When searching the web for opinions on Gloomhavens‘ Summoner you’ll get a vast diversity of opinions. Some say the class is hard to master, other say it’s getting real fun when you know how to play with. But most the players have the opinion that summons are way underpowerd. In a poll, which I have seen on reddit and found it so interesting that I kept a screen shot of, her power level was voted by far the worst (together with Tinkerer). Roughly 60% of the players marked her as underpowered. In the same poll a huge majority of the players voted that the class is difficult to play, alongside „Triforce“.
The worthwilst description of her class I’ve found so far was like: you feel less like a summoner but more like a kindergardener.
Anyhow, my last retirement led to the Summoner and I felt challenged to master that class. Our party’s prosperity level is 5, but especially on the lower levels I did not know which cards I should take. That is why I decided to start from level 1. Certainly a hard way, but it should give me time to learn. After the first few scenarios I browsed through all the cards up to level 9, to see what I will evolve to. What follows here is a break down of the cards from the perspective of „experience with the game“ but also of „not played the class yet“. Later, during play, I plan to add notes how I changed my mind on these cards. Be warned: spoilers of the cards up to level 9 ahead.
How to initiate my summoner
Before I value the cards and write my opinion of them I should specifiy what type of build I aim at. First, I really would like to play a mass-summoner, but burning a card each single round would be devastating. Second, we do play with four players, at the moment two of them are melee and one other seem not to have big moves, so the map feels quite clogged. This (and the hope that they survive longer, of course) is why I want to focus on ranged summons. Third, 3 summons would be cool, but I guess 2 will be difficult enough. But we will see.
From the first 12 cards I had to chose 9 to start playing. On the long term, Unending Dominance (which looks like it’ll stay in the deck all the way to lavel 9) and Wild Animation are the cards to play with.
Mighty Bond as a control action (you have to do something when not summoning, though) and is also good move card. Black Fire is able to wound two enemies and you can move, if needed.
Living Night gives even 2 summons which might be melee but can deal with shielded enemies. Even at higher levels they might occasionally be of interest. The lower half of that card has to be combined with a card that has a low initiative. Up to level 9 all those cards are either medicore attacks or are unineresting for me. Even worse: it generates dark, which you only can use for another attack. That would result in two rounds making attacks myself and not utilizing the summons. So far I did not found a spot to use that bottom half. In contrast, I found good use of the bottom action of Volatile Flame. It generates fire (for a boosted Black Fire) and on your first turn you usually do not want to move (the moves are big, so no need to hurry and most probably there will be no gold on the floor anyways). My first action so far was to summon something on turn 1, but as summons are doing nothing in the round they enter that attack is at least something. Bonded Might has a control top and a not well applicable bottom, which makes the card less valuable then Mighty Bond. Ironically, most the times I use Mighty Bond to move, so another control card fits very well in my deck.
A enhanced bottom of Forged Ferocity can spam your deck with blessings or give all summons advantage for the following round, but as I do not plan to play mass-summoning, this card loses its value. Additionally, it has the same problem as Living Night. Out of the remaining 4 cards I picked Biting Wind to add to my hand. I thought a top attack might be of use to fill the spare times. The both latter cards will surely be replayced as soon as I reach level 3. No love for Ethereal Vines, Unwavering Hand and Leathery Wings from me.
A low initiative jump 5, with a tempting top is what Earthern Steed offers. It could speed up a Thorn Shooter or a Rock Colossus, but as it is another lost card it is ment for boosting a single strong summon and therefore not appliciable for my build. Later on, if I’ll take other big move cards, like Conjuring Aid or especially Interplanetary Mastery, this card will be replaced, but for now that move is very tempting.
For now I cannot really decide wether to take Grasping the Void or Oozing Manifestation. The first one has two medicore, but somewhat usefull sides. The latter only an interesting bottom. Its an attack 3, which is why I am tempted to take it.
If you want to stand in for your summons, the bottom of Tear the Fabric might be a good choice, but in a 4 player game thats definitly a task I do have others for.
On level 2, I’ve picked Earthen Steed and replaced Forged Ferocity, just because I couln’d utilise that card so far. I noticed that Grasping the Void feels like an upgrade to Biting Wind, so I replaced that on level 3.
I plan to power up my summons, which will cost me lots of gold. That is why I value Living Momentum much. Probably, the move 2 has to be enhanced to a move 3 to be fully usable. When played late in a scenario one or two hits from a Rock Colossus might also be a good finishing move. Sadly, it comes on the same level as Divided Mind. For me this card looks like the most powerfull control card a Summoner has to offer, just because it is able to trigger two attacks and you do not even have to stand close. Most probably I’ll take these two cards on level 4 and 5.
For level 6 I am not quite sure which card I will take. Conjuring Aid would give me a third ranged summon (after the Void Eater) and another option to move beforehand. I cannot estimate wether I need another move, wether I could afford another summon, and how my initiatives will be spread. These are the criteria to take this card. Inexorable Momentum would be a good top attack, combined with a quite low initiative and the possibility to speed up my summons. The top of Divided mind could also fulfill this role. So far I have not enough experience how much additional movent to ranged summons is needed. Time will tell.
Strength in Numbers is a fantastic card. Especially, those +1 on move and attack are very tempting. Sadly, you have to stand adjacent to your summon which hinders my plan to collect all the gold. Also, I do not plan to mass-summon, so most probably the bottom half would only be a short ranged attack 2. That is why I plan to skip this card. Endless Spikes seems to me like another card with the same problem as Living Night and Forged Ferocity.
The first two are a often used combo, but if in mid to late game the dungeon is crowded I do use Living Bomb. The next two are my standard summons. Bonded Might is my control card (somehow I often use the jump from Mighty Bond frequently – which I never expected) and the last three cards are my move cards. Together with card recovering from items the balance between ups and downs somehow does fit, but to be honest the doesn’t feel well composed.
Finally, Negative Energy. The lower half is ment for a melee summoning being. The top is the summoners interpretation of a curse monger. Given, the Void Eater can stay alive long enough. Otherworldly Rage offers a hard hit (sadly without a prior move) for a summon and also could speed up the movement of a summon (or yourself, if you like).
For level 9, I cannot forsee which card offers me the most. Horned Majesty would be a hard hitting melee summon, an upgarde to Rock Colossus. Instead of the move and loot (which hopefully won’t be needed on level 9 anymore) you’ll get another mass-attack like Divided Mind. I question, that I will simultaneously have more than two summons out, so I am not sure how much value this card will add to the deck. Anyhow, on first sight it could replace Living Mountain or Divided Mind. The Interplanar Mastery would bring a very big jump and would let you play your best cards even more often. I guess, this card would replace something like Earthen Steed. If I am able to distill my used cards to 7 this will be the choice.
On first glance, Staff and Visions and Intervening Apparitions seem not to fit into a summoners deck. Other guides state that those cards are not worthy a high level. I think the first one is suited for a summoner who stands in the first row to tank for its summons and needs to deliver a final blow to a big boss. The second card will be burned fast, as you cannot control on which attacks (respectively summons) the ability should trigger. So this card looks like bogus. Instead, this card fits into the same build as Earthen Steed: it shines when you only have one powerfull summon out. I do see the use for both of these cards, but yet again, they do not fit into the build I am aiming at.
Epilogue: Other Sources
There is a well-made guide for an alternative version of a summoner, which does use Staff and Visions and Intervening Apparitions by the way. I’d like to try that build but my group has not unlocked required items yet.
A good break-down of the Summoner on reddit. Two somewhat standard builds from imgur (here and here), I’d classify my choices also as a ranged standard build. A well picted, but – in my opinion – on some details wrong assessed class guide from boardgamegeek.