Gloomhaven is a really big game: 22 lbs, thousands of components, open world, branching story. So, is Jaws of the Lion, which is a pared down version of Gloomhaven, anything like Gloomhaven?
Gloomhaven and Jaws of the Lion share a lot. So if you are like me and want to know, is Jaws of the Lion something an experienced Gloomhaven player should pick up? The answer is most definitely yes! Even though it has been simplified it still has the same core Gloomhaven experience and it is still exceptional.
So if you are new and haven’t played either game, which game should you start with? And to that I would say, Jaws of the Lion. It was specifically designed with the more casual gamer in mind so even though it came after Gloomhaven it should be played first, if you still have that option.
So join me on this journey to compare what makes Gloomhaven and Jaws of the Lion Similar and what makes them different.
Is Jaws of the Lion Worth it?
Yes, Jaws of the Lion is totally worth it. It is a great game that will provide you with hours of entertainment. It successfully takes the awesomeness of Gloomhaven and condenses it without losing the core of why Gloomhaven is the best game of all time.
Anyone who has bought Gloomhaven, and enjoyed it, should 100% buy Jaws of the Lion, immediately.
The Philosophy Behind Jaws of the Lion
Jaws of the Lion was designed to help more casual players ease into the world of Gloomhaven and its systems. To do this, the designer Isaac Childres, play tested extensively with people who hadn’t played Gloomhaven before and took notes, removing a lot of the mechanics in Gloomhaven that made it less accessible.
The next part of the design philosophy was to make Jaws of the Lion smaller. Making it smaller meant it could be offered at a much lower price point, further reducing the barrier to entry. Jaws of the Lion is $40-$50 and Gloomhaven is $110-$120 which is a substantial difference.
A teacher in a box. Gloomhaven is great and it is exceptionally well designed but at times it can be a bit fiddly around setup, because of how many components there are. To help new players learn the mechanics, and to keep them from being overwhelmed, Jaws of the Lion has an extended tutorial which I will explain in more detail.
Learn to Play Guide
When you first jump into Gloomhaven it can be extremely overwhelming; unless you are a seasoned board gamer.
If you have a good teacher you can learn Gloomhaven pretty quickly and it all comes together. However, learning by yourself can be a bit trickier, especially if you are a newer player.
Luckily Jaws of the Lion has a fairly extensive tutorial in the form of the Let’s Play Guide. You won’t just be thrown into the deep end and left to swim by yourself. Over the course of the first 5 scenarios, various cards and mechanics are introduced in a manner which won’t overwhelm new players. If you are a Gloomhaven vet you can still play them but they won’t be super challenging. Make sure you still read the story but you can skip to scenario 4 if you wan’t without missing any really good combat.
In the beginning you play with a basic set of “A” cards which is denoted on the card. Enemies do not even have an attack or modifier deck, they move and attack 2 every time.
Once you get to scenario 2 you swap a couple of “A” cards out for their “B” card counterparts and enemies start using a basic version of their attack modifier deck. There are also a ton of new mechanics added, like looting and you even add items in at this point.
After Scenario 3 and beyond you remove your “A” and “B” cards and and beyond start using your normal level 1 attack cards. You never use “A” and “B” cards again, they are there just for the tutorial to get you used to playing.
Starting with scenario 4 you are basically playing a fully functional game and even though there are some mechanics removed vs Gloomhaven, it is very similar.
There are some mechanics present in Gloomhaven that were deemed too complex for Jaws of the Lion. The list below is mechanics that Gloomhaven has but Jaws of the Lion does not.
- Party reputation
- Temple Donations
- Rolling modifiers
- Negative item conditions
Rolling modifiers combined with advantage is absolutely the most fiddly mechanic in Gloomhaven and I for one do not miss it at all. Even right now as I am writing this I would have to go and review the rules on rolling modifiers again to make sure I remember them correctly. I don’t think anyone will miss them!
Summoning in Gloomhaven has its upside and when done right can be extremely powerful but I personally prefer the game without summons for one reason: time. Jaws of the Lion removes the summons and so you don’t have those games with multiple summons and high numbers of enemies that take twice as long as a normal game.
One last note on mechanics, specifically, retaliate. I think that retaliate is a great mechanic and pretty simple so I wish it would have been kept for Jaws of the Lion.
Gloomhaven Tiles VS Jaws of the Lion Scenario Map
Setup in Gloomhaven takes a long time, which is why I wrote another post detailing how long it takes to play. The setup time mostly has to do with the map tiles and all of the obstacles and traps that you need to first find and then setup. If you have a really good organizational system then this is manageable.
In Jaws of the Lion most of the setup time has been eliminated as the scenario book also functions as the map. This means no more tiles to find and no more objects. You will, however, still have to place enemies and traps so there is still a marginal amount of setup time.
In addition there is a supplemental scenario book which essentially functions as an expansion so that the maps can be bigger and allow for tactical movement.
This is a game changer for me. First I hate setup time. I can be an impatient person and usually I just want to get to playing. Thematically the scenario book is superior because it has custom artwork. Gloomhaven recycles the same tiles so after you have played for awhile they get pretty familiar. You do add obstacles to change it up but it still can’t compare to the ambiance created by the unique scenario art.
Out of the Box Organizational Tools
Gloomhaven has always had a poor out of the box organizational system. Especially for the first edition, buyers were basically left on their own to figure out how to organize the large amount of components.
The lower number of components in Jaws of the Lion makes it substantially faster to setup. It also comes with more tools to organize, without having to buy 3rd party solutions. Jaws of the Lion comes with quite a few handy plastic bags and also a nice tray so you can organize the various components like damage and conditions.
Jaws of the Lion is the definite winner here, for setup time and basic organizational tools.
Gloomhaven has a lot of characters; 6 starting and 11 unlockable. Jaws of the Lion only has 4 and there is no retirement mechanic and there are no more characters to unlock. This is by design so that Jaws of the Lion is simpler and more streamlined.
I really loved retiring characters and unlocking new ones so this was a bit of a downer for me. Definitely not a deal breaker, but unlocking characters was one of the great joys of Gloomhaven so it definitely has the advantage here.
Jaws of the Lion does have some cool unlocks and secrets though, so there is still a certain amount of mystery!
Can the characters from Jaws of the Lion be used in Gloomhaven, and Vice Versa?
The 4 characters in Jaws of the Lion, Valrath Red Guard, Quatryl Demolitionist, Inox Hatchet and Human Voidwarden can all be used in Gloomhaven without any issues. They are completely compatible just missing a few mechanics, like retaliate. This doesn’t mean they are any worse. In fact they are really good.
Importing Gloomhaven characters into Jaws of the Lion is totally possible but there are a couple of things to watch out for.
- First bring them in at scenario 3 and beyond.
- Perks that deal with negative item conditions are useless, as Jaws of the Lion does not have them. If your character has the perk to ignore negative items conditions and you want to use them in Jaws of the Lion, just choose another perk.
- Give the character 40 gold, 10 experience and 1 perk since they will be skipping the first 3 scenarios.
- You will not carry over retirement perks from the Gloomhaven campaign.
Starting Character Comparisons
In Gloomhaven there are 6 starting characters vs the 4 in Jaws of the Lion so Gloomhaven has a bit more complexity and choice starting off. And frankly the entire game has more choice and complexity, which isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Read below to find out why I think Jaws of the Lion is a better game than Gloomhaven.
Gloomhaven and Jaws of the Lion are quite similar and as I just mentioned above you can move characters between the two games. Just to be clear I created this quick table of what is compatible between the games and what is not.
|Condition and dmg tokens||City event cards|
|Treasure and money tokens||Monsters|
|Element board and tokens||Maps|
|HP and XP dials|
|Battle goals(remove 8 duplicates)|
Trap tiles, the element board and it’s tokens are pretty self explanatory. They can be used with either game if you have lost any or just need more for the sake of convenience. The same with HP and XP Dials.
Battle Goals can be combined to make a super battle goal deck but you want to make sure and remove the duplicates. 24 of the Jaws of the Lion battle goals are not duplicates but 8 are so remove those 8 to merge them together with the Gloomhaven battle goals.
Monsters are not compatible and should not be mixed because some of them are very close to each other, but with slightly altered stats. This makes it a bad idea.
City Events are specific to each game so it doesn’t work to combine them. Also it would be a pain so just don’t do it.
Gloomhaven is based partly in the city with some missions taking place within city limits but Jaws of the Lion takes place solely in Gloomhaven. Based on the story this makes sense thematically and doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
In Gloomhaven, because it takes place in the City, and across the country, there are road and city events. In Jaws of the Lion there are only city events. This is another reason to not mix the event decks.
Gloomhaven has a lot more content, specifically scenarios. In fact there are 95. Jaws of the Lion has 25. There is definitely a lot more to do in Gloomhaven and you will be able to play if for greater length of time.
Is Jaws of the Lion Better than Gloomhaven?
This is a tough one and I mulled this over for quite a long time. Controversially, I am going to say that Jaws of the Lion is a better game! Yes I said it, please don’t hate me, I will explain my craziness in more detail.
The reason I think Jaws of the Lion is a better game is that it improves upon the Gloomhaven formula. Yes it has lost a little complexity but mostly in good ways. Next it is much more accessible to the masses. With Gloomhaven I would only feel comfortable, and confident, inviting a select few of my friends to play. The limited amount of content is actually a good thing for most casual board gamers.
Jaws of the Lion bridges the gap and allows you to invite some of your less hardcore board game friends to play it. Because of this they get more exposure to board games which will allow them to become more familiar. A lot of board games are intimidating and a game like Jaws of the Lion is a perfect in-between. This will allow you to get higher complexity board games onto your table in the future.
If you have both games introduce your friends to Jaws of the Lion first and you will have a much higher success rate with Gloomhaven.
Both games are absolutely fantastic and so if you can I would suggest getting both!