12th Oct2018

‘Founders of Gloomhaven’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

founders-box

Founders of Gloomhaven is a city building game in which the players act as the founding settlers of the titular city of Gloomhaven. Whilst Founders of Gloomhaven is set in Isaac Childres’ Gloomhaven world, it’s a very different kind of game to the original Gloomhaven, which is well regarded as one of the best dungeon crawlers out there, thanks to a whole raft of reasons that might one day make for a detailed review in their own right.

When setting up Founders of Gloomhaven, the players have a choice of nine different races, each of which controls one of the various resources that will be needed to build the city. The humans, for example, control population, whilst the Vermlings control wood. In addition to the base resource associated with each race, the players also draft a second resource and add a specifically sized card to their player mat. The reason that I’m mentioning this at length is because resource control is such a fundamental principle in Founders of Gloomhaven that it bears specific mention.

There are slight changes to the basic setup in either two player mode (where each player control three resources and a neutral player controls the remainder) and in solo mode. Most of the pictures you’ll see in this review were taken whilst playing solo, where the most fundamental change is that the player can build all resources or else the game wouldn’t work. Where possible I’ll try to describe the game fairly generally to cover all modes, but I’ll also say now that I have played Founders of Gloomhaven three or four times solo and it’s fast and fun, albeit perhaps a bit easy.

Speaking more broadly, Founders of Gloomhaven includes an absolute ton of components to support play at all counts. The board itself is double sided to allow for either thematically accurate or symmetrical play on each side respectively, but the colour scheme appears a little drab at first. Thankfully, this is a form over function decision to ensure that the different terrain types are clearly marked, which in turn leads to more fluid gameplay. If the board does appear a little dull at first, then it’s a fleeting problem. As soon as the myriad of different resource buildings, houses, roads, advanced buildings and prestige buildings are placed on the board Founders of Gloomhaven takes on a completely different look.

These buildings are all represented by tiles of various shapes and sizes, the majority of which feature detailed artwork depicting whatever the tile in question is intended to deliver. There are also prestige building cards and Advisor cards, both of which occupy their own specific slots on a smaller board that sits alongside the main one. Players also receive their own player board and a deck of action cards, as well as voting tokens and a ton of claim and delivery tokens in their own colour. There are also three meeples and a few personal buildings per player, plus a load of coins. To cut a long story short, Founders of Gloomhaven has a box that is so crammed with stuff, it very barely fits in the box.

A special mention should be made for the rulebook, which is only about twenty pages long, but does an excellent job of articulating a very complicated game in a relatively succinct way. The first time I played, setup took just about thirty minutes and aside from a few misinterpretations, the first few turns were relatively painless. The complexity in Founders of Gloomhaven doesn’t come from the actual gameplay structure (which is very simple) but from the minutiae such as what constitutes a legal placement and whether or not a building is receive a supply. You’ll pick these things up after one or two games at most.

Founders of Gloomhaven is a game in which the players compete to score victory points over a number of rounds. Points are awarded mainly for introducing new, more advanced resources into the city and then linking them wherever there is a demand. This is particularly valuable when supplying resources to prestige buildings, because they often require several level two or three resources. An interesting feature in Founders of Gloomhaven is that victory points flow down, so where a level two building might give four points total, two will be given to the person that builds it, then potentially up to one each for the owners of the two basic resources that supply it – if that’s the same person as the builder, then she gains all four points.

The way that Founders of Gloomhaven progresses is very straightforward and is fundamentally cars driven. As I mentioned earlier, the players each have a hand of five cards (or six in the two player mode) which are construct, upgrade, trade, recruit and call to vote. Income is the sixth card, but I won’t explain it here as it’s fairly obvious what it does. Each card can be played face up for its main effect or face down to choose one of the basic actions like draw one coin, place one road or claim a worker placement spot. In any two or more player game, actions can be followed by other players, which usually allows them to take the same action albeit at a higher cost.

Without getting into detail about every specific action, the basic idea is that trading allows players to either place basic resources or access those of other players that are already on the board. Recruit allows the player to purchase advisors from the board, which in turn expands their hand further, since each round of turns only ends when someone uses the call to vote card. This doesn’t have to be the last card they use, but it tends to used most efficiently when you’ve done everything else you can or want to. Construct allows the player to place one of their personal buildings (like a house or bridge) on the board, whilst upgrade allows the player to place an level two or three advanced building, as well as a connected road (in either order.)

When someone plays a call to vote card for any reason, the other players first gain income and then all players use their vote tokens and their influence gems (which come in fleeting and lasting forms) to choose which of the available prestige buildings will be added to the board. Whichever building receives the most cumulative support will be built, whilst whoever contributed the most individual voting influence will be responsible for placing it. There are restrictions on where each building can be placed, so an element of planning before voting strongly is advisable.

Founders of Gloomhaven is one of those games that begins with relatively brief turns because players have few cards and little money, within just two or three rounds of actions though, hand size and income increase, allowing far more options that mean turns take quite a lot longer. The follow mechanic ensures that no one is left waiting or excluded from the action for more than a minute or so at a time, so Founders of Gloomhaven remains fairly engaging even despite being a fairly heavy eurogame.

On the downside, as the board gets busier, tracking supply lines becomes a challenge. Resources don’t travel through buildings, so it’s essential that players build plenty of roads or face the possible consequences of having to build new basic supply buildings in each zone. There are also some picky rules about building placement (such as adjacency) that must be adhered to as well. These rules combined, plus the overall weight of Founders of Gloomhaven kind of means that it’s hard to switch off during turns – it’s the kind of game where mistakes are made often and can have serious consequences that are hard to rectify.

With all that said, I do find that playing Founders of Gloomhaven both solo and in multiplayer (especially at four players) is very satisfying. Founders of Gloomhaven takes the bold decision to do what most city builders avoid by asking the players to share the board, but it then takes influenced from games like Brass when it comes to how resources move around and support all players, regardless of who controls them. The deck building and voting aspects are light, fun additions that I also enjoy and the use of influence (which is gained in several ways) is interesting and thematic. I’m not a huge fan of some of the fiddly rules, but I can’t suggest a way to handle them more cleanly. Ultimately I think Founders of Gloomhaven should appeal to any Gloomhaven fan, but I think it’s just as good if handled as a pure city building game. Overall it’s an excellent mid to heavy euro that is easy to pick up, but very brain-taxing as it goes on.

**** 4/5

Founders of Gloomhaven is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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