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Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs review — Cute as a button, sharp as a tack

As much as I’ve enjoyed Gloomhaven (I’m currently going through another campaign with a few friends that never got to play an initial one), I never got around to playing the fan made solo print-and-play Gloomholdin’. One of my many failures, I know. Obviously someone at Cephalofair did, because its designer Klipfel got tapped to codesign a tiny solo Gloomhaven campaign with Artisans codesigner Valens, which became Buttons & Bugs. The operative word here really is tiny: as much as its big siblings hog even the largest tables, even my sprawling end of campaign setup with the scenario deck, map, monsters, modifier trackers, and all my items and class cards never eclipsed the size of an end table.

 

There are multiple changes from big Gloomhaven for B&B, but the biggest is how cards and hands work. You start each scenario with four cards and pick two, doing the top of one and the bottom of another, same old song and dance. But once they’re used, they return to your hand, flipped to their B side. Elements have also been streamlined from the fiddly table; some of your cards and certain monster activations will provide an element for that round until it’s consumed. Simple, I love it. The first few scenarios are straightforward, easy puzzles that give you the time and space to adjust if you’re a vet or learn if you’re a neophyte, but the difficulty spikes hard as soon as you’ve got your feet under you. B&B comes at you hard, I had to reset a third of the scenarios in my mindthief campaign, compared to a grand total of five I’ve had to do across at least a hundred times I’ve played Gloomhaven proper, but since the scenarios max out at around twenty minutes and setup is an absolute breeze, all the increased difficulty amounts to is more intensely rewarding victories- my wife checked in on me because I was so hype after I beat the first boss. Aside from the difficulty, what makes the victories so rewarding is the perfect mixture of transparency and opacity in the puzzles. Big Gloomhaven hides almost everything in decks, and every monster has a unique deck, with so many that someone like me will inevitably only have a vague memory by the time you see that guy again. I think he walks slowly and heals a lot? Oh no, that was the one with face paint, now I’m dead. B&B gives every monster one of three options, and you’ll roll to determine what each monster type does after you’ve chosen your cards. See, perfect blend. Same thing with modifier decks. What’s in there? I’ve got no clue, dude. I know I took the perk to clear the zeros and dumped a bunch of good stuff in there, so I’d assume good stuff? B&B has tracks that you and the monsters roll on. That blend again. All this amounts to the feeling of a good speedrun if you succeed after needing to reset once or twice, and if you get a particularly difficult scenario on the first try, you’ll feel like a god or ready to kill one.

 

And as much as I wish I could end the review here with a bit about how much game they packed into this $20 box and tell y’all to go pick it up ASAP, I’ve got to address the elephant that they got Hail to shrink down to fit into this box: the production quality here is lacking, to say the least. Yeah, the mini hero minis are darling, but arguably the two most important things, component-wise, are a total crapshoot. The cardstock is so thin that my entire scenario deck bowed like it was bridge-shuffled by an angry toddler as soon as it got out of its shipping wrap, with multiple cards warped so badly that I just couldn’t keep the monster cubes in their hexes. Similarly, the health dials have a tendency to either spin much too freely or get stuck, mine being the former, where they’d lose their place if I’d need to pick them up to check due to my poor sight. Granted, there are workarounds for both issues, and our tabletop lead Mike’s copy is just fine, but they’re in mine and the game’s recent threads as of writing are dedicated to this issue, so it’s worth noting.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a dork at an early age. When he's not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he'll never pick up, Nick can be caught attempting to either cook an edible meal or befriend local crows.

95

Excellent

Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs

Review Guidelines

It takes a lot to sell me on a solo board game- why am I not just playing a video game instead and letting a computer take care of all the admin for me? But I absolutely fell in love with Buttons & Bugs’ addictive little puzzles that never became too fiddly or overstayed their welcome.

Nick Dubs

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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