Let’s compare Gloomhaven and Kingdom Death Monster and decide which is the best fit for you. In this comparison of my two favorite games I will help you decide which is the best fit for you and your gaming group!
I know that when I am looking for a VS comparison I generally am trying to make a decision as to which to buy. Sometimes I even buy both but generally a vs comparison tells you whether you want to buy something or not and in what order to buy.
I am going to go in depth into what each game brings to the table, pun intended, and tell you what game I think is the best further down so stay with me.
The settings in Kingdom Death Monster and Gloomhaven differ drastically. Gloomhaven is a fantasy game with magic and even though it doesn’t have typical races it is fairly standard fantasy-type fare. When I say standard I don’t mean bad either. Gloomhaven has a great setting.
Also Gloomhavenis far more suitable for children. If you are playing with someone under 18 go straight to Gloomhaven because Kingdom Death Monster has adult content that shouldn’t be shown to minors.
Kingdom Death Monster is an R rated game. It has nudity in the sculptures and in the story book. Although it has nudity I wouldn’t call it overly sexual nudity. It’s part of the world and even though there’s quite a bit of it I feel like it belongs and is not gratuitous. Specifically there is front male genitalia, boobs and butts but no frontal female nudity or sex.
There is a bunch of pin up art that is very suggestive and revealing. Personally I like it because I think the artwork and sculptures are extremely well done and I think the setting is very unique; but I can definitely see how it could be quite offensive to certain people.
If you are playing with anyone under 18 I would not recommend playing Kingdom Death Monster.
First off both games are strategic. However they are drastically different in how that strategy is applied throughout the course of the campaign in each game.
Gloomhaven is very tactical and well balanced. The two card system, where you pick one top and one bottom action, allows a lot of flexibility and options while also being very refined and straight forward.
The combat in Kingdom Death Monster is closer to a standard dungeon crawler. You have a basic set of actions, you move, then attack and roll dice applying the various bonuses your character has from their stats, items and weapons. Option-wise it’s definitely not as robust. For example, unless you modify your move, you always move 5.
I would say that Gloomhaven has a bit of an edge in the combat department. There is less luck involved and your turns are more predictable, in a good way. Meaning that the plans are complex but they will mostly unfold as you want. That being said, Kingdom Death actually has far more strategy than most people think. It’s just a different kind of strategy.
When playing Gloomhaven you generally know what is going to happen and if you lose a scenario you can usually chalk it up to you misplaying the scenario. There is a small amount of luck in what cards the monsters pull and in the modifier decks as there is a 2x damage and one miss. Other than that things mostly unfold as you plan.
In Kingdom Death Monster there are drastic swings of luck and you have to think on the fly. Get a bad card from the monster right away and then roll badly on the injury table? Your guy probably dies. Deal with it.
KD:M also has a random scenario chart that you roll on as you progress through various stages of the hunt. It’s absolutely vicious and you will often have very bad things happen to you before you even get to the showdown. These events can even kill you outright!
Due to the amount of luck though, there is an opportunity for you to get extremely lucky and pull out wins that you wouldn’t have thought possible. The strategy in Kingdom Death Monster is around mindset and minimizing losses over the course of the campaign.
I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t go into specifics, but I will give you a couple pieces of advice. First, do not get too attached to your characters. THEY WILL DIE! It’s not if, it’s when. You might get really lucky and get them to retirement but they will be gone just the same. I personally have been really close but never actually managed to retire anyone; and I’ve played a lot.
The second piece of advice is: don’t be greedy. Kingdom Death Monster punishes you for being greedy. Accept that things will go wrong and don’t gamble on that 10% chance to try and make it perfect. You will need to be very calculating and ruthlessly strategic to make it through an entire campaign of 30 lantern years! Your people are a resource and an expendable one at that.(as long as you don’t expend to zero and lose…)
Absolutely no contest here, Kingdom Death Monster is the clear winner. The monsters are high quality, and everything has a miniature. No standees here. This is one of the reasons that Kingdom Death Monster has such a high price tag. I would definitely say it is worth it as the monsters in it are pretty epic. I especially love the Phoenix.
Bonus fun: there are a bunch of extra miniatures that you can customize to your build! So you finally managed to build that really cool sword you have been grinding for? Now go and build your guy with that exact sword. Yes you can actually customize your miniatures!
The miniatures add a level of depth and immersion that can definitely improve the ambiance. The downside of course being cost. Kingdom Death Monster is at least 3 times more expensive than Gloomhaven, and that’s without all the expansions. It can easily be 7-10 times more costly than Gloomhaven. The bright side is if you buy all that content you will have a ridiculous amount of play time from it.
Gloomhaven miniature quality is decent but all monsters and bosses are standees. Only the characters are actual miniatures. I wrote an article about the miniatures in a lot more detail here. This doesn’t make Gloomhaven inferior but miniatures are more prevalent and of better quality and design in Kingdom Death Monster.
Both games are very tactical and both map styles allow for good movement and tactical depth.
In Kingdom Death Monster it is one board and that board never changes shape. Each showdown phase(the part where you fight) is setup differently though and you draw terrain cards, which you then setup on the board. Sometimes this is random, other times you are told what and where to place them.
Either way it alters the way you play the board and you will have to tactically adjust.
In Gloomhaven you take different tiles specified in the scenario and put them together in various configurations. You then place obstacles and then monsters based upon the party size. None of this is random. Each scenario is handcrafted and the difficulty nicely tuned.
I personally like the Gloomhaven setup better. Movement in Kingdom Death can be tactical but at times it can feel like your movement doesn’t matter. In Gloomhaven you can almost always reposition to good effect.
No doubt about it the boss design in Kingdom Death Monster is the winner in this particular category. I actually feel like Gloomhaven’s boss design is its weakest aspect. Now Kingdom Death Monster only has bosses so it’s not as big of a win as you might think; Gloomhaven makes up for weak bosses by having awesome overall combat.
The showdown phase in Kingdom Death Monster is where you fight a big bad monster. There is only the monster. There are no minions. Just you and a really big bad…something. The design here is awesome. The bosses have very sophisticated AI decks and very descriptive wound decks. Both of these are far more sophisticated than anything the monsters do in Gloomhaven.
Having one boss makes the combat quicker. The more monsters you have the more time it takes to figure out their actions and calculate their moves and attacks. Gloomhaven occasionally suffers because there are so many pieces to move. You have characters, summons and, at times, numerous enemies. This all adds up and the showdown in Kingdom Death is much shorter to play than a Gloomhaven scenario.
I actually wrote an article on how long it takes to play Gloomhaven. Check it out!
The AI and wound decks in KDM add a lot of flavor and really make you feel the fight. You can wound them in various ways, lopping off body parts and taking them as trophies, spraying yourself in their blood and bile and more. It’s gross, but absolutely epic!
When a character dies in Kingdom Death Monster they are gone and they ain’t coming back. This is why I think some players have a hard time early on in Kingdom Death.
The normal mindset is to avoid death at all costs and even when you do die it very often doesn’t have permanent or even meaningful consequences.
Dying in Gloomhaven is like this. It doesn’t even slow your character progress, only your story progress. Yes you might not get the end of the scenario rewards but you will still get any gained XP or gold. This is fine because the difficulty in Gloomhaven is tuned so perfectly you will often find the scenario comes right down to the wire.
In KDM death is just a part of the game and you cannot avoid it for long, without serious luck; like buy a lottery ticket right now kind of luck. One or two unlucky rolls means your character can be killed without any recourse. This too is fine because of how Kingdom Death Monster works.
You have a town of characters and so losing one is a blow but it’s not going to completely ruin your game. I have personally come back from multiple 4 character party wipes, plagues, murderous villagers and more!
Kingdom Death Monster is absolutely unfair at times and you have to accept that if you want to have fun. Part of the challenge is trying to make it to the end as your people get mercilessly destroyed in every phase of the game. You will have to make tough choices to make it and there will be a trail of corpses in your wake.
If you are the kind of person that likes to play video games on easy, KDM is probably not the game for you.
Cards VS Dice
Gloomhaven doesn’t use any dice. The randomness is created by different cards that monsters can play, some of which may ruin your plans, and by the 2x damage and miss cards in each monster and characters modifier deck.
Kingdom Death Monster uses cards for equipment and a bunch of other stuff but attacking is generally with dice and so you are at the mercy of the dice. Clearly there is skill within this but it’s definitely more random.
This one can really come down to personal preference, but I’ll outline each and how they are mechanically different so that you can make the best decision based upon what makes you the happiest.
Gloomhaven is a fairly typical medieval-ish story. There’s magic and swords and the story is a standard layout with a main quest that has a few branches and then a bunch of side quests that are optional and flesh out the world.
The writing in the Gloomhaven campaign is decent but it’s a bit like young adult fantasy. It’s a bit stiff but it’s serviceable and it has its interesting moments.
Kingdom Death is not so much a campaign as it is a story about events that happen as a tiny group of survivors try to survive in a brutal world.
There are no names within the story and the the events are not really connected except for the fact that they are happening to the village. They are very interesting events but they do not tie into an overarching narrative beyond the fact that you are trying to survive each of them.
Even though they are not connected I have to say they are pretty awesome. The art in the book, the flavor in each scene and the absolute brutality of what is happening is compelling.
KDM to me, even though it doesn’t have a traditional story arc is much more interesting and enthralling. It paints a richer picture and the world feels more alive.
One of the greatest things about board games these days is the gear. Kingdom Death, bar none, has the most unique gear of any board game.
You hunt monsters and harvest them for their body parts which you use to turn into items, armor and weapons. If you like cool gear then KDM has that in spades. It has the most unique gear of any game I have played and I think the monster hunting part of building that gear is a large part of what makes it great.
The gear in Gloomhaven is good but it’s far more basic. it is more of a side part of the game and it functions in addition to all of the cool ability cards you have.
In Kingdom Death you have a gear grid, which is 3×3, so you can have 9 total items. Each of those items may have colored edges and when you match those colored edges up in your gear grid then you unlock bonuses which enhance the effects of your items. Your gear is permanent between characters so even when a character dies you keep the gear. This allows you to carry builds between characters, even when they die.
Thematically think of it like this: it is not specific weapons, armor or items you are building. Instead the village is learning how to build these items, so even if your character dies the equipment is still available to another survivor.
As you gain prosperity in Gloomhaven you get to unlock more items, which were previously hidden. Items slowly get more powerful, costing more money as the items get better. It’s pretty straightforward and not many of the items will induce excitement like they do in KDM.
Unlocking a character in Gloomhaven and building a really cool armor set/weapon or making a gear grid all match up are where you will find the most excitement in both games.
So Which Should you Buy?
Gloomhaven and KDM are my two favorite games so the easy answer is both! Although you will need to have a fair bit of cash to get both, especially if you want expansions for Kingdom Death.
Kingdom Death base game is about 3 times as expensive as Gloomhaven, depending on where you buy them. If you start adding expansions to KDM then it escalates quickly to far more than that.
I think if money is no object then I would buy Kingdom Death Monster as it has so many expansions you could play for year after year and there would still be new surprises and cool gear. I also really like the gear grind so if killing monsters to build sweet weapons is your jam you will really love KDM.
I would recommend buying Gloomhaven first as it has the best bang for the buck between them, but really you need to buy them both because even though they are drastically different in execution they are similar in ways that make them compelling and an absolute blast to play!