Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review

Jump back to 2020 and into the shoes of a mercenary in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Fight foes as you uncover a sinister plot gripping the famous city and strengthen your character. But, in a world where Frosthaven exists, is Jaws worth your cash? Read our Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion review to find out!

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Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Summary

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a comparatively pocket-sized Gloomhaven standalone that takes the core elements of the phenomenally popular base game and distils them down into an easy to learn (and carry) introduction to 2017’s sprawling system – and 2023’s successor, Frosthaven. It is a delightful and triumphant entry to one of the most successful board games franchises of all time, and will entertain gamers the world over for hours on end.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Introduction

I’ve always been fascinated by Cephalofair mastermind Isaac Childres’ Gloomhaven. A collaborative, campaign-driven game of tactical combat for 1-4 players, my first experience of it as a student living in Norwich: whilst in my Master’s year at university I walked past one of the shops in Norwich’s famous Arcade and saw the box displayed in absolute pride-of-place in the window of a models and games shop. I was immediately gripped: as a wannabe fantasy fiction writer at the time, the gorgeous artwork grabbed my attention immediately: the grim scheme, the brooding characters, the dark fantasy setting. I also saw the price: £120.

As a poor student, having to make my thrice-yearly student loan payments of a little over a grand stretch the best part of four months, there was no way I could justify such a purchase. Every time I then walked past this shop, I’d stop by and look in to see if the game had been reduced in a sale. It never was. Then, one day, it disappeared. When Epic Games made Gloomhaven’s PC game free on their store at the end of 2022, I jumped at the chance to download it – but the PC game just didn’t quite scratch that itch. Whilst it’s a marvellous iteration of the board game by all accounts, it didn’t quite give me the hit I had hoped for.

As a game, Gloomhaven has proven to be one of the most significant – and popular – releases of the last decade. Set in and around the city of Gloomhaven, players take on the role of characters seeking to find fame and fortune in the grimdark fantasy setting and embark on an epic campaign of quests and scenarios to prove themselves. After its release in 2017, it was built upon with the subject of this review: 2020’s Jaws of the Lion, which drops players into the shoes of renowned mercenary band named, you guessed it, the Jaws of the Lion.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 9

It feels odd, then, to be writing this review of Gloomhaven’s standalone expansion in the same week that the original Gloomhaven board game lost its top spot on BoardGameGeek.com to Brass: Birmingham (25/02/2023). Gloomhaven had held the top spot on the site since December 2017 – a phenomenal run of just over five years.

Jaws of the Lion, like it’s parent, is a collaborative fantasy game of campaign-driven adventure and strategic combat for for 1-4 players. You take on the role of one of four members of the infamous Jaws of the Lion mercenary band and find yourselves embroiled in a sinister plot that targets the innocent people of the city for which the series is known.

So, why are we looking at this now? Well, there are three reasons: the first is that Cephalofair are back in the spotlight due due to Gloomhaven losing its no. 1 spot on BoardGameGeek. Secondly, Cephalofair have just released their Gloomhaven follow-up, Frosthaven, following its staggering $12,000,000 Kickstarter campaign – which is a frankly mind-blowing level of success.

The final and most important reason of all is that Cephalofair sent us Jaws along with a brand-new copy of Frosthaven for us to review. When they did so, they told us to play Jaws of the Lion first by way of an introduction.

And here at FauxHammer.com, we do as we’re told.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Unboxing

So, in the opening words of Matthew Wilder and David Zippel’s ever-popular song from 1998’s Mulan: let’s get down to business.

Here’s Jaws of the Lion’s box – and like every Gloomhaven release, the art is excellent.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 1

The classesyou can play in this game are hinted at by the array of equipment laid out on the table: the hatchet for the Inox Hachet, the sickle and chain for the Valrath Red Guard, the staff for the Human Voidwarden, and the peculiar piece of equipment (that’s likely explosive) for the Quatryl Demolitionist.

Opening the box up we have a audio narration inset and a piece of glossy paper telling us to stop whatever it is that we’re doing immediately.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 2

See?

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 3

So, whilst it’s not anywhere near as huge as it’s predecessor, Jaws of the Lion still has quite a few bits and pieces in it. As such, one of the first things you’ll need to do is make sure everything in the box is accounted for, push out all the tokens, sort the cards, and generally prepare the box for play. This glossy handout walks you through the steps to doing this, as well as tells you what everything in the box is.

Setting that aside, the next thing down is the Gloomhaven: A Hole In The Wall comic book. We’ll have a quick spoiler-free look at this a little later in this review.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 4

Next is the Learn to Play Guide.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 5 (2)

Beneath lies the Glossary – or the rulebook, if you prefer. New players are advised to steer clear of this for their first few sessions whilst they get to grips with the mechanics via the Learn to Play Guide.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 6

Setting that aside we have the two Scenario Books. Again, we’ll have a look at these in more detail and explore how they work shortly.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 7

Below the books we have six punchboards of tokens, as well as a map board and a sticker sheet.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 8

Finally, we arrive at the items in the bottom of the box, as well as the plastic trays designed to hold everything.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 9 (2)

There’s space for everything in the box, including specific slots for cards and tokens in order to ensure everything is safely packaged and easy to find.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Unboxing 10 (2)

We’ll have a good look at all of this in turn now.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Contents

There’s a fair bit of stuff in the Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion box.

  • 5 x Books
    • 1 x Learn to Play Guide
    • 1 x Scenario Book
    • 1 x Supplementary Scenario Book
    • 1 x Rules Glossary
  • 4 x Large Tuck Boxes containing character packs.
  • Cards and Similar:
    • 4 x Player Reference Cards
    • 144 x Character Ability Cards
    • 8 x Warning Cards
    • 20 x Character Tokens
    • 108 x Monster Ability Cards
    • 4 x Monster Stat Envelopes
    • 16 x Monster Stat Cards
    • 22 x Event Cards
    • 179 x Attack Modifier Cards
    • 52 x Item Cards
    • 32 x Battle Goal Cards
    • 3 x Card Dividers
  • 8 x Miniatures in Small Tuck Boxes
  • Tokens and Boards
    • 4 x Character Mats
    • 4 x Dials
    • 18 x Initiative Order Tokens
    • 1 x City Board Map
    • 1 x Sticker Sheet
    • 1 x Element Board
    • 6 x Element Tokens
    • 20 x Character Tokens
    • 97 x Monster Standees
    • 60 x Condition Tokens
    • 12 x Trap Tiles
    • 8 x Activation Tokens
    • 50 x Damage Tokens
    • 16 x Destruction Tiles
    • 4 x Treasure Tiles
    • 25 x Money Tokens
  • 24 x Plastic Standee Stands

We’ll go through all of this right here.

Books

Jaws of the Lion comes with five books. Before you panic, none of these are particularly huge, and they all serve very important roles within the game.

Learn to Play Guide

We’ll have a more thorough look at the Learn to Play guide in a little while when we sit down and have a go playing Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, but here it is in all its glory:

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Learn to Play Guide 1

The Learn to Play Guide takes players through the first five scenarios in their campaign, introducing all the rules and regulations you need to master your band of mercenaries. There’s information on setting up, clear guides on how mechanics work, and plenty of information presented in a clear fashion to ensure you’re brought up to speed quickly and easily.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Learn to Play Guide 2 (2)

Just like the original Gloomhaven and Frosthaven both, Jaws of the Lion is a complicated game. It’s not the most complicated game we’ve played to date, but this one definitely has a learning curve attached to it – but the Learn to Play Guide is your friend.

Measuring in at 31 pages, it’s not a tiny booklet by any stretch of the imagination, and there’s a lot of information to be imparted within these pages, but things are broken down logically and players are eased into the game in a non-overwhelming fashion.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Learn to Play Guide 3

Advancing through steps, turns, and battle rounds in an easy-to-follow sequence, and with all associated rules clearly signposted, the Learn to Play Guide is a masterclass in producing this sort of pamphlet.

Clear, informative, and easy to follow – we’re off to a good start.

Glossary

The Glossary is the rulebook for Jaws of the Lion. Containing all the key terms and keywords that will feature throughout the campaign in the various scenario booklets you’ll progress through, it’s designed to serve as a reference guide that can be used quickly and easily throughout the game.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Glossary 1

For ease of use, the entire document is alphabetised, so it’s easy for you to find exactly what it is you need to be looking up quickly and easily. There is no contents page, which would have been a welcome inclusion, but in the grand scheme of some of the rulebooks we’ve seen her on the site, this is by far one of the easiest ones to navigate.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Glossary 2
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Glossary 3

All information is, again, presented in a well-formatted and easy-to-follow manner. Plain language is used, and concepts are explained in as fewer words as possible so as not to be overwhelming.

There are also six appendices at the end designed to be used in play, both as references and as tables to determine certain aspects of the game that we won’t go into here.

Scenarios Book

There are two books of scenarios in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion: the main book and a supplemental scenarios book.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Scenarios Book 1

From a glance at the contents list above, you may be wondering upon what you play Jaws of the Lion. Like any good adventure, Jaws of the Lion takes place across many different locations, and these are reflected within the Scenario Books.

See, as you progress through the Jaws of the Lion campaign, travel to new areas, and fight off new foes, you refer to different pages in the books. Each page consists of (surprise surprise) a different scenario for you and your buddies to take on.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Scenarios Book 4
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Scenarios Book 3

You treat each book like a board, setting up the encounter as directed on the pages of the book itself. For larger maps, or maps where there are additional rules or conditions, you simply set up the Supplemental Scenario Book as directed in the main book. This usually means simply adjoining some pages to expand a map, or ensuring you have all the info for the encounter on display for players.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Scenarios Book 2 (2)

I do really like this way of doing things. Having the zones all displayed within a book (or, in this case, books) allows for a great deal more diversity within setup and will keep the campaign evolving and visually interesting. Playing on a single board and having to arrange tokens and tiles between each encounter may get tiresome and doesn’t create much visual interest – especially if there aren’t other narrative or story elements to keep the game moving.

However, the only issue with these books are the spiral binding. In some cases, these often bisect hexes where characters or standees may need to be set up or moved to during play. It does look as if this has been accounted for with the print of each book – they rarely cut through the middle of the hex, instead tending towards one of the edges so you can still use the area. Whilst it may be a bit of a nuisance, that Cephalofair have gone to lengths to try and prevent this from being a difficulty in play shows just how much care and attention to detail has gone into the game.

Comic

The Gloomhaven: A Hole in the Wall comic was a bit of a surprise for me when I first opened the box up.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Comic 1

I had no idea this was something I’d find in the box – and, honestly, I think it’s great.

The comic serves an important narrative function. It introduces the Jaws of the Lion mercenaries and what they’re doing around Gloomhaven. There are a few sparse details offered on their background and setting (to leave you to fill in the blanks should you so wish) but, most importantly, leads you straight into the first few scenarios you play through in the Learn to Play Guide.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Comic 3
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Comic 2

It’s fun. It’s a nice way of getting you interested in the game – and the art is nice too. it’s another thoughtful inclusion that really helps make this game stand out.

Cards and Tokens

You’d be disappointed if a game with Gloomhaven in the title and the attached kudos that brings to it didn’t come packed with all sorts of cards, tokens, and other bits and pieces for you to shuffle around whilst you’re playing.

Tokens and Standees

Jaws of the Lion comes with no small number of bits of shaped cardboard for you to punch out and play with. Here’s all of it:

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Tokens 1

In the image above, the top three rows and the small pile in the centre of the bottom row are all standees – the two-dimensional cut-outs you’ll use to represent your enemies during the Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion campaign. The tokens, of which there are many different kinds, are all sorted into the small plastic tray in the bottom right-hand corner of the image above. These include everything from wound counters to hazards, traps and treasures. Those large things in the bottom left corner are dials used to track certain values assigned to your character. We’ll see those again later.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Tokens 2

Finally, we have a few other bits: Initiative Order Tokens, an Elemental Board, a roll of plastic bags for storage of all your components (hooray!), and a small pouch of standee bases.

I always find myself considering the inclusion of plastic baggies/ziplock bags, or whatever you want to call them, one of the markers of a good game. It shows the developers recognise that there are lots of components in their game and that it’d be easier for you to be able to keep them safe and organised. It also shows the developers care about the longevity of their product: they aren’t happy to just check everything in a box and call it done, no. They provide ways of ensuring your game remains nice and playable for years to come.

Assembling standees is as easy as you image it to be. Simply slot one of the carboard character cut-outs into a standee base. See?

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Tokens 3

Remember that “Read This First” sheet we saw during the Unboxing section of this review? So, we’re hearkening back to this at this point. This sheet helps you organise all your standees, their ability cards, and their initiative trackers and urges you to store them in the baggies provided – which is exactly what I did.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Cards and Token Packets

Now, instead of rooting around in the box looking for that one card or that one token, I know that everything I need for the particular encounter I’m playing is in one place. The provision of the plastic baggies for storing gaming pieces, as well as a guide on how to store everything effectively, is an excellent quality of life inclusion for the game. Instead of spending time rifling through a box looking for one particular card or token amidst the jumble, you’ll have them all kept in the same place.

Cards

Similar to the tokens, there are plenty of cards in the Jaws of the Lion – but, I’m pleased to say, not too many.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Cards

So, in the image above, from left to right and top to bottom, we have Monster Stat Envelopes (which you insert Monster Stat Cards into to reveal relevant stat blocks), Card Dividers (to make it easy to find different card types), Event Cards, Monster Stat Cards, Battle Goal Cards, Item Cards, and Attack Modifier Cards.

Nothing is too large, and everything is both very well-designed and fairly self-explanatory. The Item Cards in particular are good fun, with lots of pleasing illustrations that’ll keep you interested in exploring the world of Gloomhaven and crossing your fingers for treasure.

That effort has been made to ensure these are easily identifiable (by both art design and dividers) once again helps with the flow of gameplay as you won’t be rooting around looking for the particular card you need at that crucial point in the story. Text is also kept to a minimum and is easily readable (aside from on some of the Event Cards which, understandably, need to contain a fair bit of setting info).

Once again, there’s very little to dislike here. The thing that strikes me most about these cards however is that there aren’t too few, yet also aren’t too many. Like Goldilocks in the children’s story, the amount of cards feels just right. They aren’t overwhelming, too complex, nor confusing – another element of the game exceptionally well-executed.

Character Packs

A mix of tokens and cards, contained within the Jaws of the Lion box are four envelopes. Each of these envelopes contains certain cards, tokens, and other bits and bobs unique to each of the four characters.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Character Packs 1

Cracking open the Inox Hatchet’s box, this is what you find within:

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Character Packs 2

All of this is specific to this character: the tokens, the ability cards, and the modifier cards. There’s also a small pad of character sheet-style papers for you to use during the game – though these are finite, and a quick Google tells me finding replacements for these might not be so easy nor inexpensive. Make sure you fill them out in pencil!

That this all comes in an envelope also allows you to “save” your game. You won’t be able to play an entire Jaws of the Lion game in a single sitting, so you’ll need to organise and pack all your character’s stuff away safely so you can return to it next time. This is another nice feature that helps improve the overall experience of the game: there’ll be no faffing around at the start of your next session trying to find your item cards or whatever else – it’ll all be ready and waiting for you in your character’s envelope.

Gaming Board and Stickers

Also included in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a Gaming Board showing the city of Gloomhaven and a sheet of stickers for you to use and track your journey through the darkened streets of the grimy city.

The Gaming Board is one of my favourite things in this box. Why, you ask? Because the art is gorgeous.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Cards Boards and Stickers

Reminiscent of the maps you find tucked into the first few pages of any good fantasy novel, the Gaming Board is a gorgeous piece of work – so much so that it feels like a shame to be covering it up with stickers as you go (though it’s really important to note that these stickers are non-adhesive and be removed and attached back to their sheet without risk of damaging the board).

Miniatures

There are eight sorry, four miniatures in the Jaws of the Lion box. These each represent one of the four members of the Jaws of the Lion mercenary band. In the image below, from left to right, we have the Inox Hatchet, the Human Voidwarden, the Valrath Red Guard, and the Quatryl Demolitionist.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Miniatures

They’re really nice little miniatures and would double as fabulous D&D proxies should you be playing a character of similar race and stats. They’ve got more than enough details on them for you to get a brush around, and sure, whilst they may not be quite as detailed as what you’d expect to see from Games Workshop, these will not do you wrong.

So, yes. Four miniatures. Definitely not eight. Nope. These four boxes (that come with little stickers over them to keep them sealed so you can’t get in without everyone knowing you’ve done so) don’t have anything to do with the ongoing development of your characters, an don’t contain supplemental miniatures for you to use in game. Nuh-uh. No way.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Secret Boxes

I haven’t looked. Honestly.

…Okay, one of the boxes arrived with the sticker loose and I had a peek.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Gameplay

As we’ve mentioned already in this review, the original Gloomhaven was heralded as one of the best games of the last decade. Furthermore, Cephalofair have just released their follow-up: Frosthaven, so the -havens are somewhat in the limelight right now. Jaws of the Lion is intended to be an introduction to the system and the universe: a more lightweight, less intimidating starting point for people interested in the game as a whole.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 17
Because it’s not as massive as its predecessor or successor, Jaws of the Lion does fit on a regular-sized dining table!

So, does Jaws of the Lion do this? In order to find out, I gathered writer Jordan and playtesters Leo (more recently of Aeon Trespass: Odyssey fame) and James (future star of an upcoming One Page Rules: Grimdark Future review) to see just how good Jaws of the Lion really is.

In Jaws of the Lion, players take command of one of four characters: the Inox Hatchet, the Human Voidwarden, the Valrath Red Guard, or the Quatryl Demolitionist. Each character fulfils a different battlefield role. The Inox Hatchet is a primarily ranged damage dealer; the Valrath Red Guard a slightly tankier character designed to control the battlefield with a mixture of ranged and melee attacks and by pulling enemies around; the Voidwarden is a spellcaster with healing capabilities, and the Demolitionist is a melee damage dealer with the ability to destroy terrain obstacles.

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The four characters ready themselves for the start of their first scenario.

Each character is somewhat non-standard – another feature we loved. For example, the Inox Hatchet, who is primarily a ranged damage dealer, doesn’t use a bow. Instead, his entire thing is hurling axes at people, retrieving them, and throwing them again. The Red Guard, instead of being a bog-standard tank, instead has abilities based around pushing, pulling, and destabilising enemies. The Voidwarden’s heals often come at a price, and the Demolitionist is a high risk, high reward character that seems to simultaneously thrive and suffer in close-quarters combat.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 3

Jaws of the Lion is best played with four people, but can be played with one, two or three. The game’s difficulty scales depending on how many people are playing, with more enemies on the board and those enemies being tougher depending on how many of you there are. This, in turn, can be extremely punishing: should one of your party be defeated early in the encounter, the rest of the encounter becomes extremely challenging.

Players follow a plotline that begins by investigating the disappearance of a local blacksmith. By following the scenarios in the Scenarios book, players continue to develop the story, gain items, level up, and further their adventure. All four of us were big fans of the overall story and felt that it really helped give the game reason and purpose.

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Players engage with enemies as they explore the Gloomhaven universe.

Battle rounds follow a straightforward flow, but there’s a great deal of tactical nuance involved. At the start of a round, all players must start by selecting two cards from their decks. Each card contains two abilities – one at the top of the card, and one at the bottom. Whilst players will have four abilities to choose from on their two cards, players can play only the top ability on one card and the bottom ability on the other. Each card also contains an initiative number which determines where you go in the turn order for that round – so, as you pulled two cards, you can pick from two values. You have to carefully consider how your two abilities synergise with each other, and with what your party are likely doing next turn. You can’t discuss your cards nor your initiative values, as these need to be drawn in secret. Going first might not also be the best thing for you: you need to carefully consider when in the round order best suits you and what you want to do.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 1
Players have a deck of cards to choose two from at the start of each round. Each card has two abilities and an initiative value. Players must pick one initiative value, one top move, and one bottom move from their two chosen cards.

Enemies – who work off a simple AI system based around who is closest and easiest to attack – also draw initiative values and new abilities each turn, so don’t always go at the same time each round. Certain enemies are much faster than others, though this is largely thematic – the Stone Golems, for example, frequently have high values, representing their slow, lumbering nature, whilst humanoid Cultists are a bit more unpredictable. This further complicates what you and your party may wish to do on your turn and gives you something else to consider: what if the Cultist I want to fight doesn’t move any closer to me this turn? What if they instead opt to blast me with magic from three hexes away? How does that affect my turn?

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 18
Carefully considering not only what you can do, but when you are going to do it is a fundamental part of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion’s combat.

The cooperative gameplay is very tactical. Shunting your character around from hex to hex and whacking stuff as you desire isn’t an option: mistakes are punishing for the party – often fatal, as Jordan discovered when rushing for an objective during one scenario, a move that made him the target of three enemy attacks and wiped him out before he’d even done anything. A huge part of Jaws of the Lion revolves around you being adaptable: sure, you picked your two cards at the start of the round with a clear goal in mind, but your plan went to hell in a handbasket when the Voidwarden took a ton of damage – how can you improvise a new plan that still benefits your party?

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 5
Players also have abilities that allow them to push and pull their enemies – this is great, especially when there are traps on the map!

Randomness and unpredictability are a huge part of Jaws of the Lion. Whilst the enemy AI may throw you a curveball you didn’t see coming, your own Attack Modifiers deck might ruin your well-made plan just as easily. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion operates via a diceless combat system: everything has a fixed attack value that is then modified by drawing a card from the Attack Modifiers deck. This can add and subtract damage from the overall applied value, double the overall value, or cancel the attack altogether. Your plan of attack, then, may come unstuck due to your own card deck.

All four of us were surprised by just how easy to pick up Jaws of the Lion is. The Learn to Play guidebook is absolutely excellent, and the scenarios throughout slowly – and very effectively – ease you into playing the game. The Learn to Play guide brings in core mechanics gradually whilst never detracting from the gameplay experience. See, the first five scenarios listed in the Learn to Play guide aren’t easy, and there’s a noticeable shift in the learning curve around Scenario 3.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 4
Scenario 3 is when things begin getting a little trickier with the introduction of new enemies, status effects, and difficult terrain.

We suffered our first player defeat in Scenario 3 when James’ Demolitionist had a particularly unlucky round, though the rest of us managed to push on to the end of the mission. We had a wipe in Scenario 4, when Jordan’s Red Guard was annihilated in his first turn – suffering a huge amount of damage from four attacking Cultists after he moved into a less-than-ideal position – and James’ Demonlisitonist fell two rounds later after the enemy AI drew a x2 damage card from its modifier deck and one-shot him. Leo and I, Voidwarden and Hatchet respectively, managed to continue and even completed an objective, but without our team were unable to do enough damage quickly to succeed. We ran out of cards to play and became Exhausted – a condition that removes you from the game. Leo even brought down a Golem single-handedly with his final few cards – an event he was desperate to ensure was recorded on the Internet forever with the two pictures below.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 11
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 2

Still, the characters feel fairly well balanced for the most part. We all felt that ranged characters – primarily the Inox Hatchet – had a little bit of an edge over the melee characters. Taking damage can be punishing, so the Demolitionist and the Red Guard always needing to be in the frontline – or, at the very least, towards the frontline – often makes them the primary recipients of the enemy AI’s ire.

The majority of the rules are extremely well-explained and make a lot of sense. The way rules are introduced across the first few scenarios is also exceptionally well done and does not feel overwhelming at all. There were only one or two occasions during our first few games where we found ourselves unsure as what to do, and this tended to relate to the enemy’s AI. Each enemy declares a “focus” at the start of their turn, which is the easiest to attack. But what if there are two characters equally easy to attack, the same distance away, standing next to each other? We did ultimately find the answer (it comes down to initiative order), and this only sticks out as it was the only real time we struggled with the rules.

Between scenarios, players also have the opportunity to spend their hard-earned gold on items in the in-game shop. Items offer special boons to characters to help augment their playstyles. Don’t pigeonhole yourself too much when selecting items, either – the Iron Helmet, for example, might seem like something you’d give a frontline tank, but it saved Leo’s Voidwarden’s life!

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Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 15

One part of the game we weren’t so keen on was the stickers. As you travel around and complete scenarios, you unlock new areas. New areas are added to your map board by way of sticking a sticker to them. These stickers are supposed to be removed and re-adhered to their sticker sheet at the end of the campaign, but they don’t peel off or re-adhere very well.

The Map Board is absolutely gorgeous, and the thought of spoiling it with wonky stickers made the skin of all for of us crawl. In the images below, you can see the pains we went to with the Roadside Ambush sticker, ensuring it was perfectly lined up. You can also see that it didn’t really want to stick back onto its sticker sheet after we removed it.

Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 19
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Playtesting 8

This is a small gripe, though, and provided someone is taking note of the areas you have and haven’t unlocked, you don’t need to use the stickers.

There are a host of other features to engage with too, including random player-specific challenges for each scenario that reward you with perk points (ways of powering up your character long-term), as well as Events – randomly-selected happenings that take placed in Gloomhaven itself that add further mystery to the campaign and the opportunity for players to engage with side quests.

You will not complete Jaws of the Lion in a single sitting – something the rulebook advises you, and something the game provides for. The envelopes all the individual characters’ tokens and cards come in can be re-packaged between sessions so that players can pack the game away quickly and easily and re-access it at their next convenience. The packaging is also designed to hold each type of card, and the box comes with labelled dividers for the cards which help you keep them organised during and between sessions. This is another really useful feature that just goes to show the level of care and attention that has gone into the game and its overall design.

In summary, all four of us were huge fans of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. The game is surprisingly easy to pick up, with intuitive and exciting rules that are explained in a clear and logical format. There are lots of additional features, such as Events and optional character goals, as well as a perks/talents system that keep the game exciting but also make it infinitely replayable.

A huge thumbs-up from all of us.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Price and Availability

Jaws of the Lion is available straight from Cephalofair for a very reasonable $49.99. It’s more readily available than the original Gloomhaven game, which can be a bit trickier to hunt down given its popularity and that it was released five years ago. It’s also much less expensive and lighter than Frosthaven, which is a $200 monstrosity that requires a forklift truck to move around.

Jaws of the Lion is a great way to test the waters of the Gloomhaven-style gaming system without requiring you to invest a huge amount of money in a single board game. We’d recommend it to anyone who’s thinking about picking up either Gloomhaven or Frosthaven but is a little concerned by the price. At the very least, Jaws of the Lion will help you clarify your opinion on whether you want to invest in Gloomhaven or Frosthaven. At most, it’ll provide you with hours upon hours of fun.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review – Final Thoughts

ProsCons
Excellent packaging
Surprisingly compact game in spite of its size
Satisfying artwork and compelling design direction
Clear and easy to understand rules and guides
Great fun, scenarios feels unique – no sense of repetition
Reasonable price
Enemy AI system could be explained a little better
Learning curve will catch you out (but this might appeal to you!)
Stickers

So, here we are in 2023. Gloomhaven has relinquished its hold on BoardGameGeek.com’s top spot after a five-year run. Frosthaven has been released after a $12,000,000 Kickstarter campaign. And we’re playing Jaws of the Lion, the 2020 spinoff.

Yet this is far from time wasted. In a world where both copies of the original Gloomhaven game are more difficult to come by than they have been in the recent past, and we’re all having to tighten our belts as prices go up and everything begins to cost more, spending $50 on a board game instead of $200 will be a more appealing prospect for many people (though we don’t mean to suggest that $50 isn’t still a significant amount of money).

What’s more, we’re all busy people, and Jaws of the Lion offers something of a more condensed and streamlined experience. Whilst you won’t be able to smash the entire campaign out in one sitting, it definitely won’t take you quite as long as either Gloomhaven or Frosthaven would.

There’s something for everyone in this game If you’re a die-hard Gloomhaven or Frosthaven fan, you’ll might love Jaws of the Lion for its spinoff-ness, for the fact it’s a bit quicker and easier and the fact it feeds to succinctly into the overall themes of Isaac Childres’ universe. You’ll see it more as the Better Call Saul to your Breaking Bad – a successful and tie-in that leaves you feeling fulfilled. Rookie players will find Jaws of the Lion easier to get their teeth around (pun retrospectively intended) and a much less intimidating gaming experience than marching straight into the streets of Gloomhaven or the icy passes of Frosthaven.

If you’ve never touched one of Cephalofair’s games before and find yourself tempted by either Gloomhaven or Frosthaven, I’d suggest trying out Jaws of the Lion first. What it offers is a more beginner-friendly experience that you’ll be able to get a feel for much more quickly than you would with one of the larger games. It’s slightly more casual, and what it offers is both a compelling and fun experience that doesn’t feel watered down at all.

It’s also a lot cheaper, so you’re less likely to feel like you’ve wasted a huge chunk of money if you decide the game isn’t for you – not that you will, because Jaws of the Lion is great fun.

Click this link & buy your hobby stuff from Element Games for the UK & Europe to support FauxHammer.com – Use Code “FAUX2768” at the checkout for double reward points.

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Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
Author Rating
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Product Name
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

VoltorRWH

Rob has spent most of the last 20 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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