Review – Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Cephalophair Games, 2020. Designed by Isaac Childers.

Gloomhaven. What a beast.

I love campaign games. The idea of taking your character through a series of adventures and ending up changed, for better or worse, from that experience really scratches that role playing game itch.

Everything I’ve ever heard about Gloomhaven, from Cephalofair Games, since that first time I saw people playing it in the hotel bar at Origins a couple years ago, has told me that it is just the epic masterpiece I’ve been looking for. Unfortunately, the price tag is also epic. So, barring actually going outside and making friends who already have this behemoth, how can I dip my toes in the giant ocean that is Gloomhaven while making sure I’m not just buying a $150 piece of furniture?

Picture of some Chaos Demons and Some Zealots on the game board.
These guys look sketchy.

Enter Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.

Character advancement? Check.

Immersive setting? Check.

Cool minis? Check.

Easy to learn? Ehhhhh…check?

So, obviously, I haven’t played the big-box game, and you may have already heard that Jaws of the Lion is entry-level Gloomhaven. I can’t really speak to how it compares to the $150 game. Everything I say from here comes from my experience as a Gloomhaven noob. A Noobhaven? Is that a thing?

The first thing you’ll notice about Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is the box. It’s small. Well, not small, but definitely much smaller than the big-box game. So it’s cheaper. How much cheaper? About $100 cheaper. So…a lot.

That isn’t to say you don’t get much with this game. It comes with four characters (complete with mini, character sheets, and dozens of exclusive cards for each character), a map with stickers to place on it (legacy-style), a ton of cardboard standees for monsters, plastic stands, monster stat cards that slide into monster stat envelopes, so many little cardboard chits (for condition markers, damage trackers, coin tokens, piles of debris, trap doodads, etc.), and you get books. Four books. It’s these four books that make Jaws special.

A close up of various tokens.

The first two books are your standard rule book and rules-reference guide. These books will not only detail all the rules of the game, but they will walk you though the first five scenarios. By the end of the fifth mission, the training wheels are off, and you’re on your own.

The third and fourth books have the missions and the maps printed right on them! That’s right: Jaws does away with the map construction of tactical games like Gloomhaven and just gives you the maps. Just lay the books out on your table and you’re ready to play. I mean, after you read the set up, place the enemies, drop the traps, scatter the treasure, and choose your cards for your character. Still, not having to sort through a bunch of nearly identical tiles for the ones with a the correct tiny numbers on them is a game changer! Like, literally, it’s a game, and it’s been changed!

So that’s what’s in the box…but how does it play?

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