When I first saw the announcement that Jaws was being released, I was super excited. My favorite movie ever is Jaws, my wife even put together a surprise birthday party a year ago that was Jaws themed. While I was excited, I was also nervous. I didn’t want another Jaws 3D debacle. Let us jump into the gameplay and the all-important question, “is it fun?”
It is asymmetrical with the three humans facing off against the shark. You either play as Sheriff Brody, Hooper, Quint, or the shark. Each of them has their set of skills for either detecting the shark or helping take it down. This plays out of two acts. The first is based around the island where the shark is trying to kill a certain amount of beach goers and Brody et. al. are trying to find the shark and bring him to the surface. The second act happens when the shark either eats enough beach goers or when the heroes attach two barrels to him. There are tons of modifier cards, beach goer placement/addition cards, and weapons cards throughout the whole game.
Brody, unsurprisingly, is stuck on the island during the first act. He brings the barrels to the docks or if at a public office can close a beach. The beaches only remain closed for a limited amount of time. When he drops the barrels off at one of the docks the other two can pick them up. Quint and Hooper are on the Orca and Science vessel. When I was playing Brody, it made this a serious balancing act. We needed barrels badly because we were tracking the shark but the shark was also close to eating enough beach goers to start act two. On top of that it made it difficult because the beach had to be clear before you could close it so you either had to hope that you hadn’t placed any yet or that the shark had eaten enough to allow you to close it. I really loved this balancing act and the difficulty of only being able to deliver to the docks on either side of the island. It kind of made the boats stick close enough to get back to the docks for resupply. We got lucky in our first run through and tagged the shark pretty quickly due to some dumb luck.
Each can pick up barrels that Brody delivers to the docks but only the Orca can use the harpoon gun to attach them to the shark. The science vessel can use a fish finder to search for the shark and will be notified if the shark is close, in the current tile, or nowhere close. Both the Orca and science vessel have to work together to attach barrels because attaching the barrels works a lot like Battleship. Firing a barrel into an area of the ocean and coming up with no-fin (oh yes there will be fish puns) is heartbreaking. However, hitting the shark is pure elation especially when that bastard has eaten a bunch of your citizens. What is nice is when a barrel misses it stays in the water with a motion sensor. If the shark moves through an area with a barrel, he/she has to notify the heroes. During our first playthrough we didn’t have this happen once somehow, the shark was very sneaky and I was bad at being Brody.
Finally, the shark goes around the island eating beach goers and avoiding the three heroes until it hits the limit of victims to start act two. What is especially fin-teresting about the shark is that it is played completely hidden. He/she plays with a book that they seacretly write out their movements and how many people they ate. I really loved that part because it causes some tension. I hate when we get close and then the shark just disappears. It makos it feel like a real cat and mouse situation, similar to the movie.
The second act changes the whole game. The board is flipped over and you build the Orca out of the cards provided. Then each character selects a place and receives their weapons and equipment. The shark gets his special attack cards. Cards are flipped over showing the heroes where the shark can attack from and choose where to move and what weapon to use. While this may sound easy since the shark is limited to only attacking one area of three on the boat, I can assure you that it is not. Not only do you have the difficult choice of gambling and everyone attacking one area or spreading your attacks across all three but if you are stuck with melee weapons you have to be on the section that he could possibly be attacking. The shark gets to seacretly select his attack area. When the shark attacks he takes damage if someone was targeting that area and rolled a decent roll. After damage is dealt to the shark, the shark can then attack the boat. The card flipped for that area has a requisite number written on it for the shark to damage or destroy a section of the boat.
If you are on a section of the boat that the shark attacks and it is damaged or destroyed you are thrown into the water. When there are characters in the water the shark gets a roll to attack each player in the water. There were multiple times where the shark rolled high enough to destroy a section and knock more than one of us in the water. In our first game it played out similar to the movie with Quint dying fairly quickly and sadly at the last-minute Hooper died ending the similarity. Me playing Brody survived unscathed. Just as I dealt the final blow all I could think was, “smile you son of a bitch.” The shark was dismayed as all but the upper deck of the boat had been sunk.
Jaws was surprisingly fun and a game that I bring with me to any game meetup. The asymmetrical aspect of the game is well balanced and allows for real tension to build for both sides. We were essentially one attack away from losing to the shark and I had gotten lucky that someone put an enduring effect on the shark just before they died. If that had not occurred, we would have all died and the shark would have won. The shark being able to hide and recording his/her movements secretly definitely added to the first act being just like the movie where no where seemed safe and there wasn’t any easy way to predict where the shark was going to be. I can see this being a game that has enduring appeal to all gamers but especially to those who love the Jaws movies. I honestly have found no issues with the game so far and will update this review if need be but for the moment it is fun, well made, and well thought out. So, for now I would give it five great whites out of five.