Jaws was not just another cult classic. Through a huge following and excellent reception, it gained its place in film history as a classic. A giant shark with an insatiable appetite terrorises the innocents of Amity Island. What's not to love? Well, it gets better knowing that a rag-tag team of misfits decide to take the lead on the shark slaying. Between managing the chaos, arguing, and having very questionable style choices, they do manage to beat the shark down. It's epic, and a film you need to have seen in your lifetime!
Alternatively, if you're after a more hands-on experience hunting sharks and saving the folk of the '80s, Jaws the board game, developed by Prospero Hall and published by Ravensburger, is a superb alternative. The game features asymmetrical teams, is for 2-4 players and plays in around 45 minutes!
Jaws (the board game) is asymmetrical, 1-3 of the players play as the heroes of the story, and the other player plays as the shark. The game runs over two phases, Amity island and The Orca. Our heroic human heroes (Hooper, Quint and Brody) must take down the beast to win. The perfect eating machine wins if it kills all three heroes, or destroys the Orca.
The game is asymmetrical from the get-go. Phase One is effectively a game of cat and mouse... or man and shark. Working together, Hooper, Quint and Brody must attach two barrels to the shark.
In Jaws, each hero gets a different set of abilities and limitations but with a shared objective, and the shark plays in a completely different way. The heroes need to work as a unit to communicate their plans and abilities. Only one can collect barrels, only one can carry them easily, only one can fire them at the shark. They also have a selection of abilities to coincide with these, but communication is key! The last thing you want is for each beach to become a bikini buffet for the shark!
Speaking of, the shark has an equally tough job. The shark needs to stay hidden from the heroes as best it can, not allowing them to find him, whilst also devouring the poor people of Amity Island. If a swimmer vanishes from the board, you can have a solid guess at where the shark is.
The barrels, iconic of Jaws, aren't wasted by the humans when spent. They act as beacons to identify when the shark has been in that area and can help identify where the shark is. However, loading them up and collecting them is a hassle, and by the time you've loaded every area up the shark may have a belly full of Speedos!
On the flip side of this, the shark isn't just on a hiding and eating routine. That would eventually be caught up with! To spice things up, and set it aside from the other Great Whites of the ocean, it has a few tricks up its sleeve. From extreme speed to avoiding triggers, the shark can escape the heroes in a pinch! But these abilities only last one turn, so they need to be used sparingly.
The shark must eat as many swimmers as possible to gain strength. When the shark has two barrels, or has eaten so many swimmers, the game moves on to Phase Two.
This is the beginning of Jaws' best scenes. The Orca. The vessel that could either become the greatest creation in terms of shark hunting or simply shark chow. The boat is split into eight sections on a 2x8 grid, shown through cards. The cards are double-sided to show gradual wear and tear and can be removed to show full destruction.
The heroes now need to kill the shark, like in the Jaws movie. Dependent on how well they did at preventing locals from becoming lunch, they'll receive item cards to help them. They do a range of things, centred around hindering and slowing the shark. Their goal is to get the shark to zero health.
Each hero gets their own starting items, reflective in some ways of the film. There is no guarantee you'll get that explosive finale... However, bashing a shark to death with a hammer is acceptable in this scenario. This is the least asymmetrical part of the game for the hero team. You all choose where to stand, how to attack and with what.
For the shark, however, this is another display of how the balance occurs. 3v1 is never a fair fight, but in this game it is. The shark will gain abilities to use dependent on how much it ate, the opposite of the heroes really. They also get a choice of three breaching points around the boat to appear at. If they appear at a specific point, they can attack adjacent parts of the boat and any heroes in the water. The boat can only take so much, as can the heroes.
Victory is sealed when the heroes perish or the boat sinks! These points also have stats for the shark, determining its evasiveness and damage it will do. Sometimes it's too tempting to not go for the big hits!
During their turn, they secretly choose one of the three spaces available and keep it hidden. Then the players organise and make decisions. The shark breaches, players attack if appropriate, and then the shark attacks. Round done! Of course, it can seem unbalanced at first glance, but the lack of choice for the shark becomes clear as the boat sinks! Eventually, it's a guarantee that the shark will appear in a specific place to cause damage, otherwise they're just buying time!
How It Handles
Jaws is one of those games you immediately find yourself knee-deep in. There is little time to joke around or lose track, as your opposition is listening. They're learning, developing countermeasures and exploiting weakness. Whether you're the humans or the shark, there is no scope for foolishness. It's life or death out there!
The main thing for the human players is co-operation. They must work together in order to prevent people from being eaten. Communication is key. You aren't able to go rogue, the joint goal doesn't allow for it at all. There is a responsibility held here, a joint responsibility, to ensure the survival of the inhabitants of the island. The group may be a ragtag bunch, but the cop, the shark expert, and the boat captain are clearly the best men for the job. And even if they're not, they're all you've got!
Generally, it doesn't matter too much who you play as. You'll always be working towards a common goal. The characters have different focuses in Phase One, dependent on their role in the film. You'll have a job to do, but you'll work together to do it. The game's main requirement is cooperative decision making, but it's not that simple! You've got to work together to ensure the shark is always on the run and scared. Without that fear, they won't see things as risks, and that's dangerous. Their focus is keeping hidden and taking sly attempts to gain strength. Allowing leeway to do as they please will mean they'll be using their abilities to eat more rather than escape.
Despite having a cooperative focus, it will never be so simple. As in the film, there will be some disputes. Jaws has a great way of showing that there is a level of responsibility that can't be held at a joint level. Although you share the goal, when it's a heads or tails situation, you have to make the call. It's the balance of roguishness and leadership in your own role that you need to maintain. No one wants to backseat drive another character, but you still need to know what you can do specifically. With such clear roles throughout Phase One, you need to be on it. You do your job and fulfil your role. Phase One will lead to Phase Two no matter how you perform, and a bad performance due to communication issues doesn't bode well...
In Phase Two, you don't get the benefit of unique roles or jobs. You get unique items with unique benefits, but that's all. Everyone sings to the same hymn sheet, and that's the sheet of shark slaughter. You need to co-operate, but in less of a "do your job" style, but more in the sense of divide and conquer. Having three spots that may reveal a menacing maw means you can't leave any alone without good cause. The discussion here though can be a lot more open due to the repeated round style. And when the ship inevitably turns to scrap, there will be less area to cover, meaning it may go down to the wire! The shark has to take you all down, and being a martyr is a completely rational thing to do here!
Jaws himself has a very different play style, but still plays with balance in mind. As stated, it's going to be 3v1 so you're automatically outnumbered! They can divide and conquer, ruining your chances of survival and ending the gourmet experience early... Luckily, you have the whole ocean to sneak around in. Your goal is much more streamlined. And, putting it bluntly, it's because you're the bad guy. You only need to consume and hide. The collateral doesn’t matter to you. You might be outnumbered, but you have no baggage! All you have to do is build strength and wait until the humans make an error. But don't forget, time is against you! The longer you wait, the better organised they might be.
During Phase One, you'll get a few default abilities. These are going to help you take down more swimmers and cause chaos with the human's plans. That being said, the game is very tense. Playing as the one being pursued, you'll realise you can't have a plan, and that's quite thrilling! But it gets worse! You need a full face mask to avoid smiling or giving clues as the humans don't miss a trick. You may be the hunter, but you're being hunted, and you feel it. It demonstrates a terrible feeling of dread and constant panic... However, the game still produces the thrill of narrow escapes, like not being hit by a barrel and tailing your pursuers.
Listening to the opposition's justifications for their ideas makes you feel like they'd be better sharks at times, but you can't necessarily guarantee it. Being the shark is a tremendously unique feeling. A mad one. You can’t describe the thrill of being chased by the people around the table without any limitations. Risks are yours to take, and when they pay off it's a mad feeling. The temptation to add to the madness is incredible when it's legal, and stirring the pot is crazy fun. There is no expectation of you to speak at all, but any smile, time taken, or flinch sparks outrage.
In Phase Two the tables turn and now you're the one who is on the attack! You still need to hide and choose a breach point methodically, but fear isn’t the driving factor here. We found going for the opportunity of easy damage wasn't always wise. The breach cards have your evasion stat on them and the damage you'll deal.
Choosing a less desirable breaching point for more evasion was wise in our case, as the humans managed some fantastic dice rolls! It doesn't matter how ripped a shark you become in Phase One, a machete to the head can still cause an awful amount of damage. Inevitably, you'll have less and less choice as you decimate the boat, and the humans will be more and more cornered. Your shark ability cards will also be very circumstantially used here, but the right one at the right time can give you more of an edge when needed!
Final Thoughts On Jaws
We had high expectations of Jaws, and it still blew us away. It wasn't just the gameplay, it was the little things too! The artwork, styling, meeples and board were a few of the notable things we looked at and went "oh wow!" The play between both teams is different enough to be interesting, but so intertwined that you're always watching them. By disregarding the opposition's actions, you'll fall behind quickly!
The abilities between the three humans are different enough to feel like valuable contributions but focused enough to not be a one-trick pony. On the other hand, the shark's abilities were also excellently powerful, but were one-time use, balancing out the not knowing and mystery for the opposition.
For a game that looks to be a cat and mouse-esque film port, this is fantastic. There is no denying it excellently links to the cult classic, with each card containing a quote from the film. It's impressively designed, and I guarantee your performance in Phase One is not a surefire route to winning.
Jaws looks gorgeous, fits well within its theme with the original content at its heart. And, in all honesty, even if you don't like the film Jaws - which you do, everyone does - it's still a solid choice of game for asymmetrical team play! For more on Jaws, check out our unboxing video and Tom's First Impressions.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on October 14th, 2019. Updated on October 13th, 2021 to improve the information available.