Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the board game that has climbed the global rankings

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the board game that has climbed the global rankings


The Lion's Jaws are a group of renowned mercenaries who are ready for anything. A missing blacksmith's wife hired them to find her husband. Has he fallen victim to a band of aggressive verminoid creatures that have made a nest in the city of Gloomhaven? Or is there something worse underneath? Between cultists, strange rituals, demons and undead, a simple rescue mission soon becomes a much more dangerous adventure. Gloomhaven: Jaws of The Lion (by Isaac Childres, Asmodee editions, 1-4 players, 30 min. Per player, 14+ years) takes root from this classic opening, which seems to have been taken from the most familiar of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. , 59.60 euros), a fantasy-themed board game that has climbed the top 100 of the most played board games in the world according to Boardgamegeek, placing itself firmly in the top 5.

On the other hand, there is no it is surprising. Gloomhaven, the older brother from which this spinoff was born, has been the real revelation of recent years. A complex, heavy (even in the literal sense: more than 10 kg of box), decidedly expensive game, which despite everything has been the number 1 game in the global boardgame ranking for years now, conquering practically all board game enthusiasts. The sequel, Frosthaven, not yet out, is the most funded board game of all time on Kickstarter, with $ 12 million raised through crowdfunding. And now Jaws of the Lion has arrived in Italy, a much more compact, less expensive experience, and designed precisely to introduce newbies to the world of Gloomhaven through slightly simpler but not distorted rules, a tutorial worthy of the name, and a much faster setup.

But is it worth venturing through the lanes and harbors of the city of Gloomhaven in search of adventures? The answer is yes, and here's why.

Jaws of the Lion gets a little skewed into the dungeon crawler genre, a type of board game in which players play a group of heroes or adventurers moving around a map, exploring underground mazes, ancient ruins or other environments, they fight against fierce enemies and collect treasures and experience. Often this sub-genre is associated with a strong thematic component (given by setting, story and components) and with mechanics that involve rolling the dice (or in any case a certain amount of randomness) and a focus on exploration and discovery. Jaws of the Lion is certainly a dungeon crawler, but atypical: the exploration is limited, the randomness too, and the narrative component does not offer big crossroads or meaningful choices that can alter the course of the adventure.

Le maps are printed directly on the scenario book

The game takes place over a campaign consisting of twenty-five scenarios. Each scenario takes place on a map drawn directly on a ring book to be kept open in the center of the table, and which also reports the special rules, objectives, monsters to encounter and traps and treasures to be found. The advantage is that the setup is very quick, with no maps to assemble room after room or rules to retrieve from a thousand manuals; the cons is that everything is immediately evident (or almost ...), with few surprises. The objectives are variable but all in all similar: killing all the monsters, destroying pillars, reaching the exit of a dungeon, and of course defeating the inevitable bosses that dot the campaign. A couple of crossroads dot the countryside, with alternate routes leading to one scenario and blocking another, but ultimately all converging on the way to the same conclusion.

Each player chooses one of four heroes who will become away more powerful way in the arc of the campaign. The Red Guard is an armored warrior who draws enemies towards him to pierce them with the spikes of his armor. The Battle Ax dashes across the battlefield hurling hatchets and picking them up from the corpses of enemies. The Guardian of Void curses opponents, controls their minds by forcing them to fight each other, and empowers or heals allies. Finally, the Demoman destroys obstacles, sets traps and manipulates the battlefield. The characters are well characterized, and all with a unique style to play.

Managing the hand of cards is essential for success

The game itself takes place through the management of a hand of cards that represent the actions available to the heroes, and also indicate the speed with which they act. At each turn, each hero chooses two cards from his hand, each of which is divided into two parts: generally in the upper one are the attack actions, and in the lower one the movement actions, but there are due exceptions. At his turn, the player must choose two actions to perform on the two selected cards, in the order he prefers, but always alternating an upper and lower action.

This system makes combat very tactical; but the real distinguishing feature of Jaws of the Lion is that, after playing all the cards, you can take them back into your hand, but you will have to permanently discard one. As the adventure continues, therefore, the heroes will be increasingly tired and with fewer options available. Timing is counterproductive, the objectives must be achieved as soon as possible, and if you delay until you discard all the cards, the scenario can be considered a failure. The same happens if the heroes suffer too many wounds, reaching zero life points.

In the game, all this means that each scenario is a real puzzle, in which you have to decide how quickly to advance towards the hordes of enemies , risking exposure to damage, so as not to waste precious time; what goals to pursue first, to be more efficient, and when to sacrifice cards to perform particularly powerful special actions or to prevent injury. Obviously, monsters also have their actions, which take place through a deck of cards rather simple to manage but which guarantees a good variety of fights, including cultists who heal themselves, archers who attack from a distance, wizards who curse heroes and giant vipers. that poison them. A hint of randomness in combat is introduced thanks to a bunch of random modifiers that add to or subtract from the damage inflicted, while in the scenarios there are secret objectives that each character can pursue to earn permanent bonuses.

The Gloomhaven Map: As you progress through the campaign, it will be filled with stickers that reveal new locations. Those who prefer not to spoil it can keep track of it on a separate sheet

Like any self-respecting dungeon crawler, even in Jaws of the Lion the heroes become more and more powerful over the course of the campaign. They earn new skill cards to add to their hand, upgrade the modifier deck, earn money and experience points to buy equipment and increase life points. And as in any fantasy game, magic cannot be missing, managed here through a somewhat cumbersome system of elements that constantly strengthen and weaken (giving players to do to keep track of them from round to round, with the risk of forgetting to move some tokens). A series of random event cards add a pinch of narrative spice between one scenario and another, allowing players to make a few choices without actually impacting the story. And then there are some sealed boxes and "secret" decks of cards, which invite players to go ahead to find out what surprises the campaign holds.

Compared to Gloomhaven, there is no possibility to "retire" their heroes to get new ones; but on the other hand Jaws of the Lion is much easier and faster to play in pairs, and it is possible to have players who join and go between one scenario and another (although the ideal is still to play the campaign with a group of friends more or less stable).

In conclusion a dense adventure, rich in content and generous for the price at which it is sold, with well-tested gameplay and fun characters to play. The five scenario tutorial does a great job of gradually introducing new rules without overwhelming the player. The perfect title for anyone who has always been intrigued by Gloomhaven but scared of its weight, or simply for those looking for a self-contained fantasy campaign and mind-bending scenarios.

Tired: the plot doesn't shine certainly for originality, and those looking for a dungeon crawler looking for secret rooms to explore, buckets of dice to roll or a history full of crossroads and discoveries would do better to look elsewhere. The box would be well organized to facilitate setup and game saving, were it not compact and dense enough to be overcrowded with components.

59,60 € - buy on amazon

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