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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Thursday 8 November 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Founders of Gloomhaven

Game: Founders of Gloomhaven

Publisher: Cephalofair Games

Designer: Issac Childres

Year: 2018

Gloomhaven is a board game that took the world by storm. For an indie publisher like Cephalofair Games to come out of nowhere and produce two wildly successful Kickstarters, resulting in the #1 game on BoardGameGeek, is phenomenal!

The next game from Cephalofair Games certainly cashed in on the Gloomhaven name, but it was made very clear that this would be a very different kind of game. Although Founders of Gloomhaven is set in the same world, its a stark contrast to a fantasy dungeon crawl with it's city building, tile placement and heavy euro vibe! Although we didn't jump on the Kickstarter, I did get the chance to play a friend's Kickstarter copy and really loved it, so I was excited to introduce Amy to the game. After a few more plays a few opinions have changed, so let's take a closer look at Founders of Gloomhaven.

Founders of Gloomhaven is a card driven action selection and tile placement game for 1-4 players where you are collectively constructing buildings and routes to form a city. Each turn you select an action card from your hand and take the action on the front or a basic action from the reverse. If you choose the main action then other players can take a follow action, typically less powerful or at higher cost. By playing cards you will extend the road network, pay money to build new resource buildings or personal city features, gain income, recruit new action cards into your hand or call to vote. The call to vote action allows you to pick up your cards and vote on one of the highest level buildings to add to the board.

Each player begins with an identical hand of action cards, but can add to this hand to become more unique throughout the game.
Points are gained by ensuring that your buildings are useful. If you want to make leather then you'll need access to cows and wood - either by building and connecting those two resources yourself or by gaining access to other people's buildings. When you build second or third level buildings they pay out to the players who contribute the required resources and this payment filters all the way back to the players who have the basic resources at the start of that branch of the tech tree. This can lead to some very interesting decisions as you connect up the board and try to be the first to build a resource required by some of the third level or named buildings. However, it can also lead to some issues at the two player count. We have found that there are a number of options that can become cut off for one player because every option gives more points to your opponent than to you. It doesn't happen in every game, but the game can become very demoralising early on if you find yourself backed into a corner in that way.

The moment when another player decides to encroach on your territory!
Founders of Gloomhaven is fundamentally a pretty dry euro game. Unfortunately the brown colour scheme and artwork do nothing for me, however there is something in the mechanisms that I find to be quite thematic. If you really think about how a city might product goods, then I find that this helps when you're trying to work out what is connected and who gets points in for a given building being added to the map. This thematic connection really helps in an otherwise pretty fiddly game. The fiddliness can be a little overwhelming in the first plays and I've perhaps never referenced a rulebook so much in my life, but this definitely gets better with experience. Founders of Gloomhaven is certainly a table hog and I'm glad that we approached the game at two players only to give us the opportunity to get used to the game without a hugely long playtime or any boredom setting in. Although we've heard that the play time is pretty long for 4 players, it seems to me like the follow actions aught to keep all players engaged throughout the gameplay and really it's just a matter of preference on how long you like your games.

The factions are about the only link to Gloomhaven in the box, besides some city cards.
At two players, Founders of Gloomhaven can feel a bit like a race to be the first to build some of the critical components of an engine you're building out on the board. The named buildings that come out can really focus your attention onto certain resources, which can cause a big shift in focus in the game. This definitely gives the opportunity for your games to be varied, with no sure-fire winning starting resources or early game strategy. In some ways the game feels a little semi-cooperative because something you build, such as a resource for the neutral factions could be the key to someone else's success.

There have been times where I have really enjoyed Founders of Gloomhaven, but ultimately the chance of getting a frustrating two player game is likely to stop it from hitting the table. At the same time, I'm itching to play another game because I love the way that building a city is so cleverly intertwined with a tech tree element and it can be a really satisfying and crunchy puzzle. It looks like I'll just need to fins some opportunities to play with three players and hopefully with an experienced third player the game won't go too long.

I certainly admire the design of Founders of Gloomhaven and it's a game I'm keen to play some more, so for the Yellow Meeple it's a 6.5/10.

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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