March 2020, lockdown. Like everyone in the entire world, I was stuck inside with a lot to do, but none of them truly social. Some people coped by getting a pet, others took a creative hobby – I did something different. I started impulsive-shopping for board games.
When the boxes upon boxes of games came, I obviously had no one to play with. I figured it’d get better after lockdown, but I forgot one thing: I have a toddler and a baby, and my options for easy, spontaneous contacts were inexistent. Furthermore, kids cost energy: Rarely did we have the energy to play games in the evening, so we settled on one game: the excellent Arkham Horror Card Game. So Root, Everdell, Scythe, Eldritch Horror… just stood there, gathering dust.
But then Gloomhaven came. A huge, sprawling tactical dungeon crawler with a legacy-style campaign mode (one in which the game board changes dynamically as you play) that came in a gargantuan box, it was nerd heaven. And it was cooperative. So I could just, you know, play two players by myself. But that would be weird, right? Totally weird.
So I did it anyway. I built the game board, put the minis and standees on it and played the entire thing in complete silence for a three hour session. I alternated between character/player 1, a warrior that looked like a rock, and character/player 2, a crystallized-style mage, defeated the bandits and packed the thing away.
Then, the next night, I did it again. And again, and again. I suddenly found myself shopping for brushes and paint to paint minis. I had Spotify recommend me a good playlist. I looked up guides on the internet, added another character – a rat with mind control powers! – to my party. As someone who spends most of his time on a computer, managing tokens and moving pieces on a game board felt fun, because for once, something was just happening in my mind.
And now, three years later, I defeated the titular Gloom – and finished the campaign. The warrior and the mage have long left the party and were replaced by a barbarian and a ranger, making this huge box feel like a living, breathing thing. I had a blast, and I’m kind of going to miss this game, with its fiddly mechanics, its supertiny tokens, its rules upon rules that just work together like clockwork…
So it’s a good thing this game has a sequel. It comes in an even bigger box. It has even more weird rules. And it’s called Frosthaven. That’s right – Gloomhaven on ice. It’s the nerdiest shit, and I’m having a blast.