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Gloomhaven board game creator explains changes in new edition

It’s time to return to the grim world of Gloomhaven – and we sat down with board game designer Isaac Childres to unearth the secrets of its second edition.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres second edition interview - Cephalofair art of mercenaries

At this stage in its life, Gloomhaven is board game royalty. Five of its six years of life were spent smashing reviews, topping rankings, and hoarding awards. But no game is ever perfect. Designer Isaac Childres says as much of his brainchild in a recent press release – the same press release where he and board game publisher Cephalofair announced Gloomhaven: Second Edition. It seems it’s time to give this grim city a new coat of paint.

Gloomhaven is considered by many to be one of the best board games in recent history. A revision has the potential to elevate the title once again (and maybe help it reclaim that number-one spot on BoardGameGeek).

We sat down with creator Isaac Childres to discuss exactly what’s going to change in Gloomhaven second edition. He gave us a broad overview of the new revisions announced, as well as a look at how the revision nerfs overpowered Gloomhaven classes.

A warning, before the Q&A begins. You unlock Gloomhaven classes and scenarios as you play a campaign of Gloomhaven, and some of the content Childres discusses is from later in the game. Basically, beware of spoilers for your own playthrough.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - second edition box art from Cephalofair

WG: So, the big news is there’s a new edition of Gloomhaven coming.

IC: Yeah, it is the second edition. We’re improving everything the way we did in Frosthaven. That includes improved graphic design, artwork, and card iconography – plus we’re redoing the campaign sheets to help you more easily track where you are in the campaign. Basically, it’s all quality-of-life improvements. We also went back and rewrote the story – it’s the same story, but more well-written, and it flows in a more logical way.

The biggest change is we went back and rebalanced all the scenarios. We added a few more scenarios and cut a couple scenarios, so I think the number has gone from 95 scenarios to 100.

We also went and rebalanced all the Gloomhaven classes – I think in the original game, some classes felt pretty overpowered compared to others, so we rebalanced everything. Some of them got complete reworks because they just didn’t work on a fundamental level. Like, the Eclipse box’s central mechanic was just too powerful, so we went in and completely changed how he works (though still within the theme of that class).

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres - Cephalofair art of a Mindthief from second edition

What can you tell me about changes to the Gloomhaven classes?

First of all, all the rebalancing work was headed by Drew Penn and Dennis Vögele, who were developers on Frosthaven. This is really their baby, and they’re credited as designers on the project. They went back and did a lot of work on all the classes; I mostly playtested and made suggestions based on their work.

I think the biggest change was to the Eclipse box, who could run around and kill things instantly and was invisible most of the time. We reduced his power level a lot and took away a lot of the instant kill stuff.

He can still do a bunch of damage, and he’s still invisible most of the time. But now he can’t damage things while he’s invisible, and he has to spend actions creating tears between planes. He’s invisible when he’s in the plane of night, so he can pop out, do a bunch of damage, then has to go back in. So he’s really only doing a bunch of damage every other round (more or less) – that balances things out.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - Cephalofair art of a Tinkerer from second edition

Were many major changes made to the other classes?

The Three Spears box got reworked as well. His central mechanic was refreshing items, which became kind of broken when you got good items. He still does a little bit of that, but mostly he interacts with his own item deck.

So, he comes with a deck of nine items that are specific to him. Some of these have small effects like adding to your attack or performing a move, but others have bigger effects – something like performing a free attack. So he’s running around, passing these items out to everybody so they can get some extra attacks and effects on their abilities.

He can still refresh items, but it’s on a scaling basis. He needs to collect supplies, and you can refresh items based on the cost of the item.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - Cephalofair image of Minthief mat (front) from second edition

As for the other classes, the Spellweaver took a lot of work, but it still feels very similar to what it was before. It’s still an eight-card class with that central mechanic of Reviving Ether, but it took a lot of work to make her abilities feel balanced and impactful.

The Mindthief didn’t see huge changes, but it’s very much been rebalanced. The Mindthief’s augments got changed a lot because in the original game, people always used the buffed melee attack augments and just ran around with that. We reduced the power of that, so it’s now a plus one attack; we also increased the power level of augments overall, which encourages you to continually play different ones. The goal of the Mindthief was always to get you to swap augments instead of using just one the entire time.

The Tinkerer was probably improved in power, at least in later levels. One of his cards’ top actions now puts a token on the ground that affects everything around, giving [characters] extra attacks. He’s got other cool devices, and he can use tokens like a teleportation pad.

The other major change was to the Musical Note box. Again, that class was just too powerful and too easy to use; you played your songs, and they had ridiculous effects. So we reduced the time in which your songs are active, and there’s a token cost to play them.

What she does is collect song tokens – there are two different types – so she can spend them to play her songs. It takes a little more work to get the songs out, and they’re less powerful than they were before.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - Cephalofair image of a Mindthief mat (back) from second edition

How do you think these changes will affect the difficulty level of Gloomhaven?

I think it’ll end up being more challenging for players who make it to the end-game. The endgame of Gloomhaven got kind of easy because you had access to all these powerful characters. At the end of the day, it’s going to be more balanced, which probably means it’ll be more challenging, but not in an overly challenging way. It’s going to be less challenging than Frosthaven; it’ll just be more appropriately challenging.

You also mentioned there were some rebalanced scenarios – can you tell me more about those?

I think [the team] started by looking at all the scenarios and deciding which needed to be reworked because they were too easy or too hard. For example, the infamous Oozing Grove – it’s become what you would call a meme at this point. It’s still going to be challenging as we don’t want to take that away from the community, but it’ll be a little less challenging.

Who do you think the core audience for Gloomhaven 2e is? Is the new edition aiming to entice new players, or people who are already invested in the series?

I think it can accomplish both. There’s enough new content and different scenarios, and I think the main draw for returning players will be trying the rebalanced character classes, as some now play completely differently. They’re more fun to play, so hardcore Gloomhaven fans will have a reason to play through it again.

At the same time, we want to put out a new version for people only just discovering it, one they can approach more easily and have a better time with. I still think Jaws of the Lion is the best entry point, but this could be a good place to start – whether you haven’t played Jaws of the Lion or you have and are looking for something next-level. Gloomhaven kind of comes between Frosthaven and Jaws.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - Cephalofair image of Tinkerer character mat (front) from second edition

Will many mechanics from Frosthaven be added to Gloomhaven 2e?

None of the town-building stuff is in Gloomhaven; we wanted to leave that unique to Frosthaven. Instead of carrying over too many new mechanics, we wanted to add a new mechanical element to Gloomhaven to further differentiate it from Frosthaven.

What we’ve done is expand the reputation system. The reputation system initially in Gloomhaven was a single sliding scale, where you got rewards for going high or low. We expanded that in this new version, so you have three separate reputation tracks.

This ties in much better to Gloomhaven’s story, where you basically have three factions fighting for control of the city. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of impact in the original – whoever took over the city, it all felt like kind of the same thing. The new reputation system, it gives it more justification, more impact.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - Cephalofair image of Tinkerer mat (back) from second edition

You mentioned you’d been involved in playtesting, but what was your main role? Were you involved in any of the new writing?

We handed off the writing to Team Satire, which did a lot of the writing for Frosthaven as well. So that includes Alexander Theoharis, Joe Homes, and Zac Cohn. I think Joe specifically handled most of the writing.

So, they rewrote all the events. All the events are new, and they’re more in line with Frosthaven events, which we’ve gotten good feedback on. People say they were just more interesting and offered more interesting choices.

Team Satire also wrote all the events in Jaws of the Lion, so they’ve now written pretty much all the events for the games. And I’m very happy with that. As far as my role, I’ve had more of an overseeing role as I’ve been working on the Gloomhaven RPG.

Gloomhaven Isaac Childres interview - Cephalofair map of Gloomhaven from second edition

Is it difficult to let go of something like Gloomhaven, a creation that started with you but is now in the hands of a larger team?

It definitely took some getting used to initially. Early in the history of Cephalofair, I wanted to control everything. But I feel like I’ve let go of more and more control over the years.

While we’re on the subject, how is development for the Gloomhaven RPG going?

It’s going well, I think the core rules are pretty well set at this point. And we’re running play testing on that now. It took a long time to get there, but I think we’re all happy with where we are now.

While we’re playtesting, we’ll also be writing all the lore for the game, and eventually getting that into a well-crafted book to give people. We’re looking at a release sometime next year – though we haven’t been able to nail down exactly when yet.