Friday, 9 August 2019

Founders of Gloomhaven

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Gloomhaven is the current #1 game on BoardGameGeek. I have not tried it, nor have I read much about it. I vaguely know it has a role playing element, and some legacy / campaign mechanism. Founders of Gloomhaven is an independent game, sharing the same setting but not game mechanism. You play different founder factions of the city of Gloomhaven. You build the city together - building factories, roads, houses and most importantly prestige buildings. The bulk of the scoring comes from supplying goods to construct the prestige buildings. Once six prestige buildings are completed, the game ends and the highest scorer wins.

This is a player board. With four players, each faction monopolises the production of two of the eight basic goods. The core of the game is building more advanced factories which produce more advanced goods, and ultimately supplying goods to construct the prestige buildings. Manufacturing intermediate goods require one or two basic goods as raw material. Manufacturing advanced goods require two other goods. To be able to construct factories, and to supply goods, you need a connected network of roads. That's what you will be building together.

Those three pawns on the left are your workers. For each house you build, you gain one worker, and this worker is used in a worker placement fashion - place him in a worker spot and he does something for you. That spot is occupied and inaccessible to others until he is removed. The player board has one such worker spot, and for each faction this worker spot gives a different benefit. During the course of the game, new worker spots will be created, and you will have more and more options.

The board starts off almost completely empty. As part of setup, you do get to place two basic factories, but that's all you have. The board is divided into three sections, by a wall (along the upper edge of this photo), and by the river. To be able to cross the wall or the river, you need to build a gate or a bridge respectively. There are different terrain types. Sometimes when you build, you are restricted by terrain type, or the cost differs depending on terrain type. The coloured discs indicate building ownership. Roads are public properly. The buildings in this photo are all basic factories. In the corners you see icons indicating the goods being produced.

These are the prestige buildings. Every single one is named. There are many in the game, but only a subset will appear in each game. It depends on the card draw, and also how people vote. On each prestige building you can see goods required for construction and the points to be earned when supplying such goods. The supplier often does not score the full points, because if the goods he supplies is manufactured using other goods, he needs to share those points with his suppliers. If those suppliers too manufacture their goods using raw materials supplied by other vendors, then the rewards are shared further upstream to those vendors.

Those on the left are the medium factories, making intermediate goods, and those on the right are the large factories, making advanced goods. The numbers 4 and 6 are the building costs. Icons on the vertical banners are the raw materials needed to construct the factory as well as to manufacture the goods. To construct a factory, you need not own factories producing the prerequisite raw materials, but you need to at least trade in those raw materials. To trade in them, you need to pay the factory owner a fee.

Each player starts the game with an identical set of five action cards. On your turn, you play one card to perform an action (referring to the black section of the action card), and then everyone else gets to perform a weaker version of the same action (white section). One of the action cards lets you claim all played cards back into your hand, i.e. a reset. You will need to do this sooner or later as your hand runs out of cards. One action type lets you buy more action cards, which are better than the starting cards. If you have more cards, it will take longer for them to run out.

Those three at the top are prestige cards, indicating that the next prestige building site to be added to the board will be one of these. Whenever any player performs the card reset action, a voting will be done to vote for one of these three. This is important because the prestige building determines the scoring opportunities for everyone. You want prestige buildings which need the goods that you produce, so that you can supply such goods and earn points. Not only the supplier earns points, the upstream suppliers in the supply chain earn points too. Everyone has vested interests when it comes to voting.

The four cards at the bottom are the advanced action cards you can buy. They are usually better versions of the basic action cards.

In this photo you can see more clearly how the board is divided into three sections by the wall and the river. No one has built any gate along the wall, or any bridge along the river yet. A big part of the game is building a transportation network. You need to connect buildings and building sites with roads, so that goods can be delivered, otherwise you can't construct factories or prestige buildings. Also your own buildings may not be adjacent to each other, so you need roads to help space them out. Buildings themselves do not serve as roads and do not allow connecting through. E.g. Building A is connected to a road which is then connected to Building B, and on the other side of Building B there is a road which connects Building B to Building C. There is a connection between A and B, and between B and C, but there is no connection between A and C, because B itself is not a connector.

Whenever voting is done, the winning prestige building tile is placed onto the board to become a building site. It is not yet a completed building. The prestige card which represents the building is flipped over to become a worker spot. If you have an idle worker, you may perform the worker placement action to execute the action on the prestige card. Unlike most worker placement games, workers assigned to a task usually get stuck at their worker spots for a long time. In Founders of Gloomhaven, workers are freed up only when you perform the reset (i.e. vote). If you are eyeing a specific occupied worker spot, be prepared for a long wait because you need to wait for the owner of that worker to do reset / voting.

Prestige building sites have been placed and the top left and the bottom right. Cubes at the building sites indicate that some goods have already been supplied for the construction of the buildings. Both of these prestige buildings are still under construction. Not all required goods are supplied.

Along the wall you can now see that one player has built a gate. Gates (and bridges) work like roads, except that they allow passage only for their owners. Currently only the owner of the gate can deliver goods between the two city sections on the two sides of the wall.

This prestige building still needs two goods - bricks and cloth.

This is an important reference chart. It shows all goods types in the game, who owns the factories, and who has access to the goods. The chart also shows which goods are the prerequisites for which other goods.

Throughout the game you are competing to build factories and to supply goods to prestige buildings. You need to manipulate the prestige building choice of the city in order to help your factories. The road network will grow and connectivity gets better and better. Supplying goods to prestige buildings is the main way to score points, but there are other ways too, e.g. some worker spots give points. The game ends when the 6th prestige building is completed.

The Play

One part of Founders of Gloomhaven feels like Puerto Rico - the active player picks an action, and everyone else gets to do the same action, albeit a weaker version. This means everyone gets the same opportunities to do the same things throughout the whole game. If everyone is doing the same things, then the differentiating factor will be accumulated through the small extra efficiencies and the small tactical gains. E.g. you want to pick the buy card action when you know others can't afford to do it. You want to waste their actions so that you gain some efficiency advantage over them.

Building factories is a long term thing you need to plan for. It takes considerable effort, but factories contribute much to your score. Manufacturing advanced goods may sound lucrative, but I suspect it's not really as profitable as it seems, because you need to split the rewards with your own suppliers. Ideally you want to monopolise the whole supply chain. If you produce a basic resource, which you supply to another one of your factories which produces an intermediate good, and that intermediate good is supplied to yet another one of your factories which produces an advanced good, then whenever you supply the advanced good to a prestige building, you are retaining the bulk of the rewards. Every one of your factories along the supply chain is profiting. This is easier said than done, because your two starting goods are unrelated. Most of the time you will need access to other people's goods, and you will be helping them.

In our game I focused much effort on building factories. I lagged behind the others in the early game, because I did not produce the right goods for the early prestige buildings. However I did eventually build a cloth factory, which took much time and effort. Some of the prestige buildings needed cloth, which other people were far from being able to produce, so the cloth business helped me catch up later in the game.

Cash flow is important. Many actions need money. When you are cash poor, you will waste opportunities. When another player chooses to construct a building, you will be forced to forgo the opportunity if you can't afford it. There are some consolation actions, e.g. taking $1, placing a worker, building a road, but those are generally inefficient.

Building roads is a public service. Roads are public property. Ideally you want to let others spend their actions doing such public service, while you save your own actions for more selfish gains. If you are desperate enough to build roads, you try to avoid helping others. Sometimes that's not easy to do. There is a spatial element to the game. Sometimes you have to fight for space. Sometimes you block people by placing a building in the way of their expansion. It can be downright nasty.

There are opportunities for collaboration. Voting is one such opportunity. When you examine the three prestige cards, you will have a rough idea who will benefit most from which prestige building. Sometimes you work together with a competitor to vote for a specific prestige building because it benefits both of you equally, or simply because you don't want to let another player get another prestige building. When you build a factory which uses goods produced by another player, you are effectively committing to helping him long-term, because in future whenever you supply goods from that factory, he takes a cut.

Our late game was ponderous. Our scores were close. Nobody wanted the game to end, because everybody was trying to score just a bit more before the game ended. We desperately used the worker spots to squeeze out a few more points. We delayed the game end by intentionally not linking up roads, which would cause goods to be delivered to prestige buildings and trigger game end.

At this point all four players had built gates along the wall. Most locations in the upper left section and the middle section are well connected. Only one player had built a bridge across the river at the moment.

Once a prestige building is completed, you place a cute but strange marker on it.

There were six prestige buildings in the game now, three at the top left, two at the top right, and one at the bottom right. Four of them were completed - two at the top left, one at the top right, and the one at the bottom right. Just two more, and the game would end. However that prestige building along the left edge would never be completed. I had blocked it off. This prestige building needed two more goods, one of which I was most likely going to supply, and the other was mostly likely going to come from Dith. Dith's had much higher value, so I decided to spoil the party so that nobody got anything out of this. It was painful for me.

The final score. I (green) was tied with Dith (orange), and I only won by tiebreaker - player order.

The Thoughts

Founders of Gloomhaven is generally a development game. It is a network building game too. You compete to build factories, and you compete to set up prestige buildings which use products from your factories. You need to develop supply and manipulate demand. There is a cooperative aspect, but I see it not so much as working together for mutual benefit, but as avoiding who to help so that you have a better chance of winning. It is hard to avoid helping others, so you want to help the guy furthest behind. The game has a spatial element. You fight for space. You block your opponents.

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