Gloomhaven Strategy Guide (Early Access)

By Matt Thrower 28 Aug 2019 0

Asmodee Digital's new adaptation of physical table-top game Gloomhaven is generating a lot of excitement right now, despite being in Early Access. But it's also catching a lot of players out on some rough edges.

One of those is the lack of a dedicated tutorial to help players learn such a complex game, although there are videos and a digital rulebook to help with that. What's also causing problems, though, is that it's a tough game that can be very punishing for new players. Luckily for you, we're here to help get started.


Playing solo, it's generally best to run two characters to avoid getting overwhelmed with options although note not all class combinations are created equal. Most are playable but the Spellweaver and Scoundrel together should be avoided, as both are poor defensively. The Spellweaver with either the Brute or the Cragheart, on the other hand, offer a lot of flexibility.

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Taking the Initiative

The first decision you're faced with every round is the two cards you'll be playing for each character. This is a complex decision: indeed it's the bulk of the strategy for the entire game. A good selection requires you to balance a lot of different information.

Firstly, ask yourself when in the round you want to go. You have to pick cards before you know the initiative value of monsters on the board. If they're far away and don't have access to ranged attacks, it's generally safe to go late. Indeed it can be advantageous to do so, since it gives the monsters the chance to move closer, which may put them in range of your attacks.

If you're close to a monster, though, the key question is whether you have the appropriate attacks to kill any on them. If you do, you always want to go early as it removes a threat, saving your health. Indeed, it's often best to try and arrange your initiative to get back to back turns (i.e. go last then go first twice, then go last) as you'll rarely kill a monster with a single attack.

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Choosing Cards

As well as initiative, you also have to pick cards based on the effects you want each turn, making for a tricky three-way decision. The top-half and bottom-half effects are designed so that, most often, you can get in one attack and one move or defensive effect.

It's tempting to pile in as much pain as possible from every single move, but there's more to things than that. Gloomhaven is essentially about avoiding damage where possible. Of course, you've got to kill monsters too, but as we discussed, that's best done when you can be reasonably certain of landing a killing blow, ensuring the creature can't attack back.

Often, movement is a good way of simply keeping out of harm's way. You don't always need to go toe-to-toe with every horror in the room, especially if you've got some ranged attacks, or cards that let you move and attack. Stun and Poison effects are your friends here too, the former keeping monsters out of action for a turn and the latter inflicting damage even as you dance away.

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Getting Exhausted

The easiest way to lose a Gloomhaven adventure isn't by losing health but by losing cards. Since you lose a card every time you rest, this will happen to every adventurer eventually. But there's a lot of variety between the classes, and some surprising maths behind getting it right.

Of the four classes currently in the game, the Cragheart can last the longest at 30 rounds. Spellweaver isn't far behind at 28, but getting that means making optimal use of her Reviving Ether card, which can be difficult to time. The Brute gets a decent 25 and the Scoundrel a worrying 20.

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What does this mean for strategy? Well in the first instance, it affects when it's best to play the effects from your powerful "Lost" cards. The earlier you play them, the smaller your deck gets and the less rounds you'll last. So it's less impactful for a Cragheart to play one early than it is for the Scoundrel. Furthermore, the best time to play them depends on your number of starting cards. You should aim to play Lost cards on even or odd turns if your character started with an even or odd number of cards.

The same logic applies to discarding cards to avoid damage: the more you do it, the faster you'll get exhausted. Since exhaustion is generally a greater danger than actual death, it should be a last resort, especially early in the game. And again, it's more dangerous for low-stamina characters than high-stamina ones.

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It's often worth resting before you've run out of cards over having to play Lost cards or discarding cards to damage. As a general rule, unless it's late in the game, you'll save stamina by doing so.

The Doors

It might seem absurd, but one of the most tactically challenging things in working the map is opening doors properly. When you do so a new room, full of fresh nasties ready to rend your flesh, is revealed so it pays to consider and get the timing right.

In addition, each door is a choke point on the map where limited figures can line up and fight one another. This is bad for anyone, but catastrophic for your heroes who rely on staying and working together to survive. Remember: attacks aren't that useful unless the damage is going to kill a foe, so limiting the amount you can put out is extremely dangerous.

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When dealing with doors, the ideal scenario is a high-move card that allows a character to open the door and then move back. This keeps them away from danger and opens up the opportunity that whatever's in the room beyond might advance and jam in the door, making it easier for you to pick them off.

Failing that, you're down to card effects. There are a number of defensive cards that can be very useful in this situation. Invisibility, for instance, can keep you safe if you waltz into the new room. If you have to go on the offensive then opening doors is often a great opportunity to maximise the use of otherwise tricky area-effect attacks. At least make them pay for all the pain they're about it inflict on you!

Do you have any additional tips for new Gloomhaven players? Have a question you need help with? Let us know in the comments!



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