Gloomhaven, the biggest board game (both literally and figuratively) in years, is coming to the PC, and is currently playable in a limited form as part of an early access deal.
With only a few options presently available to players (in terms of both gameplay and party composition), Gloomhaven is not really interested in making the most of the medium and venturing out into video game territory by radically changing any of its systems or design.
Instead, this is mostly just a literal adaptation of the board game, only you’re moving a mouse around instead of cards, and you’ve got fancy on-screen characters instead of tabletop miniatures.
This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it ensures that the game is going to be faithful to the well-reviewed and insanely-popular tabletop experience, so there won’t be too many surprises. “If you like Gloomhaven, you’ll love Gloomhaven” seems like the sales pitch here.
Which is fine, but it’s also a little disappointing. I’ve never been the biggest fan of digital board games because, in all but the most select circumstances, they for me defeat the point of playing board games in the first place. A tabletop experience should be about sharing a physical space with friends, convening over a tangible game, something you can feel and fold and push in your hands.
Gloomhaven in particular is built for this; a co-operative dungeon crawler, as a board game it’s all about friends, teamwork, a sprawling story and miniatures. On a tabletop that’s an experience that’s tough to beat, but on PC, that’s another story. On PC, going up against actual video games, Gloomhaven seems remarkably quaint.
If I wanted to play Gloomhaven and enjoy its strengths, I’d play the board game. But if I wanted to settle in on PC and fight my way through dungeons, there are far more dynamic and exciting ways to do it — from Divinity to Darkest Dungeon — than clicking on digital cards and watching slow animations play out.
If you particularly love Gloomhaven for the way it uses cards in combat, though, and the way its campaigns unfold, then that’s all here (or at least will be when the game leaves early access). Plus to the video game version’s credit it’s cool seeing everything brought to life on the screen, with loads of swirling and sparkling effects that you obviously don’t get on the tabletop.
And who knows how big this thing will get by the time it’s properly released. It’s tough at the moment getting a feel for its full scope when things are so limited. One thing we do know the video game version has over its tabletop counterpart, though, is Adventure Mode, which is a more roguelike experience than the board game.
Publishers Asmodee Digital are themselves saying that this initial phase of the early access period is mostly for fans of the board game and tactical RPGs, and that onlookers and potential newcomers will be better served later on, closer to the game’s full release, when there’ll be more game modes and stuff to play around with.
Until then, Gloomhaven is $36 on Steam, with early backers getting access to everything that gets added later on for free, while those buying the game later will be paying a higher entry price.