There have been few games that an claim they have changed the board gaming hobby forever. A few of those may include Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Wingspan. But the list would not be complete without Gloomhaven. The game has singlehandedly changed the entire landscape of enthusiast gaming. I remember stumbling upon the Kickstarter campaign a few mere weeks before fulfillment. I could not believe what I was seeing when looking at the planned box size in one of its most recent updates. The campaign page revealed that this giant box contained 17 playable characters, 45 different monster types, and nearly 100 scenarios. The sheer amount of content in the game put the entire Descent franchise to shame. But the question still remained, was it any good?
Well, it’s now safe to say that the numbers speak for themselves. The original campaign for the game raised $386,104, an incredible amount for any Kickstarter back in 2015. What few copies that made it into retail sold out immediately. The 2nd Kickstarter campaign for a reprint launched shortly after, raising an absurd $3,999,795. It was about this time that Gloomhaven worked its way to the number one ranking on BoardGameGeek. Since then, not only has it remained in the top spot, but also been including in the hotness list week in and week out. If all this isn’t testament enough to the game’s reputation and success, Frosthaven, the games, standalone expansion overcame Kingdom Death Monster as the highest funded board game with a total of $12,969,608.
It was around this point that I decided designer Isaac Childress must be some sort of evil genius. And with the release of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion I believe it has been proven true. Jaws of the Lion is a much smaller package than than its predecessor; featuring 4 heroes, 16 monster types, and only 25 scenarios. Mechanically, the games are nearly identical. The game was first released as a Target exclusive, selling out nationwide within 2 days. The reception from the gaming community has been nothing but positive, with the game now also available through local and online game stores. While I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy nearly a month ago, I have yet to play it. I will say that I am extremely excited. Here’s why:
- Campaign Length – I have never had any luck with a campaign/legacy style game. I play with too many gamers, each with too many games, to be able to play the same game week in and week out for an extended period of time. I previously owned the original Gloomhaven and only got 4 scenarios in before things crumbled and I ended up selling the game. A campaign consisting of 45-50 scenarios is very daunting, making one of only 25 sound much more manageable.
- Mapbooks – I am a big fan of dungeon crawlers. My least favorite aspect of them is definitely the sheer amount of time they require to set the game up and later to put away. The original Gloomhaven would take anywhere between 20-30 minutes to set up and then another 30-40 to put away. Finding the correct map tiles and tokens was enough to drive any any gamer mad. So much so that it was almost necessary to purchase and use a third party insert or storage system. Jaws of the Lion removes map tiles all together with the use of a map book. This book not only contains the maps for each scenario, but also has many of the terrain elements printed directly on the map, removing dozens and dozens of tokens from the equation.
- Smaller Box – The original Gloomhaven weighed in at a whopping 22 lbs, and this is before a third party insert. Taking this anywhere was a real pain. Luckily the new box is much lighter and much more portable.
- No Legacy Elements – I’m not a big fan of permanence. Luckily Jaws of the Lion no longer relies on stickers. While there is still a city board with location stickers, they no longer are necessary. Also there are no stickers that get added to character cards.
- Price Point – With a retail price of $50, Jaws of the Lion is much more palatable than its $140 big brother. I can get some decent ours out of the game and still sell it without having to break the bank.
It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. In addition to the lack of content the game has also stopped out some of the more robust features of the original big box version. There are no unlock able characters, so no sense of discovery when playing a new character class for the first time. There are other things like leveling up the town and city events that have also been removed to make the game more streamlined and focused. These are small changes that I’m willing to put up with in exchange for the previously listed benefits.
If you have ever wanted to give the biggest, baddest board game a try but couldn’t quite muscle up the nerve. I think you will be very happy with Jaws of the Lion. Many reviews have praised the game for its tutorial system that begins with the first scenario and slowly introduces rules as you play through the first 5 scenarios. I love the gameplay from the original Gloomhaven, and with that still intact I already feel very confident recommending Jaws of the Lion, even before playing a single game of it. So what are you waiting for, get a copy, a couple of friends, and get going on what’s bound to be one of you best gaming experiences ever.