This, the opening paragraph of bewilderingly dense manual, might mean something to hardcore board gamers—but to anyone who hasn’t played the original , the current heavyweight champion of board gaming, it’s confusing (to say the least).
proper is a colossal package, offering hundreds of hours of dungeon crawling across a persistent campaign that changes the world as players grow. It’s also physically huge, coming in a box with the dimensions of the average London studio apartment and brimming with so much content that most players won’t see a fraction of it. It features an imaginative high fantasy setting that consciously eschews the usual elf/dwarf/orc racial menagerie.
, on the other hand, which made half a million dollars on Kickstarter last summer, could not be further from the baroque, sprawling weirdness of its illustrious ancestor. It’s been designed as a fast-moving, euro-style game in which representatives of the various races compete to, well, found the city of Gloomhaven in an orgy of competitive town planning. It’s designed to take two hours or less—that is, only slightly longer than it takes to set up and tear down the first game.
looks like a city-building game, but in reality it’s a game of logistics, of linking buildings that generate basic resources so as to get another type of building or resource and then later get a third type. Along the way, a city constructed, but that largely affects play due to adjacency rules, as buildings can’t be next to one another. The city that emerges is satisfying, but it’s totally peripheral to the complex game of resource-intensive dominoes that you’re actually playing.
Mechanically, it’s an interesting mish-mash of other influences. Players have an identical deck of basic action cards (which they supplement with a cast of characters), all of which can be played only once until the card that lets them pick up their discard pile. It’s a design also seen in , a modern euro classic. Each card also has a primary action and a less powerful follow-on action that everyone else can take (think or ). Then there’s a worker placement aspect (think ), on which more later.
Each player starts by controlling one or two of the eight basic commodities used to build the landmarks of , such as the famous “Archers’ Garrison,” the renowned “West Gatehouse,” or the picturesque “Brown Door.” The basic commodities are combined with others to make better ones, which are used to make better ones yet. Players score by supplying the named locations—one of which appears on the board using a voting/bidding mechanic each turn—with certain resources. You score if you build a better building with two resources, but if you paid someone to use their resource, they get a few points themselves. As the buildings and networks become more sophisticated, there’s a satisfying cascade of points that’s also kind of a pain to partition if three or more people are involved.