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Subject: Gloomhaven Mini-Session -- Week 2 rss

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Jim Parkin
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Stow
Ohio
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E On Thursday, Sam, Eee, Anastasia, and I picked up our campaign with our party of illustrious adventurers, Dandelion Junction, and opted to follow the next core-storyline mission rather than dabble in the two side scenarios we unlocked over the last two sessions.

Sam --> Ambrosia the Scoundrel
Eee --> Fezzik the Brute
Anastasia --> Audraia Filidee the Spellweaver
Jim --> Bart Sprocket the Tinkerer

Per the initial campaign introduction (which is not a spoiler), our party was sent to go retrieve some documents which were stolen from an NPC who hands out the first mission. This resulted in a tussle with some bandits. Following through with more story content, we found ourselves outside of the city to “take care of a problem.” In a sort of endless-waves-of-bad-guys setting, our team really coalesced to pull of some great cooperation, while still clearly seeing the expertly-integrated greed and self-interest of each character’s private goals causing some tension and interesting moments. Of special note was the amazing tag-team play wherein Audraia incinerated the front line of attackers in order for Fezzik to bum rush the back targets with a big attack, all the while stiff-arming another dude onto a mine I just planted earlier in the round, resulting in a rather impressive explosion and lots of carnage. Slinking behind us was Ambrosia, who went full aggro-mode after dashing with invisibility up behind the biggest elite target in the room and filling its internal organs with daggers. The conclusion of this mission led to a very troubling moral dilemma, and just like that, the plot twists in the storyline hooked us for all we were worth. Several new locations opened up and we saw the first major storyline branch set up before us. It was clear that going one way would lead to drastically different outcomes and progression than going the other.

E I then tried out the game solitaire on Sunday afternoon by taking the path which Dandelion Junction would have voted on as a group (Ambrosia is effectively an evil wench, so she would have been the minority vote and overruled, anyway!). Opting to go the less morally-ambiguous route, I chose the next scenario and set it up. I also created the two remaining starting classes and whipped up their characters:

Jim --> Craig Hart the Cragheart
Jim --> Scabbers the Mindthief

Doors were kicked down, tables were flipped, traps were sprung, and many undead baddies were eliminated. Craig Hart the Cragheart has a lot of damage-dealing tricks up his rocky sleeves, and he layeth the proverbial smacketh down time and again, while Scabbers did all sorts of funky stuff to propel the party forward. The last room featured another plot twist and a pair of mini-bosses who were really tough. Scabbers was exhausted in the last round, leaving Craig to go toe-to-toe with the end content. Through some crafty maneuvers, he was able to punch both bosses very hard… over and over again. Despite landing some huge hits on Craig, the bosses perished and a whole crap-ton of new content was stickered on the map. These two characters made for a very interesting duo.

E Later that night, my sisters came over after evening worship and were curious about the game. My older sister, Becky, is typically up for playing anything. She is less inclined to enjoy cooperative games, so she was mildly hesitant about Gloomhaven, but once I explained that the cooperation is thematically and mechanically more a relationship of convenience than “we’re a team!” loyalty, her interest was piqued. My younger sister, Ann, is very much a light gamer. In fact, she is not really a “gamer” at all, and normally just comes over to hang out while we play. Sushi Go Party! is the extent of her interest (and hey, I’ll play that a dozen times in a row and be happy…). Anastasia told me earlier in the day that there was no way I would get Ann to play. However, I mentioned to Ann that Gloomhaven is very much akin to some of her beloved childhood computer games like Heroes of Might & Magic III and Diablo II. She immediately came over to take a look. After I explained to she and Becky the basics of the game, including some of the unique card interactions of their classes, she was really interested. We setup one of the follow-up paths from my solitaire session earlier that day.

Jim --> Bart Sprocket the Tinkerer
Anastasia --> Audraia Filidee the Spellweaver
Becky --> Scabbers the Mindthief
Ann --> Craig Hart the Cragheart

Right off the bat, Ann kept sniggling at the deliberate pun I inserted into the Cragheart character. She loved it. I loved it. I also knew that she would enjoy that little quip and help her get into the game a bit more. The first room was LOUSY with enemies--like… holy crap there was a ton of bad stuff in this room. We all plotted out our best opening moves and got our cards ready, then flipped over the monster initiative and got rushed by the first wave of beasties before we had a chance to react. Bart almost got killed right off the bat due to his fast cards (in a tie for targeting, monsters go for the lowest initiative), so I had to ditch a card from my hand immediately. Craig took a few hits, too, but Bart did his best to heal on the fly and steady the line. Audraia was unfazed and just blew crap up. Scabbers beefed up her future attacks but otherwise didn’t do much. Craig was next and smacked the enemies into the ground, killing four of them in a single blow. That loosened up the tension a bit, and we were able to progress down the corridor. There were some spectral enemies who were annoyingly-difficult to hit (by design, obviously) and loved to spam status effects on our party. Ugh. We found that ultimately, Scabbers had very limited movement and it made it difficult for Becky to play her character up in the action. We had a lot of speculation as to best practices here, and we’re still talking about it today via text.

Bottom-line: after a lot of conservative-but-efficient progression through the first two rooms, Audraia kicked down the door to the last room and found… a massive pile of elite enemies, including new ones we had not yet seen. She almost died instantly, save for pinging her leather armor to grant disadvantage to enemy attacks and losing a card to absorb the hit. It seemed dire, but we all deliberately saved our massive damage cards for this room, and proceeded to go to town. Bart sent flamethrowers and bombs blasting, Audraia filled the room with crackling electricity from wall to wall, Scabbers employed telekinetic prompting to force the elites to punch each other to death, and Craig just did all sorts of crazy jumps and hulk smashes into the ground to more or less obliterate everything. Audraia and Craig were just about exhausted at the end of the round, but Scabbers was able to loot the chest in the back corner after stepping on a stun trap and losing a turn. Craig landed the (over)killing blow on the final elite and we won the scenario AND all got our secret battle goals completed for some progress towards better modifier cards.

Ann loved it. Becky loved it. Anastasia loved it. I loved it. Ann and Becky just leaned back and stared at it all. Comments like “this is the most ambitious and incredible game I’ve ever played,” “this is a whole world in a box,” “this is so easy to play, but so deep,” and “the game is hack and slash, but the cards are such a difficult puzzle” all floated over the table. This is such a heavy game for Ann, but she was standing up at one point, excitedly shouting about what to do and shaking her fist at the enemies blocking Anastasia’s path. She and Becky both said they want to keep their characters and continue playing in the future. The campaign structure totally accommodates that, which is sweet.

At its heart, Gloomhaven is a perfect hybrid game. The actions via your player cards really are a puzzle, and a hard one, at that. So much decision space rests on how you play those cards and how you use them to react to stimuli and threats on the board. There is a slightly abstracted mana system which works really well, and the overall flow of the game is precise and elegant. All the while, the massive storyline, plot arcs, monster attacks, boss fights, choose-your-own-adventure events, and overall dungeon-slashing grid smack of a more thematic experience. It’s just fabulous. I’ve not play Desent 2E or Mage Knight, but I’d say this is something between those two (based on my understanding of them and their critiques), yet something much more. It’s crazy ambitious, and but for a few issues (which are really component-related, not game-related) it more than exceeds my expectations for the dungeon crawler/cardboard MMO I never knew I wanted, but now want to play more than anything…

…and we haven’t even unlocked one of the fourteen new classes yet!
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Thorkwin T.
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Thank you Jim, great session report. Especially your description of Ann's reaction was very uplifting laugh
 
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Jim Parkin
United States
Stow
Ohio
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Push Cubes. Blow Stuff Up.
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MIND. BLOWN.
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Thorkwin wrote:
Thank you Jim, great session report. Especially your description of Ann's reaction was very uplifting laugh

I'm still smiling about that, honestly. I'd never have guessed at such a positive reaction. She's asking to play it again this weekend!
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