Family Game Review: Jaws

Recently we had the opportunity to play Jaws by Ravensburger! I’ve heard some good things about it, so I was glad we got to give it a try. It’s a “many against one” game, in which one player is an adversary to all of the other players. Obviously the adversary is the shark, so it’s not like a “hidden traitor” game in which you don’t know which player is working against you and you have to try to figure it out.

Jaws box
I guess the box art was easy to choose. It’s iconic!

Scott

  Rhiannon was pretty adamant that she wanted to be the shark, and we were cool with that, so we picked characters and got started. Connor and I both immediately took an interest in Quint, but I went for Hooper instead, the brainy scientist guy. Connor was Quint, and our close friend Andrew, who brought the game over, was Chief Brody. Each character has a card and meeple of a different colour, and we realized halfway through the game that we were each wearing the colour that matched the character we’d chosen.

  Each character also had a set of actions they could take, as well as gear they started with in the second part of the game.

Jaws set up
Set up and ready to start! Except I haven’t gotten in my boat yet.

  Here’s how it works: There are 2 “Acts” to the game. The first part of the game takes place on Amity Island, which is printed on one side of the board. Hooper and Quint are in their boats, while Chief Brody (who is afraid of the water) moves around on the island. The people’s objective is to shoot two floating barrels into the shark. The shark’s objective is to eat as many swimmers as possible without getting shot with the barrels. If the shark gets hit twice, or the shark eats 9 swimmers, that’s the end of Act 1, and we move on to Act 2. How many bonuses each side gets depends on how many swimmers the shark ate when the first Act ends. 

  On their turns, the people each get to take 4 actions, which vary slightly depending on the character. They can all move, save a swimmer, or pick up a barrel, but only Quint can shoot the barrel at the shark. Chief Brody picks up the barrels from a location on the island and brings them to the dock for either Quint or Hooper to pick up. Once per turn Hooper also can use his fish finder, which forces the shark player to reveal if they are in his location or an adjacent one. So when Quint shoots a barrel, he is essentially guessing, or deducing, the shark’s location and shooting into the space where he thinks the shark is. If the shark is there, it is hit, and if not, the barrel stays in that space as a motion tracker. If the shark subsequently moves through that space, the player has to say that the shark moved through that space at some point on its turn.

The shark is spotted at the North Beach and is tagged with a barrel by Quint!

  The shark has hidden movement, so Rhiannon was writing down on the provided pad where she finished her move and if she ate any swimmers along the way. The shark has only those two actions. However, she had 4 special abilities she could use once each, such as Speed Burst, which allowed her to move 3 spaces instead of 1 for a single action, and another one which lets her lie about being detected by the fish finder, and Feeding Frenzy which lets her eat all of the swimmers in one area for a single action, rather than just one. She figured out the hidden movement aspect pretty quickly, as we had played Scotland Yard several times in the past (using the copy I got when I was young!). She did say it was a bit anxiety-inducing, however, because she knew that Connor is very logical and thought he’d easily figure out where she was.

  And it might have made it worse that he did tag her with a barrel in the second turn.

  At the start of each turn an Event Card is drawn which tells the players how many swimmers to put at each of the 4 beaches on the island, as well as some other information that might be helpful, or not so much. Sometimes it’s extra swimmers, sometimes it’s extra movement for one of the players, sometimes barrels become unavailable for a turn, things like that.

Well, we don’t know where the shark is, and 8 people have been eaten. The boat with Chief Brody’s son is worth 2 points to the shark, and only Brody can save him!

  We found it quite amusing when Rhiannon would eat a couple swimmers from a beach and then the event card would send a bunch straight to that beach. I thought that it was a bit dumb that people would go somewhere that they knew would endanger their lives, but if 2020 and COVID has taught me anything, it’s that this behaviour is actually more realistic than I’d previously thought.

  Anyway, we drove our boats around, saved some swimmers, estimated the shark’s location, thought we were cornering her as she had only eaten 4 swimmers several turns in, and then she ate a few more, then pulled a tricky move and ate all 5 swimmers in the same location to finish the Act with a belly full of 9 swimmers!

 So for Act 2, Rhiannon would get 10 special ability cards as the shark, and we as a team would only get 3 additional gear cards. Our characters all started with items specific to us, so we each had at least 1 weapon. Our additional gear got us a shark cage, an air canister and extra ammo we could discard to use a firearm more than once. The canister was cool, because if you successfully attack the shark with it, then another player shoots it, it does extra damage! We tried this for several turns, and it eventually paid off! Boom! The shark was now one quarter of the way to being dead. Anticlimactic!   

  Seriously, Rhiannon’s shark ate our boat. Act 2 goes like this: On the other side of the board is a picture of the Orca, but sunk. We place tiles on it which are double sided. On shows a piece of the boat in fine condition, and when it is flipped, shows that section of the boat damaged. Each tile shows how much damage the shark has to do to that tile to damage it, or even outright destroy it. Damaged tiles are adjacent to more water sections, so it makes it easy for the shark to attack different parts of the boat or the people on it.

We’re gonna need… well, you know.

  At the start of the turn, we draw three cards which show sections of the boat which the shark might attack, and put them beside the board where it is labeled A, B, and C. The shark player chooses which section she will pop up in to attack by choosing one of her counters (labeled A, B, and C) and placing that face down in front of her. If she chooses to use a special power, she just puts it under the token. 

  The players then may move 2 spaces on the boat and place a target token on the section they are preparing to attack, in case the shark pops up there. Just so it isn’t straight up rock, paper, scissors, there are some incentives on the card for the shark as well. These might entice the shark player to pick one spot over another. For example, the card also shows how many dice the shark will attack with at a specific spot. Also, there might be a symbol on a card which allows them to shake off an item which has been attached to them (like the forementioned air canister, or the flare, which does damage every turn until it is shaken off). The players might anticipate which spot the shark is going to pop up based on these.

We seem to be running out of boat.

  We didn’t. Well, not very effectively. Mostly we each picked a different spot so at least one of us would get to hit the shark. And when we did double up on the spot we thought Rhiannon was most likely to have chosen, she was usually somewhere else. And in the end, our boat got eaten and we barely injured the shark. But we all survived!

I’m standing on the last piece of boat, watching the shark circle with those lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.

  We had a lot of fun with this, because it was so thematic, with pictures and quotes from the film. Even the little swimmers were recognizable as extras from the film! We didn’t go through all the event cards or the shark powers, so there will still be surprises for us next time we play, which I hope will be soon!

Connor

I’m not really sure what to say about the game that Scott hasn’t already said, so instead I’ll give a couple pieces of strategy advice. 
In this first half of the game the most important thing for the Hunters is getting enough barrels out there to track and tag the shark. It doesn’t matter how well you can figure out where it is if you can’t hit it.  The only person who can make the barrels available is Brody, so if you’re playing him prioritize those over closing beaches and saving swimmers, lest Quint curse you. And if you’re playing as Quint don’t forget that you can pick up any barrels you’ve missed with in case you’re having trouble with the bottleneck. Hooper’s main job is locating the shark, but remember that knowing where it’s not is often as or more valuable than knowing where it is.  The more you can narrow down the possible space the more likely Quint is to hit even on guesses.

In the beginning of the second phase hitting the shark more often is more important than hitting it a lot, so spread your attacks out. You’re trying to whittle it down at this point. If Quint can tag it with the flare then that puts pressure on the shark to surface at a spot that lets it shake it off, making it more predictable and easier to hit with something big. As the ship gets destroyed, the number of useful spots the shark can pop up in dwindles, making it easier to get big hits in.  Hopefully you’ll have done enough damage early on to let you bring it down before it finishes you off. But if the shark ate too many people in the first round then all I have to say is this: you’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Rhiannon

It was pretty cool being the shark. I was worried because trying to outsmart my brother is near impossible. Luckily he had to deal with two morons on his team so it gave me an edge.

I got hit by a barrel pretty early when I was still figuring out the mechanics of the game. They almost had me cornered but then I was a smartie and outsmarted them. I got my fill of people in one big gulp and then moved on to dessert. The boat.

They caught onto my strategy pretty quickly (I like to go for the bigger hits) so I had to change it up a bit. Once I did that they had no idea where I would come up. I was rolling really well and the extra shark cards were very helpful. I ate the entire boat leaving my family to drown. The boat was pretty tasty but it was so sticky. I was cleaning wood out of my teeth for days. 

Overall the game was really fun! Had me on edge the entire time!