The Gloomhaven rules are notoriously fickle to get a clear grasp on. It is one of those games where you can play a rule wrong for a year without thinking about it.
This is a list of rules that I and my group have gotten wrong multiple times or where we have looked it up just to make sure. We have also added some that are common misconceptions from people on the great wide web. Even just setting up the Gloomhaven for the first campaign can be an utter frustration.
1. How resting works: when you do it and what cards to burn
Resting is one of those things that are really hard to get a grasp on in Gloomhaven. Even after playing 20 scenarios, me and my group still have to reference the cheat sheet from time to time.
The rules are slightly funky. You have two different resting options and they actually do not happen at the same time. You can find the rules on page 17.
For both rest types it requires that you have 2 or more cards in your discard pile.
- You decide at the start of your turn
- Your initative is set to 99
- You do not pick any cards in your hands and you can do nothing for the round
- You decide on a card in your discard pile to burn
- You shuffle the rest of the discarded cards into your hand
- You heal 2 heal points
- You refresh your spent items cards (not the ones you lose, but the ones you turn on the side)
So far pretty easy. Notice that you can long rest with 2 cards in the discard pile (and nothing in hand), stand around for a turn (hopefully drawing attention) and then exhaust on the next turn (when you cannot pick two cards to play).
Note that long resting is mostly useful if:
- There is a good break between rooms
- You have to really cram more rounds out of your character (you get a turn without using cards)
- You will get a lot out of refreshing your spent items (boots, armor and so on)
In almost all other cases it is better to take a short rest. You gotta keep removing those monsters!
- Actually happens at the end of the round (cleanup step)
- You burn a random card from your discard pile
- If you want to, you can take 1 damage and select a new random discard card to burn (you can only do this once per short rest)
- You put the rest of the discarded cards into your hand
It is weird that the rest types do not happen at the same time. The PC version of Gloomhaven solves this problem by just letting you do both rest types at the start of the round. And when you think about it, the cleanup step is just before selecting cards so there is actually no reason for both rest types to not happen at the start of the round.
So yeah, we just do it both at the same time.
2. Calculating scenario level
So this one me and my group luckily did not get to experience, as we used an app for combat. You can find the rules on page 15 of the Gloomhaven rulebook.
The formula for the scenario level:
Recommended level is the average level of the characters in the party divided by 2 (and rounded up). So say you are all level 4 the scenario levels should be 2.
You then modify it by the following depending on what difficulty you want:
The level determines:
- Monster level
- Trap damage
- How much a gold piece is worth
- Bonus experience upon completing scenario
The biggest issue is the monster level, which determines a lot of things on how hard the monsters are to fight.
The divided by 2 is the big kicker and something people can gloss over when reading the rulebook. So in the above example, a party playing a scenario level 4 would think they are playing on normal mode, but they are actually playing on very hard. This is a very big difference (I would suggest playing on easy for at least the first few levels and when a new character joins the group).
3. Rolling modifiers with advantage/disadvantage
This one is just plain weird, and something I would suggest most groups to use house rules. The rules for Advantage and Disadvantage (page 20) explains how rolling modifiers work when you have advantage or disadvantage.
In both cases you draw 2 cards, then you follow this guideline:
- If there are no rolling modifiers:
- With Advantage, you use the best card
- With Disadvantage, you use the worst card
- If there is one rolling modifier:
- With Advantage, you sum both cards effects (yes it’s possible to miss this way, e.g. if you have a +1 rolling and a miss, the overall result is a miss)
- With Disadvantage, you take the non-rolling modifier
- If there are two rolling modifiers, you keep drawing until you hit a non-rolling modifier:
- With Advantage, you take all of the cards drawn (again, it’s possible to miss)
- With Disadvantage, you take only the last card (the non-rolling)
Note, that Stun or any other positive effect has also a numeric value, when not specified this is considered +0. Therefore a +0 Stun is better than a +0.
However, positive (or negative) effects have an undefined value, therefore a +1 Stun a +2 are ambiguous, or a +1 Fire and +1 Stun. In all situations where you have an ambiguous result, you use the first card drawn.
But all of this seems slightly counterintuitive and not how we have played it.
We have decided that you draw two separate “piles” when rolling modifiers and advantage/disadvantage is involved. So if you have advantage and disadvantage you would draw a +1, then a Stun and then a +2. In that case you pick the best between (or the worst) option between either +1 or +2 and Stun.
4. You can forego an attack, pull, push and other effects
At some point, I was pretty certain that you had to do all of the things on an ability card (if possible). But actually, you can decide to forego an attack, a push, a pull or whatever. You cannot forego any negative (for your character or allies) part of the ability card, however. If you Push or Pull, you must do it for the maximum range (if possible). See more on page 22 of the Gloomhaven Rulebook.
Also, remember that you can always use a top half for a standard 2 attack and the bottom half for a 2 move (useful if you have a burn on a card you do not want to use).
5. Curse and Bless are removed once they are drawn
This might seems obvious for some, but we have surely forgotten this multiple times.
When you draw a bless or a curse, it is removed from your modifier deck
6. You cannot use elementals on the same turn you make them (and you do not have to use up the elemental tokens)
This one is easy to understand, but something that seems slightly counterintuitive. The elemental infusions you make are made at the end of your turn, so you cannot use one the same turn that you make it (but an ally after you can use it).
Also, you never have to use an elemental infusion when you can. Sometimes it is better to let an ally have it (page 24).
7. Character damage and burning cards
This is easily lost on your first readthrough of the rules, since it is an unusual mechanical, and people are very used to how hit points works.
When you take damage from a source, you can decide to not deduct that amount from your hit point.
If you do you have to either:
- Lose 1 card from your hand
- Lose 2 cards from your discard pile
Note that burning cards this way will quickly spiral you towards exhaustion, so it is best used as a last resort or when you take a very, very big hit.
8. How monsters act
This is a big one, and one where new players often get it slightly wrong for a long time. If you do not know how monsters move and attack, it will be hard to avoid getting hit (and not getting hit is a big part of Gloomhaven). Let us go through it step by step. Follow along on page 29.
When monsters act
Each monster group, Skeleton Guards, acts on the initiative of their attack card.
First, the elites of the group act and then the normals ones act. They act in order of the number stated on their little cardboard cutout that you put on the table.
What monsters do when they act
Monsters to exactly as it says on the ability card you draw for them. So the stats on the monster stat sleeve for move, attack and so on is just the basic modifiers. If the ability card does not say that they move, the monsters do not move.
Who does the monsters move toward and attack
Each monster will have a player character (or summon) that they “focus” on. The focus is:
The closest character that they can perform their attack on via the movement they have. If there are more than two possible characters, they pick the one with the lowest score on the initiative card.
If the closest character is too far away, they will simply move forward as far as they can towards that character.
Monsters will only move if their movement gets them closer to their focus. If they are not able (obstacles, invisible characters blocking the door etc.), then they will not move.
Monsters count traps and hazardous terrain as obstacles (they will not go through them) unless it is the only possible way of moving towards their focus. Then they will happily walk into them and take damage.
How the monster moves and attacks
- The monster will always move the least number of spaces to make the attack
- If it is a ranged attack, it will move away until it can attack without disadvantage (if the attack has multiple targets, it will still prioritise not getting disadvantage against the main focus even if it means having less targets).
- If it is a multi attack action, it will seek to maximize the number of players attacked (but it must contain the focused character in that attack)
Also remember that you know the base move and attack value of all monsters, so you have at least some way of knowing how far they can move and attack. And after you have picked your ability cards you will know exactly how they will move, making it easier to place yourself to avoid unnecessary hits.
9. When the scenario ends according to the Gloomhaven Rules
This is important to remember because you will otherwise miss out on loot. When you complete the objective of the scenario, you play out the rest of that round. So that means the other players have the rest of that round scrambling to pick up that last gold piece or use any card that provides experience.
If you have played Gloomhaven for a bit, you know how brutal some road encounters are. If you a linked scenario, you can decide not to go to the city and then avoid getting a road encounter before the next scenario (see page 41). However you also don’t get to level up or buy items.
11. Items and gold cannot be swapped between characters
If you come from any RPG, this might seem a bit weird. But Gloomhaven is scaled in such a way that money and items you pick up (or buy) is bound to that character. The only way to move an item from one character to another is by selling it (for 50% price on the item) and having another character buy it.
Remember when you retire a character you can sell all his equipment not related to the retirement conditions and donate the excess to the Great Oak.
12. How do you gain experience
This is also a bit different in Gloomhaven than in other games. You get experience from using abilities where it lists an XP gain and from completing scenarios. And that is it.
Oh, and when you level up you can pick 1 ability card and add it to the pool of ability cards you can choose before each scenario. It can be from the level you now have gained or from a lower level (so you can get both level 2 cards if you really want to).
Levelling up means also adding a perk.
13. You decide on equipment and ability cards after you know the scenario
If you really like to min max, this is good to know. You select items and the ability cards you want after you know the scenario. So you can tailor your selection depending on the types and amount of monsters you will meet.