Interview with Gloomhaven designer, Isaac Childres
For Polish translation click HERE.
Designing and producing Gloomhaven
Planszówki we dwoje (Wiktor): First of all, congratulation on your success – Gloomhaven is a great game. It’s something, that I’ve been looking for since I started playing board games (I love the cRPG feeling it has). What was your inspiration for Gloomhaven? Are you a fan of fantasy literature, movies, games?
Isaac Childres: The inspiration for Gloomhaven was just growing up with all sort of fantasy. Games like Final Fantasy, Diablo, and D&D. Movies like Willow and Labyrinth. And of course the Lord of the Rings novels. I would devour anything with monsters, swords and spells. It just fascinated me. From a design perspective, I was influenced by other dungeon crawlers like Descent and Mice and Mystics. I love being in the action, and dungeon crawlers are the best way to simulate that in a game.
How long did it take to design Gloomhaven, from the first idea to hitting the shelves? Which part of the designing process took the most time?
I was inspired to start working on a dungeon crawler back in the summer of 2013, but I didn’t really start developing in earnest until the start of 2015. And then Gloomhaven hit shelves around 2 years later. The most time-consuming part of the development, by far, was the creation of all the content. I knew I wanted to fill in all the corners of this epic campaign, and doing so took quite a lot of work.
Did it cross your mind, that Gloomhaven might be too big? One of the first advices to young designers is: keep things simple. Was there a point in which you had to cut some ideas?
Well, this was my second game, so I felt I was ready for it. My first game, Forge War, also felt like a massive project at the time (in hindsight, it only weighed a quaint 7 pounds), and I was able to handle that, so I didn’t have significant reservations about going bigger. Of course, realizing just how massive Gloomhaven was turning out to be was a slow process. Even during the first Kickstarter, I was thinking it would be maybe half the volume and weight it ended up being. But I never thought of cutting anything. I had some new ideas I decided not to include, but I never cut anything from the original vision. I wanted to give players an epic experience, that is exactly what they get.
How does one even start designing something that big? Did you write down all your ideas or did you jump stright to prototyping?
You start small. It’s a dungeon crawl game, so the first thing you do is make a dungeon and 4 characters to run through it. All games start small at that core idea. And from there you just keep adding and adding until it’s complete. In terms of mechanics, there is a lot of cutting as well, figuring out what does and doesn’t work. Getting that first dungeon to work as well as I wanted it to was a long process, but once I had the core mechanics down, I started adding in campaign elements, and new content, and that’s when it started to grow.
How many people did test Gloomhaven? How did thier opinions influence the project?
It’s hard to say. I thanked all the main testers in the back of the rule book, and that was about 30 people, though a lot of them had their own groups. And yes, of course their opinions influenced the project. Ultimately you have to trust yourself and make the changes you feel are right, but a lot of that is listening to the opinions of your testers and deciding whether their suggestions should be incorporated. They also help significantly with the balance of the game, finding broken combos for you to fix.
Gloomhaven got very good rates from players and reviewers around the world and – as far as I can tell – it’s selling like hot cakes. Can you tell us how many copies of the game have you ordered/printed so far?
We’ve sold 80,000 copies so far, and another 40,000 will be going into distribution very soon.
Gloomhaven had some hiccups in production, there were reports about damaged or not well enough produced parts. Why did it happen? Is it possible, that the new batch will also have those issues?
The second printing suffered some quality control issues because of the scale of production. I was trying to get it to Kickstarter backers in a reasonable amount of time from what I had promised, and so the factory started rushing processes that they shouldn’t have rushed. The main issue was that punch boards didn’t have enough time to dry and began to separate as a result. I didn’t take into account the huge amount of time it takes to manufacture a game like this when promising a delivery date, and that is ultimately what caused the damage. We have learned from these mistakes, though, and the third printing shouldn’t have any issues. People just need to be patient while we take our time to finish up the manufacturing process, though.
First Gloomhaven Kickstarter rised almost 390 000 dollars, the second over ten times that much. What changed in those two years? Did you expect such a good result?
The first Kickstarter ran in relative obscurity, fueled mainly by my audience from my first game. By the time the first printing was released, though, reviewers were giving it a lot of positive buzz, and those who had the game couldn’t seem to stop singing its praises. By the time the second Kickstarter went up, it was almost in the top 10 on BGG and the visibility of the game was at least 10 times as large. I don’t know if I expected the second Kickstarter to go quite as well as it did, especially since I wasn’t doing any stretch goals, but I still knew it was going to be pretty successful just from all the positive buzz.
|source: Isaac Childres|
Let’s focus on more detailed Gloomhaven-related issues and questions asked by our readers.
When will Gloomhaven be availible in stores? Many people are waiting for preordered copies and the release date is being pushed further and further. I have heard that some stores got less copies than they have ordered…
As I said above, people have to be patient so we don’t have any production issues like we did before. I’m expecting it will be in stores by early July.
There are some Gloomhaven apps (Scenario Viewer, Campaign Tracker etc.), but are you going to realease an official Gloomhaven app?
It’s possible. I can’t go into details, but I am talking to some companies about the possibility of making an electronic version.
Are you planning on updating the rules for Gloomhaven (our reader aksed specificly about providing a gold reward for completing battle goals, after maxing out all perks)?
No, I don’t have any plans for any changes past what has already been done.
Are you planning on releasing an official Gloomhaven insert or changing the original insert in next prints?
The insert that the game comes with is really the best we can do without increasing the box size. I think it works well for storing all the cards, but if players want something more, there are plenty of third-party options.
Are you also planning an utility app (managing monsters, scenarios, tracking campaing)?
Well, I will say that I feel the fan-made utility apps already available cover that field pretty well.
Which class is your favorite? Which was most fun to desing? Though no spoilers please! 😉
I have an affinity to the lightning bolt class. She is a lot of fun to play. The Cragheart was probably the most fun to design, though, coming up with all those thematic powers for an angry rock creature.
Are there any easter eggs in Gloomhaven? One scenario reminded me of Lord of the Rings (a volcano/mountain, throwing some stuff into it…), but maybe I’m going too far…
Sure, that scenario was designed by one of the Kickstarter backers, so maybe Lord of the Rings was his inspiration for that. A lot of the items and story beats were inspired by all the fantasy stuff I consumed as a kid. For instance, there are a number of items in the game that were inspired by Dragon Quest 3, an old NES game that was one of my favorites from my childhood.
|source: Isaac Childres|
Recently an expansion named Forgotten Circles was announced. And it was designed not by Issac Childres but by Marcel Cwertetschka, whom we know from some base game scenarios. Are you two working together on future Gloomhaven expansions/games? Can anyone contact you with expansion ideas?
Marcel and I have a unique relationship, as he has been helping me with stuff since even before Gloomhaven. He originally contacted me to help clarify the rules for the second printing of Forge War. He is very intelligent, and has since contributed a lot of great content to Gloomhaven. I trust him, which to me is the most important part of any relationship. So, no, not just anyone can contact me with expansion ideas. I love designing my own games, but because I was so bogged down with other publishing stuff, and Marcel had this great idea for a small expansion, we decided to give it a shot.
As far as I know Forgotten Circles will feature one new character, some items, 20 scenarios…. What else should we expect? Can you tell us a little more, share some non-spoiler details?
Well, all the info that is out there is all that there is to share at the moment. The Diviner’s powers are certainly unique, though, and these 20 scenarios are designed around her, resulting in a lot of interesting and diverse scenarios to keep players on their toes in ways that haven’t been explored yet.
There are rumors about a second expansion, as big as the base game. Are you working on something? When can we expect it on Kickstarter? Will there be a new campaging with new classes? Please tell us as much as you can!
Yeah, I have been working on a larger expansion for about a year and a half, but it has been slow going with all the other responsibilities of running a publishing company. I am hoping to feature as much new content as there was in the base game, which includes new scenarios, new monsters, new classes. It’s a lot of new stuff. It still has a long way to go, though, and I’m not even sure it will be on Kickstarter, so I can’t really give you any answers on timing – except that I wouldn’t expect any new information on it in 2018.
Let’s change the subject a little and talk about the Gloomhaven universe. You’ve designed Founders of Gloomhaven (which I hope will ship soon) – a city building game set in the same world as Gloomhaven. Can we expect a whole series of Gloomhaven-related games?
Yeah, that is the plan. I really want to focus on this world and keep building upon it in a variety of different ways – a combination of Gloomhaven expansions and more Euro-focused stand-alone games that will tell different stories in the same setting.
As I enjoy the fantasy Gloomhaven setting, I feel it lacks some lore. I would like to know more about the races, capital, other lands (Quatryls!). Will you consider publishing an artbook with descritptions of all the races and monsters form the base game?
While I have laid a lot of foundation for the world-building, the lore is still growing as I develop more games and fill in the blank parts of the map. Maybe 10 years down the road I’ll release something like this.
People often ask me, if I know anything about a Polish edition of Gloomhaven. The game is so content and text heavy, that I really doubt any publisher would be interested in it. But… If someone would like to publish a Polish/German/Russian/Spanish etc. edition of Gloomhaven, would you be willing to allow/negotiate it? Or do you want to keep Gloomhaven an English-only game?
They already have 3 localisations in the works: Hobbyworld in Russia, VFI in China, and Feuerland in Germany. More may be on the horizon, but I want to take things slow and make sure it is done right.
Which genre do you prefer: euro games or ameritrash games?
What’s your favorite board game?
Terra Mystica/Gaia Project
Who’s your favorite game desinger (and why)?
Vlaada Chvatil, because of the diversity of his catalogue. He is a true genius to come up with so many varied but brilliant games.
USA is a big board game market with many well-known names and games, but how about Polish designers and publishers? Have you ever played any Polish games, or at least heard of them?
Well, Portal is Polish, right? I enjoyed Imperial Settlers, and I greatly respect the narrative innovations of Robinson Crusoe.
Thank you for your time!