Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a peculiar package. It’s the first DLC for a PC version of a hit tabletop dungeon-crawler, and it’s based on the stand-alone cardboard sequel of the same name. It’s also unconventional in that it’s less concerned with making this dungeon-crawling universe approachable — as was the purpose of last year’s fantastic digital adaptation — and more concerned with integrating a compelling sub-story within said adaptation. And in most ways, it has succeeded.
As a tabletop product, Jaws of the Lion has proven every bit as successful as the game that started it all. It rectified all of the major hurdles plaguing the monstrosity that is the Gloomhaven core experience, doing away with dozens of modular map tiles and lengthy setup. Instead, it has players work through a spiral-bound scenario book with dungeons printed on its pages. Its story is also much shorter than Gloomhaven’s, affording participants the opportunity to actually finish the campaign. The narrative even includes tutorial chapters to ease players into the game and overcome the native design complexity. Finally, it’s a much cheaper and appealing package that can easily be found at mass market stores.
All of this makes for a fantastic board game experience. But it’s not these strengths that translate seamlessly to the digital adaptation. Instead, Jaws of the Lion succeeds with an altogether different purpose.
Gloomhaven on PC already smoothed out all of the wrinkles of its tabletop cousin. Cutting down on setup time is one of the primary benefits of playing the video game as opposed to the physical version, and the extended length of the campaign is also a boon when you can easily save your progress and pull the entire thing back out with a mere double-click. What’s more, Flaming Fowl Studios provided a very effective tutorial in the base game that onboards new players quickly. And of course, the PC edition of Gloomhaven is less than half the cost of the board game.
With all of the fixes Gloomhaven’s digital adaptation made to the original formula, the door was open for Jaws of the Lion to not improve on a rickety foundation but, rather, just add more. More of everything. There are new characters, new events, new items, and an entirely new storyline. As an injection of new content, it’s actually quite powerful.
The most significant asset are the new characters. There are four total, but two of them — the Hatchet and Red Guard — are the very best Gloomhaven has offered to date. The former is a distinctive aggressor, able to inflict large amounts of damage at both range and up close. His tempo is interesting, as the core attack loop consists of throwing his lethal “favorite” ax and then retrieving it from his foes’ felled carcasses. It’s a pretty straightforward class in terms of strategy, but it’s full of momentous assaults and diverse offense.
The Red Guard is an exceptional option, as they’re able to adequately fulfill so many different niches while never becoming an ineffective jack-of-all-trades. Generally speaking, they’re a tank of sorts, able to consistently shield and buff their own defenses. But the Red Guard is also able to dish out heavy pain and even offer some crowd control. Of any of these four new classes, they are most able to hoof it as a lone wolf and wade into danger with little caution.
The other two classes are interesting in their own rights, even if they’re not quite as unique as their fellow party members. The Demolitionist is able to blow apart obstacles and inflict high amounts of melee damage on foes. The limitation, however, is that he only has nine cards in his deck and can become exhausted rather quickly. The Voidwarden, on the other hand, is a very flexible support class, able to provide a bevy of debuffs and curses on the opposing group. She is more esoteric than the others, but is stylish nonetheless.
It’s intriguing how robust these new characters are. Their abilities are more broad and elastic than the options found in the original Gloomhaven. This allows them to function well within almost any party composition, blending in seamlessly with the base game options. They’re also a treat to wield in the core campaign storyline, as they’re adept at overcoming a myriad of challenges.
The DLC’s storyline itself is potent as well, functioning as a concise side campaign alongside the main narrative. It’s particularly alluring because it offers an additional vector of linked scenarios that you can engage with at your leisure. These quests take place in the central city of Gloomhaven, focusing on a sinister plot that you slowly unveil piece by piece. The result is a more investigatorial feel than the main storyline, as you dig into the conspiracy and attempt to thwart a grand scheme.
One of the strongest features is the ability to switch back and forth between the new narrative and that of the original. You can bounce between the two at any time, allowing you to test the worth of one class in one scenario or a particular party composition in another. There’s a great opportunity to experiment with the thrilling new characters or the ones you didn’t spend enough time with during your first trek through Gloomhaven’s digital adaptation.
As packaged content, this adaptation of Jaws of the Lion is a surprisingly effective remodel of the cardboard product. Despite abandoning the material’s original purpose of providing a more streamlined introduction to Gloomhaven’s systems, the design team produced an entertaining and effective side campaign that will extend the life of Gloomhaven and bring fresh perspectives to this storied game.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion was released on May 17 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Asmodee Digital. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.