Gloomhaven is the number 1 game on board game geek. In fact, it probably doesn’t need any explanation as to its strong or weak points as their are plenty of articles written about it. But I will add my own take on it anyway.
Gloomhaven is a tactical dungeon-crawler game. Going into expecting something greatly more than this is not advised. Unlike 7th Continent or Kingdom Death, there isn’t allot of exploration. Travelling is presented as drawing a card and choosing from the (sometimes) 2 limited options. The main choices you make are which dungeon you are tackling next (such as do you help the merchant guild or team up with the people raiding the guild). Most the complaints I read about Gloomhaven seem to be from people expecting the game to be this massive, epic story. But it isn’t.
What it is is a very slick dungeon crawl with allot of unique mechanisms. The obvious thing is how you choose actions by working through a hand of cards, with your options slowly reducing with time and damage. This deck gives each character its unique abilities. There aren’t a bunch of special rules to apply, with each character being effectively the same mechanisms in a bunch of health and figure on a map. But your gadget-filled tinkerer is presented by a bunch of one-shot, big effect cards. Your brutes size is presented by attacks that add push or pull. This also works with enemies, with archers having a bunch of sniper actions while zombies just shamble. It is amazing the diversity these decks give to players without bogging down the characters with a bunch of special rules.
That is really the greatest thing about it. Otherwise, the amount of content is superb, with extra print-and-play scenarios out there. A normal dungeon crawl would’ve just given you the starting classes and the scenario. Class unlocks, city prosperity and gear unlocks, and the random dungeon generator really add to the fun of the game. Being able to upgrade cards and also unlocking perks and deck options adds to the fun of each class. Everything in the game works together and makes a very fun game.
Now, while I said you should just be expecting a dungeon crawl, it is really the extra stuff that I said to ignore that elevate it. Unlocking characters, unlocking new missions and areas of the city, and choosing who to throw your allegiance behind keep you interested. It may not be the most prominent part of the game with an hours story between missions (just a 5 minute paragraph, often read by one player while the others set stuff up), but it keeps the world feeling alive.
Because in this world, this isn’t the story of your characters. It is the story of Gloomhaven and how it evolves over time.