Game Night:  Gloomhaven:  Jaws of the Lion

I have played Gloomhaven tabletop and online with friends who own the game.  The boxes are huge, there are lots of components and a ton of scenarios.  It is a dungeon crawler, but not in the traditional role-playing variety, although you could role-play a bit with it if you wanted.  

The game mechanics are great and it is a lot of fun!

Game Night: Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

What is Gloomhaven?

If you haven’t seen the box; it’s huge!  There are so many components, that it is hard to keep track of what everything is and what you need for each scenario.  There are six starting classes, but later you have more options.

Gloomhaven is a cooperative tabletop game (with an online version) which is designed for 1-4 players.  It features a huge campaign broken up into bite-sized scenarios that can easily be played in one sitting.  In each scenario you try to achieve a different goal that could be as simple as killing all of the monsters or making it through to the exit alive.  The scenarios are usually from 1-4 rooms.

Each person plays a character that has moves and actions determined by a card system.  The cards are slowly used up during each scenario, and while some can be reused, your options continually dwindle until you run out of cards.  If that happens, you are unconscious and out of the scenario.  Failure means you have to try the scenario again, but this time armed with some foreknowledge of the best way to play it!

Characters improve and a great system of deck-tuning allows everyone to decide which cards should be added or removed to their combat modifier decks.  When you succeed at meeting your scenario goals, you are rewarded with a couple of modifications to that deck.  You can also find or buy normal and magic items that will increase your chances of success.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

Is Jaws of the Lion an expansion or a standalone game?

This is an interesting question, since it expands the world, yet it is a standalone game, but it is also a prequel!  In fact some people recommend playing Jaws of the Lion first if you haven’t played at all.
Player Reference card

What is different about Jaws of the Lion?

Jaws of the Lion is really set up to help you gain entry into the Gloomhaven system.  You can get started playing really quickly.  If you follow the startup guide, it tells you how to organize the pieces, and then walks you through the first five scenarios.  In fact, Jaws of the Lion holds back some of the features of the game, slowly introducing them over the first five scenarios to reduce overload.  

The guide is easy to follow and explains everything in the scenario books which have the maps for the 25 scenarios of the campaign.  There is also a glossary  with more in-depth rules and explanations of cards.

Jaws of the Lion character classes can be used with Gloomhaven, but there are four totally new characters in this set!  The first is the Demolitionist, who is focused on melee damage, but can also destroy obstacles.  Then there is the Voidwarden, which is a support class that can use mind control in battle.  Third we have the Red Guard, which is a basic tank-type class with good hit points and attacks.  Finally, there is the Hatchet focused on ranged damage, but also able to hit up close.

This box is smaller, with only 25 scenarios instead of Gloomhaven’s 95 or Frosthaven’s 138!  Also, a lot of the cardboard maps are gone and replaced by maps in the scenario books, making setup a lot easier and saving a lot of space.  The simplified rule set is another difference, but it is more of an entry game system that has the same feel when playing.

This is the setup of one of the game’s scenarios

Did Cally and I have fun starting this campaign?

Cally and I just started the campaign and easily worked through the first scenario.  We decided to play all four classes, so she took the Demolitionist and the Voidwarden, which left me with the Hatchet and the Red Guard.  There is a game mechanic that uses the number of players to alter the number and level of monsters in each scenario.  It is easy to use and the scaling makes it a challenge regardless of the party size.

We had a great time and wanted to keep playing as soon as we finished the first scenario.  I think the campaign will go by quickly.  While the game has similarities to Dungeons and Dragons in the setting, there are far more differences.  How you play the cards and what you choose to do tactically is more important in Gloomhaven.  Since you are playing a board game, the role playing is not important and the decisions have black and white outcomes.  

It is cooperative, so everyone is against the game, rather than one person running the scenario like a dungeon master.  This is one of the best games I have opened in a long time and I can see that it has great replayability.  In fact, you could replay with a new group after the campaign.  You could have guests come and go during a campaign.  You could also replay the whole thing but change the levels of the monsters to increase the challenge.  

Gloomhaven:  Jaws of the Lion has great reviews on Board Game Geek and is listed as a fairly complex game, yet it is super easy to learn.  I highly recommend it!

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. Have you ever played any of the Gloomhaven games?  What was your favorite class?
  2. Do you prefer playing the tabletop or online version?
  3. How does the game compare to traditional RPGs or would you even compare it?

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