Spotlight Series: Gloomhaven - Jaws of the Lion

Anyone who knows a little about hobby board games has probably heard of Gloomhaven. (Or, if you know a lot about hobby board games, you probably can’t get away from it.) Gloomhaven has made a tremendous splash in the hobby scene, for a number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is, well, its sheer size and scope. Gloomhaven’s box is huge, its price tag is high, and it provides an interactive story on an epic scale. All of this intrigues and entices gamers, but what about those of us who want a Gloomhaven experience but can’t invest the time or resources? Enter Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion - a game that does what Gloomhaven does, but faster and leaner.

What is Gloomhaven?

First, let's establish our basis for comparison. The original Gloomhaven is the definition of a Kickstarter success story. An independent designer brings a grand vision to life using support from the community. Finally released in 2017, Gloomhaven not only became the largest board game ever. It also delivered on its Kickstarter promises for a deep, rich storytelling and strategy experience where player decisions mattered. Gloomhaven essentially brings a Dungeons & Dragons style RPG experience to the board game realm.

As a matter of course, seeing what this fantasy world in a box offers requires some commitment on the part of its players. To play a year-long campaign, players must invest the free time over a year, preferably with the same players. Not to mention the cost of the biggest box in board gaming and all of its components. The books, cards, plastic figures, tiles, and tokens that fill this box carries a large price tag, about $140 in retail.

The original Gloomhaven was achingly tantalizing. It demanded commitment from players, but rewarded players who did. Gloomhaven’s publisher sagely perceived a need for a version that could deliver a similar experience, without such a steep commitment.

What’s different in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion?

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is this new experience. Jaws of the Lion tells a prequel story to Gloomhaven, rethinking some elements of its predecessor; streamlining others; and maintaining what made Gloomhaven so special.

The biggest element that’s been overhauled is the game’s maps. In Gloomhaven players needed to pull out stacks of cardboard map tiles for each scenario. Jaws of the Lion instead uses a spiral-bound Scenario Book for its maps. Like other story-driven games Stuffed Fables and Comanauts, players open the Scenario Book to the appropriate page and lay the spiral-bound flat. The scenario’s map is laid out for easy play, alongside scenario-specific rules and story. 

Jaws of the Lion streamlines the expansive, open-world story structure of the original Gloomhaven. The original Gloomhaven indulges in a “sandbox” setting where players’ progression is self-directed. Instead, Jaws of the Lion’s story narrows this a bit to a branching storyline, where player progression is only somewhat linear. This reduces the amount of components the game requires, but player decisions still impact the outcome of the story.

Additionally, Jaws of the Lion is much easier to learn than Gloomhaven. Players don’t need to read an extensive rulebook before playing. The Learn to Play Guide has players playing the game right away, teaching the rules over the course of 5 tutorial scenarios.

What’s the same in Jaws of the Lion?

Fortunately, with all these changes, the elements that made Gloomhaven successful are still intact in Jaws of the Lion. Most notably, Jaws of the Lion uses the same beloved card-based combat system as Gloomhaven. Monsters, scenarios, and character progression work the same way as well.

This combat system is the core experience of Gloomhaven that the stories build on, and provides challenging strategy, exciting riskiness, and meaningful decisions that drive the overall story. Characters advance and level up as the story progresses, and while Jaws of the Lion doesn’t have the character options of Gloomhaven, watching your character grow in power and capability is always rewarding.

A Gloomhaven for the Rest of Us

Coming in at a much more affordable price point, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion makes the original experience accessible. Players can ease into a Gloomhaven experience while playing, and will still have future Gloomhaven experiences available to them - both official and fan-made! If Gloomhaven has been calling your name for the past three years, Jaws of the Lion is your opportunity to take the leap.

Find out more about Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion at BoardGameGeek!

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