In the town of Gloomhaven lies the infamous tavern the Sleeping Lion, and it is in this drinking den that the most famous mercenaries gather. So does the mercenary group the Jaws of the Lion. This strange and huddled bunch is hired by the blacksmith’s wife to find her husband, but soon the mercenaries find out that the blacksmith is not the only person missing in Gloomhaven. After a not so successful search outside the city, the group returns home, but on their return they are met by a group of large rat-like creatures called Vermlings. What is going on in and around Gloomhaven?
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a standalone game (and also some components can be used as an expansion) based on the immensely popular game Gloomhaven. Jaws of the Lion is set before the events of Gloomhaven itself. The story and game are actually a more compact edition than the normal Gloomhaven – of which the box (without insert) already weighs almost 10 kilos!
Although Gloomhaven could be called a phenomenon, I will describe it briefly for those who may not know Gloomhaven or are not entirely familiar with what exactly Gloomhaven is. Gloomhaven is a cooperative adventure game designed by Isaac Childres and published by Cephalofair Games. The game was originally released in 2017. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, it was an instant cult hit. Due to its unexpected popularity, the game quickly sold out and plenty of reprints followed. The game was so well received by critics and board game enthusiasts than, by many, it has been called one of the best board games ever made. For a long time, therefore, Gloomhaven stood at the number 1 spot on BoardGameGeek.
Gloomhaven was so successful that a video game, this more compact standalone version, merchandise and a sequel were released. The sequel Frosthaven was one of the most successful board game campaigns on Kickstarter and promised to do everything bigger and better than Gloomhaven.
Gloomhaven is a dungeon crawler combined with puzzling Eurogame gameplay and includes a thick book full of different scenarios (almost 100) that make up a narrative campaign. But what is Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion?
Jaws of the Lion
Like regular Gloomhaven, Jaws of the Lion contains a book full of scenarios and stories. After successfully completing a scenario, players are sometimes faced with choices that affect the course of the story. With that, you can compare Jaws of the Lion, like Gloomhaven, Frosthaven or games like Stuffed Fables, to a kind of “Choose Your Own Adventure” book that you can fortunately replay more often. Indeed, basically, you can easily replay scenarios with sometimes some minor adjustments.
Jaws of the Lion contains 25 challenging scenarios and four new characters – Valrath Red Guard, Inox Hatchet, Human Voidwarden and Quatryl Demolitionist. Some of these characters and species you may already know from Gloomhaven, but while these characters are unique to Jaws of the Lion, but they can also be used in the original Gloomhaven game.
So is Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion just a smaller edition of Gloomhaven? Certainly not, the game still contains a considerable amount of varied content with a whopping 25 scenarios, but it is all a bit more manageable than the bigger base game. Jaws of the Lion does not contain a collection of large landscape tiles, but all locations are depicted in the scenario book itself similar to Stuffed Fables. The scenario book thus acts as a game board in addition to the story and a set of special rules.
The normal Gloomhaven contains a lot of landscape tiles, enemies, various terrain tiles and a whole bunch of other components and my biggest (and actually only) criticism of that great game is that setting up the game and also a scenario can be quite time-consuming. I usually set up the game and then play for a whole day. That requires a lot of planning. Jaws of the Lion streamlines this process because, first of all, the rulebook is set up so that you can learn game rules and different details in steps during different scenarios similar to a tutorial and, secondly, the game contains fewer parts because different scenarios and special terrain and tiles are incorporated in the scenario book. This limits the setup to selecting and setting up your characters and putting the various enemies at your fingertips, which can be easily sorted in the box for ease of use.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is still a very large and detailed game and each scenario might have slightly different rules. Therefore, I will mainly limit myself by summarizing the major parts of the gameplay.
At the start of the campaign, players place their first sticker on the map (these stickers allow players to keep track of which scenarios and areas of Gloomhaven they have discovered) and these players are ready to start playing the first scenario. They follow the goven instructions and can then set off on their adventure. After players have completed different scenarios, they make choices, unlock new scenarios and can visit different locations. During the campaign, they discover new weapons and items and can unlock skills (cards) and level/upgrade their characters.
Most scenarios have special rules, but during a scenario, players mostly have to face different enemies. Each turn, each player chooses two cards from their hand. The number on the top chosen card determines their initiative number for the round. Players can decide in which order they select these cards and the order does not indicate the order in which they must actually utilize these cards.
Each action card has two actions (one depicted at the bottom and one at the top). When it is a player’s turn, based on the initiative order, that player decides whether to use the upper power of one card and the lower power of the other, or vice versa. Used cards are discarded and can only be retrieved after a short or long rest, but not all cards go back into the hand. If a player runs out of cards, that player becomes exhausted and cannot finish the scenario. Cards are used to carry out attacks, move players or perform other actions. Besides players, there are of course enemies and they too have an initiative number.
Besides actions chosen by players based on their cards and the deck of attacks/actions of enemies, the outcome of battles is also decided by the influence of so-called attack modifiers. These are decks of small cards that can make attacks stronger or weaker. For example, there are cards with some kind of critical hits or other status modifiers. This is perhaps a luck-induced gameplay element, but is necessary to ensure that, firstly, the game feels thematic and, secondly, exciting. Indeed, it prevents Gloomhaven from becoming a pure optimisation puzzle. Incidentally, players do have plenty of influence over these decks, as they can add or remove cards as their characters get ‘better’.
Gloomhaven is a rock-solid game that is great in terms of game mechanics. The story is intriguing, the characters’ different tactics in combination with other characters and the unique rules of each scenario are always a hugely interesting puzzle. Jaws of the Lion removes my biggest criticism and makes for a manageable Gloomhaven experience.
I love the regularGloomhaven because of the narrative element of each scenario, and that is separate from the written-down stories. In fact, players experience plenty of stories and adventures even through the gameplay itself. The combat mechanics and puzzle element of each scenario is exciting. Usually, the dividing line between loss and victory is razor-thin and you usually achieve a scenario with a minimal number of cards left in hand. Jaws of the Lion is streamlined, offers players an easy way to learn the Gloomhaven mechanics through play, and contains everything that makes Gloomhaven great.