Gloomhaven is the biggest thing in board gaming right now. The game is ranked number one out of many, many, many thousands of entries on BoardGameGeek. Over the course of two Kickstarters, it raised a shade under $5 million, and the upcoming sequel, Frosthaven, raised $13 million, making it the highest fundraised game on Kickstarter, period. There was even an entry-level game, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, which was sold through Target and designed to get people who don’t otherwise play board games into Gloomhaven. So Gloomhaven: Fallen Lion is a comic that I really wanted to be good.
And Gloomhaven’s setting is ripe for being explored. A non-traditional fantasy world, there are no elves or dwarves or orcs in the game: rather, there are little rat people and big rock people and strange bounty hunters who wear specialized cowboy hats that allow their horns to fit through. It’s fun, and – as it is, you know, a board game – Gloomhaven does not spend a lot of time exploring that world.
So. Gloomhaven: Fallen Lion tells the story of the team of mercenaries who you play as in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the eponymous Jaws of the Lion. Along with a small telepathic rat-person, the mercenaries recount the story of their last mission while sitting at a bar named after them (these are very successful mercenaries.) The mission went awry, and the story slips between the actual events, the team recounting the events in the bar, and the small telepathic rat person chatting to a living swarm of bugs wearing a mask.
But, unfortunately, the interlocking stories don’t quite work.
I have played Gloomhaven and Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, so I am familiar with the setting of the games, and even I was confused. It throws a whole wide world at you, and without the familiar fantasy trappings to fall back on, this deep-end first storytelling just leaves the reader not knowing what happened or understanding what people are doing or why. And the three overlapping storylines within the single issue, not a single one of the actual stories gets the pages it deserves. I don’t feel what the Jaws of the Lion are feeling in the bar, I don’t feel the pathos of the Vermling betraying his friends, and I don’t feel real stakes in the main action scenes.
As well, the art is lifeless. It’s flat and lacks a sense of action, of real movement. I don’t want to be too harsh on writer Travis Mcintire or artist Tyler Sowles, but this is a comic that needed several more iterations, at the absolute minimum.
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