by Louis Sylvester
In 2017, game designer Isaac Childres released an epic fantasy adventure board game called Gloomhaven (1-4 players, age 14+). The game came in a box the size of a six-pack of paper towels. It was stuffed with cards, plastic figures, tokens, dozens of monster types, board tiles and a 40-page rulebook. The massive game included 16 characters and nearly 100 adventures. Because it was filled to the brim, a copy of Gloomhaven cost more than $100.
Luckily, Childres has developed a new entry-level version of his masterpiece called Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion (1-4 players, age 14+). Available for half the price of the original, this more-reasonably sized box includes four characters and 25 adventures.
The rule book is constructed so that players first learn a few basic rules and then play a simple adventure scenario. Once completed, a few more rules are laid out and a new scenario is played. This tutorial style of play continues for the first five scenarios, by which time the players will have learned all the rules. The players then have another 20 adventures to enjoy. If the players want more, they can swap characters and run the adventures again. Or, better yet, pick up the original Gloomhaven and jump right in, because now they know all the rules.
In Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, players work together by sending their fantasy characters to achieve mission-specific goals against mobs of monsters. Each turn, players choose two cards from their hands. Each card has a top power and a bottom power. When it is a player’s turn, he or she activates the top of one card and the bottom of the other and then discards the cards. When it is the monster’s turn, the players follow a list of actions dictated by instructions on a deck of monster cards. After everyone has acted, a new turn begins. Players must be smart in how they play their cards, though, because certain effects will cause them to lose cards permanently. If the players run out of cards, their characters will be forced to retreat and the adventure will have to be replayed.
The system is strategic and clever, and the thematic storyline allows for characters to grow and develop into powerful heroes. Gloomhaven is loved by almost everyone who plays it. In fact, on Boardgamegeek.com, the foremost database for tabletop games, Gloomhaven is ranked No. 1 out of more than 100,000 games.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston. He is the coauthor of the “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West. Questions about tabletop games may be sent to him at email@example.com.