Type: Euro / Action Selection / City Builder

Time to play: 90-180 minutes (Teaching: 15-25minutes)

Best played with: 4 Player (1-4 Players)

Ok, so let’s start with one quick warning – this is not Gloomhaven or anything like it. Sorry folks, if you were looking for more Gloomhaven tips then it will probably be about a month before my third post on that. However, if you like “Euro” games then you are in luck – well sort of.

Founders of Gloomhaven takes you back to the mythical start of the town now famous as the lynch pin of many dungeon crawls. Back in those days, all the races came together to trade goods and build a city. It didn’t look like much at first, but it grew quickly into a bustling metropolis of …. well poorly layed out roads. That’s one of the quirks of this game that I will come back to, but as a starting point this is all about building a city.

Why and how is simple. The building of the city will earn you glory or prestige or just straight up victory points – whatever you prefer to call it. You can build it by taking one of a handful of actions – actions you will get better at as you enlist help, or that you can repeat after each election. Okay, the theme stretches a bit when you have to call a vote before you can build again, but that’s just a mechanic that makes your choices more compelling.

So… this action selection game works of the same principal as Concordia, but for those unfamiliar this is to say that each turn you pick a card and play it. That card is discarded, but one card in your hand allows you to pick all the discarded cards back up. The second core mechanic is the leader/follow action. It’s a near trick where you pick an action and then every other player gets a weaker version of that action. Not a million miles from Race for the Galaxy.

This combination of mechanics is played into a typical city building game. Placing town shops onto a map and connecting them to score points. In this game though, there’s a further complication which is the “trickle down” points system. The players providing resources into the system receive points, and the players providing resources to players providing resources also get points! That probably is not clear, so the other way of saying it – as each resource is delivered the owner is given points, but if they required other peoples’ resources then they need to pay them out from those points.

So there’s action selection with cards, lead/follow and there’s a complicated points system. That’s a lot to think about and why the rules teach can be a challenge. Add to that the small asymmetries between each faction and the importance of blocking connections that your opponents are trying to make (especially through walls and rivers) – it’s a really tough game for beginners.

If you overcome that though there is a challenging and interesting game here. Set yourself up as a trader, gain access to others resources and develop a deep trade network across the city which you control via gates and bridges. Build prestige buildings and deliver resources to them – once six prestige buildings have all goods delivered then the game ends.

These prestige buildings are brought into the game at the vote by the players. Which adds that the voting mechanics require you to spend influence to pick the building and to place the building. The influence of the players therefore guides who scores and where the buildings will be placed.

These bridges and gates are important blockers in the paths, but it is a reminder of the point I mentioned earlier. For a city building game, this game requires a lot of suboptimal building and a very weird path of roads. You start progressively building a city only to collapse into a cruel and adversarial race to the finish. This is something that troubles me in this game. It’s understandable and not so dissimilar from other city builders, but it left me feeling that the game degenerates at the end rather than hitting a crescendo. Of course, the game does accelerate as goods are all delivered across the network which does mean that the final rush can catch some players of guard and provide some interesting surprises.

The biggest complaint, if there has to be one though, is that the colouring on this game is very brown / earth based and can make it hard for players to differentiate. I haven’t ever fund it insurmountable but it’s come up a couple of times and it’s worth mentioning.

So, if you do go for this just watch out for the complex combination of familiar rules that will make this game a challenge. However, persistence with a group can find rewards and you will get to a game that allows for meaningful and complex decision sets.

Last notes,

  • If you like a city builder, then this is a notable entry in the genre (even if not the best)
  • If you need a simple system with emergent gameplay, then look elsewhere – it’s the complexity that makes the game
  • If you win, try again as another side!