If you ask Board Game Geek (or some people on this website), Founders of Gloomhaven is a flop. There are too many rules, all of which are too tricky. There are too many mechanics, which feel too separated and nailed down. The art and colors are too dull and fail to properly communicate the information they need to make the game work. It drags too long for what it is, other games do better what they try to do, and in less time. It’s fine, you are all welcome for your opinions, obviously this game is not for you. This is for me, Nicholas Dubbelyew, and I love him more than life itself. Let me tell you why.
In Founders, players take on the role of hive minds who dictate the actions of their selected fantasy species, as they come together to build the titular city of Gloomhaven. Just by selecting their species and other basic resources, players are already making an interesting decision. They can choose resources that are widely used, hoping to garner a nice trickle of victory points through the game’s pyramid scheme of scoring mechanism. Alternatively, they can corner the market on the tree for some advanced resources so they can keep those sweet VPs for themselves. As the game progresses, players import basic resources, create advanced resources, form a network of roads, and eventually construct the prestige buildings that provide big chunks of victory points and signal the end of the game. Game.
All of this is accomplished through the game’s action cards. On a player’s turn, they will play a card from their hand to perform anything from adding new buildings to the board to buying advise inflated in the market, then everyone can follow, either with a weaker version of the action, or one of the four basic actions of the game. Already there is interaction between players, trying to time actions where people cannot graft themselves. Add to that the fact that every action will alter the state of the game, and Founders becomes a game about balancing effective strategy and keeping yourself open to respond to opportunities. For example, let’s say Greg plays a Trade card on his turn, importing a basic resource next to yours that can be used for an advanced resource. If you kept your options open, you could follow his trade to buy access to his new resource, then play your upgrade card to build a road and beat Greg to build that advanced resource. You are a genius, and Greg is an idiot.
If this all sounds a bit strained, that’s because it is. Fortunately, Founders comes prepackaged with little breaks, in the form of Call to Vote cards. Playing the Call to Vote card triggers a cascade of rewards for everyone at the table – you get a small bonus for each card you had left in your hand, get your discard pile back, and everyone else gets their income. But then a voting phase is triggered, and the crusty town builder you played is set aside for a while for a negotiation game. Over the course of the game, players will have accumulated gems of influence, and now they can spend them to vote for one of three available prestige buildings, with the one that garners the most votes being placed by the player who has the most votes there. contributed more. . Since delivering goods to prestige buildings provides the lion’s share of the founder’s victory points, rolling and dealing properly to get support for a building you need can make or break you. Of course, you don’t have to commit to this; if you see a prestige building you just need to have, you’re still free to call an early vote, grab influence with all the bonuses you get from cards you hadn’t used, and force this building through. The problem is that if you let this become your strategy, not only are you sacrificing efficiency, but you are also flooding your opponents with the money they receive every time you call.
Do you remember Greg, whom you so skillfully outwitted like a jet in a dogfight with a biplane? Well, in the meantime, he bought access to that secondary resource you built, built a tertiary one, grabbed the absurdly strong card no one else had a chance at, and forced three consecutive prestigious buildings to which it delivers. Now he’s about to deliver on all of them, ending the game and scoring more points than you thought possible. Someone call Shyamalan, because you’ve been the idiot the whole time.
And that’s why I love Founders of Gloomhaven. Similar to Polis, another favorite of mine, Founders provides a setting where everyone can have their moment, rewarding good tactical play where you recognize a big opportunity where an opponent has left an opening, while encouraging high-level strategy . Most games of this length and weight have parts where you feel like you’re going through the motions, but because Founders is so interactive, every choice you make feels like it has a weight behind it.
Of course, Founders might very easily not be for you. The level of interactivity can feel naughty, and if you’re not ready to block something you’ve been working on for half an hour and enjoying a good game, you’ll feel like playing this game is a Sisyphean task. Personally, I found the placement rules to be very intuitive and thematic, but I’ve had more people I’ve played them with who found them more confusing than otherwise, and that’s pretty central to this game. Having someone tell you the move you’ve built is actually impossible and now you have to rework your whole strategy is never a good feeling, and it’s going to happen often, for a multitude of reasons. But personally, I enjoyed every second I spent playing Founders, and maybe you’re a weirdo like me.
Founders of Gloomhaven is hands down my new favorite game. The high level of player interaction and the constant need to reshape planes feels extremely rewarding and enjoyable to me. However, literally no one else I’ve played with has felt the same, so take that for what it’s worth.
Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a jerk from a young age. When he’s not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he’ll never tackle, Nick can be caught cooking or befriending local crows.