Dale Yu: Review of Jaws


  • Designer: Prospero Hall
  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Ravensburger USA

Jaws is the new game about an old movie that has hit the store shelves this summer.  In this game, players relive the struggle between the huge shark and the Crew thrown together to fight it. Jaws is played over two Acts, though each can be played separately if you are short on time.

Act 1

Act 1 is set on Amity Island, and as such, you’ll use the Amity Island side of the double sided board.  One player is the Shark, and the other players choose which Crew member they will be (Brody, Quint, Hooper).  Each player gets their character card and the special items that go with them. The crew is trying to locate the shark and attach two Barrels to it, all the while trying to protect the poor swimmers.  The Shark also gets a card, which tracks how many Swimmer Snacks he has eaten.

The Shark also gets 4 special power tokens, each with a special action printed on it. The Shark also has a Tracker Pad which the Shark player uses to mark down his location (there are twelve different water locations on the board).  The shark secretly picks somewhere to start from. There is a deck of Amity Event cards which is shuffled and placed near the board.

There are 3 Phases to each round.  In the Event Phase, the top Event card is exposed and swimmers are placed onto the board and the Event is read out loud – some events happen immediately and some happen later.  In the Shark Phase, the shark takes up to 3 actions: moving to adjacent spaces, eating swimmers in the same space. The Shark can also use one of his 4 power tokens. The whole turn is planned secretly, recorded on the Tracker sheet, and then when the Shark is done, he tells the Crew the result of his turn (but not the order in which the things happened).  The Shark must also notify the Crew which (if any) motion sensors were activated – this occurs any time the Shark is in the same space as a floating Barrel. The one use power tokens allow the shark to: eat ALL the swimmers in a space, to not trigger any motion sensors, to move 3 spaces in one Move action OR to avoid the Binoculars/Fish Finder special action.  In the Crew phase, each Crew member takes a turn in which they take up to 4 actions such as : moving, rescuing swimmers, picking up or deploying barrels, or using a special action specific to them. The Crew members can go in any order, but one Crew turn must finish before the next player can go. If one of the round end conditions has been met – 2 barrels attached to the shark (a special action only done by Quint) OR 9 swimmers eaten, then Act end.  Otherwise, another round is played.

Act 2

In Act 2, the game moves into the showdown between the crew on the Orca and the shark in the water.  Refer to the Shark’s card and distribute Gear cards to the crew and Ability cards to the Shark based on the number of Swimmers that were eaten in Act 1.  The Crew members all flip the character card over to the other side, and they place a clip at the zero of the Wound track. The Orca is built out of the 8 corresponding tiles.   The Flow of Act 2 is a little more complicated…

First, 3 Resurface cards are dealt from the deck and placed in the A, B and C slots on the board.  Each of these cards shows a boat sector where the Shark could emerge. Also, special actions as well as the number of attack dice for the Shark are shown on the card.  The shark has tokens labeled A, B and C, and he chooses one of these and places it face down near the board to decide where he will appear this round. Next, the crew chooses their actions – they can move around the boat or in/out of the water, they choose a weapon from the Gear cards, and then they place their target token in the water space where they think the shark will appear.

The shark player then reveals his chosen location, and the Shark Mover is placed on the board in that space. If the Shark player chose to play one of his ability cards, it is now shown and put into play.   Next, all Crew members who chose the correct space (i.e. their target marker is in the same space as the Shark mover) get a chance to attack the shark. Dice are rolled and the number of hits are calculated.  If the hits are equal or less than the Shake’s evade value on the card, nothing happens. If more hits are shown than Evade level, the excess number of hits actually hit the Shark; the Shark moves the marker on his wound track accordingly.  Now, the shark gets its turn to attack – either the boat (in any adjacent space) or a crew member (if in an adjacent water space). If attacking the boat, the dice are rolled as shown on the card, and the number of Hits are calculated. Each boat space has a value on it for being damaged or outright destroyed.  If attaching a crew member, each hit simply counts against that crew member, there is no evasion. Finally, the shark gets one bonus die roll against each crew member in its space or adjacent to it.

The game ends if all the Crew members are dead OR all the boat tiles are destroyed – in this case, the Shark wins.  The game also ends if the Shark has been killed – in this case, the Crew win. If none of these has occurred, another round is played.

My thoughts on the game

Jaws, like Horrified (the other major Ravensburger summer 2019 release), relies upon the gamer’s sense of nostalgia – of wanting to relive and re-enact stories from some of their favorite movies from the past.  Jaws has an interesting format of lumping together two different mini-games together in the box to give the game story arc more like the movie on which it’s based on.

The first Act is really just a prolonged setup phase for the main battle.  Neither side can win nor lose the game in the first Act, though an extreme result in either direction can definitely make life much more difficult for the side which did poorly in the first Act.  The rules say that each can be played separately but I really don’t know if I would think that Act 1 alone would be a fulfilling game. It’s enjoyable enough to play, but if I were in a rush, I could probably skip this phase and just handicap the second Act based on the relative strengths of the Shark player and the Crew players.

The second Act is a more complicated and more intense affair.  Each round starts with the guessing game of where the shark is going to emerge.  Will the shark choose the card which gives it the strongest attack, or maybe choose one of the other two cards because that card is too obvious and clearly all of the Crew will choose that juicy spot?  Then, it comes down to lady luck, because even if you can read the other player’s mind, you gotta be able to roll the hits on the dice to create any damage.

The game does a good job of re-enacting the movie, but it does lead to a fairly unidimensional game.  This isn’t the sort of game where you can develop different strategies – each side has a well defined goal, and there appears to be one path to get there.  The course of each game may be a little different based on the cards (i.e. the different number of cards each side gets to start the second Act and/or which cards are in play/out of play), but in the end, it is still comes down to guessing correctly on where the shark is going to be and then rolling well.

I have played on both sides in the game, and I think that both experiences were equal.  There is some satisfaction being the shark and getting to eat all those yummy swimmers. There is more of a puzzle being on the Crew, and the obvious addition of the teamwork aspect.  There is some chance for quarterbacking on the Crew side, but it is not that strong. Anyways, each player seems to have a pretty set path/strategy so usually the biggest decision is on which order to go in.

The game has been fun to play, but one that I think won’t last more than the summer here.  While I am fairly sure that making games tied into popular movie IP properties works well for sales, I’ll admit that I miss the older Ravensburger titles that were great games on their own merit and didn’t require pop culture IP to attract me to it.  And yes, I fully realize that my dissatisfaction in this trend is far outweighed by the multitude of buyers at Target and other big box stores who wouldn’t look at the game otherwise. And it’s really hard to begrudge success like that. None of the recent Ravensburger games with IP tie ins have been my cup of tea (Villanous, Horrified, Jaws), but almost all of my casual gaming friends have asked me about these titles and/or own them already.  So, I’m guessing we’ll continue seeing games in this vein in the future. I’ll keep hoping that a game like this will get my friends to the table, and then I can teach them how to play Vegas or Castles of Burgundy afterwards.

I’ll also admit that if I had a blinged up handmade copy like Scott F (a good friend of the Opinionated Gamers), the game might be more exciting – here is his custom 3D printed Act 2 setup – note there are 2 ships, one with damaged pieces and one pristine. The attention to detail is amazing…

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Brandon: I think that each act separately would be more fun than playing them back to back. Dale is correct though, the first half is probably the weaker of the two and would need some serious tweaking to be a fun win or lose situation. It’s interesting, thematic, and true to the original source, but it almost seems to me that the game is streamlined into this funnel where you know how the game is going to end, each and every time. You don’t know if the Shark will win, or the crew, but it’s going to come down to the wire, it’s built to be exciting, and it will be exciting the first time you do it, but when it happens each time regardless of how that first act plays out and sets up the second act, you begin to think that the game is kind of on rails and that maybe you should just skip to the end of each game and just get it over with. With our group I will say that  it has played long and clunky, so it’s streamlined in destination, but not in getting there. It has a place, I am sure. It’s going to sell because of that IP tie in, and where it is at for sales, but I question why these games end up getting more attention than a good cooperative game like Pandemic on the shelves at Target or Wal Mart, or even a good one vs many game like, Scotland Yard. Maybe in a couple years we will see the folks who have jumped into gaming because of these new Ravensburger/Forest Pruzan/Prospero Hall/Big G/Funko games and they’ve moved on, but something tells me that retail gaming is where a lot of these folks will stay, regardless of how many quality games we try to steer them to, and that’s probably fine. Make no mistake, this is better than Kenny G Keepin’ it Saxy, but that’s not saying a whole lot. 

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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