When i received the original kickstarter release, initial impressions on the contents were that this is a top quality game. The models are reasonably good by plastic miniatures standards, although fairly soft on some thinner weapons, the general detailing quality was fine, with alternate poses or weapons for the enemies, and with purple boss models being really superb and having a solid feel to them. The hero models are larger than those in Descent 2nd edition, and enemies come in three colours (green, blue, red) which each have different abilities and responses, which increases gameplay variety and the difficulty level to fight them. The kickstarter set contained a load more monsters for forthcoming expansions, so there will be a lot more choice in the future after you finish act one. There is now available a side mission box called Arcane Portal and an act two set called Darkness Falls featuring an undead theme.
The tiles are fantastic, thick cardboard and double sided with lovely detail and artwork, and i liked the slightly gloomy colour shade when compared to the bright glossy Silver Tower. These are good competition for Descent, which set the benchmark visually at least and certainly beat the relative blandness of the Gloomhaven tiles. I also like the way tiles are only subdivided into a few larger areas, rather than a whole grid of small squares, with really easy line of sight rules. These are my favourite tiles of any fantasy game.
There are loads of cards for skills and items and it will take time to digest all the various options, and I have never seen so many different tokens in a game, there is a lot here to explore. I do have to say the kickstarter edition thick hero cards are so good, much nicer than the thinner retail ones, and this alone made me really happy to have backed it. Also i received an extra purple token bag, and a card holder which are not essential items but the extra hero is nice, and those hero cards may become sought after items. Of particular note is that heroes can be played as either lawful or chaotic nature, which also changes their skills, and this is a pretty neat idea not implemented as well in any of its peers.
The rule and storybook are well done, the quality is very nice, there is an index, and whilst there seems a lot of rules to digest, they make sense and are easy enough to understand if you take time to read the book first. It does take more learning the ropes than Descent 2nd edition, but this also makes a deeper game once the initial learning curve is over and the prologue scenario is relatively straightforward to get you started. The storybook approach is also great and builds a very engaging campaign, similar in style to Silver Tower and Hammerhal but much deeper.
The initial feeling i had was that pride of ownership for content quality is near the top end of my dungeon crawl list. Whilst Gloomhaven has much to offer such as a great card mechanic and branching story, with good hero art, it does not quite give you the same excitement when you take the monsters and tiles out. Sword & Sorcery made me immediately want to show off how good it looked out of the box.
Gameplay is of course the key to a sustainable game and over time the gameplay has turned out pretty nicely. There are definitely more little rules around than some dungeon crawlers, as you have to remember the enemy triggers, however the built in intelligence of monsters exceeds other games in this genre, and as such they do feel more alive as you cannot anticipate every move. Dice are great, ten sided with symbols that trigger extra damage or abilities, they are some of the best around, and feel easy to use, i have always liked the Descent dice mechanism and these rank alongside those, and they are much better than Massive Darkness which gets too messy with multiple additions and subtractions from different sources.
There is a real feeling of exploration and character development in this game, and as your characters do not get killed off, but can be resurrected using soul points, it keeps everyone engaged and playing. In overall terms, despite some extra complexity, if one player perseveres and learns it well, then this game is a really rewarding experience and provides one of the best dungeon crawl stories around, that does also have merit in solo play too. This is a dice rolling dungeon crawler with a little more meat on the bones, and it also paints up really well. It has a pride of place in my games collection in my favourite dungeon crawlers list here > Sword & Sorcery.