The world’s greatest film about a shark, is now the world’s only game where the shark can finally win.
Players: 2 – 4 Best with: 4
Age: 12+ GN Age: Pre-Teen
Game Type: Board Time: 60 minutes
Publisher/Year: Ravensburger / 2019
Game Play: Deduction, Stealth, Asymetrical
Available from: All retailers
Score: out of 12
To celebrate the Fourth of July, I went all-in on a Jaws themed weekend. First, I made everybody watch the world’s best movie about the non-frenzied feeding of a large squalus, aka “Three Men and a Boat”. Then I made them go to the beach, and “get in the water” while I wore my best anchor motif suit. Then I made them play the latest game in Ravensburger Games’ Universal movie tie-ins… “Horrified”.
I’m kidding, it was Jaws.
Before I get to the game, I just want to say that having not seen the film whole from start to finish in years, it really holds up as a great film even 45 years later. When you consider that this was the first major film of the greatest director of our generation, Steven Speilberg, and it was the highest grossing film at the time, and the birth of the summer blockbuster, its legacy is undeniable.
A tense, taut Hitchcockian thriller, it is a simple story perfectly told, filled with realistic people, endlessly quotable dialog, beautiful composition, and masterful editing. And when you compare the first act to our current pandemic, the film is a prophetic parable about society, our state of denial and lack of unified leadership. As a film school geek, I could go on and on about a film like this, but this isn’t Siskel & Ebert. We review games, not celluloid!
Jaws the Boardgame is really two separate games; both centered around the two main acts of the movie. Act 1 – The community of Amity Island serves themselves up as a smorgasbord for a perfect eating machine. Act 2 – Three idiots jump onto a sinking boat to go mano-e-fisho with baseball bats and hammers.
Act 1 plays out on and around Amity Island as the three main stars; Brody, Hooper, and Quint try to track Jaws as it eats all the beach goers who inexplicably KEEP GOING IN THE WATER! What is wrong with these people?
We loved this part of the game, which plays like a briny, bait-filled deduction/mystery game akin to Letters from Whitechapel, but with the shark as the homicidal maniac.
One person plays as Jaws. He makes all his plans to eat swimmers and evade capture in secret, writing them down on a Shark Tracker sheet. That player then tells the others how many people he ate, at what beach, and if he triggered any motion sensor buoys that get placed around the ocean. The other players try to deduce where the shark might be and coordinate their actions to try and box the shark in. Along the way, they also have to keep rescuing swimmers before they turn into lunch. And yet, THEY KEEP GOING IN THE WATER! Do they all have a death wish?
We love every detail about this half of the game. The map is a good representation of Martha’s Vineyard, the real-life Amity Island. There’s even the iconic billboard, all the beaches have those orange and white changing tents, and North Beach has “The Pond” where Brody’s son, Michael, almost got eaten. We love the boat meeples for Quint and Hooper to sail around the island, and every Amity Event card has a great connection to a scene in the movie affecting that turn in the game. And, of course, each Event card, PUTS MORE SWIMMERS IN THE WATER! You all wanna die? Fine, go in the water! See if I care.
The round ends when either Jaws eats 9 swimmers or the human team can attach two barrels to the shark. By the way, only Quint can shoot a barrel into the shark, but Brody has to deliver them, and Hooper’s boat is faster, so it’s going to take a coordinated effort to accomplish this. But as fun as it was, this is also the only negative to the Act. Like all cooperative games, the plan is usually made by the most vocal player and it can be difficult to incorporate everyone’s input and reach a consensus. Often a turn ends with one player saying, “Whatever. We’ll just do whatever you want.”
In our game, James, played the “shorky”, as he calls it, and proceeded to eat 7 swimmers, which is better than the movie’s 5 victims, before us landlubbers barely managed to end the round. I played as Brody, and I was really invested in getting all the people out if the water, which was often at odds with catching the shark. Andrew played Quint, and true to character, he didn’t care how many stupid people got killed and gladly served them up as bait. Diane played Hooper and didn’t have a huge connection with her role.
We were less impressed with Act 2 which flips the game board over to the open ocean and Quint’s decrepit boat, the Orca. This plays like those RPG lite fighting games with hit points and damage, but does have the unique element of trying to guess where the shark will strike next, who then proceeds to smash the boat to smithereens, and tries to eat anyone who falls in the water. Think Betrayal at House on the Hill except the house keeps getting smaller and smaller as the monster eats it.
To fight the beast, the humans have the aforementioned bats and hammers, plus a machete and a few guns that only have one round each. What? Who forgot to pack the bullets? Meanwhile, the shark has massive, gnashing teeth; huge, gaping jaws, and depending upon how many people he ate in Act 1, a whole bunch of Shark Ability cards that will definitely ruin your fishing trip. Technically, the humans have a few bonus items, like extra ammo or fishing gear, also based upon Jaws’ buffet score, but the more it eats, the fewer you get.
The Act started out ship shape, with the Jaws player choosing one of three possible Resurface location cards and the humans trying to cover all bases to attack it. But eventually, the boat is reduced to a pile of driftwood and there is just no place to hide from your destiny as dinner. The worst is when you actually choose to go into the water. Even when its good for your game, it gutturally feels like a really bad idea.
Although the Act is filled with tension; the shark is vastly over-powered but it is outnumbered by pesky humans, the Act lacked excitement. In fact, many of the later rounds felt like a slog. As the boat gets smaller, the guesswork is eliminated entirely and everyone is reduced to just one attack type. “I guess I’ll hit it with my hammer. Again. Oh great, I rolled a zero. Again.” Even Jaws got bored of just biting people.
But 90% of the game was good fun. And true to the movie, our humans barely defeated the shark while clinging to the last remaining chunk of unsunk ship. Except that Quint didn’t die. He survived with only 1 hit point, but he didn’t die. And it just felt weird. Quint is supposed to die!
The Bottom Fishing Line? The game isn’t perfect, and we prefer the first half over the second, but it stays remarkably faithful to the movie, and is filled with fun tension and apprehension. Both Acts came down to the round where either the shark or the humans could have won. Both my kids liked it, and everyone wanted to have a turn playing the titular Great White Shark. One last note about playing with kids; the game is easy enough to be understood by 10 year-olds, but themematically they might need to be a little bit older.
If you are a fan of the movie or just like games where you get to eat your friends then I would put this in your tackle box. And you’re gonna need a bigger boat. Or at least a bigger game shelf.
As always, smile you son of a bitch, and Game On!
If you open the beaches on the Fourth of July, it’s like ringing the Dinner Bell! – Chief Brody