Tabletop Game Review: Jaws

Tabletop Game Review: Jaws

Jaws by Ravensberger
60 minutes
Perfect for: 
Fans of the cinema classic, and players who enjoy combative deduction.

Jaws is a game of hunted vs. hunters. “I’m talkin’ about sharkin’!” as Quint (Robert Shaw) exclaimed in the 1975 iconic film of the same name by Steven Spielberg. In this adaptation, one player takes on the role of the shark (call yourself Bruce if you’d like), while the remaining players control Quint, Hooper, and Brody. Through a combination of deduction and a little bit of luck, each side tries to outwit the other.

For those less familiar with, or need a refresher on the movie, Jaws is the story of a great white shark that terrorizes the beach destination of Amity Island during the peak summer season. As things escalate, three men work together to eliminate the shark: police chief Brody (Roy Schneider), marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and “sharker” Quint. The first half of the film takes places mostly on land as the three form a plan, while the second half has the trio boarding the Orca to battle the beast at sea. Jaws the board game replicates this structure with gameplay occurring over two acts.

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In Act 1: Amity Island, the shark circles the land through 12 marked water spaces, attempting to eat unsuspecting swimmers. The player controlling the shark moves in secret, only announcing when they’ve had a snack (and where). At the same time, the humans attempt to deduce where the shark is by collecting and dropping barrels—when two barrels are dropped on the shark (i.e. the human launches a barrel while in the same space as the shark), Jaws moves onto the next phase of the game. The number of swimmers eaten or protected gives each team benefits in the subsequent act.

In Act 2: The Orca, the board is flipped to the reverse side, with eight reversible tiles representing the boat the human characters are defending. In each round, three options (in the form of randomly drawn cards) show where the shark can pop out of the water and attack the boat. The shark player strategically chooses in secret which space of the three options they want to emerge. Meanwhile, the humans can move around the boat and decide which space they want to target, using a variety of ranged and melee weapons at their disposal. If the shark player destroys the boat or eats the people, they win. If Brody, Quint, and Hooper can kill the shark, they win.

What works in Jaws is the thematic adaptation to the style of game. While many tabletop games attempt to leverage a franchise or property to capitalize on its popularity, few consider the source tone and narrative as expertly as Jaws the game. Hidden movement and deduction games aren’t new, but the mechanics as tailored work perfectly in Jaws as each side tries to outsmart the other. The gameplay offers a thrilling tension that mimics the film incredibly well. The game also feels very balanced, thanks to the addition of powerups that can tip the scales towards one team or another. For example, during Act 1 the shark can exhaust a special card to move extra spaces to elude the humans, and in Act 2 the hunters can use gear they’ve obtained to inflict extra damage on the shark. The multitude of strategies players can employ keep Jaws incredibly engaging and demanding of multiple playthroughs.

While Jaws offers great competitive play, those unfamiliar with (or disinterested in) the original film might not get as much value from this title. Ravensberger has done such an exceptional job grafting the littlest details into the game in a way that feels natural, but those nuances likely won’t be appreciated by non-fans. Finally, while Act 1 is heavy on strategy; Act 2 does introduce some element of randomization that pushes up the luck factor. For those who enjoy their deduction games to be entirely skill based, this may prove less enjoyable.

Jaws is the rare film-to-game adaptation that works incredibly well. The design is thoughtful and gameplay is highly interactive. For fans of the movie, this is a must-get game.

Recommended if you like: Mr. Jack, Scotland Yard, The Thing

Final Grade: A

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Fox Troilo

Fox serves as an entertainment journalist in the Washington, D.C. When not covering cinematic news for LRM, he critiques films as a member of the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Fox also has a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Strategy from Indiana University Bloomington.

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