This year Isaac Childres and Cephalofair Games published a new version of Gloomhaven, Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion. This boxed set can be played as a standalone game or as an expansion to Gloomhaven. As a standalone product, Jaws of the Lion is meant to be the perfect entry point to this series of cooperative board games. But what has changed in Jaws of the Lion to make it more accessible?
In this article, I will be comparing Jaws of the Lion to the original Gloomhaven and taking a look at what it does to make Gloomhaven more accessible to a wider range of players. We have quite a bit of experience with the original Gloomhaven which you can see in our numerous Gloomhaven Actual Play Videos.
Disclosure: I would like to thank Tabletop Renaissance, Windsor’s newest game store, for providing me with a review copy of Jaws of the Lion. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What’s new in Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion:
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion was published by Cephalofair Games. It was designed by Isaac Childres and features artwork by Francesca Baerald, Cat Bock, David Bock, David Demaret, Alexandr Elichev, Jason D. Kingsley, and Josh T. McDowell. It was originally released as a Target exclusive in July 2020 but then released worldwide in August.
The best way for you to see what you get in this new Gloomhaven boxed set is to check out our Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion unboxing video on YouTube.
A Welcome To Gloomhaven Guide and a Box Insert:
One of the most welcome additions to Jaws of the Lion is a two page Welcome to Gloomhaven guide that walks you through how to use the contents of this game. It explains not only what all the components are but how to organize and sort them. Jaws of the Lion comes with a plastic box insert and a number of baggies and this welcome guide tells you what to bag with what and where to place all of the cardboard bits once you’ve punched them out.
Jaws of the Lion Has Four New Characters:
This box includes four completely new character types, all of which are unlocked at the start of the game. These characters include the Hatchet, Red Guard, Demolitionist and Voidwarden.
These new characters are designed so that they can be used to play in Jaws of the Lion, and so that they can also be added as new classes to the original Gloomhaven game. As part of the new onboarding system, the card decks for these characters are split up more than in Gloomhaven. Characters only start with six cards identified by an A at the top.
Then there are a couple of cards with B’s marked on them that will eventually replace a few of the A cards. These are in addition to the normal x-9 cards you find with a full Gloomhaven character. Also, each character has their own attack modifier deck. Along with this, each character has two sealed decks with a HALT card on top warning you not to open them until told to do so. These include additional attack modifier cards you can earn through perks as well as cards for level five and up.
Each character now has an initiative token, something new for Jaws of the Lion, which makes tracking turn order during play easier. A health and experience dial and a character sheet pad are also provided for each character and these are the same as what you get with the original game.
Sixteen Monsters for Jaws of the Lion:
There are sixteen monsters included in Jaws of the Lion, ten of which are new with three of the new monsters being Bosses. There are cardboard standees for each monster, as well as plastic stands in both white and yellow to insert them into (these match what you get in Gloomhaven).
Each monster also has its own stat card, action deck, and initiative token. Three of the monsters have basic action decks which are only four cards thick and are used during the introductory scenarios when learning to play Jaws of the Lion.
Twenty-Five Jaws of the Lion Scenarios:
You won’t find any map tiles or overlays in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Instead, all of the scenarios and maps are presented in a lay-flat spiral-bound book. The Scenario Book contains twenty-five scenarios in total, the first five of which are introductory scenarios which slowly introduce the rules of play. In addition to the main scenario book, there is a Supplemental Scenario Book that is used for some of the scenarios. This book contains information that didn’t fit in the main scenario book and can be combined with it to make bigger maps.
A New Map of Gloomhaven and Sticker Sheet for Jaws of the Lion:
A sticker sheet is provided for placing adventure locations on this map. There are twenty-five stickers, one for each of the scenarios included in Jaws of the Lion.
It is noted in the rulebook that the use of the stickers is optional as they are the only element of the game that you make irreversible changes with. Everything else in the box can be reset so that game can be played through a number of times or passed on to another group when you are done with it.
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion Learn to Play Guide and Glossary:
The rules for playing Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion are split over two different booklets. First, there is the Learn to Play Guide. This very slowly and deliberately walks you through how to play the game and is meant to be read out loud when you first sit down to play. As you finish sections of the guide you will do things in the game, like read sections of the scenario book, place stickers on the map, and, of course, actually play through scenarios. As you finish one section the book will present more rules, slowly introducing the game one concept at a time.
This Learn to Play Guide walks your group through the first five scenarios in the scenario book. Many things are done to simplify the learning experience. For example in scenario one the monsters you face don’t use an action deck. Instead, they act on a set initiative and do the same action every round. Characters also have a limited deck of simplified cards with additional text on them to explain how each action works.
Each additional scenario after the first introduces more rules. When you hit scenario two you will now be using a basic action deck for the monsters, new status effects are also introduced and you encounter doors, traps and treasure tiles for the first time. At this point players also update their character decks, replacing a couple of their cards with more complicated versions which include things like lost actions, looting and area effects. This continues with each scenario introducing new rules until, by the end of the fifth scenario, your group will be playing with the full Gloomhaven rules.
Along with this guide is the glossary. The glossary contains all of the keywords and core concepts in Gloomhaven explained in detail. This is meant to be referenced during play whenever the group comes to something they don’t fully understand. There are also six appendices that deep dive things like card anatomy, give a number of monster turn examples for helping players understand the monster AI, give a full component list, and more.
One of these appendices explains which components in this box can be added to the original Gloomhaven to expand that game. Characters and Battle Goals from Jaws of the Lion are free to be used in Gloomhaven while Items, Monsters and Events are not compatible with the full game and were made specifically for Jaws of the Lion.
New Jaws of the Lion Event, Item and Battle Goal Cards:
Since the entire campaign of Jaws of the Lion takes place in Gloomhaven there is no travel event deck, instead, there is just a new city deck (that is not compatible with the original). This deck contains twenty-two events. One change here from the original game is that none of these cards are meant to be destroyed or removed from the game. Instead, when an event is used, it goes into a special slot in the insert reserved for used events.
Fifty-two new item cards are included in Jaws of the Lion. These cards only enter play after reaching a certain point in the scenario and even then only a set number of them are added to the shop or available item deck. Many of these overlap items from Gloomhaven but there are also some new ones. Interestingly some items have slightly different abilities and costs than the matching items in Gloomhaven.
There is also a completely new set of Battle Goals included with Jaws of the Lion. This box has thirty-two new, completely unique, goals, all of which are worth only one checkmark towards earning perks. It’s interesting to note that some of these Goals were inspired by a fan-created deck called “Satire’s Extended Battle Goals.” Isaac worked with the creator to adapt some of these into Jaws of the Lion.
Stuff in Jaws of the Lion We’ve Already Seen in Gloomhaven:
There are a number of other components that are going to be familiar to anyone who has played Gloomhaven before and which haven’t really changed at all. There are condition tokens, bless and curse cards, the monster attack modifier deck, treasure tiles, trap tiles, damage tokens and monster stat envelopes.
There are a couple of new tokens as well. Activation tokens which are used to show when a door is opened on the map (since there are no door overlay tiles to flip over) and destruction tokens used to mark when things like obstacles on the map are destroyed (again due to the fact you aren’t using overlay tokens and cannot simply remove them).
One other slight change can be found with the Element board and the Element Tokens, with the board being slightly smaller and the tokens being cardboard instead of wooden.
There are some significant rules changes in Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion:
In addition to a new Learn to Play Book, and the set of five introductory scenarios that slowly teach the rules of Gloomhaven to players of Jaws of the Lion, there are also a few significant rules changes from the original Gloomhaven.
Monster Focus Changes in Jaws of the Lion:
In Jaws of the Lion, a “Monster’s focus will be the enemy it can get in range to attack using the least amount of movement. If multiple enemies can be reached in the same amount of movement, the monster focuses on the tied enemy earliest in the initiative order. Finding a focus is not dependant on line-of-site or whether the monster can actually get in range to attack an enemy this turn.
If a monster is performing a ranged attack, it will consider this range when determining where it can attack from. Otherwise, even if it is not performing an attack at all, it will focus on the enemy it can get adjacent to in the least amount of movement. When determining what is the least amount of movement, the monster will find a path that goes through the fewest number of traps possible, even if that lengthens the path considerably. Monsters also factor in the extra cost of entering difficult terrain when finding their path.
If a monster is able to attack multiple targets on its turn, it will first find its primary focus as normal and then find additional foci for these extra attacks. It does so by looking for a path to the closest hex from which it can attack its primary focus and as many other targets as it Attacks action allows.
It is possible a monster can fail to find a focus because there are no valid hexes it can move to in order to attack any enemy. In this case, the monster does not move or attack this turn.”
New Line of Sight Rules in Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion:
Line of sight has become much simpler to calculate in Jaws of the Lion. Line of sight “is established if a line can be drawn from any part of the targeting figure’s hex to any part of the target’s hex without touching a wall line.” Only walls block line of sight. Obstacles, objectives, and other figures do not block line of sight
Advantage/Disadvantage is a bit simpler in Jaws of the Lion:
When you flip over multiple attack modifier cards due to advantage or disadvantage and come to an ambiguous situation the player gets to pick which card takes effect. This is a change from Gloomhaven where you were stuck with the initial card.
Jaws of the Lion features clearer iconography for monster set up:
Another change I really appreciate is the new iconography showing which monsters to spawn where depending on the player count. This is indicated directly on the map in the scenario book and is much more clear than the system that was used in the original Gloomhaven.
New Item Rules in Jaws of the Lion:
One very welcome change in Jaws of the Lion over the original Gloomhaven is that players can now trade items between themselves between scenarios. Another new addition is the fact that when you find treasure during a scenario the player who finds that treasure can use it during that scenario. They can use this item for that scenario even if it puts them over their normal item limit. In addition, some scenarios will award items during the conclusion and the group gets to decide who will get these items.
Finally, when selling items players now round up instead of rounding down when determining how much they get paid. It’s also worth noting there is no reputation score in Jaws of the Lion so prices on the cards are never modified in any way.
Note players still cannot trade or share gold.
Treasure and loot changes in Jaws of the Lion:
In Gloomhaven, when monsters use a loot ability they only loot coins. In Jaws of the Lion, monsters will also loot treasure tiles. Another change is that, in Jaws of the Lion, summoned monsters drop coins when defeated. Finally coins no longer take up space on the map, a space containing a coin is considered empty.
Also note, as mentioned earlier, any treasure that has been looted can immediately be used in that scenario.
Initiative Tokens have been added to Jaws of the Lion:
One new step has been added to combat and that is setting up and using initiative tokens. Each round, after everyone has revealed their cards and all of the monster actions have been revealed, the players take the initiative tokens for both the player characters and the monsters and set them down in the order each will be acting in. This is a cool addition to the game and makes it easier to keep track of who is going when and can also assist players who forget which card they picked for their initiative card.
Dotted Lines have been added to the Ability Cards in Jaws of the Lion:
Another improvement I was very happy to see in Jaws of the Lion are dotted lines on ability cards that separate individual actions on each card. This makes it much easier to read the cards and to see what part of the card applies to what abilities.
City Events are Mandatory in Jaws of the Lion:
In Gloomhaven, whenever you returned to town after a scenario you had the option of encountering a City Event. City Events are not optional in Jaws of the Lion. Once you’ve unlocked them, you will reveal a new City Event card after each scenario.
What are my thoughts on the changes that have been made to Jaws of the Lion when compared to Gloomhaven?
I’m extremely impressed by what Glomhaven Jaws of the Lion brings to the table. Almost everything added to this box was included to make Gloomhaven accessible to a more casual audience. This starts with things like the much lower price point and the fact that the game comes with a box insert as well as clear instructions on how to sort all of the contents of the box, then continues with the new onboarding system.
The Learn to Play Guide, which walks you through the first five scenarios as it slowly introduces the rules of the game one aspect at a time, is brilliant. This is the kind of thing I wish we had when we first started playing the original Gloomhaven. Even with a group of experienced gamers, there is a lot to learn in that box and Jaws of the Lion does a much better job of teaching you how to play. I found that the rules changes that were included in Jaws of the Lion were all welcome changes. Some of them seem to have been done to make the game a bit easier to play and to understand, specifically the new focus and line of sight rules. Other rules seem like things that players have wanted (and often house ruled) in the original Gloomhaven, such as being able to trade items between characters and providing a better way to track initiative.
The only complaint I have with Jaws of the Lion thus far is with the box insert and how you organize things. While it’s great in theory it falls short in a couple of places as far as execution. My biggest complaint here is with the token tray that doesn’t actually fit all of the tokens, in a game where it expressly shows you where to place them in the play guide.
Next up is the way the monsters and their bits are organized. The game has given each monster its own baggie which contains the standees, initiative token and cards for that monster. While this is great for quick set up and take down there’s no spot in the box to place these. They get tossed in haphazardly and I worry that the contents will get damaged. It’s actually quite difficult to get them all to fit into the box in a way that will allow the lid to close.
Along with the monster baggies, the game also tells you to store your character components in a baggie which should then be stored in the character box. The problem with this is that the game doesn’t include any baggies big enough to hold your active character cards.
So despite the fact that Jaws of the Lion comes with an insert and much better component organization than the original Gloomhaven game, you may still want to look into making your own box insert or into purchasing a third party box insert.
Forgetting these minor organizational complaints, I have to say that Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion has done what it set out to do. It is now, by far, the best place for someone interested in playing Gloomhaven to jump into the series. Jaws of the Lion does a much better job of onboarding new players versus the original did. The simplified rules and step by step set of five introductory scenarios make it a great entry point.
All of the rule changes found in Jaws of the Lion are welcome ones and I think there are going to be a number of groups that will take these revisions and apply them to their games of the original Gloomhaven.