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A former gaming addict’s view on Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven scratches the gaming itch I’ve been ignoring for almost a year, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I had never been so excited to play a board game, but was never this ambivalent about an analog game once I started playing.

It took several hours for my partner and I to assemble the game pieces and comprehend the rules while absorbing YouTube videos, the rule book, and online searches for ambiguous guidelines. The setup felt like work, but we heard from others that it was worth it.

After the first few turns in the initial dungeon, I felt a dopamine release as the game mechanics clicked and I started anticipating building the town and starting character skills. This was more than the normal reward experience when learning a new board game.

Games like Dead of Winter become rewarding after suffering through the one to two hours of learning. But Gloomhaven’s initial learning curve reward was more pronounced, likely due to the game state’s persistence between gaming sessions.

Your character is one of many playable characters, most of which are unlocked through various achievements and actions. Many unlocks are unknown until you get to a certain point in the world map. The maps points of interest also need to be discovered, similar to an open world video game. And not only do you level and customize the characters, but the town of Gloomhaven can also be improved.

The persistence of leveling different aspects of the game creates a sort of anticipation where you look forward to sinking more time into the game. Aside the town and your character’s level, each character has a customizable deck of cards it uses for actions. Higher level cards are unlocked as your character gains experience. There’s even extra non-leveled cards so you can customize out of the gate with a new character. What’s more, (possible spoiler), you can eventually unlock enchanting which allows stat increases for traits on individual cards. The sense of accomplishment is complete with stickers displaying the permanence of each card’s stat improvements.

This sort of anticipation of future time investment isn’t present in one-off games where the characters and world reset once you finish the game’s objective.

This is the part that worries me. As someone who has stopped gaming due to not being able to moderate their play time, I don’t want to return to investing huge amounts of time in RPG-like games.

It was almost midnight and I wanted to keep playing. We failed our first scenario, but the game allows you to keep your experience and gold collected regardless of failure.

With my partner heading to bed, I considered a solo campaign, since Gloomhaven allows for a single-player variation, but knew this wasn’t healthy.

The game was sinking its hooks into my brain. In bed, I thought of how to improve the next dungeon run and which cards to swap into my deck to specialized against its enemies.

This was all too familiar. I would often think of new character builds for Bethesda games while doing non-gaming activities. This was less theorycrafing and more looking for ways to increase immersion, normally through role-playing unusual builds like a peasant farmer or an orc mage.

I’m taking a break from Gloomhaven as I consider whether or not to keep playing.

Any activity that intrudes my mind while I’m on productive tasks gives me pause. An interesting TV show may do this to an extent. If you’ve watched an engrossing series, a character or some scene pops into your mind while you’re on some other task that requires concentration. But you can usually dismiss the thought and get back to work.

But some games hijack your thoughts and won’t let go. But many people welcome it without concern, since planning character builds and quests is pleasurable. The anticipation of future rewards releases dopamine.

Analog Gaming Addiction

What’s interesting is that I assumed my gaming addiction was unique to video games. I never considered being addicted to a non digital game. But as someone who never played PnP RPGs, perhaps this is what it’s like when you’re involved in an immersive D&D campaign.

It looks like I’m not the only one who feels this compulsion with Gloomhaven.

What makes Gloomhaven so addicting?

It’s turn-based strategy game with RPG elements, something it shares with favorites from my past gaming life: Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM games. My other past favorites being (almost) anything developed by Bethesda.

Gloomhaven’s designer is a huge fan of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. The sense of exploration and discovery in the game is inspired by the TES games. Similar to strongholds in Morrowind or settlement building in Fallout 4, your choices shape the town of Gloomhaven.

All these video game inspired ingredients come together to make a freebased cardboard and plastic game. It looks like a board game, but feels like an immersive open world computer RPG.

Are other analog games addicting?

So is it just Gloomhaven or are there other analog games with addictive qualities? Some others have the same obsessive/addictive personality when it comes to board games. Spikeybits has an analysis on tabletop game addiction, specifically wargaming.

Magic: The Gathering can be problematic for some. One author goes over some of the addictive qualities about the game.

What are your thoughts on analog games? Have you had trouble controlling your play time with them? Share your experience in the comments.

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