Gloomhaven Early Access – Initial Play and Thoughts


So I finally got to jump in the dungeon… and jump in the deep end I did!

So if you follow me at all, you will know how much I have been looking forward to trying out Flaming Fowl Studios and Asmodee Digitals version of Gloomhaven. And this week, it finally came out on Early Access!

I have had the physical version for a while now, but it’s always been one of those ‘not tonight’ games. Not because I am not keen – setup and teardown are my two biggest concernt. Just setting up Gloomhaven can take the better part of an hour (especially without practice), so being able to turn the PC and play is appealing.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to sit down and play the game. And I must say at the moment there is a lot of promise for what can be achieved!

So what’s missing in Early Access?

Basically – a lot. And yes, you are being asked to pay a pretty hefy price up front for a game with what looks like minimal content.

How do I come up with the very scietific quantity of a lot? Of the physical games 17 characters and 47 enemies, only four playable characters, nine enemies plus three bosses are available on Early Access Launch.  Environments are not yet available, and I would guess maps and equipment as well.

Also missing is the 95 scenario campaign – by far Gloomhavens biggest drawing point. Instead, you have random adventures across the land in a stripped down turn based dungeon crawl.

Gloomhaven in play 2
A lot of the physical game contents are missing from the digital version - but the developers are working on it and being very upfront about it

None of this has dampened my enthusiasm at all though. Flaming Fowl Studios and Asmodee Digital have been very upfront that the full experience will be coming in time, with Early Access a chance to make sure all is going well.

So knowing that things are ‘missing’, let’s get playing.

Initial Impressions

When I fired up Gloomhaven for the first time, there were some intial dialogue screens that basically read:

“Hey, thanks for buying Gloomhaven. It’s Early Access and we know there will be problems, sorry in advance. We promise to try and not break your games as we do updates, but we can’t guarentee it. Also, if you haven’t played Gloomhaven before, the tutorial is being worked on and fleshed out. Have fun, and let us know your feedback!”

Now I have been avoiding the physical version for about 8 months, so I was pretty much a newbie again. What I wasn’t expecting was a locked tutorial menu option though! Without reading any rules beforehand expecting some handholding from the game, I nevertheless continued on.

Adventure Mode

The current game mode and I would guess the post campaign mode of choice, Adventure Mode lets you explore the lands in a proceduraly generated set of adventures.

From your base town, you have paths with different difficulty levels of adventure. The more of a challenge, the greater the rewards – hardly unique to Gloomhaven!

The map itself looks like a hand drawn map, including some nice touches like animated clouds. When you begin your scenario, you enter your dungeon and always have your objective up on screen, which is nice.

The graphics and animations are nice, and serve their purpose well. Gloomhaven is undeniably pretty without being over the top. I did notice some jagged edges on shadows when zoomed in close, and I am not a fan yet of the way the walls become see through, but I got used to both quickly enough.

Choose your path, and see what adventures wait for you
All of the relevant information is shown on screen in an easy to see way

Combat is effectively the same as the board game, and familiar territory for any turn based strategy fan – XCom fans for example will already have the pacing down pat.

The firelight flickers nicely, the gold coin drops shimmer beautifully, and the attack animations are fun to watch still.

Having only gotten a little way in, it will be interesting to see where Adventure Mode ‘ends’ if at all. There is a lot of potential for quick dungeon runs here!

Controls are very intuitive, and even without looking anything up controls wise I was panning the camera and navigating with ease. I have no doubt I am probably overlooking some very helpful commands already, but until the tutorial is released and/or I sit carefully with the game manual again, I am not worried about that.

Everything is working the way I would expect it to work, which is just what you want in a game really.

The Deep End and Party Death

So on my first scenario, I almost got to the end reasonably well but my party got wiped. Not by the enemies – by my bad playing.

Only half remembering how to play Gloomhaven after not looking at a manual for months, I forgot how important hand management was in this game. Your character may be at full health and ready to go, but if you run out of ability cards (and you have to discard them throughout the scenario), they become exhausted and are effectively out.

This makes for an effective timer in the game – no ‘hanging back until everyone comes to you’. But when you forget about that intially and throw cards away for the sake of it – or worse don’t know that rule – you will fail quickly and hard.

See those really dark cards on the right? I can't use them anymore this scenario. This builds in a timer to battles.

Now I am not saying this as a complaint – far from it. This is an example of why Gloomhaven is such a popular board game!

But if you are going in only having heard about Gloomhaven, you may get the wrong idea from the digital game.

This is only because of the current lack of tutorial within the game – once you are introduced to the game mechanics, I am sure you will be enjoying your adventures. It’s just being left to sink or swim today might put some players off.

So what is wrong with the current version?

A question many will be asking, and it is one that really depends on your point of view. Overall Gloomhaven is what is advertised – an Early Access Game that will have content added over time.

Some will be complaining about paying full price for a game with limited characters, enemies, maps, etc. If that is your concern, wait for the full game release would be my advice.

There were a couple of times during the game (the second game in particular) where my attacks seemed to be doing no damage even though the target wasn’t shielded.

The stats just aren't right on this screen - it's a bit of a puzzle, but far from game breaking

I could have been missing a status icon or the like, but I don’t think so. Bottom line though it took me an extra round to take out the two Living Bones, so no real harm done.

The victory screen stats also aren’t correct. I opened doors, took damage, pushed an enemy on a trap, but none of this shows. Is this a bug? Yes. Did it break the game? No.

After playing Gloomhaven for a couple of hours, right now I can see a fun quick dungeon crawl experience that is going to be improved. In a few months, the first major ‘update’ is set to include the Tinkerer class and take into account early feedback. Coming around December will be a new environment with new enemies and bosses.

Will there be bug fixes? Yes. Will things like the tutorial and multiplayer eventually be opened up? Sure. But they aren’t here yet.

Should I get Gloomhaven now?

The real million dollar question. It depends.

If you love the physical version and want to have a look at a digital release shaping up to being done well, yes I think you should get Gloomhaven. Even if you tear through its content and get bored, you will get all of the content later so it’s not like you will be missing out.

If you are just curious about Gloomhaven and want to see what all the fuss is about – hold off. Not don’t get it, there is not enough to guide you through the experience yet. While the basic information is shown in the compendium, maybe watch a How To Play video for the board game first for a better idea of how the game works.

All of the technical information is available in the Compendium - but it's not the same as learning the game

I wouldn’t expect to see the final version released before this time next year. Not out of any pessimism, but if the second update is due around the holidays, it’s not exactly a rapid fire release schedule. Overall I think this is a good thing though – I would rather a good polished game than a rushed one.

And while the graphics are very pretty, they aren’t exactly photorealistic. Not going to lie – if Gloomhaven can come out on Switch, I will be buying it again just as enthusiastically!

So you mentioned last week something about capturing the game?

If you would like to see my first attempt at a capture video with the new setup and all the terrible choices I made in playing a game I didn’t look up how to play, have I got a surprise for you.

Yep – I recorded my first game! I was going to time lapse sections of it, but I decided later to just leave it as is. That’s the catch with unscripted videos – what I say on camera isn’t always correct 🙁

If you want to see what it’s like jumping in with no knowledge right now, this is probably a good indication of what to expect. It has been so long since I played Gloomhaven, this is pretty much the same as trying the game knowing nothing about it.

Hopefully this will be the first of a new series called ‘JohnHQLD Tries To Play’. This series is almost in Early Access itself, so for the moment I ask for patience with the layout and content (little things like forgetting to talk halfway through for example). While far from a must watch clip, I thought I would leave it to show exactly what going in blind would be like, and get some feedback on if you think this sort of video series would be fun to watch!

So without further delay, don’t say you haven’t been warned, here is my trying to play Gloomhaven!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD