Gloomhaven is notoriously one of the crunchiest, toughest tabletop experiences money can afford. The built-in tutorial of its digital adaptation is exceptional at conveying the basic rules. However, given the number of mercenaries, abilities and items available, surviving in the world of Gloomhaven will require more than an hour-long tutorial.
These 7 beginner’s tips in Gloomhaven will help you get up to speed with the core gameplay.
1. Don’t rest unless you need to
Your mercenary’s hit points are only as important as the number of cards they have access to. After at least two cards are in your discard pile, you can short or long rest to burn one for the remainder of the scenario and get the rest back into your hand. While it might be tempting to do this as soon as possible to get back that one very powerful card over and over, this dramatically shortens the lifespan of your mercenaries. You should always aim to use all the available cards in your hand before resting.
2. Save your burn cards
Looking through your mercenary’s cards, you will see some more powerful than others. These are usually “burn” cards, as indicated by the icon in the bottom-right corner. These powerful 1-time effects don’t get discarded but get burnt instead, massively reducing the number of turns your mercenary will be able to stay alive. A mercenary who can’t play 2 cards at the beginning of any round is as good as dead (literally).
The Mindthief, for instance, has a hand size of 10. If she were to never burn a card and only recover cards from the discard pile by resting when out of cards, she could last for a total of 25 rounds. However, if she burns a card before the first rest, she exhausts at the latest on turn 21.
The board game crowd has crunched the numbers for us all, but a good rule of thumb is to try and save your burn cards for the later stages of a scenario.
3. Play aggressively
Each mission has a “hidden” timer which is given by the amount of turns your character can survive given its starting hand size. While enemies can turtle up and defend indefinitely, mercenaries need to be playing aggressively.
Always have a backup plan in case enemies going with a very fast initiative or using a defensive ability disrupt your primary one. While you can and should default cards that are no longer relevant, it is not very efficient and could leave you struggling and lagging behind your fellow mercenaries.
A good example is to always try and move towards the next room in the dungeon while actively dealing damage to enemies as well.
4. No damage is better than any damage
Whenever a mercenary takes damage, you can negate all of it by burning a card from your hand or two cards from the discard pile. This should always be a last resort, as a card in hand is generally worth more than any amount of non-fatal damage.
This may sound obvious, but you really don’t want to take damage unless you have to. This could mean forgoing your offensive plans for the round if that lets you stay out of range of a very powerful enemy attack. Staying out of enemies’ range while also dealing damage involves clever movement and careful initiative selection.
In an ideal world, a mercenary can move with a slow initiative to draw an enemy in, then close the gap and attack. Next round, by going really fast in an initiative, they can attack again and move away, hopefully avoiding an attack again.
5. Know thy enemy
When selecting a new mission, you can see the type of enemies you will be facing, the objective of the mission and any rewards for completing it. You should always select your cards, equipment and when playing Guildmaster mode, even mercenaries, to make the most out of this information.
Facing living spirits or forest imps? Attacks or items that can pierce shields will definitely come in handy, as would a Cragheart’s direct damage abilities. Exploring a crypt full of living corpses? The fast initiative and high movement of the Scoundrel will help against the slow-moving undead mob.
If a mission is giving you particular trouble and you don’t want to try your hand at any of the other available ones, remember that XP and Gold are kept even if a mission is failed, so you can always farm the first room to get better gear and abilities.
6. Prioritise your kills
Speaking of knowing your enemies, not all of them are created equal. Some have the ability to spawn, summon or split themselves into new ones. You should prioritise killing these enemies in any given situation, as they can quickly flood the board.
While I talked about not burning cards early in a scenario, doing so to kill a pesky cultist about to spawn living bones or even stun an ooze about to split is always a good idea. One of the main draws of the Gloomhaven campaign is how finely tuned the difficulty is. Scraping a victory with your very last attack before exhausting is very common and very rewarding. Even a single summoned monster can alter this balance and turn an otherwise manageable dungeon into a nightmare.
7. Buy a stamina potion and thank me later
A well-kitted-out mercenary is a happy mercenary. While you should always look for items and equipment that complement a mercenary’s playstyle, few are universally useful, like stamina potions. As soon as you have 10 gold, you should buy and equip each mercenary with one. This small item is available at the very start of the game and lets you recover 1 card from your discard pile at any time. This may not seem like a big deal, but suffice it to say the effect is so powerful that it had to be nerfed down from recovering 2 cards, and it is still considered borderline OP.
There are a whopping 3,196 possible party compositions in the game. While some mercenaries are definitely stronger than others and suit enemies and objectives differently, all of them are viable provided the preparation is right.
And if you follow these 7 beginner’s tips in Gloomhaven and are still struggling, there is plenty of help online, starting from the official discord channel to mercenaries’ build guides.
(Video by MandatoryQuest)