Jaws (Board Game)

, in Board Games

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Jaws Box Art
Jaws might be the only family game that features a nude woman on the box art
Amity Island has a little shark problem. With one player controlling the shark, can the other three players stop them from turning the beaches into floating buffets?

Jaws is a unusual game that mirrors the original film very closely. Exactly why publisher Ravensburger AG decided that 2019 was the perfect time to release a game closely based on a 1975 film is unclear but I cannot find fault with the way they used the license. The artwork matches the film precisely and the game is cleverly designed so that events play out almost exactly like the plot.

Jaws is actually two completely different games. The first (Act 1) covers the first half of the film, where Brody, Quint, and Hooper tool around Amity Island trying to save the idiotic swimmers from becoming lunch while the shark prowls around using a hidden movement mechanic. The humans have different tools at their disposal to detect and hinder the shark player and must work together to narrow down the possible shark locations.

Once a certain number of swimmers have been eaten (or if the humans manage to attach 2 barrels to the shark) then the plot moves on to Act 2 in which the humans take the fight to the shark in a boat that is just a little too small. This takes the form of a high stakes guessing game where the shark is trying to outwit the humans, avoiding their attacks while slowly destroying the boat.

This game is a real treat for fans of the film. Perfect production values and a lot of neat little callbacks make this a fun reminder of what a great film Jaws was.

But Jaws' greatest strength is also a fatal weakness. 1975 was a long time ago and only one of the people I played this with the first time was familiar with the film and the characters. So much of the charm of this game is wrapped up in the lore of the film - those who haven't seen it will be confused.

None of this would matter if the game was fantastic; sadly it is only pretty good. Having two acts is fun but means you have to set up, learn, and teach two different games just to play a session. And neither of those games is particularly strong by themselves. Act 1 is fun for the shark, who can wreak havoc if they get lucky. The humans have to work together, which can lead to one player taking control in an non-fun way.

Amity Island setup - as shown in the Jaws manual
Amity Island setup - as shown in the Jaws manual

Act 2 is more even but is also more random, although I can confirm that destroying the board by munching sections of the boat is incredibly satisfying. There is strategy on both sides but a lot of the combat comes down to rolling dice which is a little strange coming after the highly tactical first act.

I do not want to dump on Jaws too much. If you have fond memories of the film then Jaws provides a good portion of gleeful pleasure as the plot unfolds. Also the game is cheap enough to be pretty good value for money.

However, I think that the game is just too slight to justify the complexity of the two acts. You would be better just playing two better games instead.