The cost of losing cards in Gloomhaven

Simple, but important – A common learning moment comes when you realize how few turns you have left after you used the “loss” option on several cards early in a scenario.


Gloomhaven’s “loss” cards

If you’re reading this, you may already know, but I will write it down anyway:

Many Gloomhaven character ability cards have a (usually powerful) “loss” option, where the card is then put in the “lost pile” rather than the discard pile.

So, how bad is it to lose a card? Well, you never get it back (without certain special abilities/items) during that scenario, unlike discarded cards. In effect, you are reducing your hand size for the rest of the scenario, so losing cards early probably hurts more.

How many turns will you lose?

Essentially, playing a card’s “loss” option is a decision of cost and benefit. To do that, we need to know the cost! It’s not hard to determine how many potential turns are given up. This is also a decision you make when taking damage, since a player may lose a card to prevent damage from a monster attack.

Example: Erica starts with 12 cards, and in the first “cycle” through her deck, (i.e. before resting), she decides to lose a card. How many potential turns has she given up?

Ah, if math homework was all about board games, it would be everyone’s favorite class.

To start this problem, first determine how many turns the player would have if she never lost a card, except through resting when necessary. Starting with 12 cards, she would have 6 turns before resting. Resting loses a card, so then she would have 11 cards. Erica would play 5 turns before she is unable to continue, and must rest again. And so on…

Cycle 1: 12 cards; 6 turns

Cycle 2: 11 cards; 5 turns

Cycle 3: 10 cards; 5 turns

Cycle 4: 9 cards; 4 turns

…skipping a bit…

Cycle 11: 2 cards, 1 turn

> So, Erica’s deck has the potential to have 6+5+5+4+4+3+3+2+2+1+1 = 36 turns total.

But how many will she have if she loses a card in that first “cycle”?

Other_Cycle 1: 12 cards, 6 turns

Other_Cycle 2: 10 cards, 5 turns

Other_Cycle 3: 9 cards, 4 turns


> That works out to be 6+5+4+3+3+2+2+1+1 = 31 turns total.

Erica lost 5 turns to use that ability. I hope it was effective! Essentially, losing a card skips your next “cycle” through of your deck. So, early in the scenario, when you have lots of cards, losing one is more costly since your cycles are bigger.

Turns lost formula

In general, how many turns do you lose when losing a card?

First, count up the number of cards in your hand that haven’t yet been lost (consider active cards destined for the lost pile to be lost), and call that number N.

Turn cost = (N-1)/2,  rounded down

That’s it. Very simple, but useful when deciding how to use ability cards.

Remember to compare costs

So, it’s clear enough that losing 3 cards before you rest the first time is very costly.

However, don’t forget that you will probably use that powerful “loss” ability at some point. The above example compares blowing a card before your first rest with saving it for your last round. This is not always realistic or beneficial.

Suppose that Erica was deciding between two plans:

Plan 1 – Use that card for a loss in the first few turns and get a jump on things

Plan 2 – Wait ~12 turns to use that card for a loss when entering the next room

Would it make sense to use the card earlier? What is the cost difference between these two?

Answer:  We already looked at Plan 1 and it’s number of turns. In Plan 2, Erica would use her 12 cards to play for 6 turns, rest, use her remaining 11 cards to play for 5 turns, rest…  and then a few turns later would lose a card while she has 10 cards.

Using our formula, in Plan 2 Erica would lose (10-1)/2 [rounded down] = 4 turns. Under Plan 1 we already saw that she would lose 5 turns. So, waiting 12 turns to use that card only saves her 1 extra turn. Of course, waiting longer will save more turns.

Moral of the story: As a general rule, save your loss cards in the early going, but if you line up something good, don’t feel bad about losing a card to do something cool!

Update: Other players have looked at this issue before, and posted some cool stuff. I really like this tool presented by BGG forum user Xaqery.

2 thoughts on “The cost of losing cards in Gloomhaven

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