Your Ultimate Gloomhaven Beginner Guide – 17 Tips and Tricks

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What is Gloomhaven?

Gloomhaven is a turn-based, tactical combat, tabletop RPG with a deep story and advanced game mechanics. Players take the role of one or more mercenaries and complete scenarios to progress through the world.

As your party defeats enemies and unlocks new quests, your characters will gradually level up. This grants access to new abilities, items, and builds for your respective mercenary.

Scenarios typically last 1-2 hours, depending on party size and difficulty. Setup can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, but you can get this down to under 5 minutes with the right organization.

While Gloomhaven is an incredibly fun game, it is also rather complex. With these beginner tips, you’ll be off to a fast start in this gloomy world!

Research Gloomhaven Starting Characters

There are six mercenaries available at the start of the Gloomhaven campaign. Here’s a quick summary of each to help you decide which may be a good starting character for you:

  • Brute – tanky character who is great for taking the pressure off the rest of your party
  • Cragheart – a good mix of melee and ranged abilities who can also do small heals
  • Mindthief – a high mobility mercenary, great for stunning and immobilizing enemies
  • Scoundrel – a sneaky rogue that excels at poisoning enemies and doing high-damage, single target attacks
  • Spellweaver – a heavy-hitting wizard that does big damage from range
  • Tinkerer – a unique support class that offers plenty of healing and buffs for the squad

Once you choose a character, you’re stuck with that mercenary until you complete their personal quest. This quest typically requires completing several scenarios, meaning dozens of hours of playtime. If you don’t like your starting mercenary, this can lead to a frustrating start to Gloomhaven.

Instead, do a bit of research on each hero and select the one that most intrigues you! Additionally, consider which mercenaries work well with each other. You don’t want to create a 2-person party that includes a couple of low-health, melee characters.

Some of the starting mercenaries

Consider Win Conditions

Check the objective of each scenario so you know what to do. Generally, your priorities should be as follows:

  1. Complete scenario objective
  2. Gain XP to level up your mercenary
  3. Complete the battle goals
  4. Loot for gold

You never want to loot for extra gold if it puts the scenario goal at risk. There will even be times when you complete the scenario and are unable to reach a treasure chest on the far side of the map. Take the win and know that there are many more goodies in the future.

Don’t Burn Cards too Early

Cards with a burn symbol mean you lose the card for the rest of the scenario, with the exception of some characters who can recover burn cards. It can be enticing to use these burn cards early in a scenario since they typically have impressive abilities. 

However, playing burn cards early is one of the quickest ways to lose a round by becoming exhausted. This overview gives a great explanation of how burning a card early in a scenario can lead to exhaustion – which essentially means your character dies after running out of stamina – several rounds earlier than playing a burn card late in the scenario.

As a general rule, try not to play more than one burn card per rest – more on resting later. Also consider how many enemies you have left, how much value you can get from the burn, and whether there are more rooms to open.

Things change rapidly in Gloomhaven and you need to be able to adapt. If you end up in a scenario where you can’t maximize the value of a burn card, consider using the top Attack 2 or bottom Move 2 instead of burning the card that round.

Understand Monster Focus

Monsters in Gloomhaven act according to a strict set of rules. Make sure to get a good grasp of how monsters move and which party members will be targeted during each round.

The Gloomhaven rulebook gives a full breakdown of monster focus on page 29. It’s fairly wordy, but these are the main things to remember:

  • Monsters want to use the least amount of movement
  • If there is no attack on its ability card, the monster will find a focus as if it had a melee attack
  • If multiple enemies are tied for being closest to the monster, the priority is to focus on the enemy who is earlier in the initiative order

Familiarize yourself with monster focus and movement to better position your mercenaries to deal and avoid damage.

Gloomhaven monster focus rules

Be Careful When Opening Doors

Opening doors is a highly strategic decision in Gloomhaven. Revealed enemies get to act even if their initiative has already passed. In this case, monsters will take an action right after your mercenary who has opened the door.

Try to open doors at the beginning of the round to react to whatever the monsters are going to do. If possible, open the door with extra movement so you can see what is in there. This gives you the option of moving back into the previous room.

As an added bonus, if you use invisibility in a doorway, you count as an obstacle. None of the melee enemies in the next room will act while you serve as an obstacle in the doorway. Ranged monsters will still move since they can target a mercenary through obstacles.

Use this mechanic to your advantage! Try to go invisible early in that round when you open a door. Then, go late in the following round to give your team time to prepare a strategy of attack.

Attain blessings at the temple of the great oak

Take Advantage of Blessings

Gloomhaven has several ways to power up your characters through the course of the campaign. Paying for a blessing is one of the best ways to make your next scenario a little easier.

By donating to the Sanctuary of the Great Oak, your character will gain two Bless cards in your attack modifier deck. These effectively double your attack and can be a literal game-changer when dealing with high-health enemies.

Donating to the Sanctuary also helps advance your party’s prosperity. At certain donation thresholds, you will gain more prosperity, granting access to new enemies and giving discounts at the merchant.

If you can spare the additional gold, it’s usually a good idea to pay for a Blessing in Gloomhaven. 

Choose the right initiative in Gloomhaven

Initiative in Gloomhaven Matters

Initiative determines the turn order each round. Depending on if you want to go early or late in a round, you’ll need to choose the cards with the appropriate initiative.

The more you play, the more familiar you’ll get with common initiative ranges for enemies. If you know that a certain monster has high initiative cards, you can usually act first, deal damage, then move away, if necessary. For monsters with low initiative cards, you need to be careful about getting too close without having sufficient health or armor.

In the case of tied initiatives, your character will always go before the monster. Make sure to communicate with the rest of your team to coordinate how early or late you are going. This helps the party get the most out of each turn and can help avoid putting squishier characters in danger.

Plan Your Rests

There are two types of rests in Gloomhaven: short rests and long rests. Short rests discard a card at random and allow you to take an action in that turn. Long rests let you recover 2 health, select a discarded card to burn, but prevent you from taking other actions that turn. Additionally, long rests let you refresh any items with a “refresh” symbol on the bottom.

One easy-to-forget rule is that you can pick another card at random to discard during a short rest if you can’t afford to lose the first selection. This option makes your mercenary receive 1 damage, but it also lets you save important cards for later in the scenario.

You’ll likely take more long rests than short rests. Long rests are more advantageous for some mercenaries than others. Long resting can be advantageous and you should typically do it in these scenarios:

  • Your whole party is going to rest in the same turn
  • You need to recover important spent items like boots or armor
  • You can’t afford to risk losing more than 1 random card from your discard pile
  • Get your stamina levels back on pace with the rest of the party
  • You’ve been inflicted by poison or wound so the heal will cleanse the status
  • Your mercenary is immobilized and you can’t take any other meaningful action

Take a long or short rest prior to opening a new room. This is especially important if you are low on health, since the enemies may put you in a position where you must burn cards to stay alive.

Don’t Underestimate Small Heals in Gloomhaven

You’ll be surprised by how often your mercenary gets wounded or poisoned. These status effects can have dire consequences on your heroes. Utilizing a small heal card like “Heal 1” is a great way to take care of these annoying debuffs to your characters.

For wounds, the status will go away and you will still receive the heals. Unfortunately, if you are poisoned, the heal action only removes the poison status. You don’t receive the healing benefit in this case.

Consider bringing along a card with a small amount of healing to use when your mercenary gets nerfed in the scenario.

Play around obstacles in the room

Use Obstacles to your Advantage

Gloomhaven has several things that either get in your way or deal damage when you enter a tile. In many cases, you can use the terrain to your advantage to hurt the enemies or funnel them into specific areas.

Traps are one of the best ways to deal damage on shielded enemies. The traps ignore shields and deal damage directly to the target’s health pool. Try to force enemies to spring traps to chisel away at their health.

Additionally, you can use line of sight to force ranged monsters to come closer to you. Ranged enemies will move into a position that allows for the highest damage output, so you can easily predict where monsters will move on their turn.

With this tactic, you can use choke points to funnel enemies into doorways and narrow hallways. This can prevent melee enemies from attacking you as well as set your mercenaries up for nice AOE damage.

Combat Shielded Enemies

Monsters who consistently stack shields can be some of the toughest to kill in Gloomhaven. Certain enemies start with 2-3 shield, and can end up with 4-5 shield during the scenario through abilities.

Luckily, these monsters generally have low health pools. In order to kill these enemies, you’ll want to apply a status on the foe as soon as possible. Wound and poison will help you whittle away at their HP over a few turns and make the scenario much easier.

Alternatively, you can attack the monster with a Pierce attack, which will ignore some number of shields on a given enemy.

Shopping for items at the merchant

Pick the Right Items for your Gloomhaven Mercenary

Each character can equip various items across several equipment slots. Consider which items are powerful for specific builds and try to buy those items early in the campaign.

Stamina potions are always great since they extend your game and allow you to use powerful cards two rounds in a row. Similarly, health potions are nice for a quick health boost when you can’t long rest or gain heals from a friendly mercenary.

In addition to items that can be refreshed, try to get passive abilities that help you the entire scenario. These essentially buff your mercenary as long as they have it equipped, making you harder to kill.

Curse Enemies as Early as Possible

Curses are the bane of every mercenary’s existence. Thankfully, you can also curse the enemies when playing through a scenario.

A curse will cancel out any enemy attack. It’s great on high-damage enemies and allows you to play more aggressively.

You can gain a curse modifier by adding perks to a character or by enhancing your cards. When prioritizing targets, think about which enemies will survive the longest and/or do the most damage to your team.

Enhance your cards in Gloomhaven

Play Until the End

There will be times when the situation looks dire and you just want to give up on the scenario. Don’t do that!

Given the random nature of the game, there’s always a chance that you can still successfully complete a scenario without having optimal cards or positioning. I’ve completed scenarios where everyone but one mercenary died and that hero dealt the final blow with their last possible card!

Understand that you will Fail Scenarios

While most scenarios are straightforward, many of them are very challenging. Don’t be discouraged if you fail a scenario multiple times. The more you play through a scenario, the better you will understand the enemy’s abilities and how you should maximize your team’s impact.

Even if you fail, you still retain the XP and gold that your mercenaries acquired. This holds true for exhausted mercenaries as well.

Try to evaluate which areas your team can change up the strategy and come back to the scenario with a fresh perspective.

Try the Digital Version to Learn the Rules

If you are struggling to grasp the many rules of Gloomhaven while playing the tabletop version, give the digital game a try. You will quickly pick up on how monster focus works, how specific statuses affect your team, and the range of things you can accomplish given the game’s unique ruleset.

Additionally, you won’t have to worry about setting up each scenario, shuffling modifier decks, applying statuses, keeping track of elements, and many other tasks that are easy to forget. Gloomhaven digital takes care of all of this for you and has beautiful animations!

Be Flexible

While Gloomhaven is a tactical game, there is an element of RNG. The randomness of monster abilities and initiatives will sometimes leave you in scenarios where you can’t follow through on your initial plan. This is okay!

Don’t be afraid to use the bottom Move 2 or top Attack 2 of your cards when your characters aren’t in a position to maximize that card’s ability. There will even be times when your mercenary just moves without attacking given the current landscape.

Understand that things won’t always go according to plan and adapt to the board as things change.

Vicious enemies await!

Becoming the Best Gloomhaven Mercenary

Gloomhaven is both challenging and exciting. It rewards careful planning and requires flexibility to make the most of your mercenary’s respective kits. 

Follow these 17 Gloomhaven tips and tricks to increase your chances of beating more scenarios:

How you can get better at Gloomhaven:

Research Gloomhaven Starting Characters
Consider Win Conditions
Don’t Burn Cards too Early
Understand Monster Focus
Be Careful When Opening Doors
Take Advantage of Blessings
Initiative in Gloomhaven Matters
Plan Your Rests
Don’t Underestimate Small Heals
Use Obstacles to your Advantage
Combat Shielded Enemies
Pick the Right Items for your Gloomhaven Mercenary
Curse Enemies as Early as Possible
Play Until the End
Understand that you will Fail Scenarios
Try the Digital Version to Learn the Rules
Be Flexible

As with most things, you’ll only get better at it through practice. Don’t be discouraged if you fail the first scenario several times. Each playthrough teaches you something new!

If you practice these tips, you’re sure to complete more scenarios and move closer to retiring your starting mercenaries. Just remember that there are 100+ hours of gameplay available and it is a marathon, not a sprint!

What Gloomhaven tips would you share with the community? Who has been your favorite mercenary so far? Join the conversation in the comments section!

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