Customizing Gloomhaven Helped Me Find New Players During COVID

Customizing Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven was my introduction to the world of modern board games and I’ve covered it and its counterparts (Jaws of the Lion and Frosthaven) on a few occasions. Considering that I’ve sunk over one hundred hours into the digital version alone, it would be fair to say I spent twice that time playing the board game. If, for some horrible reason, I had to reduce my collection to just one game, it would be Gloomhaven with all its upgrades. And Kingdom Death: Monster. And Arkham Horror: The Card Game. And Nemesis. Okay, well I obviously don’t have the strength to cut my collection down that much, but when I ultimately do, Gloomhaven isn’t going anywhere.

But it’s not just that Gloomhaven is one of my favorites. Over the years it’s been in my collection I’ve slowly been improving on my copy aesthetically. I commissioned people to paint the character minis and found vendors who sold incredible terrain. While I can comfortably say that it was a frivolous way to spend money, the end result brings me a lot of joy. Plus, I can use these improved components to make my first adventure through Frosthaven even that much more engaging. 

So today, I wanted to casually show you what my copy of Gloomhaven has become and give credit where it’s due; to the small businesses and independent artists who helped turn my copy into what it is today. While it may seem inconsequential, Gloomhaven‘s upgraded aesthetics have helped to improve my gaming experiences during the pandemic.

It’s often said in the board game community that it’s easier to make friends out of board gamers than board gamers out of friends. Obligatory games nights playing Trouble, Monopoly, and The Game of Life tainted my perspective on how fun board games could be; an experience shared by many of my friends. Come the COVID-19 pandemic, there were precious few activities we could do at home once we finished our Netflix backlogs. At that point friends started to reach out to me seeking board game recommendations to fill their quarantime.
On the other side of the spectrum are my roommates who were intimidated by the games on my shelf. Games like Kingdom Death: Monster, that come in a box larger than our dog, and the mess of components that spill out of Betrayal At House on the Hill overwhelmed them. They came to the natural conclusion that tons of pieces and big boxes automatically translate to complex and confusing rules. For the past year they’ve watched my wife and I enjoy board games from afar, never quite working up the courage to brave any of the games.

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Then I set up my copy of Gloomhaven in all of its glory. I’ve certainly seen better setups (like the one Cephalofair traveled with to promote Frosthaven), but I love it. Gloomhaven is infamous for its egregious setup times and adding a bunch of decor certainly did not help. Despite the obscene quantity of components on the table, Gloomhaven didn’t overwhelm my roommates, but instead enticed them to learn more. I spent a bit of time talking them through how the basics of the game works and went back to my game. The next day, they asked me to teach them “the castle game.” I immediately began setting up The Black Barrow scenario, handed out some starting classes, and got the ball rolling.
Even though these otherwise non-gamers were diving right into the deep end, it went really, really well. That was back in mid-November. Since then, they’ve been introduced to Fire TowerHellboy: The Board GameWildlandsBlack Rose Wars, and Mysterium. Naturally, some games went over better than others, but nothing has grabbed them like Gloomhaven did. 
Given that Gloomhaven is the highest rated game on BoardGameGeek, it’s no surprise that it became the house favorite. But as good as the game is, I can’t attribute its popularity in our home to just what’s in the box. It’s the vendors and artists who dressed up my game that truly grabbed my roommates’ attention and helped them see beyond all the cards and plastic. So for any one interested in sprucing up their Gloomhaven, or any other game, here are the people whose hard work helped spread the joy of gaming in my home. 
Stone Walls from Dragon Scales Hobbies

Dragon Scales Hobbies is a small Etsy shop based out of New Jersey. Admittedly, their products are essentially the completed moulds from Hirst Arts. Dragon Scales customers are essentially paying for someone else to do the casting for them, but the end product is impossible to argue with.

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Using Merlin’s Magic casting plaster, the team at Dragon Scales expertly hand cast, packed, and shipped. Even though the item descriptions on the product listing are really thorough, it simply couldn’t prepare me for the heft of the box that would arrive. There were just so many perfectly packed pieces that I was able to follow all the assembly instructions and have enough extra pieces to put together some walls of my own design. 

These walls do require assembly, but I enjoyed the process quite a bit. Instructions are clear and assembly doesn’t require any special tools either. The only materials required were some basic wood glue and a ruler to help keep pieces flush while assembling. The idea of assembly would normally steer me away from such a project, but it turned out to be a really relaxing experience that took me back to the days of building LEGOs as a kid. 

The only reason why the walls don’t look better than they do in my photos, is because I suck and haven’t made the effort to paint them yet. I’m a slow and sloppy painter so those walls are unfortunately going to stay unpainted and gray until I purchase an airbrush, which is pretty far down on my list of priorities. 

Other than the missing paint job, I’m pretty happy with my set as it is. But if I were to upgrade the map more, I’d start to pick up some of the floor kits that Dragon Scales has to offer. It’s hard to play down the value that their walls add and I would absolutely pick up the floor tiles as well. 

Hex Scenery from Evil Toy Maker

There’s an abundance of vendors that design and sell 3D terrain to replace the cardboard tokens of the original game. Most of them use 3D printers to manufacture the new components but a few go above and beyond. Evil Toy Maker Studio is just such a shop.

Evil Toy Maker casts their products out of resin and then carefully hand paints them. Each of the single-hex cultist altars looks unique. One reason for that is that the dark cults who hide in caves don’t typically have brand standards, but the other is a direct result of the hard work of the team at Evil Toy Maker. 

The bookshelves and tables each have hand-made mini paper books and potion bottles on them, never repeating style or position. The cardboard totems from the base game were recreated to scale, towering over our players. 


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All of these shops have so much talent and so much to offer, but Evil Toy Maker Studio is a real show stopper. 

Painted traps by CriticalHit3DPrint

As great as the scenery is, the set from Evil Toy Maker Studios focuses on improving the terrain and obstacle components. The set has so much to offer, but it’s missing some of the smaller and more practical components like traps.

For that, I reached out to CriticalHit3DPrint. Given that I already had so much scenery, the pre-existing packages Curtis had available didn’t fit my needs. I sent him a message to see if he’d be willing to do a custom order. Sure enough, Curtis enthusiastically replied back within an hour with an offer for the requested pieces and paint job. 

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These traps are absolutely gorgeous. Too often 3D printed components have blatant print-lines that leave them looking messy. Curtis’ work is much cleaner and has finer print lines. He cleans them up even more before priming and painting making them look smooth and professional, completing the set of upgraded tokens.

Core game characters painted by Ayrphish

Of course, if you’re going to put in all that work into the map, you might as well do the same for the characters. Almost three years ago now I posted on r/brushforhire looking to get all of my core game characters painted. After chatting and style preferences, it sounded like the perfect fit. I shipped him all sixteen of those bad boys, and one by one he painted them and detailed the bases. The end results are hard to argue with and only served to make me more attached to my favorite classes.

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If you’re interested in contacting him for commissions, he can be reached via his email or Twitter handle.

Jaws of the Lion + Forgotten Circles characters painted by Cam Bean

I don’t always have the luxury of waiting for your normal painter to have a spot open up when there are reviews to write. So when it came time to review Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion and Ayrphish wasn’t available, I had to quickly find someone new. But I’m so glad that I did.

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Cam did a stellar job and was able to do a pretty quick turn around and I will definitely plan on working with him again.

If you’re interested in contacting him for commissions, he can be reached via his Instagram or Fiverr.

Wooden gaming organizer from Gaming Trunk

With all of this additional stuff, Gloomhaven is even more of a beast to set up and tear down. Naturally, this list wouldn’t be complete without a proper storage solution. Many are familiar with Broken Token, but for Gloomhaven I prefer the one from Gaming Trunk. At first glance, it seems more expensive than the Broken Token option but after converting from the CAD currency of their site, it’s actually about ten dollars cheaper. Not only that but I prefer Gaming Trunk’s solution to enemy storage.

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The enemy storage in Gaming Trunk’s solution is a clean look that displays all enemy attack decks and standees in a single place and is far more durable than the cardboard tuck boxes from BT. Terrain tokens all have a specific home that’s clearly outlined and laser engraved to easy organization. Arguably the best part is the plastic cap that snaps into the topmost layer of tokens, keeping everything in place even if the box gets knocked around. I’ve owned this particular organizer for the last two years and it’s still holding up beautifully. 

Metal coins by Cephalofair

Customizing Gloomhaven

No one does Gloomhaven quite like the creator himself, Isaac Childres. After long technical and COVID related delays, Isaac and the team at Cephalofair were finally able to get their online shop operating. It’s the most direct way to support the game creators and the best way to get the custom metal coin upgrade outside of the Frosthaven pledge manager. The bag of metal coins contains sixty heavy metal coins in denominations of ones, threes, and fives. Again, this is a small detail, but given how hard players have to work for gold in Gloomhaven, these coins add to the exciting feeling of looting and buying new gear.


There’s no denying how much time and money went into this set over the years. But when COVID hit and my normal group couldn’t meet, all I cared about was filling my time on furlough with some good ol’ stress relieving games. Playing alone was fine for a couple days, but after that it was just depressing. If all that customization is what it took to make gamers of my roommates so I had a gaming group through quarantine, it was a small price to pay.