In my last Gloomhaven scenario I was not particularly effective. I am playing the Brute and my intention when I selected the Brute was to tank, but in this scenario I wasn't able to do that because the enemies were largely ranged and so my attempts to use Retaliate and Shield effects didn't work. (I can only Retaliate against melee attacks.)
When I first picked up the game I figured that I could build a tank much like you can in other fantasy adventure games. I was not impressed with the Brute's tanking options however because I simply didn't see enough damage mitigation. Sure, I can put up a Shield ability, but it usually will only save me 2-3 damage, and sometimes not even that. This isn't much good because healing effects are just as strong as that and they require less in the way of setup and positioning to work. What I was hunting for was some way to mitigate a LOT of damage so I could just stand there and take it, and Gloomhaven simply doesn't offer that as an option.
I went online to see if other people had the same experience and the experts all said that tanking is just a bad idea in Gloomhaven. If you are in a 2 or 3 person group it is just wretched, and if you are in a 4 person group it is merely suboptimal. The Brute is still a fine class, you just have to build it to beat down, not to tank.
The class is still good at taking hits though. I still have the highest health, and putting on heavy armour and using the perk that negates armour penalties is fantastic. Doing that means I am far tougher than anyone else and it doesn't cost me much at all in terms of offence. The thing I have to avoid is thinking that my job is to Shield damage and Retaliate against enemies. It just isn't that good on average. Retaliating *can* be really powerful at times. There are some melee enemies that take many weak swings at you and in those cases Retaliating for 2 damage on each swing is ludicrous. The problem is that much of the time Retaliating is total rubbish. Maybe the enemies are ranged, maybe they heal this turn instead of attacking, or maybe they attack somebody else. Retaliate is simply unreliable, and Shield is the much the same (though Shield applies to ranged attacks.)
What is far better is consistent beatdown. I just need to apply a lot of regular damage as fast as possible. This is something that I often struggled to get across to people when building strategies in WOW - when the group dies, many people call for more healers or more tanking, when what they actually need to do is kill the damn enemies quicker so that nobody will need any healing. Retaliate certainly is good for highlight reels but packing your deck with cards that assume that you are going to get hit a ton is just not as good as packing it full of cards that murder the enemies first.
I really like this conclusion. One of the problems with many fantasy RPGs is that somebody has to tank and somebody has to heal. Many times people don't want to do that, they want to bash and have fun! In Gloomhaven you can set yourself up to be tough, which is good, but dedicated tanks that don't do anything aren't actually the best path. The ideal strategy is to pack enough defence that you can survive the hits you can't avoid taking, and kill the enemies fast enough that those are the only hits you take. Maybe you survive those hits by going Invisible, maybe you survive by dodging away, or maybe you have a lot of armour and health like the Brute.
I really enjoy a system that has a lot of customization like Gloomhaven does but which avoids hard roles. You can spec for certain styles or combos but nobody is forced into a pure role where you only have one function. You all have to deal damage, avoid damage, and assist your teammates in some way or other.
Now I just have to cope with the fact that my item selections were based on the assumption of being super tanky. Time to vendor some stuff and buy new gear for smashery, I think.