The tutorial: a gloved hand that guides you through the systems of anything reasonably complex. Some come in the form of step-by-step written guides, others arrive via talking, animated paper clips. Still more attempt to throw you directly into the situation, gradually escalating the complexity and hoping you catch on.

Gloomhaven, a massive board game, attempts the third option, presumably under the impression that you’ll have the capacity to thwart the motley crew of bandits the game throws at you.

These bandits come charging with knives, shooting with arrows, and generally assault with a level of lethality that makes mockery of a newcomer’s hapless play.

We, however, weren’t newcomers. We were, while not experienced dungeon-divers, somewhat savvy. We knew how the game worked – its mechanisms of card drawing, hand and deck control and how both relate to keeping one’s hero alive under constant threat.

We didn’t know our heroes worked, such as how a spellweaver’s world-beating abilities quickly drain their already meager deck. Or how my scoundrel’s piddly daggers do so little against anything with the slightest defense.

Our daring duo tore through the early opposition with whirling knives and lightning storms, but when it came time to hit the final room and achieve our grand victory… well, the spellweaver ran out of magic, out of cards entirely and sat there, waiting to be massacred. My scoundrel pulled some tricks, threw some daggers, and caused precisely zero casualties as the attacks bounced off our foe’s cackling skulls.

Gloomhaven isn’t afraid to throw failure in your face, but it’s fair about it. We know what we did wrong, and while our characters mesh with each other about as well as oil and wine, we’ll give it another crack, and, next time, hold off on brutalizing the easy enemies to save our best for the harder ones.

In that sense, yes, I suppose Gloomhaven’s tutorial mission taught us one thing: it’s tough, fair, and fun. And absolutely worth playing if you’re into this sort of adventure.

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