Gloomhaven Digital Version Review: a wonderful turn-based tactical role-playing game

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Gloomhaven is no longer just a popular board game. It’s a franchise. This cooperative dungeon crawler was designed and published by Isaac Childres and achieved massive success on three different kickstarters, including the $ 13 million sequel Frosthaven. Now, after several years in Early Access, the fully digital game is ready for final release on PC. The end result is wonderful.

As a tabletop game Gloomhaven is new for several reasons. The first is a rich, dice-free combat system. The players choose from several classes, each of which has its own deck of cards. These include the typical opportunities to move around in the dungeon and attack an opponent, but also special skills such as the talent of the rock heart to wipe out terrain, or the tinkerer’s arsenal of traps.

The depth and quality of this card-based combat system is wonderfully worked out in the digital version. This is most evident when approaching the game as a solitaire experience. Although you can play the board game all by yourself, managing multiple characters and enemies is a tedious process. The PC port, however, reduces the process of organizing decks, tokens, and tiles to a quiet moment of loading. The digital adaptation eliminates the entire workload and the essential assets are retained.

Image: Asmodee Digital

Once the journey has actually started, no time is wasted. Multiple character controls are greatly simplified – you can switch between party members and examine their many action cards with ease. It also saves time as players no longer have to evaluate the enemy’s priorities or decide some of the more difficult situations where aiming is not clear. Antagonist activations are completely handled by the game in the background. All of this saves a tremendous amount of time and energy and keeps the momentum going while you break through the deluge of content on offer.

Another notable feature of the tabletop game is its size. Physically, it’s a beast full of sealed content that a group of friends can discover during their roughly 40-hour campaign. While the popularity of campaign-based board games has certainly increased in recent years, Gloomhaven was a bit of a trailblazer within its genre. It synthesized influences from both Pandemic Legacy and Dungeons to create a new, unified vision. As it included “legacy” elements like permanent modification of cards by adding stickers, it opened up a new wealth of opportunities to support long-term advancement. All of that original material is now in this digital version, and it’s amazingly effective.

Tearing up an event card or sticking a skill card brings a surprising amount of mental anxiety that permanently changes and in some ways damages this expensive board game. While this agony cannot be captured in the PC version, almost everything else is. You can still modify cards through improvement, unlock all the different classes and achieve achievements virtually sticking on the digital board.

Mercenaries fight revived skeletons on a turn-based basis

Image: Asmodee Digital

The ongoing story itself is brought to life in the PC version. The soundtrack is tense and surprisingly lively with gorgeous rhythms. I especially like the voice acting that tells introductions to all scenarios. The organization of the quests on the world map also proves to be efficient, so that you can even assess which enemies you are likely to encounter on each excursion. One of the more uncomfortable features of the board game is that it can be difficult to keep track of the various narrative threads when evaluating side quests alongside the main storyline. This is especially a problem if you rarely meet with your real-world playgroup. But even in the digital version, all of this is trivial; Each dungeon has a useful descriptor that can help you dive back in, even if you haven’t played in days.

Speaking of which: the dungeons themselves are terrific. Their appearance is not particularly noticeable, but they create an oppressive atmosphere. This mood goes well with an increased focus on exploration. New rooms and enemies are slowly revealed when you encounter them, unlike the board game where you have to inconveniently ignore unexplored areas on the dungeon setup map. This is a fundamental change in the way we interact with the environment and creates an increased sense of tension. It doesn’t hurt that these dungeons, with their atmosphere and excellent design, are all the more fun because the digital version takes so much of the busy work of tabletop gaming away. It’s so much easier to be enveloped in everything.

One of Asmodee Digital’s greatest achievements with GloomhavenThe digital version of is the clear and sleek user interface. Occasionally you’ll be looking for an element that feels buried – like the character-specific combat objectives for each dungeon – but it’s never a tedious or tedious search. Gloomhaven is an extremely close game after all. But it feels like the digital developers basically understand the tabletop game and have tried to analyze it as simply as possible.

A tinkerer inflicts damage on an Inox Guard

Image: Asmodee Digital

Gloomhaven digital is impressive because it makes solo play easier, but it is also capable of providing a satisfying experience for a group of friends. It’s a tempting alternative to the physical version as it’s much easier to schedule an hour for everyone to jump on the PC, especially since COVID is still a concern. You can tackle the entire campaign or investigate the renegade guild master mode. The latter offers escalating encounters without any strong narrative connection, but allows you to experience character growth and brand-based combat. Compared to the campaign, however, this mode lacks the long-term benefits and strength of the story.

In the full version, I’m very impressed with Gloomhaven Digital. Although the original title is extremely dense and challenging, it is a remarkable board game experience. This experience was masterfully transferred to the pc by removing all obstacles and focusing on the central mechanisms. The end product is one of the most satisfying turn-based dungeon crawlers of 2021.

Gloomhaven‘s digital version will be released on Windows PC on October 20th, with a Mac version on a TBD date. The game was verified on PC using a pre-release download code from Asmodee Digital. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect the editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. you find More information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.


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