Board Game Review: Jaws of the Lion (Gloomhaven)

I bought the original Gloomhaven shortly after it was released a few years ago. It’s a mammoth of a game: tons of components with a sprawling storyline, designed for a playgroup to explore the game over many, many sessions. I enjoyed playing it, but I had a hard time really getting a feel for the rules, and it always felt like I was just sort of winging it the whole time. After 5 sessions or so, we just kind of stopped playing. I wanted to play again, but it seemed like too much work to set it all up.

Queue Jaws of the Lion, a standalone Gloomhaven game designed to provide a better introduction to the rules than the original had. (It’s also much, much cheaper.) I read over the description and reviews, and I decided to give it a shot. Tomas and I started playing it just after Christmas. We’ve now played about 16 sessions and are rapidly approaching the end of the storyline (which for all intents and purposes implies the end of the game, though we could go back and play it through with different characters, should we choose. The game comes with 4, and we’ve only played 2 of them.)

It’s a much, much better way to get to learn the game, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who has a core group of gamers they’d like to experience an entire story arc together with. (It can do single player straight on up to 4 players.) We’re planning on going straight from the end of Jaws of the Lion into the actual Gloomhaven set, though I haven’t decided yet what we’ll do about the games we’d already played before. (Should we just start fresh? Get new characters? I don’t know.)

What is the gameplay like? It’s basically a role playing game where the game is the dungeon master, and the players are all discovering what’s going to happen next together. There’s not a whole lot of room for actual role playing (though you could probably get away with some, if you wanted to). You level up your character, playing them from one game to the next to the next, unlocking new cards and abilities as you go. You face off against monsters in a variety of scenarios, using strategy and teamwork to meet the scenario objective.

You build a deck of ability cards and then use that deck to perform actions each turn. The rules remain constant, though your skills will get better as the game goes on. Then again, the monsters get more difficult too. It has felt challenging the whole time. We’ve lost some games (which is a real downer), but we’ve had some really close games we managed to eke out, which felt great.

One session takes around an hour to an hour and a half, though it would probably take more with more players. There are a lot of bits to fiddle with and keep track of. (Though Tomas has 3D printed a great set of organizational tools to make that easier for us.) It’s not an easy game. There’s a lot of rigid strategy involved, but it does such a better job of introducing the rules that I never felt too bewildered.

For $38, I think it’s a pretty solid deal. As I said, we’ve gotten around 30-40 hours of entertainment out of it so far, and we likely have about 10-15 hours to go (as long as we don’t suffer a huge losing streak).

If any of this sounds remotely up your alley, I definitely think you should give it a shot. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

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