Gloomhaven Brute Guide – Tank Build & Strategy

By Emily Sargeantson

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The Inox Brute was in my first Gloomhaven group. He was a tank and essential to the early successes in our campaign. This build guide focuses on the Brute tank build.  

Brute tank build guide structure

This article is a complete guide to a Brute tank build from level 1 to level 9. For each level look at the cards available, assess each one for usefulness to a tank build and then choose the deck for that level. 

The guide follows this structure: 

  • Why a Brute tank build? 
  • Brute tank build strategy
  • Level 1 – 9 cards and decks
  • Brute perks
  • Brute items
  • Brute enhancements
  • Brute experience
  • Brute combos
  • Brute names
  • Conclusion

This guide does not contain campaign spoilers or items beyond starting items. 

Gloomhaven Brute class miniature and board
Gloomhaven Brute class miniature and board

Why a Brute tank build?

The two main build options for the Brute are tank and damage dealer. The Inox’s high strength and high health make him a good class to play in either role. 

While he can be played effectively as either – generally the tank build works best with larger groups and the damage build better with smaller groups. In a larger group of four players, you’re more likely to have squisher players dealing damage so you need to tank to support them. You’re also more likely to have an ally who can heal you. 

If you don’t have a healer, don’t go with a tank build! With no healer in your group, the damage dealing Brute build is a better choice! 

Brute tank build strategy

The strategy for playing a tank in Gloomhaven is like playing a tank in any other multiplayer co-op game. You’re there to take the heat off your allies. That is your primary focus. 

That doesn’t mean that you deal no damage. Of course, you attack too. You take less damage if there are fewer enemies to deal it!

However, when we’re looking at the abilities for our tank, the shiny looking attacks aren’t necessarily the best choice. Our first choice cards should focus on helping us to pull the enemy aggro and withstand hits. 

Think one step ahead

While every Gloomhaven player needs to try to predict what everyone else and the bad guys will do on their turn, it’s even more important for you.

You need to control the battlefield. Your team will be relying on you to keep the heat off them while they heal you and deal the damage that takes care of the enemies. 

Anyone who has played a tank knows that being a damage dealer is a far simpler role! 

Retaliates aren’t Shields

Let’s face it, enemies are going to hit you a lot because you are the player that will be on the front lines the most. 

Because you know that’s what’s going to happen you might as well hit them back! 

Just don’t allow Retaliate to draw you into a bloodlust rage where you throw yourself into a dangerous situation thinking that your Retaliate will save you. It doesn’t. You need shields for that. 

Retaliate can be great when you set it up with Shields which this tank build does, but be careful with the balance of taking damage to deal damage. 

Pick enemies off one by one

The Brute can deal low melee damage to a few enemies in a group, or higher damage to a single target. 

Because we’re going for a tank build we don’t have a huge amount of attack abilities. It means that we want to make the attacks we do have really count! 

Our strategy in this build is high hitting single target attacks, rather than weaker multi-target attacks. Single attacks don’t rely as heavily on situational positioning so are easier to get the most from. 

Hitting one target hard means you can keep an eye on which enemies are low on health or are the most threat to you and your allies and knock them off one by one. 

Positioning is key

For any tank, your positioning is super important. You want to be the high threat ally when your allies really can’t take any hits. 

Fortunately, the Brute is one of the more mobile Gloomhaven characters. He has several short moves and additional little attacks to help you shift into position and deliver a cheeky point of damage. In this build, while running counter to our core strategy, we may occasionally take an attack card over a defence card because we need the movement abilities it offers. 

Brute cards

There are 29 ability cards in the Brute deck across all levels. The Brute has a hand limit of 10 cards, so you’ll only use about a third of the cards available in any given scenario. 

This build guide is about making the most of the cards you have! 

Level 1 Brute cards

At level 1 you have exactly 10 cards, just like your hand limit. You could ignore the optional level X cards completely and use all the level 1 cards as your starting hand for the Brute. It’ll allow you to jump in and start to get a feel for the class.

However, this build guide assumes that you’re going to take both Level 1 and Level X cards to build your starting hand. So I look at each card at Level 1 with that in mind. 

I take each card in turn and think about how useful it will be to a Brute tank build. 

Eye for an Eye

Brute Eye for and Eye card
Brute Eye for an Eye card

Initiative

18

Top ability

Retaliate 2, Self. Gain 1 Experience each time you Retaliate this round. Round bonus. 

Retaliate abilities are interesting. At first glance you think, great! Bonus damage this round, I’ll take it! But at what cost? 

With retaliate to deal damage you first must take damage. Hence the name, Eye for an Eye. So are you actually any better off? 

Well, it depends on how you set this ability up. If we’re going to retaliate, we want to make sure we can withstand the hits. So we need shields. 

Fortunately, we can play Shield Bash before this card to give us 1 Shield for the round. If we have the persistent bonus of 1 Shield from Warding Strength out from the previous turn, we have 2 Shield against the next 6 attacks. 

We also need to make sure we’re going to get hit. So put yourself in the way. Make sure you’re the closest ally to the enemies and they can’t resist attacking you.

Yes, it takes some setting up, but it’s not difficult to do. 

Bottom ability

Heal 2, Range 1, Create Earth. 

Nothing wrong with a minor heal at range 1. It creates Earth which you don’t need but an ally might find helpful. 

Overall Eye for an Eye card rating

Eye for an Eye is a very useful card, just make sure you have your shields ready before you use the top ability. 

Oh, and enjoy the 18 initiative too! 

Grab and Go

Brute Grab and Go card
Brute Grab and Go card

Initiative

87

Top ability

Loot 1.

A standard loot ability. It’s at the top of a card though, which doesn’t sit hugely well with me. I’d much rather see an attack in that spot. 

Bottom ability

Move 4.

This is our highest, non-loss movement at Level 1 that’s good. It’ll help you get into the fray as soon as you can to keep the attention away from your allies. 

Overall Grab and Go card rating

It doesn’t do anything super fancy but Grab and Go gives a useful loot and a Move 4. For me, there are other cards that can give us a high movement if we really need it and there are better cards for our hand. 

Leaping Cleave

Brute Leaping Cleave card
Brute Leaping Cleave card

Initiative

54

Top ability

Attack 3 on two hexes directly in front of you. 1 Experience. 

A nice attack 3 on two enemies at once. It also gives a handy 1 Experience. 

Yes, it’s a situational attack and you need enemies in front of you to get the most from it. But to be honest, it’s not that uncommon to find two enemies in front of you. You want enemies in front of you! 

You’re the tank. It’s your status quo. 

Bottom ability

Move 3, Jump, Create Wind. 

A useful Move 3 with Jump with is really helpful to navigate through enemies that will be crowding around you. It also creates Wind which sets up the bonus on the level X card, Skewer, perfectly. 

Overall Leaping Cleave card rating

A handy multi-target attack on the top and a really useful Wind generating move on the bottom. This is a great card for our build.

Overwhelming Assault

Brute Overwhelming Assault card
Brute Overwhelming Assault card

Initiative

61

Top ability

Attack 6, 2 Experience, Loss. 

This card can take out an enemy pretty much on its own. You get a couple of experience for using it too. You pay for it by losing the card though. It would be a great card to use in the last room, but you can only use it as a standard attack 2 until that point. 

Bottom ability

Move 3, Push 2, Target one adjacent enemy. 

The Move 3 is ok. The additional Push 2 can be a great way to deal damage to enemies if there are any traps in the room. 

If there aren’t any traps, then pushing enemies away from you isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can move the enemy out of melee range for you or your allies! So use it wisely. 

Overall Overwhelming Assault card rating

Overwhelming Assault is not a great card for us, despite its high attack value on the top. The Attack 6 is great, but it’s a loss so you need to save it until you’re in the final room. And because Push is on the bottom which is a risky action, this card isn’t flexible enough for me.

Provoking Roar

Brute Provoking Roar card
Brute Provoking Roar card

Initiative

10

Top ability

Attack 2, Disarm. 

A really handy attack to stop an enemy from doing any damage on their next turn. Use it on the hardest hitting enemy to maximise the use of this ability. 

Bottom ability

Any enemy who targets one of your adjacent allies with an attack this round targets you with that attack instead, regardless of the attack’s range. Round bonus. 

Now that’s what we’re talking about! Any tank worth their salt wants this ability. 

It’s exactly what you need to pull the aggro towards you instead of your allies. 

You might think that if you’re positioning yourself effectively then you don’t need this ability. But just because you’ve moved into a sensible position on your turn, it doesn’t mean your allies will do the same on their turns! 

This card has saved allies in my group from elimination several times! 

When you aren’t in a situation where this is needed, then you just use it as a standard Move 2. 

Overall Provoking Roar card rating

The 10 initiative on this card is the lowest initiative card available to you in the entire Brute deck. And you’ll need the bottom ability for those times when your allies are in serious trouble! 

Shield Bash

Brute Shield Bash card
Brute Shield Bash card

Initiative

15

Top ability

Attack 4, Stun, 2 Experience. Loss. 

Shield Bash deals a nice attack of 4 and the Stun is awesome. It’s a loss so ideally, save it until later in the scenario if you use it. But it’s the bottom ability on this card that really helps our tank build.

Bottom ability

Shield 1, Self, Round bonus. 

A Shield 1, Self is a perfect ability for a Brute tank. Use it before you use the Retaliate ability on Eye for an Eye to mitigate some of the damage you’ll take before hitting back. 

It’s a shame it only lasts for a round, but you can use it several times per scenario. 

Overall Shield Bash card rating

The bottom ability of Shield Bash is really helpful. It’s only a Shield of 1 but it does have 2 enhancement slots and it’s a non-loss. 

My suggestion is to use the bottom part of this card until the last room where you use the top half to finish off the enemies before everyone is exhausted. 

The initiative of 15 is your third lowest initiative card so it’s super helpful to have in your hand for that.

Spare Dagger

Brute Spare Dagger card
Brute Spare Dagger card

Initiative

27

Top ability

Attack 3, Range 3, 1 Experience. 

As the tank, you’re going to be the first person into the room more often than not. When you first enter the room, chances are your enemies will not be directly in front of you so you can’t attack on that turn. That’s where the Spare Dagger ranged attack comes in. 

Bash the door down and then sling a dagger into the enemy mob. That’ll get their attention! 

Bottom ability

Attack 2. 

This simple attack 2 is understated yet brilliant. Because it’s on the bottom of the card rather than the top, it means you can do two attacks on one turn if you already have all the enemy attention don’t need to move position.

Overall Spare Dagger card rating

A useful card for us. It is attack focussed, but it has your only ranged attack at Level 1, a rare attack as a bottom ability and a pretty low initiative of 27. This will definitely be going into our hand. 

Sweeping Blow

Brute Sweeping Blow card
Brute Sweeping Blow card

Initiative

64

Top ability

Attack 2, three hexes in a line in front of you. 

At first glance, Sweeping Blow looks brilliant. But when you look a little closer you realize it isn’t as good as other options. While there are plenty of opportunities to use this attack in a scenario, the damage dealt is weak. 

Bottom ability

Move 3. Push 1, Target all adjacent enemies. 

The Push on the bottom of this card looks great at first too. But because it targets all adjacent enemies you may find yourself pushing enemies out of range of your attacks! 

Push is also a volatile thing to do. You might push enemies into the path of the allies you’re trying to protect. 

Overall Sweeping Blow card rating

Give Sweeping Blow a sweeping glance and you think it’s great. Give it a longer look and… not so much. Not for a tank build anyway.

You have stronger attack options vying for space in your hand amongst your tanking abilities. 

Trample

Brute Trample card
Brute Trample card

Initiative

72

Top ability

Attack 3, Pierce 2.

This top attack is a solid single target ability. The Pierce really comes into its own when you start encountering more enemies with shields. It then goes from an attack 3, to the equivalent of an attack 5. 

Bottom ability

Move 4, Jump, Attack 2, Target all enemies moved through, 2 Experience. Loss. 

The bottom ability is so much fun. You need just the right situation to make the most of this card but thankfully the situation to run through a lot of enemies comes up regularly! Especially when you’re playing in a 4 player group – there are a lot of bad guys around. 

This ability is even better when you boost it with the +2 movement from Boots of Striding. Then you can move through 6 enemies instead of 4. 

Overall Trample card rating

The bottom ability of Trample is really fun to use and it gives us a lot of movement. It’s well worth the loss, especially if you boost it with items. The top attack is frequently used, there’s always an enemy to hit hard on the front lines!

Warding Strength

Brute Warding Strength card
Brute Warding Strength card

Initiative

32

Top ability

Attack 3, Push 2. 

This top ability is a solid attack 3. The Push of 2 is helpful if there are traps around and because it only pushes one enemy instead of multiple enemies, when you shove one out of the way, you’ll probably still have another enemy in reach that you can hit.

Bottom ability

On the next six sources of damage from attacks targeting you, gain Shield 1. Persistent bonus. 3 Experience. Loss. 

The persistent shield is brilliant and a hugely useful option for your tank Brute. It is guaranteed to protect you for 1 damage from your next 6 attacks. That’s like getting a boost of 6 health.

You’ll get a tasty 3 experience points too. Just make sure you save this ability into room two or three so you don’t lose the card too early and get exhausted. 

Overall Warding Strength card rating

A solid top attack and a bottom ability that you’ll use every single scenario. You want Warding Strength in your hand. 

Level X Brute cards

As a reader of strategy guides, my guess is that you’re going to include the level X cards in your level 1 deck! That’s why the starting hand I recommend includes level X cards. Let’s take a look at them.

Brute level X cards - Balanced Measure, Skewer, Wall of Doom
Brute level X cards – Balanced Measure, Skewer, Wall of Doom

Balanced Measure

Initiative

77

Top ability

Attack X where X is the number of hexes you have moved so far this turn. 1 Experience. 

I love this ability. There is no cap on the amount of damage you deal, it’s non-loss and you get experience for it. Of course, it’s completely reliant on you as to how effective this ability proves to be. 

Use Balanced Measure after a high movement ability boosted by the Boots of Striding for some epic damage. It’s a good one to use when you first run into a new enemy mob. 

Bottom ability

Move X where X is the amount of damage you have inflicted so far this turn. 

You’ll probably use the bottom of this card far less than the top. High movement is nice when you need it, but high damage is more satisfying (even for a tank!).

Overall Balanced Measure card rating

A great damage dealing card. It’s basically your standard top attack and bottom movement on steroids. You just need to provide the steroids.

Wall of Doom

Initiative

20

Top ability

Retaliate 2, Self. Shield 2, Self. 2 Experience. Round bonus. Loss. 

This is the kind of tanking card we need more of in the Brute deck! Usually with Retaliate you have to take damage to deal damage. Because we have a shield of 2 on this ability, we can take the risk of taking a few hits more easily on a turn and not take too much of a health knock. 

It is a loss though, so use it when it counts. 

Bottom ability

Add +1 Attack to all your attacks this round. Round bonus. 

While we’re waiting to use the top half of Wall of Doom, we can use the bottom half to boost our attacks. A +1 Attack isn’t amazing, but it’s better than nothing on those turns where you don’t need to move because the enemies are already where you want them. 

Overall Wall of Doom card rating

One of the few decent tanking cards we have at level 1 with a useful attack bonus on the bottom while we save the loss for later. It makes it into our hand. 

Skewer

Initiative

35

Top ability

Attack 3, Two hexes. The hex directly in front of you and the one behind it. (Conditional: Consume Wind for +1 Attack, Pierce 1) 1 Experience. 

Seeing as you’ll be on the front lines most of the time with enemies all around you, it’s not difficult finding situations to use Skewer. 

What’s trickier is generating Wind. The only card you have which generates Wind is Leaping Cleave, so you’ll need that card in your hand too. You could always use a Wind element that just happens to be in the room but always ask first. Your elemental-based allies might need it more than you! 

Bottom ability

Move 6, 1 Experience. Loss. 

The highest movement you have at level 1. It’s a shame it’s a loss. Worth losing if you’re racing for the treasure chest in the last room, though! 

Overall Skewer card rating

A pretty powerful non-loss ability on the top. Even without the Wind element it’ll still deal 6 damage to 2 bad guys and get you an experience point. The initiative of 35 means you’ll probably end up going in the middle of the pack.

Level 1 Brute Build

While there are two abilities on each card, we’ve usually taken them for one key ability.

As a tanking Brute, the focus for our abilities is damage mitigation, some attacks, retaliates and protecting allies. 

In our starting hand, we can see that even with defensive abilities we still have 5 cards in hand that are there to deal damage. These cards also have useful movement abilities. 

Level 1 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 1 deck
Brute tank build level 1 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Shield Bash
  • Warding Strength

Retaliates

  • Eye for an Eye
  • Wall of Doom

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Balanced Measure
  • Leaping Cleave
  • Skewer
  • Spare Dagger
  • Trample

Level 2 Brute cards

Brute level 2 cards - Fatal Advance, Juggernaut
Brute level 2 cards – Fatal Advance, Juggernaut

Fatal Advance

Initiative

40

Top ability

Kill one adjacent normal enemy, 2 Experience. Loss. 

An insta-kill ability is always going to be tempting. And it would be in normal circumstances… But we are the tank and the ability on the bottom of Juggernaut is so much more useful to us. 

Bottom ability

Move 4. 

A nice high, non-loss move. We have other moves though so we can live without it. 

Overall Fatal Advance card rating

It’s a shame to leave this card because it has that insta-kill, but we don’t need the damage dealing glory. We’re the defensive hero. 

Juggernaut

Initiative

34

Top ability

Move 2. Attack 2. 

This is very awesome. A move and an attack in a top spot. Yeah, it’s not the biggest damage dealer, but it’ll do just fine while we’re saving the bottom ability for later in a scenario. 

Bottom ability

On the next three sources of damage to you, suffer no damage instead. Persistent bonus. 3 Experience. Loss. 

This is what I’m talking about! Yes please! About time we had a card that means attacks just bounce straight off. 

Overall Juggernaut card rating

We need this card in our hand. Taking no damage at all for 3 turns is awesome!

Level 2 Brute build

What to pick up

Juggernaut, of course. Sorry, insta-kill Fatal Advance. 

What to drop

One of our attacks is the obvious choice to drop because our primary focus is damage mitigation and protecting allies. Balanced Measure and Trample are uncapped so we want to keep those because they level really well. 

That leaves Spare Dagger, Leaping Cleave and Skewer. We need the ranged attack and bonus bottom attack from Spare Dagger. The non-loss Jump on Leaping Cleave gives it a nudge over Skewer for me. Plus Skewer needs Wind for the bonus. 

So we drop Skewer. 

Level 2 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 2 deck
Brute tank build level 2 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Warding Strength

Retaliates

  • Eye for an Eye
  • Wall of Doom

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Balanced Measure
  • Leaping Cleave
  • Spare Dagger
  • Trample

Level 3 Brute cards

Brute level 3 cards - Brute Force, Hook and Chain
Brute level 3 cards – Brute Force, Hook and Chain

Brute Force

Initiative

51

Top ability

Attack 2, 3 hexes in a line in front of you, Muddle, 1 Experience. 

The attack of 2 isn’t brilliant on this for a level 3 card. However, the Muddle debuff gives it a decent boost and you’ll get an experience point for using it. 

It’s a good ability to use early on with a mob to do a little bit of damage and give them a debuff before they get a chance to attack. But it’s still an attack value of only 2. 

Bottom ability

Move 2, Shield 1, Self, Round bonus. 

The more shields we have, the more damage we can take. What’s nice about this shield is that we’re not losing a movement to get the shield bonus. 

Overall Brute Force card rating

A better multi-target attack than others we’ve seen because of the Muddle debuff. The bottom is useful for us too, we can move and block in the same turn. Awesome! We’ll use these abilities frequently so it’s good that neither ability is a loss. 

Hook and Chain

Initiative

42

Top ability

Attack 3, Range 3, Pull 2.

This is a great ability to get enemies within range. It’s also the second ranged attack we’ve come across. As a tank, part of your job is to get yourself and enemies into the right positions to protect your allies. 

The Pull 2 is a fantastic way to grab enemies that are heading towards your allies and pull them away. It’s the Gloomhaven equivalent of the ‘Get over here!’ move. 

Bottom ability

Move 4, if the movement was in a straight line, perform Attack X where X is the number of hexes you moved with this action. 

This bottom ability is a fun way to get an attack of up to 4 on enemies. But only if you can move 4 hexes in a straight line. Realistically, that’s not going to happen all that often. 

Overall Hook and Chain card rating

On first glance, Hook and Chain is a useful looking card for either the damage build or the tank build. It allows us to pull enemies towards us to get them away from allies, or if we can’t do that, then we can dash towards enemies and whack them when our allies are in trouble. 

But do we need another ranged ability when we’re a melee focussed build? And how often can we move 4 hexes in a straight line? 

Level 3 Brute build

What to pick up

This is a tough call. Both cards can be used really effectively by a tanking Brute. Hook and Chain is more effective at allowing us to control the battlefield. But ranged attacks aren’t going to be hugely common for us when we’re in the fray.  

Hook and Chain is not worth forgoing the Move 2 Shield 1 on Brute Force. 

We take Brute Force. 

What to drop

Seeing as we’re focussing on damage mitigation over dealing damage and we don’t need the Wind element from Leaping Cleave, we drop it. We will miss the 1 movement and Jump especially, but we can always use Balanced Measure after a high damage attack if we really need to run somewhere. 

Level 3 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 3 deck
Brute tank build level 3 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Warding Strength

Retaliates

  • Eye for an Eye
  • Wall of Doom

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Balanced Measure
  • Spare Dagger
  • Trample

Level 4 Brute cards

Brute level 4 cards - Devastating Hack, Unstoppable Charge
Brute level 4 cards – Devastating Hack, Unstoppable Charge

Devastating Hack

Initiative

27

Top ability

Attack 8, 3 Experience. Loss. 

A single-use, single target, high damage ability. Because it’s a loss, you’d be carrying this around with you for the whole scenario before using it at the end. It’s not worth it. 

Bottom ability

Loot 1. 

Meh. A Loot 1 isn’t life changing. We had a Loot 1 available at level 1. I expect more from a Level 4 ability. 

Overall Devastating Hack card rating

This is not a great card for our tank build. It is damage focused and offers no defensive abilities.

Unstoppable Charge

Initiative

86

Top ability

Attack 5, 1 Experience. 

A solid hard-hitting single target attack with an experience point too. It deals less damage than Devastating Hack, but it’s not a loss. This is just the kind of card we need to pick off an irritating enemy that is causing trouble for us.

Bottom ability

Move 4, Stun, Target all adjacent enemies. Loss. 

Hugely useful attack. The stun is a great way to reduce the damage you and your allies take from the bad guys for a turn. The Move 4 will be very welcome in our hand too because we don’t have a huge amount of movement cards. 

Overall Unstoppable Charge card rating

A versatile, attack and move focused card that brings a nice hard hitter and a fast damage mitigating move action. The initiative of 86 means you can choose to go late in the round with this one. 

Level 4 Brute build

What to pick up

There is no comparison here. Unstoppable Charge is the better card for us.

What to drop

It’s time to drop Balanced Measure. It’s a shame because we’ve been relying on it for movements till this point and to deal a huge amount of damage after a boosted Trample. But we have other cards that are more versatile. 

Level 4 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 4 deck
Brute tank build level 4 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Warding Strength

Retaliates

  • Eye for an Eye
  • Wall of Doom

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Spare Dagger
  • Trample
  • Unstoppable Charge

Level 5 Brute cards

Brute level 5 cars - Skirmishing Maneuver, Whirlwind
Brute level 5 cars – Skirmishing Maneuver, Whirlwind

Skirmishing Maneuver

Initiative

29

Top ability

Attack 2, Move 2, Attack 2. 

The top move action on this card is exactly what we need. Now we can move easily shift around to different enemies on the front line to stop them from getting to allies. 

Bottom ability

Attack 3, Range 3, 1 Experience. 

This is the ranged attack from Spare Dagger but on the bottom of a card instead. Yes please! Even if we need to use this a melee attack instead of a ranged attack with the -1 attack penalty, it’ll still be worth 2 attack, the same as the Spare Dagger bottom ability. 

Overall Skirmishing Maneuver card rating

A brilliantly flexible card giving us some attacks and movement.

Whirlwind

Initiative

28

Top ability

Attack 4, Target all adjacent enemies, Gain 1 Experience for each enemy targeted. Loss. 

This is a powerful multiple enemy attack ability which can deal 4 damage each on up to 6 enemies if you were completely surrounded. You’d get 6 experience points too.

It’s a great attack for a damage focussed build in the right circumstances. 

Bottom ability

Move 4. Push 3, Target one adjacent enemy. 

The move 4 here without a loss is awesome. The push is ok too because you can just focus on moving one enemy out of the way rather than every enemy near you. 

Overall Whirlwind card rating

Two great abilities on this card and with an initiative of 28 we can go early in the round if we need to.

Level 5 Brute build

What to pick up

Because of the versatility of a move action on the top of the card and a ranged attack on the bottom, we pick up Skirmishing Maneuver. 

What to drop

Spare Dagger. We don’t need two ranged attacks in a close-range melee deck and Skirmishing Maneuver gives us the additional attack as a bottom ability that Spare Dagger did. 

Level 5 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 5 deck
Brute tank build level 5 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Warding Strength

Retaliates

  • Eye for an Eye
  • Wall of Doom

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Skirmishing Maneuver
  • Trample
  • Unstoppable Charge

Level 6 Brute cards

Brute level 6 cards - Immovable Phalanx, Quietus
Brute level 6 cards – Immovable Phalanx, Quietus

Immovable Phalanx

Initiative

17

Top ability

Attack 4, Shield 1, Self, Round bonus. 

This is a great ability for a tank – an attack with a shield. Perfect! Whack the bad guy and then put your shield up. 

Bottom ability

You may treat all Move abilities as Attack abilities of equal value. Persistent bonus. Loss. 

Seeing as we are a bit low on movement abilities we may not want to use this. It gives us the interesting option of doing a bonus attack on every turn that we don’t need to move though. 

It’s persistent too, so after you’ve played it you get this option for the rest of the scenario. Just don’t play it too soon though because it’s a loss. It can be handy against bosses in the final room when you just want to stand there and get their hit points down as quickly as you can. 

Overall Immovable Phalanx card rating

The top ability is really great for us and the 17 initiative means we have a go early option. I like the versatility provided by the bottom ability although we’ll only use it in the final room when we don’t need to move much anymore.  

Quietus

Initiative

57

Top ability

Kill one adjacent normal enemy with Stun, 1 Experience. 

An insta-kill non-loss ability is incredible. It does have the condition that the enemy must be stunned though. Right now, we have two abilities that inflict Stun and they are both losses. 

So to set this up you’d need to lose another card in process if you didn’t draw a Stun card from your enhanced modifier deck. It only applies to normal enemies too. Maybe the insta-kill isn’t so amazing after all. 

Bottom ability

Move 3. Add 1 Attack to all your attacks this round. Round bonus. 

This is an upgraded version of the lower half of Wall of Doom in that we have a Move 3 too. It’s fine and the damage bonus is nice but our build focus isn’t damage.

Overall Quietus card rating

The insta-kill top ability takes some setting up by which time your allies may have taken care of the enemy anyway. The bottom ability is pretty good but for our build it doesn’t compare to Immovable Phalanx.

Level 6 Brute build

What to pick up

Immovable Phalanx fits perfectly with a tank build Brute and it has an initiative of 17. 

What to drop

It’s getting tricky choosing what to drop now. We want to keep our shields wherever possible because they are central to our build and they stack too… 

We get rid of Eye for an Eye at this stage because we need the movements on our attack cards more. 

Level 6 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 6 deck
Brute tank build level 6 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Warding Strength
  • Immovable Phalanx

Retaliates

  • Wall of Doom

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Skirmishing Maneuver
  • Trample
  • Unstoppable Charge

Level 7 Brute cards

Brute level 7 cards - Crippling Offensive, Defensive Tactics
Brute level 7 cards – Crippling Offensive, Defensive Tactics

Crippling Offensive

Initiative

33

Top ability

Attack 6, Wound, Stun, 3 Experience. Loss. 

Another single use high-damage attack. That experience gain is nice but it’s a one-hit wonder. The Wound and Stun debuffs would be great for your party though. 

Considering we left Devastating Hack’s attack of 8 out of our hand at Level 4, do you think Crippling Offensive’s attack of 6 will make it in? No, me neither. 

Bottom ability

Move 3, Immobilize, Push 1, Target one adjacent enemy. 

I really like this Move ability. The Immobilize and Push combo is awesome for just getting an enemy out of the way for one turn while you concentrate on other monsters. 

Overall Crippling Offensive card rating

A super helpful bottom ability, a single shot high damage top. This card is not amazing for what we’re looking for, especially because the bottom ability on Defensive Tactics is perfect for us!

Defensive Tactics

Initiative

26

Top ability

Attack 2, Range 3, Target 2, Immobilize, 1 Experience. 

It’s nice to have another ranged attack in our hand that can stop some bad guys in their tracks. But to be honest, I only have eyes for the bottom ability on this card. 

Bottom ability

Retaliate 1, Self, Shield 1, Self, 2 Experience. Persistent bonus. Loss. 

Yes, yes and yes! We are a tank. We need more shields and retaliates – always. Thank you very much for this persistent bonus! 

Overall Defensive Tactics card rating

The top ability is fine and we’ll find a reason to use it early in a room before we get close to enemies. However, it’s the bottom of this card that we really want! We’ll want to get it out early in the scenario and keep it there. 

Level 7 Brute build

What to pick up

Defensive Tactics, easy. 

What to drop

Seeing as we’ll play Defensive Tactics every single scenario from now on, we need to get rid of another loss action really. 

We get rid of Wall of Doom. It’s much better value for a loss card to keep Warding Strength which gives Shield of 1 over 6 turns rather than Shield of 2 over 1 turn. 

Level 7 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 7 deck
Brute tank build level 7 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Defensive Tactics
  • Warding Strength
  • Immovable Phalanx

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Skirmishing Maneuver
  • Trample
  • Unstoppable Charge

Level 8 Brute cards

Brute level 8 cards - Frenzied Onslaught, Selfish Retribution
Brute level 8 cards – Frenzied Onslaught, Selfish Retribution

Frenzied Onslaught

Initiative

41

Top ability

Move 2, Attack 2, Move 2, Attack 2. 

This is a nice little shuffle around and hit things card. The attacks are pretty weak but 4 movement is 4 movement, and it’s on the top too so it gives us more movement options for reacting to battle situations. 

Bottom ability

Add +3 Attack to all your attacks targeting enemies with Disarm, Immobilize, or Stun this round. 1 Experience. Round bonus. 

Great ability for a damage dealing Brute. But we only have three abilities which can deal these status effects and we’ll be using other abilities most of the time, so we’ll rarely set this one up. 

Overall Frenzied Onslaught card rating

A good card if you’re a damage dealing Brute. I like the Move, Attack, Move, Attack top ability a lot.

Selfish Retribution

Initiative

12

Top ability

Move 1, Loot 2. Loss. 

For when you’re at the end of a scenario and you really, really want all the loot! Otherwise, you’ll never use this ability. Not when the bottom action is so much better. 

Bottom ability

Move 3, Retaliate 2, Self, 1 Experience. Round bonus. 

This is awesome. You can move for 3 which we really want and then you get to Retaliate for 2. You get an experience point and it’s not a loss. Great ability for our tank. 

If you have Defensive Tactics in play, you can play this ability and then the top of Immovable Phalanx for attack 4 with a Shield of 2 and a Retaliate of 3. That will be some sweet, sweet damage to all the bad guys around you. 

Overall Selfish Retribution card rating

The low initiative of 12 makes Selfish Retribution the 2nd fastest card in the Brute deck. It has an awesome lower ability and a top ability you’ll rarely use! 

Level 8 Brute build

What to pick up

Selfish Retribution, hands down. 

What to drop

Because we have just picked up a solid move 3 with a nice Retaliate we can afford to remove a movement action elsewhere. 

Looking at our level 1 cards, we still have Trample, which is attack rather than defensive focussed and it’s a loss. We have Provoking Roar which we need to save allies, Shield Bash which has a nice shield bonus, and Warding Strength which gives us Shield 1 over 6 turns. 

Tough call. As much as I love Trample, it has to go. The level 2 attack value is looking weak now and it’s the only one of the remaining level 1 cards that doesn’t contribute to the tank build. 

Level 8 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 8 deck
Brute tank build level 8 deck

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Defensive Tactics
  • Immovable Phalanx
  • Warding Strength

Retaliates

  • Selfish Retribution

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Skirmishing Maneuver
  • Unstoppable Charge

Level 9 Brute cards

Brute level 9 cards - Face Your End, King of the Hill
Brute level 9 cards – Face Your End, King of the Hill

Face Your End

Initiative

67

Top ability

Attack 2, Range 4, Target 3, Pull 3, 1 Experience. 

What a brilliant ability to manipulate the battlefield with. Seeing as we have Retaliate as a key part of our build, we can use Face Your End to pull the enemies towards us and then whack them with the Retaliate 2 on the lower half of Selfish Retribution. You can do this several times per scenario, because neither abilities are losses. 

If you’ve got Defensive Tactics in play too, that’s a Retaliate 3 against every enemy! 

Bottom ability

Kill one adjacent normal or elite enemy. Loss. 

When you reach the final room, this ability can help you to knock off an enemy that’s causing the most trouble for your group – normal or elite. 

Overall Face Your End card rating

The top ability is awesome for helping us get the most from all our Retaliates. The initiative of this card isn’t great, but the initiative of its most common partner – Selfish Retribution is 12 so chances are we will go first or second in the round whenever we use it.

King of the Hill

Initiative

39

Top ability

Attack 6, Target all adjacent enemies, Push 1, Gain 1 Experience for each enemy targeted. Loss.  

For our tank build this top ability isn’t great. We don’t want to push all the enemies away from us and potentially into the paths of our allies. It’s single use too, it’s just not worth carrying around until we need to use it. 

Bottom ability

Heal 5, Self. 

This heal for 5 would actually be pretty helpful. However, as a tank, if someone else hasn’t been healing us all the way to Level 9, we’d have switched to a damage build long ago! 

Overall King of the Hill card rating

For our tank, King of the Hill isn’t hugely helpful. 

Level 9 Brute build

What to pick up

Face Your End is such a perfect partner for our Retaliates that we need to pick it up. 

What to drop

This final decision is really tough. Can we afford to swap out one of our Shields at this point? Shield Bash is a non-loss ability and gives us flexibility on when we play it. Warding Strength gives us 1 shield over 6 turns. 

Or, do we want to remove an attack in favour of defence? If so, we’d get rid of Unstoppable Charge. 

Even though we aren’t damaged focussed, I think Unstoppable Charge is just too useful to get rid of. You can use it regularly to finish off a troublesome enemy because of its 5 Attack.

I like the flexibility we get from Shield Bash to use the extra Shield when we need it the most and it’s a non-loss too…

We get rid of Warding Strength. It’s not like we need the experience points from it anymore! And if you use Shield Bash on a turn where you’re going to get hit 6 times, it’ll match the usefulness of Warding Strength in just one turn. 

Level 9 Brute deck

Brute tank build level 9 deck
Brute tank build level 9 deck

So this our final build. 

We’ve got enough Shields to keep us taking hits for a decent amount of time, retaliates to deal damage on the enemy’s turn, and we can deal damage too. 

In terms of movement, remember to use the short top moves on Skirmishing Maneuver and Juggernaut. With a short move of 2 on the top and another two on a bottom, you can move 4 hexes on a turn more often than you might think. 

Because we’ve focussed on playing a defensive tank, we’re not going to win any awards for the most damage but that doesn’t mean we don’t deal any damage at all. 

Damage mitigation

  • Brute Force
  • Juggernaut
  • Shield Bash
  • Defensive Tactics
  • Immovable Phalanx

Retaliates

  • Selfish Retribution

Protecting others

  • Provoking Roar

Attacks (and Moves)

  • Skirmishing Maneuver
  • Unstoppable Charge
  • Face Your End

Brute perks

Brute Perks sheet
Brute Perks sheet

Continuing with the defensive theme, the perks we take support tanking first, and damage second. Because armour is super important for us, the ignore negative items effect is the first thing we take. Followed by the shield. 

Then we improve our attack modifiers to get out as many negatives as we can. Our attack values are quite low and if we keep drawing negative modifiers it will drive us crazy and be really frustrating! Even though we’re protecting everyone, we want to feel like we’re having an impact too. 

After that, we add in the enemy debuff cards for Disarm, Muddle and Stun. Then finally we add in the additional damage cards. 

  1. Ignore negative item effects and add one +1 card
  2. Add one +1 Shield 1, Self card
  3. Remove two -1 cards
  4. Replace one -1 with one +1 card
  5. Add one Stun card
  6. Add one Stun card
  7. Add one Disarm and one Muddle card
  8. Add one Add Target card
  9. Add one Add Target card
  10. Add one +3 card
  11. Add two +1 cards
  12. Add two +1 cards
  13. Add two Pierce 3 cards

Of the 15 potential perks, we only want to take 13 of them. We don’t want to take the two Push perks. 

Push is too unpredictable and can push enemies out of our range and towards our allies. 

Brute items

Brute tank starting item cards
Brute tank starting item cards

Looking just at the starting items to not give away any higher level item spoilers, here are the items we want from the shop. 

Iron Helmet

When attacked, consider any 2x attack modifier card the enemy draws to be a 0 instead. 

It’s surprising how many times the x2 modifier is drawn. With the helmet, you can just shrug it off! 

Hide Armor

On the next two sources of damage from attacks targeting you, gain Shield 1. Refreshable. Add 2 x -1 cards to your attack modifier deck.

Hide Armor is great for the two additional Shields you can use. It does add two -1 cards to your attack draw deck though, so get the ‘Ignore Negative Items’ effects perk as soon as you can.

Heater Shield

When damaged by an attack, gain Shield 1 for the attack. Spent on use. Refreshable. 

Another shield is always going to be helpful for us. 

Boots of Striding

During your movement add +2 Move to a single movement. 

Our movement isn’t amazing, so we need some help with it. These boots are useful not just for the movement, but also as a boost for Trample and Balanced Measure. 

Poison Dagger

During your melee attack, add Poison to a single attack. Spent on use. Refreshable. 

As a melee attacker this is the only one-handed weapon you can get at Gloomhaven prosperity level 1, so you may as well grab one. Poison will help you to do more damage over time. 

Minor Stamina Potion

During your turn, Recover up to two of your discarded cards. Loss. 

If you get exhausted too soon, it could mark the beginning of the end for your allies as your enemies focus on the squishier players. Use your stamina potion every scenario to get another turn. 

Sometimes, you will play the perfect combo for your situation and you just want to do it again. That’s where your Stamina Potion comes in. Use it in those situations to get your cards back and do it again. 

Minor Healing Potion

During your turn, perform a “Heal 3, Self” action. Loss. 

Even the best healers in the world will struggle to deal with a string of unexpectedly high attacks on you. Tuck a healing potion in your back pocket for emergencies. 

Brute enhancements

Like any Gloomhaven class, it makes sense to spend your upgrades on the cards that are going to be around for a long time to get the best return on your investment. You also want to use them on discard cards, rather than loss cards to get the benefit several times per scenario. 

Add Shields to Shield Bash

It’s worth adding an extra Shield enhancement to Shield Bash. It’ll be with you right up to level 9 so you’ll feel the benefit, especially as the enemies get tougher. 

You can upgrade Shield Bash twice to be a shield of 3. It’ll cost you 100 gold for the first Shield and 175g for the second Shield upgrade. 

Add Curse to Provoking Roar

Provoking Roar is in our hand for the bottom ability so that we can force enemies to attack us instead of our allies. But you’re not going to need that ability all the time. So it makes sense to upgrade the top ability so that you can make the most of your card. 

I’d suggest adding a Curse card to the attack. Why Curse and not increase the attack by +1? Well, at higher levels a +1 attack isn’t going to make much difference. But adding a Curse card to the monster modifier deck equals a zero attack damage at whatever level you are. 

Plus, a zero damage attack from an enemy is in keeping with our manage mitigation build strategy. 

Add Shield to Brute Force

The Move 2, Shield 1 bottom ability on Brute Force is regularly used from when you get it at Level 3 and you keep it all the way to level 9. You have an upgrade slot on the Shield so it makes sense to add another Shield to that. 

Brute experience

The Brute gains experience quickly because he has plenty of non-loss cards with experience points on them. In our starting group, the Brute levelled up faster than any other characters. 

Looking at the level 1 and level 2 cards alone, just by using the bottom ability on Juggernaut and Warding Strength in a scenario you’ll get 6 experience. Balanced Measure, Spare Dagger will get you another 2 points. 

Eye for an Eye will give you 1 point for each person you Retaliate against on that turn and you can use it several times per scenario. Say you retaliate against 2 enemies per use, you use it 3 times in a scenario that’s another 6.

With these cards alone we’ll collect about 14 Experience points in a scenario. 

Brute combos

The combos you use as the Brute will vary as you level. Looking just at the Level 1 and Level X cards, these are some of my favourite combos.

Leaping Cleave (bottom) followed by Skewer (top)

The Move 3, Jump on Leaping Cleave generates Wind and also gives you the movement you need to get into the perfect position for Skewer. Use a low initiative card to go early on your next turn before everyone moves around and consume Wind for an attack boost. Enjoy the 4 Attack with Pierce as you kebab those enemies!

Trample (bottom) followed by Balanced Measure (top)

This is my favourite starting combo. 

Maximize your Trample move with the Boost of Striding for +2 movement, giving you 6 movement. Attack all the enemies you move through for 2 from Trample and then finish off with a Balanced Measure attack of 6 on one unlucky bad guy. 

Warding Strength (bottom) followed by Eye for an Eye (top)

This combo isn’t as glamorous as the attack combos, but it is pretty cool for a tank. Play Warding Strength to get the Shield of 1 against the next 6 attacks, then slap a Retaliate on yourself with the top of Eye for an Eye. 

It’s perfect for those turns when you’re surrounded by enemies and you know they are all going to go for you on their turn. 

Brute names

If you’re building your Brute tank, they need a name. Here are a few ideas I had. 

  • Todric Bane
  • Cleveland Wall
  • Blue Metal
  • Steel Guard
  • Gord Blunt
  • Gallant Ward
  • Red North
  • Retri Roar
  • Tough Cookie
  • Bloc Party
  • Rock Steady

Conclusion – Brute tank build

The Brute tank build is a really, really solid choice if your party has a lot of squishy glass cannons and a healer. The healer is very important! They are your new best friend.

The tank is a very selfless role so if you’re the type of player who loves to deal huge amounts of damage then you may be frustrated by the mostly low attack values. But if you get satisfaction from giving your allies space to do what they do best and playing the gallant hero then you’ll love it. 

If you enjoy Gloomhaven, you may want to check out the upgrades available for it to improve your gaming experience. I especially like these cards sleeves, this organizer insert, and these awesome 3D door, chest and rubble pile tokens on Amazon.

I’ve created guides for all the Gloomhaven characters. If you enjoyed this Brute guide, check out: Cragheart ranged build guide, Scoundrel single target poison guide, Spellweaver area of effect guide, Tinkerer crowd control guide and damage with stun Mindthief guide.

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Emily Sargeantson
Hi there, I’m Emily. I’ve loved tabletop games since 2008 when I was introduced to D&D. I started My Kind of Meeple to nerd out about tabletop!