Monday, July 8, 2019

Jaws Board Game by Ravensburger

Cody tries out the new Jaws board game.

Jaws has been one of my favorite movies ever since I was a little kid, when watching it traumatized me so badly that I had recurring nightmares about sharks for years. The primal fear it stirs up within me has never stopped me from watching it regularly, so when it was announced that Ravensburger was teaming with Universal to turn the concept of Jaws into a board game, I was very curious to see how it would turn out... And now that I have had the chance to play through the game twice, I can say that this Jaws fan was very happy with it.

There are two acts of gameplay to this game, and you can choose to play either act anytime you want, but if you really want to get the full Jaws experience in a way that doesn't require coming anywhere near the ocean, you'll want to play Act 1 and Act 2 back-to-back. The game is for up to four players, with one person playing as the shark while three others play as the shark-hunting characters Brody, Quint, and Hooper. No matter how many people are playing at one time, all four of these characters must be involved. If three people are playing one would be the shark while the other two decide how they want to split up playing the three humans, if there are two players one would be the shark while the other controls all of the humans. You could play by yourself, if you can figure out how to not have your choices for the shark influence your choices for the humans, or vice versa.

Act 1 is set on Amity Island, with a representation of the island taking up one side of the game board. The shark is lurking in the water around the island, making secret moves that the other players cannot see - while there is a little shark figure, it's not meant to be moved around on the board like you usually do in a game. That only comes out when a human character uses one of the tools at their disposal to figure out where the shark is currently located on the board. Brody, Quint, and Hooper are represented my little meeples; Brody is the black one, Quint the green one, Hooper the blue one. It would have been neat if the figures actually resembled the characters instead of being colorful little people-shaped things, but that's fine, I have enough imagination to believe these things are Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss.

There are some recognizable characters on the swimmer pieces, including Harry with his bad hat (I was really glad to see that guy made it into the game) and Brody's son Michael in his boat. Memorable moments from the film are also featured on the "Amity Event" cards that are drawn to give the human characters directions and tell the players how many swimmers should be placed at each one of the four beaches on the board.

The shark moves from beach to beach gobbling up swimmers when it has the chance, its objective being to eat a total of nine swimmers. If the shark succeeds, that's it for Act 1. The human characters do their best to impede the shark's progress, with Quint and Hooper hunting the shark and moving around the water parts of the board in their boats while Brody helps them out from land. The humans are able to rescue swimmers if they're in a beach space, Brody can close a beach for at least a couple rounds, and Brody and Hooper also work to get barrels over to Quint, since he's the only character who can use them. Quint is able to drop barrels to work as motion sensors in parts of the board (the shark has to notify the other players when they move through a space that has a barrel in it), or if he's close enough to where the shark is located he can launch a barrel directly into it. If the shark gets two barrels attached to it, the game moves on to Act 2.

The gameplay for Act 1 is very simple and fun, and in my two playthroughs I got to experience both possible outcomes - the first time, the shark ate nine swimmers, and the second time it got two barrels attached to it. Both times it took around 30 minutes to get through the Act, so it goes by quick and I think it's something I'll be wanting to play again with some regularity.

Once Act 1 is over, the board is flipped over for Act 2. When you first look at the Act 2 side of the board, there's not much there, just some water with debris floating in it. If you're playing a human character, you won't want to see this again during the round, because tiles are added to the board to offer an overheard view of Quint's boat the Orca. The game has now entered the "adventure at sea" part of the Jaws story, with Brody, Quint, and Hooper all on board the boat.

At first, Act 2 seems like it's going to be quite complicated compared to the first act. You've got damage points on the titles, resurface cards, shark abilities and crew abilities (the amount of each depends on how many swimmers the shark ate in the previous act), resurface tokens, target tokens, dice... There are a lot of pieces required for this part of the game and there was some trial and error, but it's actually not too tough to figure out. When you break it down to the basics, it simply involves the shark deciding which part of the boat to attack each round (there are eight tiles to the boat, and resurface cards give three options each round) while the crew tries to guess which part the shark will go for so they can hopefully cause more damage to the shark than it causes to the boat.

Using weapons like a rifle, a pistol, a machete, a hammer, and yes, an oxygen canister, among other things, the humans have to dole out 18 damage points to the shark to be able to kill it, meanwhile the shark is able to damage and destroy sections of the Orca. If a human character is standing on a part of the boat that gets destroyed, they fall into the water and the shark is able to attack them. Unless they have a shark cage card. If someone receives enough damage points, they're out of the game, and if the shark manages to completely destroy the Orca, the humans lose the game.

Act 2 took slightly longer to play than Act 1, but no more than an extra 10 minutes I'd say. Both times the outcome was the same: the shark lost. This is despite the fact that it had some serious advantages in one playthrough, since it had eaten nine swimmers in Act 1. It did manage to destroy a lot of the Orca, though, and even removed one human character from the game - just like in the movie, it was Quint who didn't make it to the end. Humans better watch out when I play this game again in the future, because after losing these times the shark is ready to get some revenge.

Ravensburger has done an incredible job here, and I highly recommend picking this game up if you're a Jaws fan. The people who put it together were clearly fans of the movie themselves, and this game serves as a great tribute to it. It's a lot of fun to play, and the more familiar you are with the movie the more fun you'll have.

The Jaws game is available for purchase exclusively at Target.

This review originally appeared on

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