So, opening disclaimers:
- I work at a game store (I’m a writer, but editing and cover art is expensive)
- I own a lot of games I wouldn’t otherwise because of that employee discount (the store I work at is already priced extremely competitively, and then I get about 20-40% off cover price on top of that)
- I am a huge FFG fanboi.
So, with all that stated: I own Journeys, and I would happily recommend it (and often have) with a few warning caveats.
First, my favourite RPG-lite board game is Imperial Assault, the same fundamental game in the FFG RPG-lite series (Mansions of Madness, Descent 2nd Ed, Imperial Assault, Journeys in Middle-Earth). The main difference between the games boils down to campaign length: Mansions has no campaign but the best variety of single-shot missions, Imperial Assault has a 5 mission campaign (with “interstitial” choose-your-own-adventure decisions), Descent is 10 or 12 missions long as memory serves, and Journeys is 14 missions (albeit of variable length… some are 30min missions, most are 2-3 hours).
But they’re all basically the same behind the curtain. Which is a good thing! The rules have been refined and cleaned up a lot with each iteration, and as much as I love IA (for its RPG-mode, the skirmish game is weak), it’s mostly because of the setting over any specific “betterness” of the game itself.
Now, all that stated: my co-op gaming group played through the original JiME campaign, one game a week every week for 3 months. It was fun! We had fun. There’s no way you do everything on a given map, and while the “main” notes are the same (ie: the first mission you have to catch some thieves)where they are hiding and what the map looks like seems to be mostly randomized. So there is some replayability in there by default, plus an additional campaign they have released already and a 3rd on the way.
That stated, there are a few weaknesses. I wouldn’t say what you pointed out is one in my opinion (the enemies feel significantly different, with different tactics and choices to tackle them most effectively), but the heroes don’t have the same “campaign arc” that some other RPG-games have. Aragorn starts as an orc-blender (insert orcs at one side, get orc-pulp at the other end) and he ends the game as a slightly-more-efficient orc-blender. That’s not to say you can’t lose a mission, you certainly can, but it’s usually time-related (the game pushes a brutal pace that takes a few missions to get used to) and not bad guys as threats (which is thematically appropriate most of the time… goblins and orcs are speedbumps, cave trolls and bosses are big speedbumps). It’s unfortunate that the game has no option for a human controlled bad guy (I’ll be honest, I recommend all of them as app-driven anyway, but the lack of OPTION is really unfortunate), and it is expensive on a per-mission basis compared to Gloomhaven (I mean, so is everything).
Last comment: I can recite all 5 missions from the default IA campaign by memory because they were AWESOME… that last mission? chef kiss
I remember about 2 or 3 of the JiME campaign missions that were particularly strong (there’s a great one that takes place at an Inn which was brilliant). I remember exactly 1 Gloomhaven mission total (it has slimes). To me, this is the more critical factor in your game selection: do you want a lot of pretty-good missions, or a smaller selection of artisanally selected choice missions? JiME is a pretty good halfway point between the two extremes of IA to Gloomhaven.