All these games were bought with our own money.
Recently we looked at budget games, showing you what we thought were the best games that we loved, each of which you could get for £20. We wanted to show you that the hobby is not for the super rich, that although it is a ‘luxury hobby’ in many folks’ eyes, that you can get good games for not very much.
Today we want to embrace that luxury side of the hobby: the huge behemoths, the giant games, the expensive games that you are never sure if they are worth it. Each of us has chosen one game that we really think is worth the money, and we will dive into why we chose to buy it, why you might want to, and what we love about it.
Gloomhaven. The game that has stood colossus like across the hobby since its release. A box of madness that is one man’s vision as to what modern boardgames can be. It took me a very long time to decide to buy Gloomhaven, about a year in total from first thinking about it to actually dropping the £100+ you need to get your hands on a game you could easily do a weights routine with.
First up let’s talk about what Gloomhaven is, and more importantly what it isn’t. Gloomhaven is a campaign game, so you are going to want to play a fair amount of it to get your money’s worth. There is a huge amount of it and in all likelihood you will not get to the end of it. Does that mean you shouldn’t buy it? No, no it doesn’t. This is simply put one of the best dungeon combat games I have played, each scenario requiring the players to work together to combine their powers in pursuit of victory. The in between jaunts back to town add a wonderful flavour to the world and I love the random town events and road events that add further colour to the story. You can read my full review here.
What Gloomhaven isn’t is a dungeon crawler in the traditional vein. Each scenario is only a few rooms long and can be very difficult depending on the combination of powers you have available. You are not traipsing through loads of corridors dispatching hordes of mooks as treasure bursts out of them. Even the basic monsters can provide a challenge and the amount of treasure you get will depend very much on your class and the opportunity to grab the occasional coin. One of my friends described it recently as a combat arena game, and that is actually a pretty good analogy.
If you want to get Gloomhaven I would strongly recommend getting a group willing to play it before you go in. I used the excellent SUSD video and showed it to my regular group to see who fancied it. If you can get a group together this is one of the best campaign games I have played and I found it really scratched my dungeon delving itch that I had been trying to satisfy for a few years. It’s a great design, well executed and one of the most ambitious games I have ever played.
(Note: Jaws of the Lion, a smaller introductory version of Gloomhaven, is now available and is by all accounts a great version of the game in a much tighter package with a better way to learn the game. It might be worth checking it out if you want to play Gloomhaven but don’t want the commitment of the campaign.)
£100. A princely sum in the world of boardgames. That comically oversized red note gets you a neat collection – Azul, 7 Wonders, Concordia and a side of Codenames- with enough change left over for the coffee you’ll need to get through the rulebooks. Or it gets you a single giant game.
One giant, no collection, no coffee.
It’s got to be good, then. Not just good: it has to do something that the entire collection can’t. For me, there’s only one game that fits: Twilight Imperium 4th Edition. Your giant red note is transformed into a similarly giant box (did your shelves always look that small?), filled with promises of a truly unique experience that even a whole collection of smaller games can’t match. SIX PLAYERS. A WHOLE DAY. BIG RULES. That’s even more investment.
That investment is matched in scale. Everything about Twilight Imperium is majestic and grandiose, and what’s absolutely key for me is that includes the planning, scheming and experience the players get to have. You can look at a neighbour -a friend- and know that you have to treat them as another nation; in any other game you may squabble over a piece of territory. In Twilight Imperium, that single territory is part of a vast tapestry of interaction where both of you have such a mess of conflicting, supplementary and evolving goals that each turn that entire planet on the map is just a single data point. A data point covered in troops and maybe a fleet of dreadnoughts, but just a tiny piece of the puzzle all the same.
So turn 2 begins. Previously you’d graciously let your neighbour with the bigger fleet have that equidistant planet. This turn, as with every turn, a new objective is revealed, the galactic council votes, your strategy changes, your tech pivots, your fleets grow. That planet looks different: and your whole relationship with your neighbour has changed with every development.
That’s TI in a microcosm. You’ve got 4 other neighbours and a whole galaxy of planets, and it’s wonderful.
Grand Space Opera? Check.
Mahoosive dungeon-crawler campaign epic? Check.
There is one genre that is notable in its absence, and that is wonderfully illustrated animals beating the snot out of each other to control The Woodland. My choice is Root. Not entirely surprising considering my professed fondness for the game over the years, but nonetheless my solid pick. It has some problems, such as the combat can be seen as too simplistic for some players, (it would be boring if we were all alike- I’ve never played TI4 or Gloomhaven) but I find the asymmetric nature of each faction fascinating and finding how to make your playstyle work well against your opponents is another nice twisty puzzle.
The base game provides an excellent challenge for £55, with the four original factions and double-sided board for a wealth of experiences, but of course the much vaunted expansions add new factions to tussle with, new playstyles to come to terms with (including more variants for The Vagabond) and, in the case of the most recent Underground Expansion, another double-sided board of two new maps with their own challenges. Kyle Ferrin’s gorgeous art elevates this game to a classic, and one I am very happy to have on my shelf.
Dig deep, find treasure
There you have it, our three picks for the expensive games that we think are truly worth adding to your collection, each of which does a bit of a different job. What you pick will depend a lot on your own gaming sensibilities, and these are just our choices.