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Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review

The original Gloomhaven is arguably the most popular board game ever made, merging dungeon-crawler and Euro mechanics into a cooperative tactical game. 

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is not actually a sequel — that will be the upcoming Frosthaven. Thematically, it’s a prequel to the original and offers a more compact experience. In this review, we’ll explore everything Jaws of the Lion has to offer, so stick around!

Brief Overview of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Board Game Box

It’s next to impossible to talk about Jaws of the Lion without comparing it to the original Gloomhaven, but I’ll do my best to create a standalone review.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a cooperative dungeon crawler for 1 to 4 players. The game takes place over the course of more than 25 scenarios that form the campaign played over multiple sessions. 

Scenarios take 30 to 120 minutes to complete, so you can expect at least 50 hours from the campaign. The BGG complexity rating is 3.58/5, which is on the heavier side, but when you get into gameplay you’ll see that it’s not that difficult to learn.

The game is marketed toward a more casual audience, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The gameplay has a lot of depth to it and it can be enjoyed by both the veterans of the original, and new players alike.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is an ideal game for those that always wanted to try the original, but were put off by the size and price. Jaws of the Lion is a perfect introductory game with more than enough content to stand on its own. 

Unboxing Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Board Game Box and Components
Cephalofair Games

The game includes the following components:

  • 1 Learn to Play Guide
  • 1 Scenario Book
  • 1 Supplementary Scenario Book
  • 1 Rules Glossary
  • 1 City Map Board
  • 1 Element Board
  • 1 Sticker Sheet
  • 4 Character Sheets & Mats
  • 4 Large Tuck Boxes
  • 8 Miniatures in Small Tuck Boxes
  • 4 Player Reference Cards
  • 4 Dials
  • 97 Monster Standees
  • 24 Plastic Stands
  • 4 Monster Star Envelopes
  • 32 Battle Goals
  • 3 card Dividers
  • 187 Tokens
  • 529 Cards
  • 36 Tiles

The Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion box is small by Gloomhaven standards, but that’s far from the case when you compare it to most other games. There’s a lot to go through, so I’ll try to cover the components in sections. 

Touching upon anything inside the scenario books could be considered a spoiler, and considering that this game is all about the story and surprises, you don’t want to flip through it. 

The art and quality of the print are better than you’ll see in any other game because Jaws of the Lion uses the book itself as the game board. 

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
  • Playable as a stand-alone game or as an expansion to Gloomhaven
  • Cooperative campaign game of tactical combat set in the...
  • Players will assume the roles of 4 new hardened mercenaries and...

Considering that it’s bound by a spiral, I’d strongly suggest that you take it off, and put each page into sheet protectors. It works fine as it is, but after dozens of hours, there are bound to be some accidents and ripped pages, which is why I prefer the added protection.

The tokens and standees are made out of double-sided, vibrantly-colored punchout cardboard that is easily recognizable on the board. The monsters are also printed on cardboard and are placed on stands during the game. The design is very detailed and all just like tokens, the monsters are double-sided. 

There’s so much more to cover in the components section, so let’s touch upon the characters. The four heroes have dedicated box envelopes with character boards and cards, while the minis come in separate paper boxes. 

The attention to detail in terms of packaging is equal to the quality of the components. From cards to miniatures, everything in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion satisfies the industry standards and if I had to point out any flaws, I’d really have to nitpick. 

How to Play Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Board Game Scenario Book and Components
Cephalofair Games

Gloomhaven is a game that is learned through playing, as 5 introductory scenarios gradually introduce more rules and mechanics. So instead of teaching you how to play, I’ll focus on the general mechanics and the ideas behind them, so you can form a picture of what the game is like to play.

Character Selection

The Jaws of the Lion is your mercenary crew that consists of up to 4 members. Players will pick a character and play them through the entire campaign.

The four characters are:

  • Demolitionist is a melee damage dealer capable of destroying obstacles.
  • Hatchet is best described as a rogue, who focuses on ranged combat and looting.
  • Red Guard manipulates monsters and provides protection.
  • Voidwarden takes the support role and heals. 

The character components include the character sheet card, decks of modifiers, abilities and secret cards, stat sheet, tokens, plastic miniature, and a dial. The dial has two wheels, one for health and one for the experience. As characters level up, they’ll become more powerful and gain access to stronger abilities.

Playing The Game

I’m completely skipping over the scenario setup to avoid spoilers, so let’s get right into the mechanics. Scenarios are broken into rounds that are further divided into four phases:

  1. Card selection.
  2. Initiative.
  3. Character and monster turn.
  4. End of round.

Card Selection

During card selection, players will simultaneously place two ability cards face-down on the board. Before selection, you may discuss the strategy and give general clues about your intentions, but you cannot show the cards or talk about stat values because the game wants you to remain in character.

Ordering of Initiative

Each ability card has a top and bottom action, as well as initiative value in the middle. Players pick one of the two cards to be their initiative card, which is revealed first and determines the turn order. The monster initiative is also taken into consideration when establishing the initiative. 

Character and Monster Turns

Once the play order has been established, the characters will get to perform one top and one bottom action of their ability cards. The order in which they’re played does not matter, but you cannot play two top or two bottom actions.

The actions include moving, attacking, healing, granting actions, destroying obstacles, self-target, and other actions you’d expect from a turn-based RPG

The attack is the most important action and allows the character to cause damage to a monster through either ranged or melee attacks. When an attack is performed, the player will flip a card from the attack modifier deck and either strengthen or weaken the attack.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
  • Playable as a stand-alone game or as an expansion to Gloomhaven
  • Cooperative campaign game of tactical combat set in the...
  • Players will assume the roles of 4 new hardened mercenaries and...

Game Progression

These are only the mechanics found in the first scenario. As you continue to play, the game will introduce basic actions, looting, area effects, traps, doors, money, treasure, and many other mechanics. As mentioned, you’ll get to level up, get stronger abilities, gain perks, and buy equipment.

Over the course of 25 scenarios, you’ll become stronger, fight more challenging foes, gear up, and sometimes fail a scenario. The progression is recorded after every scenario and allows you to pick and finish the game up again at any time. 

Your First Game of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

This section is usually reserved for tips and strategies that can help a new player learn how to play more quickly and competently. In the case of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, I don’t want to mention anything that would actually give you an advantage during the game — the scenarios are well balanced and I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

What’s useful to know is that while there are only four characters for four players in the game, you can repeat the first scenario or simply continue with another character from that point on. If you’re playing with a full party, trading is possible, as long as everyone’s fine with the switch. 

The second point I’d like to bring up is the commitment the game requires. Think of Gloomhaven as a D&D campaign, rather than a normal board game. Depending on how long your sessions are, it may take as many as 20 sessions to get through the whole game. 

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
  • Playable as a stand-alone game or as an expansion to Gloomhaven
  • Cooperative campaign game of tactical combat set in the...
  • Players will assume the roles of 4 new hardened mercenaries and...

While you can save progress and pick the game up at any point, try to be persistent and return to the campaign as quickly as possible. Playing halfway through only to stop for a month will make the comeback challenging as you struggle to remember the mechanics and progress you’ve made.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Learn As You Play
  • Cheaper Way To Experience Gloomhaven

Nothing encourages me more to pick up a new game like easy-to-understand rules, or better yet, a game that’s learned as you play. You’ll need some time for the initial setup, but Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion allows you to jump into the game without any prior preparation and learn intuitively. 

If you can manage to play the tutorial scenarios in one sitting, or at least in quick succession, you’ll be ready to take on the proper story scenarios with ease.

The comparison with the original Gloomhaven has to be made again, this time in regards to the price. Jaws of the Lion costs less than half the original game, and in terms of value, Gloomhaven provides a better deal.

However, that is only if you actually enjoy and play through the whole game — otherwise, it’s just a waste of money. Jaws of the Lion offers a more compact experience that’s in no way short, but it’s reasonably priced and doesn’t pressure people to like it because of the monetary investment. 

Cons:

  • Huge Time Commitment
  • Polarizing Gameplay

From a mechanical standpoint, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is not a difficult game. However, it should only be played with hardcore board game enthusiasts.

Why? The answer is simple — finishing the campaign with 4 players can take up to 100 hours. For a more casual crowd that meets up once a week, this translates to months of playing the same game. Before you decide to get the game, you should make sure everyone is prepared to commit the time to finish it.

The gameplay, primarily the combat has polarized a lot of the fanbase. Some like the approach the game takes, while others find it sluggish, uninspiring, and repetitive. I don’t have negative feelings towards it, but the number of complaints I’ve heard and seen should not be shrugged off. 

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
  • Playable as a stand-alone game or as an expansion to Gloomhaven
  • Cooperative campaign game of tactical combat set in the...
  • Players will assume the roles of 4 new hardened mercenaries and...

Review of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion (TL;DR)

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is thematically a prequel to the original Gloomhaven and offers a more compact and linear experience. The two games are very similar, but Jaws of the Lion is cheaper and in some ways a more refined game. 

Calling it compact in no way means it’s a short game, as you’re looking at 40 to 100 hours to complete the 25-scenario campaign. It’s a dungeon-crawler with RPG elements and progression, so if you’re a fan of D&D but want a pre-packaged experience, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is an excellent choice!

Conclusion: Verdict?

All my assumptions about Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion turned out to be true. It’s a shorter, cheaper Gloomhaven, which I’ve always wanted to play but didn’t have the time nor way to justify its high price.

Then there’s the gameplay itself. I didn’t have to spend hours figuring out the game and explaining it to my friends, and instead, we just sat down and got straight into it. The game starts simple but gradually grows both in a number of mechanics and the complexity of combat. Some people said it was sluggish — to me, it’s a lot of fun. 

We haven’t completed the entire campaign yet, but we’re making good progress and I felt it was appropriate to write the review now that I have a good understanding of what the game has to offer and the initial “wow” factor has worn off. 

Even though Gloomhaven is the number one game on BoardGameGeek, and Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is sixth, I have some reservations about recommending this game. It’s a great game, but it requires a level of commitment that you should be ready to maintain if you want to complete the campaign.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
  • Playable as a stand-alone game or as an expansion to Gloomhaven
  • Cooperative campaign game of tactical combat set in the...
  • Players will assume the roles of 4 new hardened mercenaries and...

We hope you enjoyed our Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion review! Have you tried this epic cooperative adventure experience yet? How do you think it compares to the original? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.

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Stats at a glance

Players: 1-4

Ages: 14 +

Hard

30-120 Mins

Publisher: Cephalofair Games

Published: 2020