?
Gameplay / Mechanics: If this game were only abstract tokens and numbers, how much fun would it be?
Presentation: How pleasant is this game to interact with?
Fun: Sometimes, a game is more (or less) than the sum of its parts; the most important thing is whether it was an enjoyable experience.