Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

All Roads lead to Gloom:- Founders of Gloomhaven

Game: Founders of Gloomhaven

Publisher: Cephalofair Games

Designer: Issac Childres

Year: 2018

Founders of Gloomhaven is a 1-4 player city building game in which you will create the infamous city of Gloomhaven. Being a multicultural metropolis Gloomhaven attracted all kinds of races right from the start. Each player will control one of these races, each with their own specialisms in producing resources, and seek to be the most influential race in Gloomhaven. This is achieved by using the unique scoring mechanism where points are given out to the people who own the resources required to build a new building, and further points being awarded further down the supply chain.

Turns in Founders of Gloomhaven use a action card system, each turn the active player will play 1 card from their hand giving them an action to perform. Typically the other players when have the choice to follow this action with a slightly less efficient version of the same action. Almost every card can instead be discarded for a basic action, which you'll sometimes need to do in order to most efficiently set up your turns. Eventually you will run low on cards, at which point you can refill your hand by starting a vote. Votes allow players to pick which new civic building should be added to Gloomhaven. It's these civic buildings that demand the advanced resources, and reward precious points to the players who supply them (and further down the chain the players who supplied them!). Once enough of these buildings are completed the game will end.

The tech tree marks who owns which resources, and who has paid to have access to them. The more you own the more income you generate so it's best to produce as much as possible.

At the core of the game is the technology tree and to its credit it does a great job of thematically representing the trade chains in a large city. Making leather requires wood to make tanning racks and animal hide, combine that leather with metal and you can create an armoury. It all makes sense and the wonderful thing is when you build that armoury, points are given out to the people who supplied the metal, leather, hide and wood! In this way there is a strange semi-cooperative nature in which you are trying desperately to be the most helpful person, involved in as many supply chains as possible! Unfortunately this is also incredibly clunky, with rather confusing rules on who actually gets what points when a building is build or a civic building supplied, which can really slow the game down at times.

The map is rather unattractive when built, which is in part due to the weird way roads are built, every single road tile is an 8-way crossroads, representing how they can be build up in straight lines or diagonals. While clear from a rules perspective the inevitable diagonal roads (quickest way between two points) simply look ugly. It's a shame that Founders of Gloomhaven fails to hit the same beauty that even a classic tile laying game such as Carcassonne has long shown is possible.

Players can buy new helpers to upgrade their hand of cards. In addition voting for civic buildings lets you manipulate which points are available and adds worker placement spots to use.

Founders of Gloomhaven also hits a sour note at two players. It's near impossible to get ahead in the game when half the resources are owned by the other player. Especially when the game setup insists that no player can own resources that can be combined together to make an advanced building by themselves! The supply chain falls apart almost completely, with players having to use the neutral resources or get lucky on the civic buildings in order to get ahead.

Founders of Gloomhaven is a really wonderful idea, but unfortunately it simply tries to do too much. Some of the aspects just seem unnecessary; Why can I buy new cards to my hand when the starting ones are good enough? Sure they are upgrades, but there's a limited selection based on the resources you have access to, so a bad draw can mean you don't have any cards to buy for half the game! Why is there a (really minor) worker placement aspect, what does it add to the game that couldn't have been done without adding a new mechanic? It's quite a shame because if the game were streamlined and given a bit more artistic polish, it had the potential to be a really incredible game. Instead it hovers around the "above average" mark, which is the modern day "black spot" for board games. You can't afford to be average anymore!

6/10

Founders of Gloomhaven was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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