Why Gloomhaven is good, but not great

A couple of weeks ago our Gloomhaven campaign reached one of it’s climaxes when the party encountered The Great Drake at the Scorched Summit in the Copperneck mountains.

In many ways, this one photo sums up all that is good and bad about the game. Here we are, facing off against the one of the biggest creatures in game and I found what we were presented with strangely disengaging. I mean, we are about to fight a fracking dragon, and it seems a little bit, well, meah.

I don’t know if anyone else has had this issue with the game at all, or whether it’s just me being a bit weird.

RPGs are definitely aimed at The theatre of the mind and as such using standees in these games doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Indeed, we played with standees the other week during Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and it didn’t make a single jot of difference to the game.

Dungeon bash style games, where the figures, board and scenery are integral to the game are, for me at least, slightly different. Here the physical aspect of the game takes on a more prominent role, and the look of the game is more important.

We have seen so many games of this style done well, whether they have been published by Fantasy Flight Games, Monolith, Mythic Games, Cool Mini or Not, Wizards of the Coast, Mantic Games, Awaken Realms and many others. These games all have scenario based map explorations with scenic boards and miniatures – and yes, several of them include models of dragons – really good model dragons. The one in Wrath of Arshadalon is good, but the Mantic Dungeon Saga dragon is even better.

OK, ultimately I know that everything is just a counter, and once caught up in the heat of battle whether I am fighting a model dragon, or just its cardboard stand-in makes very little difference. But the disconnect between plastic miniatures for the heroes and card stands for the enemies simply jars in my sensibilities just that little bit too much. I am still unsure as to why the publishers haven’t made a miniature deluxe expansion available – given the popularity of the game I am sure it would both sell and make money.

Now I realise all this can labelled somewhat pendantic, if not downright OCD, but this one aspect of Gloomhaven has kept it from turning from a good game into a great game in my estimation.

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