One recent change in the board game hobby is that we are now seeing a number of excellent licenced board games. By which I mean fantastic, fun to play, games that are based on an existing property. For years boardgames based on an established licence were mostly trash. Jaws is the perfect example of a modern licenced board game, a game that lives up to its name and is a great game at the same time.
Jaws is a one vs. many board game broken into two acts. One player plays the shark and up to three other players control popular characters from the Jaws movie.
Disclosure: Ravensburger was cool enough to provide me with a review copy of Jaws, no other compensation was provided. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What do you get with Jaws the Board Game?
Jaws was designed by Propero Hall and published by Ravensburger in 2019. It plays two to four players and a full game can take a bit over an hour depending on the player count and the amount of discussion between the main character players.
To see what you get in a new copy of Jaws the board game, check out our Jaws unboxing video on Youtube.
One of the first things you will note when you get a copy of Jaws is that there is no shrink wrap on the game. If you notice this when you see it in a store, this is normal. Many game companies are reducing the use of shrink wrap in an effort to be more environmentally friendly. Instead of shrink wrap, the game is taped shut.
On top of everything, you will find the instruction book. This is extremely well-produced with plenty of artwork, clear text, many call-outs and sidebars, and lots of gameplay examples. It is pretty much everything you could want in a rulebook. The cover of the rule book also includes directions on where to find a how-to-play video, something that is becoming more and more common these days. The core rules are twelve pages in total, including rules for a variant that allows you to play the two episodes as separate games.
The game board is rather small, only consisting of two panels. It is double-sided, one side showing Amity Island and the other showing a sunken boat. It’s a very solid mounted board.
There are a few punch boards included that have things like swimmers, target tokens, various pieces of equipment, barrels, shark special ability tokens, ship parts and more. All of these are of decent quality and double-sided.
The box also has a basic cardboard insert, which divides the box into three sections of various sizes. One area looks to be sized to hold cards, included sleeved ones, whereas the other spots could be used for whatever you want.
The game also includes a Shark Tracker. This is a small booklet that has a map of Amity Island on the inside cover and is filled with a pad of shark movement sheets. There are a ton of these, I can’t see ever running out.
There are three custom red D6 dice that are used for shark attacks in part two. There are four clips, used to track health during the game as well as the number of swimmers the shark eats. These clip onto one of the four character cards. The cards are thick cardboard and there is one for the shark and one for each of the three characters you can play from the movie: Hooper, Brody and Quint. Each of these cards is two-sided and includes a rule summary and the possible actions that each character can do.
There is a bag of wooden components. These include a meeple for each of the characters, two boats and a fantastic looking shark meeple.
Finally, there are a few decks of cards, including Crew Gear cards (a set of generic ones and a set of specific ones for each of the three characters), Shark Ability cards, Resurface cards and Amity Event cards.
Playing Jaws the Board Game
In Jaws one player takes on the role of the shark while the other players play Hooper, Brody and Quint. When playing with four players, each character is controlled by a different player. When playing with two players one player is the shark and the other player controls all three of the humans. When playing with three players, one of the human characters is shared between the two non-shark players.
A game of Jaws is broken into two acts and the results of the first act impact the second act.
The shark attempts to eat as many swimmers as possible while the characters try to attach two barrels to the shark and protect the swimmers.
Each round starts off by flipping over the top card of the Amity Event deck. This will instruct players to place a certain number of swimmers onto various beaches on the map and may include some additional rules that will impact that round of the game.
Each character in the game, including the shark, has its own set of rules for this act.
The shark gets up to three actions each round, which can be to either eat a swimmer at the location they are at or move one zone on the map to a new location. In addition, the shark starts the game with four special abilities. They can use one of these each round. The abilities include Feeding Frenzy (eating all of the swimmers at a location with only one action), Evasive Moves (not triggering motion sensors), Out of Sight (avoiding the binoculars and the fish finder), and Speed Burst (moving up to three zones with one action).
The shark also tracks the number of swimmers they have eaten using their player board. If the shark ever gets to nine swimmers Act 1 ends.
All of these actions are taken in secret using the Shark Tracker pad. The only thing that the shark needs to tell the other players is how many swimmers they have eaten and where, and which, if any, motion sensors they’ve tripped.
After the shark acts the movie characters get to go. They can go in any order of the player’s choosing. Each character gets four actions in a round and each has their own set of choices.
Quint pilots his boat, the Orca, in the water around Amity and can do the following: move to an adjacent zone, rescue one swimmer, pick up any number of barrels from his current location, or launch a barrel in the water.
If a launched barrel hits the shark, the shark meeple is placed on the board and the shark player takes that barrel and places it onto their player board. Once the shark has two barrels on it this act ends. Barrels that don’t hit the shark are placed on the game board. Each barrel has a motion sensor on it and during the shark’s turn, if they move through a square containing a barrel, the shark player must inform the other players that they’ve set off a sensor.
Brody helps from the shore. For his actions, Brody can: move one zone, rescue one swimmer at his location, pick up one barrel at the shop, drop off one barrel at a dock, use the binoculars to try to spot the shark, or close a beach if currently at the Mayor’s Office or the Police Department.
If Brody uses the binoculars, the shark player has to let the other player(s) know if they are located at the beach that they were used at. If they are at that beach, the shark meeple gets placed there. Closing a beach means that no new swimmers are placed on that beach during the event phase. When the first swimmer would be placed the Beach Closed token is flipped to the Opening Soon side and when a second swimmer would be placed the token is removed.
Hooper pilots his speed board around the island. Hooper’s character gets to choose between the following options: move up to two zones, rescue a swimmer, pick up all the barrels at his current location, give barrels to Quint if they are in the same zone, and use the fish finder.
When the fish finder is used the shark player must tell the other players if they are in the zone it is used in. In addition, they must also tell the other players if they are in a zone adjacent to where the fish finder was used.
Play continues, round after round, first with an event, then with the shark acting, then with the characters each taking their actions, until either the shark has eaten nine swimmers or the characters have managed to attach two barrels to the shark.
At the start of Act 2, the shark receives a number of random Shark Ability cards. The number of cards the shark gets is based on how many swimmers they managed to eat in Act 1.
The characters each get their specific Crew Gear cards as well as a number of random Crew Gear Cards, again based on how many swimmers the shark managed to eat in round one. The fewer swimmers eaten, the more gear the characters have.
The board gets flipped to the Orca side and a boat tile is placed on each spot on the board. The characters then decide where they want to be on the boart.
Each round three Resurface cards are drawn and placed alongside the board. These show three potential locations for the shark to surface in the coming round. They also include some additional information including the amount of damage dice the shark will roll on an attack and the sharks evade value which is used when the characters attack the shark.
The shark takes three tokens, A, B and C, each corresponding to one of the three Resurface cards, picks one of the tokens and places it face down in front of them. In addition, they may choose one Shark Ability card to play.
Each of the three characters can then move up to two locations on the boat, or climb back into the boat if they’ve been knocked in the water. Each character then picks one weapon from their crew cards to use and places a target token on the location where they plan to use that weapon. Ranged weapons can target anywhere on the board but melee weapons can only target an adjacent location. Characters can also play additional Crew Gear cards, like Chum which causes the shark character to flip up one of their unplayed tokens and gives the crew a better idea on where the shark may show up.
Once all of the characters have determined their target, the shark flips their location token up and places the Jaws meeple in the spot where they surfaced. If any of the crew’s targeting tokens are in that spot those crew members get to attack. This is done using the damage dice, with the number of dice that the character rolls being based on the weapon used. The evasion value of the Resurface card chosen reduces the damage taken, with any leftover hurting hits the shark. If the shark runs out of life points, the crew wins the game.
After any crew members with targets at the right spot attack, the shark then attacks. The shark can attack any crew member in the water at their spot or in an adjacent spot, or they can attack the boat itself in any adjacent spot. The shark rolls a number of dice, based on what the current resurface card shows.
Each boat section has two numbers, the first is the number of hits required to damage that location and the second is the amount required to totally destroy that section. When a section is damaged it is flipped to the opposite side and when a damaged section is hit again it is removed from the game. The shark wins if they manage to completely destroy the Orca.
When the sark attacks crew members, they take damage equal to the number of hits rolled and if any of them run out of health they are out of the game. The shark also wins if they manage to remove all of the crew.
Play continues until either all of the crew are dead, the boat has completely sunk, or the shark is dead. The shark dying results in a shared crew victory, whereas any other result has the shark player winning.
In addition to these rules, there is also a variant included which allows players to play a single act as a full game.
Overall thoughts on Jaws the board game
First off, I feel I need to start out by saying that I’ve never seen the movie Jaws. This means that I had no preconceived notions of what to expect from the game, nor do I really know how the two acts in the board game tie into the movie. I also have no strong feelings towards any of the characters. One of the things that actually impressed me about Jaws is that not knowing the movie didn’t do anything to ruin the game for me. Now I will admit, there’s a good chance I may have enjoyed it more had I known the source material.
Jaws is a very solid one vs. many board game. I’m so glad that we are starting to see more and more licenced board games that are actually good games. I have to give Prospero Hall a lot of credit for this. They have been knocking it out of the park with games like this one, as well as games like Disney Villainous, Minecraft Builders & Biomes and the Funkoverse games.
The component quality in Jaws is top-notch, I have absolutely zero complaints. I really dig the two-sided board, especially the compact size of it. The small size means this is the kind of game that I can play at a coffee shop table or outdoors on a patio. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I would play this at the beach, due to the number of small chits and tokens required to play.
I found both acts in Jaws to be fun and both are detailed enough to be standalone games. The combination of the two “mini-games” into one is done really well. I’ve found that different players seem to enjoy different acts more. Also, the people I’ve played with have found that which act they enjoy the most is dependant on which side they play. What I have noticed is that everyone wants to play the shark and everyone who has played the shark seems to prefer gameplay as the shark. This could lead to some interesting “Who gets to be the shark?” moments with some groups.
Over a number of plays, I have noticed that sometimes the game seems to go on a bit longer than I would like. Due to this, I don’t think any group is going to want to play multiple games in a row, allowing each player to be the shark. Though that would be a good solution for when everyone wants to be the shark.
While I can’t really find anything wrong with Jaws, I do have to admit that it’s not a game I find I want to play often. Maybe it’s the fact that I have no personal ties to the licence, or maybe it’s something to do with the gameplay itself. Playing Jaws does almost feel like sitting down to play two different games in a row. Again that’s not a bad thing, but it is something to consider when trying to decide what to play on game night.
Overall, I like Jaws but I don’t love it. I’ve got a rather extensive board game collection and when sitting down trying to decide what to play, Jaws just doesn’t come up that often. That said, if I have some friends over and they note they are fans of the movie, I’d be happy to crack it open and show it off.
If you are a fan of the Jaws movie. you owe it to yourself to try this boardgame. Even if, like me, you have no prior Jaws experience, there’s a lot to like in this game. It’s a very solid one vs. many board game that is worth trying. If you do get a chance to play, I strongly recommend trying the game both as the shark and as one of the characters. The gameplay is different enough that it’s worth seeing things from both sides before making up your mind if this is a game for you and your group.
I am absolutely loving the fact that the number of good licenced board games continues to grow with games like Jaws the board game from Ravensburger. What I would love to know in the comments is, what is your favourite licenced board game?