Game Length: 60 minutes
Brody: I used to hate the water…
Hooper: I can’t imagine why.
Building upon the success of last year’s Jurassic Park Danger board game, Ravensburger returns with another movie license in the Jaws board game (available exclusively at Target). Released in 1975, Jaws is often considered the original summer blockbuster, as a trio of men on the vacation destination of Amity Island try to keep a man-eating shark from, well, man-eating, first by trying to close the beaches, then by getting on a boat and hunting the shark themselves.
The Jaws game brilliantly captures both halves of the film in a unique two act structure, culminating in an exciting finale where the shark player rips apart a sinking boat while other players desperately try to fend it off.
A Bigger Boat
As in Jurassic Park Danger, players are divided up into two teams, the humans and the shark. The three human characters of Brody, Hooper, and Quint are always present, making the 2 and 3-player game a little more challenging for the human player but also maintaining a proper balance when playing with fewer than four.
In act one the human team controls the three characters on Amity Island. Each turn they have a set number of actions with which to rescue swimmers (spawned from event cards drawn each round), gather motion sensing barrels, close beaches, and try to locate the shark. The shark player, meanwhile uses a hidden notepad to track their movement and eating habits.
Act one results in an excellent game of cat and mouse as the humans try to locate the shark player using their various abilities, like Brody’s binoculars and Hooper’s fish finder, while minimizing losses.
The first act ends when the shark has eaten nine swimmers, or if Quint manages to tag the shark with two of his barrels. Depending on how many swimmers the shark ate, act two swings in favor of either the shark (more ability cards) or the humans (more gear cards). The board is flipped and boat tiles are added to represent Quint’s boat from the film, the Orca.
If act one is a subtle detective game with some light strategy, act two is a full-on tactical strategy warfare with hit points and dice rolls. The shark resurfaces by choosing from several different Resurface cards, and the humans have to predict where it’ll appear, targeting the space with spears, flares, and pistols. The shark player rips apart chunks of the boat, flipping tiles or eliminating them entirely, and possibly dumping humans into the water where it can start whittling down their hit points.
I’ve played both extremes of act one, with the shark player eating the maximum number of swimmers (and thus gaining the biggest hand advantage going into act two) and the humans tagging the shark almost immediately, with the opposite swing in momentum. However, the card advantage from act one doesn’t grant an automatic win. In both instances the final turn of act two came down to a nail-biting thriller, with a 1 hit point shark nimbly trying to avoid becoming sushi while the surviving humans cling to the last shreds of a sinking boat.
We ran into a few rules questions when it came to act two’s constantly changing battlefield and adjacency conundrums. And it’s a bummer that the movie license doesn’t appear to include the actors’ likenesses, but that doesn’t take away from the fantastic gameplay.
The Jaws Board Game has an age recommendation of 12+. Both acts require tactical planning and strategy, and in the case of the human players, coordination of their actions and attacks. The shark player needs to keep careful, honest track of what they do each round throughout act one.
The subject matter is another factor, as the shark player is eating people in act one, and both sides are trying to kill one another in act two. Humorously the original film is rated PG, but would garner at least a strong PG-13 rating (which wasn’t invented until 1984) if not an R rating today.
I was very impressed to find the solution to whether or not to adapt a Jaws game from the ship or the island was “Why not both?” The two act gameplay structure creates a memorable mini campaign as both sides earn their powers from how well they handle act one. Alternatively you can play each act as a separate game mode if you’re short on time. Both sides play completely differently and the action is fun and tense throughout both acts. Even more than Jurassic Park Danger, the Jaws board game is a triumphant of great game design and an excellent use of the source material.