Gloomhaven: The Craze, The Creation, The Re-sellers, The Reprint

The $79 board game selling online for $300+.

Unless you’re entrenched in the board gaming community, it’s easy to have missed the slow-simmer-turned-wildfire craze surrounding Gloomhaven, a fantasy board game created by Isaac Childres of Cephalofair Games.

Source: Board Game Geek.

On September 2, 2015, Childres took to Kickstarter to ask for financial support to create the game, with a goal of raising $70,000. The campaign included pledge levels of $64 for a standee version of the game (meaning, you got a version with only cardboard miniatures) and $79 for the standard version (meaning, you got a version with plastic miniatures for the 17 character classes).

When the campaign ended 28 days later, 4,904 people signed on to back the game’s creation, resulting in a raised total of $386,104, which launched the game into the stratosphere of unexpected success. And in the late months of 2016, after more than a year of development, Gloomhaven finally arrived in the hands of those 4,904 backers — and word quickly spread about the game’s size.

If you leave this article with anything, know this: Gloomhaven ain’t your usual board game. The damn thing weighs 20 pounds. Have you ever seen a 20 pound board game? That’s the same weight as an average dining room chair or car tire or pug. But it’s a board game. The box is 16.2 inches long, 7.5 inches wide, and 11.8 inches tall. But it’s a board game.

Some of the game’s contents. Source: Ars Technica.

It’s been described as Dungeons & Dragons in a box, and having spent a couple weekends plowing through the game’s content — and having a history of both 3.5 and 5E under my belt — I agree. Gloomhaven is the Mage Knight of Dungeons & Dragons. Which is the geekiest sentence I’ve ever written.

But, what is Gloomhaven?

I’ll tell you what it is: it’s rare and expensive.

After Childres produced those original 4,904 copies of the game, he went on to produce only 2,200 copies of the game for retailers around the world. He hadn’t expected the game to become a craze. He hadn’t expected it to receive a 9.3/10 rating on Board Game Geek, putting it above such games as Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (8.7/10) and Kingdom Death: Monster (9/10). He hadn’t expected it to become Board Game Geek’s 24th best board game of all time.

It’s the success story no one can predict, not even the creator. So of course the board gaming community took notice, and people who hadn’t backed the Kickstarter began calling or emailing game stores to see if they could score a copy.

Unfortunately, as stated above, Childres only produced 2,200 retail copies. And double-unfortunately, many retailers accepted every pre-order request that came through the door, expecting to receive enough copies to fulfill the orders. This resulted in an absurdly huge demand, which lacked the proper supply.

The six starter class miniatures (Brute, Scoundrel, Spellweaver, Tinkerer, Mindthief, Cragheart), painted. Source: Isaac Childres’ Twitter.

On February 13, 2017, Aldo Ghiozzi of Impressions, the company handling Gloomhaven’s distribution, made a post on Board Game Geek informing the public about this pre-order issue. (The bold typeface is my edit for emphasis.)

We received orders for OVER 25,000 copies of Gloomhaven from distributors worldwide. With that, we do what’s called *allocating*. [sic] That means we take the quantity available to ship and divide into the quantity ordered. In this case, that means we have about 8% available for the demand. That then means if a distributor orders 100, they are getting 8…If a retailer ordered 10 from their distributor, they *might* get 1.”

This created the perfect storm for online re-sellers, because approximately 22,800 consumers, who had expected to receive this heralded game, suddenly found themselves without delivered goods. And they wanted those delivered goods.

At the time of writing, there are twenty-seven copies of Gloomhaven on eBay, which range in pricing from $174 to $500 — and they’re selling. People are willing to pay, because it’s that good of a game.

Why pay hundreds for a board game?

There’s a lot you can do with a couple hundred dollars. You could tandem skydive in Maine. You could ride passenger at NASCAR speeds around a racetrack. You could buy two park-to-park one-day tickets for Universal Studios’ theme parks. So why buy this board game, which little more than a year ago was going for $64 to $79 through Kickstarter?

Simple: it’s fun and rare. If your hobby is board gaming, you’re interested in the next great thing. It’s like how PC gaming hobbyist are constantly seeking the latest PC upgrade: they want more from the hobby, want in on the latest thing. And that thing at the moment, for board gaming, is Gloomhaven.

Gloomhaven is a legacy game — meaning, you destroy it as you play. Seriously. Here’s the Board Game Geek definition:

“Legacy games are board games that change over time based on the outcome of each game and the various choices made by players. Players will often make physical changes to the board game by marking the board/cards and placing stickers over the board as well as often destroy components. The changes made in a Legacy game are always permanent, so what is done can not be undone.
One of the many sealed envelopes, torn open. Source: Imgrum.

So not only is the game expensive, but it’s ruined (or enhanced, depending on your perspective) as you use it. That couple-hundred-dollar value, it’s gone the moment you make a permanent change. No one wants to play a game already destroyed by someone else. You own it, you have it, you play it.

Without delving too much into the guts of the game, Gloomhaven is a string of unique dungeon scenarios connected through a choose-your-own-adventure story. One to four players venture into these dungeons, using one of six starting classes as their avatars in the world. Each dungeon takes about two to three hours to complete, so it can take more than 150 hours to complete the game’s narrative campaign.

The game’s play area is made from modular pieces, which are set up according to a scenario book containing almost 100 unique scenarios. Monsters are placed, obstacles are placed, then players use their avatar’s abilities to accomplish the dungeon’s goal, which could be anything from killing all monsters to protecting a sacred tree from fire-breathing drakes. In that way, it’s very Dungeons & Dragons.

What it looks like playing the game. Source: Micabeza Friki.

When players complete a scenario, they are sometimes presented with a “Choose A or B” decision. The outcome of that choice will permanently alter the game, either by adding one-time-use stickers to the game’s map or by destroying various parts of the game. The point being, the game wants players to feel the weight of their decisions. You chose A, therefore you must deal with the consequences and benefits of A. There is no going back. There is no reload feature. You are now stuck in the timeline of A, hopefully you like it.

So I have to pay eBay prices to get it?

No, that’s crazy. On March 15, 2017, Childres sent out an email with the following information about an upcoming Gloomhaven reprint:

“…I think we can actually launch the [reprint] ahead of schedule (which will also help with getting it out sooner in the end). The new (tentative) plan is to launch a week early, on March 30.”

So, we’re only two weeks away from another Gloomhaven Kickstarter campaign. Childres has made no mention of exact costs for the reprinted game, but many in the community believe the prices will be higher than they were in the last Kickstarter, given the demand and craze. That being said, it should be much less than the current eBay offerings.

So have patience, Gloomhaven is coming back. All you have to do is wait just a little longer.

And trust me, it’s worth the wait.