Monday 5 February 2018

Tabletop Review - Shark Island

Shark Island
Designed by Richard Launius and Pete Shirey
Published by Upper Deck Entertainment

Man, why hasn’t there been a Jaws board game before now?

Ripping its plot wholesale from the classic Spielberg movie/Benchley novel, Shark Island is a semi-cooperative adventure game that features one player taking on the role of the giant shark terrorising the holiday resort. Up to four other players can play as marine biologists, the Chief of Police, a cantankerous old fisherman, or some other slightly more original characters.

Play is broken down into several phases. First, the shark picks an area of the island to terrorise, and places one “shark” marker down along with a load of other “disguising” markers, such as shoals of fish, dolphins, or a teen playing a prank with a fake fin. Then, the hunters take a moment to launch some preliminary spotting trips, repair their boats, or otherwise prepare for the day’s hunt. The boats then set sail searching for the killer shark.

If the shark is spotted, then combat ensues; if not, then the shark is free to eat a diver, schoolboy, fisherman, or whatever it can, which raises the Terror level on the island. Combat is resolved - perhaps rather strangely - with a modified version of Blackjack, with players trying to get as close to twenty-three without going over - although with the addition of some suitably thematic special action cards. It sounds a little weird when you first read the rules, and it raises some eyebrows at the table, but in practice most of the players ended up enjoying it, and actually enjoying that it wasn’t just another dice-rolling mechanic for combat.

The hunters win by killing the shark, the shark wins by raising the Terror level to a pre-established victory condition.

Shark Island, as you can no doubt tell, wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, both in terms of the theme and some of the mechanics. Launius is a much-loved game designer, and there are some shades of his classic Elder Sign visible here. In fact, some parts feel like Elder Sign, and others feel a little like Kevin Wilson’s redesign of Fury of Dracula, with the hidden movement, and the one-versus-many play style.

Shark Island isn’t flawless. It takes a few turns for players to stop being able to feel as though they’re playing a mechanic-heavy Euro game, rather than an adventure story of man versus killer shark. Some of the wording is also confusing. For example, first there is the “Hunter Phase”, then the “Search Phase”. The thing is, you can search during the Hunter Phase and you hunt during the search phase. Once these odd decisions are comprehended, however, the game begins to flow a little faster and the players can get on with enjoying the story they’re created.

Shark Island is a lighter game than most, and as a budget priced title, could be a fun one to throw on the table for a couple of hours’ fun with the Jaws soundtrack on in the background. Some minor stumbling blocks stop it from being a truly essential purchase, but fans of Launius or those craving a Jaws board game would do well to pick this up.

One of the founding members of E14, Brad Harmer-Barnes boasts an impressive track record in the entertainment industry. A comedian since the age of 12, Harmer created the comedy club Rock N' Rant which entertained the people of Chatham for over five years.

A recurring guest on the Crazy Train podcast, Brad published his first novel, North Sea Hunters, in 2017, and you can now find all of his books from Severed Press via Amazon using the links below!

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