15 Aug To IP or Not to IP? A look at the New Jaws Board Game
Theming a board game can be difficult. After all, generic themes often get passed over while other games with unique themes can be seen as too niche or too “out there” to get any sort of positive buzz. The theme should feel new but also be relatable. Entice the audience while also stirring up some great nostalgia. Something familiar and yet unpredictable. And if all else fails, just throw an intellectual property (IP) over a mediocre board game and you are bound to sell thousands of copies.
I remember as kid walking the aisles and seeing all sorts of games with different IPs attached that got my juices flowing. I particularly recall an X-Men Forever card game that required a playmat that was a folded-up poster. I remember getting all excited only to find a game with rules that no one could make sense of, not even parents (and I was at that age when I believed they knew everything). I was devastated, but I also felt like I couldn’t allow an X-Men game to be bad. The X-Men were my favorite group of superheroes, and nothing they were printed on could be bad. There was just no way that could happen. So I pretended I knew and understood the rules that came with the game. I tried to teach my friends, and we did our best to play this thematic X-Men card game on this horrible poster that wanted to fold up every five seconds. It was awful—and within a month, the game was stuffed into the junk drawer of my desk only to be thrown out years later.
I felt so betrayed. How could something so great (the X-Men, for goodness’ sake!) be printed on such a horrible game? How could my favorite thing become the source of trash years down the line? How could the subject of all my joy bring such great disappointment?
The answer is pretty straightforward. Whoever decided to make this game did not have the care and the love for the IP that I did. It was a scam. The theme was pasted onto the game to generate sales. They knew kids like me would want to buy the game more than anything. It was fool’s gold, and I got duped.
Luckily for me, however, things have changed over the last 10–15 years. The people who care about the IPs are now the ones making the games. Recently, I played the new Jaws board game, and it was absolutely fantastic. It had been quite some time since I last watched the film, but I was immediately immersed in the theme. Eric, my buddy who so graciously taught me the game, was pointing out where all of the different scenes in the film took place on the game board. He passed me three characters, all from the film, that I would get to play to hunt him—the shark—down.
The Jaws board game is played in two phases. In the first phase, my crew is cruising along the ocean shores rescuing innocent swimmers and loading up barrels to attach to the Great White. Meanwhile, our shark “friend” is lurking in the murky depths, waiting to feast on the swimmers I miss. Using the different tools available, the crew has to not only find the Great White as he swims around the island but also has to hit him with two barrels. If the crew is able to do so before the Great White has a chance to eat a certain number of swimmers, the crew enters round two with an advantage. Failing to do so, however, results in an advantage for the shark.
Once either of these conditions are met, gameplay enters into phase two: the fight with the shark. At this point the crew is running around the boat trying to guess where the shark is going to pop up while the shark is strategically trying to destroy the boat and kill the crew. In this simultaneous action selection, the tensions are high, as one misstep can ruin it all for the crew. One wrong decision by the shark could result in a nasty harpoon to the gills. The drama and suspense of it all leaves everyone at the table checking to find the song. You know what I’m talking about. The horns playing, the timpani slamming, the suspense building. By the end, the victor feels so accomplished! The film was captured perfectly in this great game.
In this situation, the IP utilized in the game created an experience that a hidden movement game would never be able to accomplish. The feelings are so visceral while hunting the shark that is devouring swimmers because you (assuming you have seen the movie) know what this Great White can do to people. The IP was the fuel used to create the game rather than being an afterthought tacked on in order to sell the game. This board game truly made me feel as if I were in the movie Jaws, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Unlike my X-Men Forever card game, Jaws board game made me relive all of the best (and some of the worst) moments within the story arch of the IP. These are the sorts of games we need to see, using IPs that can make games come alive in ways that other themes simply cannot. The IP can connect this great hobby to a story—and to characters—in such an evocative way. And this is why I still welcome IPs to my table (even if some of them make me want to cry in the end).
Thanks for reading, and keep on gaming.