In 1975, Stephen Spieldberg’s Jaws premiered and reportedly scared an entire generation out of the water. It ranks atop my best horror movies of all time, and “Bruce,” the name given the animatronic shark, is nestled within my list of the scariest horror movies monsters.
So when I saw a licensed Jaws tabletop game, I simply could not resist. I was drawn to it like a shark to blood in the water. But would its play give me the elation of the original film, or the disappointment of Jaws: The Revenge?
Playing the Jaws Tabletop Game
Like The OP’s Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist, Jaws from Ravensburger Games is an asymmetrical one versus many game that plays over the course of multiple Acts; in this case two.
In the first act, the shark circles Amity Island eating up swimmers while avoiding Quint’s floating barrels. A series of event cards populate the various beaches with swimmers, and Quint, Brody, and Hooper race around rescuing swimmers, closing beaches, and trying to locate the shark so as to attach two of the yellow barrels to him–triggering Act 2.
The shark moves in secret on a little writing pad, and only reveals his location if he trips a motion sensor, comes up on Hooper’s fish finder, or is spotted by Brody from the beach.
Swimmers that he eats are tracked on the player board. The more swimmers he noms before he’s stuck with two of Quint’s barrels, the more Shark Ability cards he’ll have to work with in Act 2 and the fewer Equipment cards the crew will have at their disposal. If he manages to munch 9 swimmers before being stuck with two barrels, the game immediately moves to Act 2.
In Act 2, the crew rush around the Orca as Jaws surfaces at one of three possible locations to try and demolish the boat entirely or eat all of its crew (his win conditions). The crew win if they can successfully kill the shark before either of those goals are achieved; targeting the possible surfacing locations with various weapons in the hopes of scoring hits.
The boat is built by assembling 8 tiles which show each section’s Damaged threshold and Destroyed threshold. Cards from the Resurface deck determine which three locations Jaws may surface at, as well as various other information like the number of attack die used and any bonuses to the shark’s defense.
The shark chooses the location secretly, the crew arranges themselves onboard and targets spaces as they see fit with their equipped weapons, the shark surfaces, the crew attacks, and finally the shark deals damage to the boat before submerging and readying for the next round.
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Jaws
The double-sided game board (one for each Act) is beautiful and compact. It seems smaller than your average board which means you don’t need a ton of table space to play it, which is nice. (Yeah, the title to this post is misleading, but I couldn’t well put “Die you son of a b@#$^!” up there, so deal.)
The player boards are also double-sided and display all the relevant turn order rules for each Act as well as any player abilities, which keeps you from having to constantly refer to the rulebook. I also really dig using the little red sliders to track information as opposed to more tokens.
The tokens the game does include are super sturdy cardboard printed on both sides. The tiles you use to construct the Orca are particular standouts!
The only ding I’d give Jaws on this front are the wooden player tokens. They are serviceable, but I’d have liked to have seen more of the IP applied to them. Maybe some plastic minis would have been neat! The boats in particular are clunky and unappealing.
In Act 1, the only bit of luck comes by way of the Amity Event cards which populate the beaches with swimmers for the shark’s eating pleasure, but it is pretty minimal. Stealthy strategy is the name of this Act; staying hidden pays off big time!
There are also four Power Tokens that the shark can use to shake up his movement and abilities to keep them from being so predictable that he’s too easily tracked.
In Act 2, dice are rolled for damaging the Orca, the crew, and the shark, so there’s a bit of luck there. Targeting squares can be done in such a way that you’re unlikely to completely whiff round to round if you play things smart. I’d argue that the biggest piece of luck in the game is which Shark Ability cards the shark draws. Some of them feel much more powerful than others!
The IP is applied pretty well across the whole game. While there are no likenesses of Roy Scheider (Brody), Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper), or Robert Shaw (Quint), that isn’t exactly a surprise.
The box art is lifted right off the original movie poster, the vandalized billboard adorns the cover of the rule book, and even the tiny swimmers on the tokens are lifted straight out of the film. Heck, even the box’s insert features the print of one of Mayor Vaughn’s suits (a touch I adore)!
I don’t think you necessarily have to be a major fan of the film in order to enjoy the Jaws tabletop game. You do need to be a fan of asymmetry and secret maneuvering versus deduction as both Acts feature that style of gameplay. It lessens a bit in Act 2 given that the shark can only appear in one of three prescribed spaces, but it’s still there, for sure.
The two Acts feel very different to me. In the first, it is a heated race between shark and man to determine who is going to have the upper hand in the second Act. That being the case, if it swings to the extreme one way or the other, you might enter the second Act feeling a bit off-put if you underperformed or invincible if you saw great success.
That said, don’t let the number of cards you get as the crew or the shark fool you! This game would be a total stinker if the first Act too heavily determined the outcome of the second. Why play the second Act at all if that was the case?
Don’t get me wrong: If you “won” the first Act (ie if your goal is achieved and triggers Act 2), you’re going to have the advantage for sure! But don’t let an “L” in Act 1 convince you that Act 2 is a lost cause. I’ve seen the shark sweep the first Act and still loose in the second. And by “I’ve seen” I mean “I was the shark.” *Sad trombone*
Does the Jaws Tabletop Game Have Teeth?
Overall, I’d give the Jaws tabletop game a solid 8 out of 10. Easy to learn, easy to set up, and fun to play. While it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a string of movie quotes as you play like Die Hard: Nakatomi Heist, it is still a well applied IP with gameplay that feels very much like the movie.
As a lover of all things Jaws, the game also feels like a collectible to me; one I will display prominently in my home. The officially licensed art makes this a killer add to any Jaws enthusiast’s collection.
Snatch yourself a copy of the Jaws tabletop game from Amazon for the totally-worth-it (again: speaking as a major Jaws fan if you missed that) price of $30! My fandom aside, if you’re a fan of asymmetrical deduction games, that price point is worth it as well.