Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Scott Thorne looks at why there are so many copies of Founders of Gloomhaven in the channel.

I have noticed several distributors (and retailers) offering pretty good prices on the Founders of Gloomhaven, even going so far as to offer deals such as "Buy a copy of Gloomhaven, get a copy of Founders of Gloomhaven FREE."  I know we bought heavily into the game when it released, and months later still have 80% of our initial order in stock.  Why did so many members of the channel of distribution buy into Founders of Gloomhaven? I cannot speak to the individual reasoning used by each distributor and retailer, but I would hazard one factor influencing the decisions was the "halo effect."

The halo effect is a form of immediate judgment discrepancy.  We tend to use concrete information about something to ascribe ambiguous information to the same thing.  A classic example of this is "beautiful = good" and "ugly=bad."  We see someone whom we feel, according to our standards, is beautiful or handsome and ascribe other positive characteristics to them such as nice, helpful and honest.  Similarly, we see someone we classify as ugly and pigeonhole them as mean, dishonest or sloppy, even though their physical appearance is the only thing we are basing this opinion on.  Hence the saying "Don’t judge a book by its cover."  Incidentally, ascribing personal characteristics to people based on their appearance uses heuristics, something discussed in the column back in October of 2017.

So what does this have to do with the poor selling of the Founders of Gloomhaven game?  Nothing really, at least not directly.  Neither heuristics nor the halo effect caused slow sales of the game, although they can cause slow sales of a game in general.  However, they both had a direct effect on purchases of the game by retailers and distributors.  Gloomhaven sold so well that it still ranks at number five on Board Game Geeks’ "The Hotness" list over two years after its 2017 release, and still ranks at number 1 on the site--as did the removable sticker set that came out for it, that retailers and distributors expected another game with Gloomhaven in the title to sell as well.  Unfortunately, "Founders" gameplay turned out significantly different from the original game and Founders of Gloomhaven currently ranks at number 1415 on BGG.  Using sales or reviews of the original game wound up leading to a bad decision for those stores that opted to heavily stock Founders.

We can find the halo effect in play in other areas throughout the game industry.  Fantasy Flight Games and Asmodee NA have a strong back catalog of titles under their purview, such as Ticket to Ride, Catan and Mysterium but most of their recent releases have not sold anywhere as well.  Similarly, Wizards of the Coast is best known for Magic: The Gathering which has proven a tremendous success over the years but WOTC also has a lengthy track record of trading card games that did not perform well, to put it kindly.  Just because a company produces one highly successful game does not mean all of its games will perform equally well.  Even Richard Garfield, designer of Magic, King of Tokyo and the currently hot KeyForge, does not have an unblemished track record.

So what to do?  The best way to deal with the halo effect is to realize it is affecting a decision and to take that into consideration when making the final decision.  Just because a new game comes out from Fantasy Flight Games does not mean you should automatically stock it and be especially wary if the game is a second release from a company with only one hit.  Lightning may strike twice but more often than not, it doesn’t.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of