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Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review - Part 1

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review - Part 1

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review - Part 1

Welcome to our new series of articles digging into the world of Gloomhaven. It was only a matter of time before we got this to the table, and we’re incredibly excited to dig into this game. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a fully cooperative campaign game published by Cephalofair Games. While this game bears the same name as the original, Gloomhaven, this game is fully standalone and has an easier learning curve than the original. The game is just as complex and detailed as the original, but with the first five scenarios, Isaac Childres and his team have found a way to introduce those concepts slowly.

We have not reviewed Gloomhaven for that exact reason. It was not something we initially enjoyed. We think it is a great game, don’t get us wrong. We tried to play it the way we play our other cooperative adventure games, such as Mansion of Madness 2nd Edition and Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle earth. We ended up failing miserably at Gloomhaven

So we approached Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion with a bit of trepidation, but we were pleasantly surprised. Even to the point that we now feel ready to tackle the original Gloomhaven with fresh eyes.

This game is for 1-4 players ages 14+, and each session takes about an hour to play. Let’s dive into this game.

Game Overview – Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

This first article will walk you through how to play this game. We love to play cooperative adventure games, but we realize that the depth of rules is a lot of these can be overwhelming. We will try and give you an overview of the game. We will go into a few details on the specifics of each round. However, this won’t be a complete rules dump (which we’ve done in the past…) There are just too many rules in this game.

The Story

With events set before the original campaign, this game puts you in the shoes of the Jaws of the Lion, a group of for-hire mercenaries working out of the City of Gloomhaven. Your task is to complete a 25 scenario campaign that is as much of a mystery as an adventure. Each player takes on the role of one of four characters (Demolitionist, Hatchet, Red Guard, or Voidwarden), each with their skills and specialties. The game plays out using a scenario book that acts as the game board. Each scenario draws players deeper into the world of Gloomhaven. The goal of each game session also changes as you progress through the story. Sometimes you defeat all enemies to win a scenario, while other scenarios have you looting treasures. 

The Ability Cards

Each player has a hand of “ability cards” to start the game. Each card has a top action and a bottom action, along with an “initiative” value listed between them. At the beginning of the round, each player simultaneously chooses two ability cards to play. The top action of one and the bottom action of the other will become the player’s actions for the round. 

Players do not need to decide which card’s top/bottom action they wish to perform right at the beginning of their turn. First, they need to decide which “initiative” number on the two cards they want to use. Initiative numbers are 1- 99, and whichever player or enemy has the lowest initiative goes first in the round. Players simply need to select which card’s number they want to use and place both ability cards facedown with that card on the bottom. Finally, players flip over their cards to reveal their initiative number when the round begins. Each enemy type on the board has its own deck of action cards. The players flip the next card to reveal their “initiative” value indicating the order the players and monsters will complete their actions this round.

One nice thing about Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion compared to regular Gloomhaven is the initiative order tokens. Once players determine the initiative numbers of all characters and enemies, players lay out the tokens. These tokens get laid out on the table for reference. In regular Gloomhaven, this had to be done by memory or written down. There was a helper app you could get, but this new token solution seems good.

At this point, players openly discuss their specific actions in the round. They can only talk in general terms until players flip the action cards over. “I’m going to try and defeat a few enemies” or “I’m going to heal this round” After the players flip the cards, they can be precise with each other and organize their strategy.

They also choose which card’s top action and bottom action they want to take. Players can’t take the same card’s top and bottom actions. It must be one from each card.


Actions include movingattackinglootinghealingpersistentpushing or pullingshieldingconditiongrant actiondestroy obstacles, or suffer damage

While that’s a lot of actions to learn, the good news is that the first five scenarios slowly introduce these to you as you play. These scenarios are considered the tutorial, new to Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. The actions for the initial scenarios are also written in plain English on the cards which helps greatly with learning the game.

At the beginning of the campaign, the two main actions you will take are moving and attackingMoving is self-explanatory. Players move the number of spaces listed on the card. They can move through other players but not enemies and must end their move in an unoccupied space. 

Attacking, on the other hand, warrants a bit more detail. Both players and enemies attack each other and sometimes attack their own kind. They have two types of attack they can do, Melee or Ranged.

Melee attack

example of melee attack (top) and move(bottom)

Each attack action shows a sword next to a number. A sword by itself is a melee attack. The number is the base damage a player can do to an enemy. This number gets modified in a few ways. First, if the player has any items with attack bonus numbers, those get added to the value. Players then draw the next card off of their attack modifier deck. This will either be a +0, +1, -1, +2, -2, 2x or ⊘ which will modify the number further. Finally, if the enemy they are targeting has a shield, this will reduce the final attack value by the shield number. At this point, the player looks at the specific enemy cardboard standee’s number they are fighting and puts the amount of damage they dealt on that number space on the stat card for the specific enemy.

Ranged attack

Attacking does become a bit more complicated, though. Here we go! If the attack action has a bow and arrow icon on it, it is a ranged attack, and the number next to that is the number of spaces away from the enemy where a player can attack. 

example of a ranged attack (top)

Advantage and Disadvantage

Ranged attacks are great, except what happens if you are right next to the enemy? If there is no bow and arrow on the attack action, nothing… you are fighting hand to hand. However, if you are ranged, you now have “disadvantage .” Think of it this way. If you were right next to the enemy, it is much harder to fight with a thrown weapon than fighting with a sword. So disadvantage means a player turns over two attack modifier cards instead of one and only applies the one with the worse outcome. So if you got a +1 and -2 – guess what? You apply the -2 to your attack… It sucks… The counterpoint to disadvantage is, of course, “advantage .”One fundamental way to gain advantage is to get the strengthen ability. This ability is the exact opposite; it lets you take two cards off the attack modifier deck and apply the better card for you. Lastly, if you have advantage but are using a ranged attack adjacent to an enemy (one is advantage while the other is disadvantage), yes, they cancel each other out, and you attack as normal…

Lastly, some attack cards have a bullseye on them with a number. This symbol represents how many enemies you can hit simultaneously. Without this, it’s only one. 

Whew… that is how you attack. All of these attack rules are the same for the enemies as well. The enemies have a communal attack modifier deck, and players can use a shield action to provide protection. Some actions also allow you to have ongoing abilities (like a shield being available for three hits.)

As an enemy takes damage, players place damage tokens on the enemy stat card, as mentioned above. Similarly, if a player takes damage, they adjust their health dial down by the amount of damage they take. 

I will say that this game has limited ways to prevent damage. The shield ability is the best way to do this. If your character reaches 0 on their health meter, they are considered “exhausted” (not dead) and are out of the remainder of the scenario. Practically what this means for the players is that they need to be more methodical about how they play. 

Here at Detective Hawk Games, we’re used to playing games where you can run headlong into a fight, swing your sword around a few times and immediately defeat a few enemies. Then more often than not, block all of your enemy’s attack either through a dice roll or by applying card abilities. Usually, you’ve either defeated the enemy immediately or have taken 0 to limited damage during the round.

In Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, managing your character like that is a great way to become exhausted. We think this game is better because it makes you slow down and consider the consequences of your actions. In that way, more tactics are involved, which ultimately makes it a fantastic game.

Looting and Applying conditions

You’ll encounter two other actions in the first few scenarios: looting and conditions. Both are very different from each other. Looting allows you to open an adjacent treasure chest or pick up money dropped by enemies you have defeated. Conditions are both positive and negative adjustments to your character. Strengthen, which we mentioned above, is an ability to help you gain advantage, for instance, but a condition can also be negative. Negative conditions include disarm, poison, immobilize, muddle, stun or wound. These are also positives for the characters if you apply these to an enemy. 

After players take their actions, they place the two action cards in their discard pile or, if an action shows the “lost” symbol, in the lost pile. 

End of Round – Resting

We’ll get into some of the other abilities in later articles, but we’ll move to the end of the round in the interest of time here. At the end of the round, a player can take a short rest. They can do this at the end of any round but must do it when they have one or zero cards left in their hand. A short rest requires a player to shuffle their discard pile and place and move one discarded card at random onto their lost pile. If they don’t like the card they lost, they can lose a different random card by taking one damage. In this way, with every game round, each player reduces the number of cards in their hand by one. If they have one or zero cards in their hand or the discard pile, they immediately become exhausted and take no further part in the scenario. This mechanic puts a time limit on how long a scenario will last. 

A player can do another type of rest at the beginning of the round called a Long Rest. Instead of selecting two cards to play this round, they say I’m taking a “long rest,” and they immediately get an initiative value of 99. They get to take the cards from the discard pile and select (by choice) which card goes in the lost pile. They also get to heal themselves by two hit damage points, and finally, any items they’ve spent in the scenario are now available again. So there is an advantage to a long rest over a short rest. However, it does leave the player exposed to enemy attack for the round.

The final aspect of the game we’ll discuss in this article is the ability to infuse the battlefield with an element. 

Elemental Infusion

An action can display one of the six elements, FireIceAirEarthLight, and Dark, or the multicolored icon, representing any element of the player’s choice. If the action allows you to add an element, you take the appropriate token on the elemental board and move it to the Strong column. After each round, all elements move back one space from Strong to Waning to Inert. As long as the element is strong or waning, the character or other characters may perform additional actions on their cards that require the element. Enemies can also take advantage of the elements, so be careful. Some enemies thrive on fire, for instance… so infusing the battlefield with fire might not be the best idea in that case.

Campaign Story

Besides the round-based actions, this game involves a fair amount of narrative choice for the story. There usually are a few milestones the players need to reach in each scenario. These can include more stories. However, from time to time, they give the group a choice. Also, at the end of a scenario, the group may unlock additional scenarios. In this way, the game can have branching paths. The available scenarios are represented by stickers applied to a board that represents the city of Gloomhaven.

Jaws of the Lion is only 25 scenarios long, while the full Gloomhaven can reach 99 scenarios, although you don’t need to complete all of those to finish the game. In that way, it’s similar to open-world video games. 

This article is just a highlight of this game. There is a lot to it. We did want to provide detail into how this game gets plaid on a round-by-round basis. We know this won’t be everyone’s type of game, but the level of depth in this game makes it unique.

We haven’t gotten to what the game’s components and setup look like. Both of which are pretty cool. We’ll be highlighting these in future articles.


If you enjoyed this article and want to pick up your own copy of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, we have it available in our store!