Raiding Dungeons, From Physical To Digital

HIGH Successfully learning the basics!

LOW Spending an hour clearing a dungeon, only to be killed by the last enemy.

WTF Online play is quite troublesome.

Digital versions of tabletop RPGs can sometimes be marvelous. On one hand, they allow us to play even when we’re lacking real life friends, and having new features that would only work when automated can enhance the experience. However, some titles are so complex and so linked to their real-world version that recreating them might miss what makes them great. At this exact crossroads sits Gloomhaven.

Clearly, Flaming Fowl Studios did their homework in researching Gloomhaven‘s tabletop incarnation, originally designed by Isaac Childres, which has been wildly successful since its 2017 release. The hardcopy version offers tactical combat as players take on the role of a wandering adventurer — but they’re just one of several starting classes, each with their own special set of skills and reasons for traveling an esoteric world. Once engaged, players must work together to clear out menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins while moving their character forward along a persistent progression path.

The digital version tries to recreate the same experience by offering singleplayer sessions where one will be in charge of all the characters in a party while defeating enemies, looting dungeons and progressing in their quests to get rich or gain knowledge, all taking place on turn-based, hex-based maps and seen from an isometric perspective. Playing the tutorial, even if one is accustomed to the tabletop version, is definitely recommended since Gloomhaven is no simple RPG experience.

Forward planning is key here. Each character has a deck of cards at its disposal, which are mostly class-specific (barbarian, warrior, archer, etc.) and each card offers two options. During their turn, a character has to choose two cards from a deck and they must use one option from each card. It’s a bit confusing, and might lead to not only botching up the current turn, but likely the next one as well. Also, cards are required not just for attacking, but for general actions, even if there are no enemies in sight — a choice that I did not appreciate here in the digital version.

While this system feels clunky when no combat is happening, it suggests that the concept behind this digital version of Gloomhaven is that it’s more of a port, and less an adaptation. Essentially Flaming Fowl did not want to make an experience based on the original tabletop title, but wanted to replicate that exact experience in a virtual format without adding tweaks or implementing changes that might make sense or provide quality-of-life shortcuts in a videogame.

Speaking of being faithful to the source material, the digital version features the tabletop’s 17 playable characters, 47 enemies, and 95 scenarios — an astounding amount of content and a great deal for one’s money. I’ve heard that there are also additional characters, enemies, bosses, environments, and stories exclusive to the digital version. Unfortunately, the campaign’s difficulty makes it quite difficult to see and do everything for the sake of review.

One thing that needs to be said for this digital version, however, is that it’s far cheaper and takes up far less space in one’s house than the real thing.

Gloomhaven is notoriously expensive and comes in a box that is so big that it beggars belief. Anyone curious about this well-regarded game but scared off by the investment of cash or storage space needed would do well to check out this far more economical version. Casual RPG players might bail before the tutorial is over, but it’s much easier to give this a try than to wrangle the actual pen-and-paper kit. Another plus for the virtual? Newcomers can waste hours tinkering in the sandbox mode which unlocks all the characters while offering randomly-generated dungeons.

Although I was far from mastering the techniques and rules of Gloomhaven after my time with it for review, I do commend Flaming Fowl for a job well done. They have delivered a well-curated digital version of an extremely complex and intimidating tabletop experience — fans of the original or those curious to dip a toe in without breaking the bank should check it out.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Flaming Fowl Studios and published by Asmodee Digital. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are co-op multiplayer modes available.

Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains moderate violence and mild horror with enemies like spiders. Even though I wouldn’t consider it more violent or scarier than an average RPG, I still would recommend it to a teen audience.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game features subtitles for all spoken dialogue. Text cannot be altered or resized. (See examples above.) There are no audio cues n In my view, the game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game is controlled via the mouse with some additional keyboard shortcuts, it is not possible to remap the controls. There is no control diagram.

Damiano Gerli
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