Ravensburger has recent released a thematic board game based on the movie Jaws. Designed by the team at Prospero Hall, the designers behind Disney Villainous, the game features variable player powers, hidden movement mechanics and most importantly someone plays as the shark! The game sees 2 – 4 players play an all against one game across two acts – which lasts in total around an hour. At first the shark will be nibbling swimmers around Amity Island before the battle is taken to the Ocra. However, is the game relying on the IP to sell? Let’s find out!
The first thing to decide, regardless of player count, is whom will take control of the shark. Once this is decided the human player(s) split the roles of Brody, Hooper and Quint as evenly as possible. For Act 1 the Amity Island side of the board is used, with the human characters needing to be put in their starting locations. Quint and Hooper are in boats, while Brody is based on the island – starting in the Mayor’s Office. The shark player takes the Shark Tracker booklet that will track their movement in the round, as well as 4 special one time ability tokens. The shark does not put a marker on the main board. Instead, they secretly select where to start from the 12 water zones. Finally, on the shark’s player board the number of consumed swimmers is set to zero.
In each round of Act 1 the first thing to do is flip an Amity Event card – the only deck of cards in play. This spawns a denoted number of swimmers at the four beaches, unless they are closed. It also comes with a special rule for the round or an instant effect for the shark or human players. These range from being able to move Brody to any island space instantly for free to Brody’s son taking to the waves.
Next, the Shark gets three action points to spend. This can be moving to adjacent zones of water or eating swimmers at the beaches. If the shark passes through any zones with barrels floating in them this must be announced to the human players. Otherwise, the shark player secretly writes down their finishing zone and removes any eaten swimmers from the board. The shark may play a single power token each round. These are powerful one time abilities such as being undetectable that round. The Shark ends Act 1 by eating 9 swimmers before the humans can stop it.
Each human then gains 4 action points. There is no predetermined player order for the human characters. Though, after one character has started their turn it must be finished before the next character takes a turn. As well as moving and saving swimmers, each character has something special they can do. Brody, being confined to the island, can close an empty beach or use binoculars. This sees the player ask the shark if they are in the same beach zone as Brody. He is also the character whom can ferry barrels out to the docks.
In his speedier boat, Hooper can move twice when taking the move action. Alas, he is unable to use barrels – merely able to carry them. His special ability is to drop a fish finder device, with the shark having to reveal if they are in the same zone or adjacent zones to the device. Quint is all about stopping the shark. His ability is to harpoon a barrel into an adjacent zone or the one he is in. To stop Act 1 this needs to be successfully done twice, with a successful shot one that hits the hidden shark. Unsuccessful shots leave the barrels floating in the zone, acting as beacons for later.
Act 1 is about gaining an advantage for Act 2 – though they can be played as separate games. The number of gear the human players receive and shark abilities earnt is based on the number of eaten swimmers. For Act 2 each human character gains two items that are specific to them, with extra gear earnt from Act 1 evenly distributed between them. In Act 2 the humans are trying to kill the shark by dealing 18 damage to it. This must be achieved before the shark kills the three characters or destroys the Orca boat.
Flipping the board over, the Orca is constructed from eight tiles. Each round three resurface option cards (locations) will be revealed as potential shark targets. The shark secretly decides which before the humans move around the boat and target locations. Melee or attachable weapons must target adjacent water zones, while ranged weapons can target anywhere. The catch is once used ranged weapons – that can deal a lot more damage – are discarded. The shark reveals where they resurface and is attacked by any correct character targets. Most weapons come with a number of dice to roll, with the dice featuring 0, 1 and 2 hits. Once rolled the sharks evade value is subtracted and any remaining hits are taken as damage by the shark.
The shark then rolls the number of dice indicated by their chosen resurface option card. If the damage equals that of the adjacent Orca segment it is destroyed, though less often will damage it for later. Any crew members on a destroyed tile fall into the water, and can be attacked as a bonus action. This sees one die rolled and hits taken accordingly. The game continues in this vein until either the shark is dead or victorious.
Combine the impact of some of the strong powers with the luck of rolling dice and Jaws doesn’t always seem balanced. The shark player can go into Act 2 with a few or the maximum amount of abilities cards and the game can still come down to the wire. On top of this, the shark has certainly won on more occasions that the humans. Balance aside the fact that most games become so close allows for an exhilarating finish rather than a whitewash from either side.
The way the game is completely cut in two isn’t something normally seen but it works perfectly. As one Act ends the new one begins and it is different. A new goal for all players helping the game stay fresh within the same game. While there are rules to just play Act 1 or 2 the game is incredibly easy to pause in the middle between acts. All players need to remember is where the shark got to on the swimmer tracker to know how to setup Act 2, either straight away, later that day or another time. This has allowed what is a full hour long game to fit across a couple of lunch breaks more comfortably. While the game isn’t hard to teach it also enables players to only learn one act at a time. All players need to realise is that there is a benefit of additional cards to the side that does best in act 1. This speeds up the process of getting the game to the table and the enjoyment flowing.
For those that want to take Jaws super seriously it may be worthwhile reading through the different decks before playing – to know what may occur. Be it what Amity event card will flip in Act 1, so what special effects could happen, or what gear could be obtained in Act 2. For those looking more for fun there is an element of exciting surprise when the events occur or gear is used when it is unexpected. Both sides have things that seem super strong – almost unbelievable. This makes one round a huge success for the shark before a joyous round for the humans.
Most players have best enjoyed playing as the shark. The added pressure of the hidden movement or secret choices has an added tension that has a thrill to it. This isn’t to say there isn’t tension felt by the human side. When down to the wire, be it saving the last swimmers or defending the final Orca pieces, you hope every decision is the right one. The human objectives just feel more about survival or damage limitation than truly going for the win. This being said, a player that dislikes the pressure of hidden movement could love the human rolls.
Production wise there is nothing to fault. The double sided board is ideal for the two acts, making both halves of the game extremely pretty to look at. There are some great little touches in the components. From the beach closed sign that is designed to be just like the one in the film to the unique swimmer tokens, these could all be generic. Instead, they add to the thematic experience. Each deck is uniquely backed and easy to tell apart, with each symbol clearly explained and text easy to read.
It seems that Prospero Hall has done it again, transposing Jaws from one medium to another. The game is visually stunning and with the iconic licence it pulls players in, regardless of if they are a hobby veterans or not. None of the actions available are complicated but add together to make for interesting decisions. Each game ends up being close, building the excitement that anything could happen. With the powerful feeling abilities Jaws allows each player to feel like they have somehow impacted the course of the game. Whether some of these are unbalanced only serious continued play could tell. One thing’s for sure, this is a Jaws board game that does the film justice and is super fun to play!
[Editor’s Note: Jaws was provided to us by Ravensburger for the review.]