Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
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Like its famous predecessor, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a dungeon crawler where players work together as a group of mercenaries, the titular Jaws of the Lion, to complete increasingly difficult scenarios. Anyone who has played a fantasy computer game, or D&D, will recognise the format: Enter the lair of increasingly tougher monsters, fight them, loot treasure and defeat the Boss. In addition to the usual skull-bashing and spell-slinging chaos that you would expect from a fantasy game, Gloomhaven added an ingenious element of hand management to the mix. This means that players need to carefully manage their dwindling action cards and items or risk defeat through exhaustion before the scenario ends. Some actions are quicker than others and some are one use “big hitters” which need to be deployed sparingly. Other actions are reliant on specific Elements being present in the
atmosphere to be more effective, leading to interesting synergies to be discovered with your teammates. It’s a puzzle that needs a combination of strategy, cunning and a little bit of luck. There is also a healthy dose of competition thrown into the cooperative mix as players earn more experience from gold they pick up along the way and have their own individual secret goals which may not always benefit the mission at hand. It’s a heady mix of theme and strategy which has helped Gloomhaven retain the position of number one game on Board Game Geek since ts release in 2016. In Jaws of the Lion, this winning system remains the backbone of the game, but has been streamlined to ease new players into the world and help the action flow better than in the original game. Players of Gloomhaven will immediately notice some differences in Jaws that are designed to help beginners find their feet quickly. Firstly, all four characters in Jaws feel strong and interesting from the very first scenario. Meaning that when you start playing, you feel like your character is a hero- in-waiting rather than an elderly relative in danger of collapsing if a skeleton warrior sneezes on you. Secondly, the first five scenarios are tutorials designed to introduce players gradually to the rules and themes of the game. By level five they will know all of the mechanics within the scenarios and also how to level up characters, purchase items and improve their chances of survival next time. Thirdly, the rules themselves are pared down from the main game meaning there is less Upkeep involved. Trickier elements such as Summoning and rolling modifiers have been removed to make gameplay feel more like an adventure, and less like a bookkeeping exercise when the enemies are piling on.
Perhaps the biggest improvement, however, is in the physical layout of the game. Jaws does away with the multiple map tiles that make Gloomhaven, and many other dungeon crawler games for that matter, so fiddly to set up and instead uses the scenario books themselves as a playing board. Turn to the correct page, put your models on the start spaces and you are pretty much ready to go. Additional features are still required, such as removable terrain, and enemy standees, but it makes set up and tear down very straightforward.
Jaws of the Lion is still a big game and will require a time commitment from players to get the most out of it, as with all “Legacy” games. However, it can be played solo or by up to four players and the difficulty scales easily to each different player count, changing the number and toughness of monsters during the setup, so if a player needs to dip out of the game at points, the others can still complete the campaign.
Jaws is a smaller box than Gloomhaven but is still packed with different components, feature tiles, enemy card decks, standees and secret boxes yet it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Instead, it all adds a sense of genuine anticipation to the Campaign. As for the Story in the game, this has also been streamlined, stripping away the often confusing, branching quests within quests that could make Gloomhaven a headache to follow. Jaws of the Lion concentrates on moving players along with the story rather than encouraging exploration for the sake of it, but what you lose in freedom is gained in urgency and impetus to see how the story unfolds. Which is how an adventure should feel. Jaws of the Lion is still challenging, although you can increase the difficulty level at any time if ever it feels too easy, but is never a slog to get through. Reaching the end of the game is a realistic goal but still a genuine achievement. For anyone who has ever considered getting into Gloomhaven, or just wondered what the fuss is about, Jaws of a Lion is a must-buy. And with Frosthaven, the full-sized sequel to Gloomhaven, just around the corner, now is as good a time as any to dip your toe into this genuinely exciting and original world.
Player Count: 1-4
Time: 30-120 minutes