When I finish a nice board game, I like to pack it all up, put it on the shelf, and maybe — just maybe — consider trading it to a friend for something new. Some fans of the hit game Gloomhaven had other ideas. They found a writer and an artist, spent months in a Discord server working on a full-size expansion, and then started selling it online. So far they’ve raised more than $300,000 for The Crimson Scales. The game’s original designer, Isaac Childres, tells Polygon he’s thrilled.
Gloomhaven is a roughly 20-pound campaign in a box. It’s an action role-playing game with nearly 100 scenarios that doesn’t require a game master to run, and it’s been snatching up awards since it first arrived in people’s hands in 2017. It’s given birth to a whole genre of similar experiences, ranging from hard science fiction to fantasy experiences, like this one set in the world of Vampire: The Masquerade. Shortly after the game’s first printing shipped, Childres put all of the images and other assets used to create Gloomhaven into a folder on Google Drive for anyone to download and put to good use. Eventually he slapped a Creative Commons license on it and moved on to the game’s first proper sequel, Frosthaven.
“To me,” Childres said, “it wasn’t so much about, This content you can use, this you can’t. I want people to be making new content, making new stories, and creating new monsters and new character classes and stuff like that.”
Nick Sims and Motti Eisenbach decided to take Childres up on his offer. What emerged was a full-fledged expansion with 66 new scenarios, 100 items, 11 unique classes with 11 new miniatures, a bunch of new monsters, and original artwork.
“I see my part of it, at least, as a love letter to Gloomhaven,” said Sims, who wrote The Crimson Scales. “The whole thing with this was, we didn’t want to do an extra thing, a crazy weird thing that you’ve not seen before. This is for people who want more Gloomhaven. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The action kicks off very much like the original campaign, with a few mercenaries looking for extra work. From there it expands into an elaborate branching campaign, much like the original. We won’t spoil the events here, but obviously the biggest joy of The Crimson Scales is just sitting down with the same group of friends who adored the original and picking up where you left off.
“People aren’t always what they seem,” Sims said. “There are twists and turns [and] there are decisions that can be made that will take you one way or the other. You can even go back and play all of the old scenarios [with these new characters].”
Eisenbach, who has been more on the project management and logistics side of things than Sims, says he’s been in close contact with Childres’ team at Cephalofair Games pretty much the whole time.
“I’ve been communicating with them over email, letting them know about the project,” Eisenbach said. “I even got to meet Isaac. [...] That was great. He’s been very supportive of people making custom content.”
Initially, Sims and Eisenbach’s intent was to make their expansion as a print-and-play module, something you could take down to the local copy shop and bang out in an afternoon of cutting and folding. But eventually the community of fans got so large that a physical print run began to make sense.
“I went and arranged a one-time bulk printing for anyone who was interested in getting it printed,” Eisenbach said. “Instead of them having to do the work to go to the print shop, I would do it for them.”
While the terms of Childres’ licensing agreement mean that the Crimson Scales team can’t make any profit from the endeavor, the project has opened up plenty of lucrative opportunities for its creators. Eisenbach has a prototype of his own campaign board game going on display at the Origins Game Fair starting June 8, and Sims, for his part, is still just a little bit dumbstruck by his luck.
“I joined a forum [not long ago] because I thought it might be cool to make some Kickstarter stuff, and now I’m the social media manager for a games company,” Sims said. “And there’s a quarter of a million pounds worth of games with my name on it going all around the world. I don’t know how that happened. It’s pretty amazing.”
A print-and-play version of The Crimson Scales continues to be available online. Pre-orders for the second printing of the physical version close on May 26. The base expansion will set you back $119, while miniatures are an extra $74.