Head of Games at Ravensburger tells us why Jaws game has bite

Ravensburger’s Jaws game has been making waves since it was released, we were lucky enough to welcome aboard its Head of Games for an interview about its design, the film and even asked him if Steven Spielberg had seen it.

The Daily Jaws (TDJ): How long have you been inventing/designing board games?

Florian Baldenhofer (FB): I’ve been with Ravensburger for nine years.

TDJ: How did you get involved in Jaws the game?

FB: As the Head of Games Development in North America, I shepherd every game we produce from concept to development to its arrival in stores. From simple matching games to more complex, immersive storytelling games such as JAWS, they all pass my desk. It’s a fun job, and a lot of work.

TDJ: How would you describe the game?

FB: JAWS is a strategy board game that’s akin to “playing the movie.” It is played in two acts using a double-sided board with Act I taking place on Amity Island. Of course, that means Act II is on...dun, dun, dun, dun ... the Orca. The one player that controls the shark during the game does so secretly in both acts, creating the same suspense as the movie. The crew knows the shark is somewhere in the water, but only find out exactly where after it’s too late. It falls to the crew to make an educated guess of where the shark will strike next and secretly position themselves in an advantageous position.

Team Ravensburger: head of Games Florian Baldenhofer is front, right.

Team Ravensburger: head of Games Florian Baldenhofer is front, right.

TDJ: Where did the idea come from for the gameplay?

FB: Staying true to the movie was our first goal. We wanted to bring the movie to life for players by giving them an as immersive experience as possible, to feel as if they are Brody closing the beach, or Quint launching barrels at the shark, or the shark hunting his next victim. The first half of the movie is building suspense and anxiety–we know there’s a shark somewhere in the water. Emotions shift when the crew heads out on the Orca. There’s tension between the crew members, terror when they finally meet Bruce, and fear that they might not be as prepared as they thought. With two very distinct settings and sets of emotions, the double-sided board became the perfect way to pay homage to the original acts of the movie.

TDJ: How does it transcend traditional board games?

FB: Most traditional board games have players competing against each other towards a common goal. Strategy, luck, or a combination of both are typically the main mechanics that propel a player forward across a board, earning points along the way or being the first to cross the finish line. While you’ll find elements of both strategy and luck in JAWS, the gameplay is asymmetrical (one person plays the shark while the others play the crew). Players will have different goals and play style depending on the character(s) they choose. To truly immerse players in game play, we’ve divided the play into two acts, and introduced a double-sided game board. Act 1 builds the suspense of the Shark in the water, and Act 2 brings players onboard the Orca for the final showdown between men and fish.

TDJ: Board games based on films have seen something of a resurgence, such as Labyrinth, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, why do you think that is?

FB: We live in such a fast-paced world it can be hard to stay connected. Movies are ways we connect to those around us. We chat around the water cooler about the latest hot title or reminisce about movies that delighted us as kids. Movies like JAWS are particularly nostalgic–we all jumped when Brody saw the shark and cheered when the waters of Amity were safe again. Nostalgia is a powerful way for us to reconnect with others through those common experiences and memories.

TDJ: What’s been the reaction from Jaws fans?

FB: We’ve received lots of praise for the attention to detail we’ve taken with the game – even the box insert pays tribute to the mayor’s blazer. It’s like “playing the movie” – right down to Pippet the swimming dog, and it’s a lot of fun. Great compliments for a project we worked so hard on.

TDJ: How long was the design process of the game?

FB: We began working on this project with Universal Studios in June 2018, just over a year from concept to shelf.

TDJ: How many people did it take to bring the Jaws game to life?

FB: It would be difficult to try and assign a number to how many people worked on the project. Once Universal gave us the green light, we went to work with our talented design partner Prospero Hall. They brought a team of game designers, artists, testers, and unique brand of awesome together to build a game that was thrilling, challenging, but above all fun. At the same time, production began to coordinate with manufacturing partners, operations began to project logistics, the sales team began to secure placements in mass and specialty, and marketing began to get a feel for the game’s pulse. Not to mention countless conversations around the water cooler, or in the case of the Seattle office, the espresso machine with gifted people and multiple departments to bring JAWS from concept to reality.

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TDJ: Did you have to pitch the idea to Universal first?

FB: Yes. We pitched them a detailed outline of our plan to bring the iconic summer blockbuster to life on the table top. It helped that we successfully brought Jurassic Park: Danger! to the table last year and had some street cred.

TDJ: Any word from Mr Spielberg, we presume you’ll be sending him a copy?

FB: No word yet! We’d love to send you a copy, Mr. Spielberg.

TDJ: What was it like seeing the finished product for the first time?

FB: We share images and ideas daily about the games we are creating, so there were no surprises. What’s really exciting for us is when fans like you open the box for the first time and see all the hard work and details we put into the game. That’s what makes all the hard work worth it.

TDJ: This is hopefully the nearest we’ll get to a Jaws remake, what sense of responsibility did you feel with the game?

FB: An immense amount! We never want to disappoint fans, so we worked very closely with Universal to create a game that’s as true to the first movie as possible, while also ensuring it’s a fun game that can be enjoyed many times over by friends and family and approachable to fans.

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TDJ: How many different outcomes are there for the game?

FB: Either the shark wins, or the crew wins.

TDJ: Are you a fan of Jaws the film? How many times have you seen it?

FB: Yes, I am. I’ve seen the movie three times in English and German, so far...

TDJ: Do you have a favourite character or moment in the film?

FB: I don’t really have a favorite scene or character. What I do really like about the movie is how well it creates tension and suspense with so little. You don’t get a good look at the shark until later in the movie. Before then, the film implies the terror of a shark in the water through exceptional cinematography and solid acting. My favorite quote is: “Martin, it's all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

TDJ: What familiar locations can we expect to see on the board?

FB: In Act 1, you have the entirety of Amity Island to play. Brody can close the beach from the Amity Police Department or Mayor’s Office. His character picks up barrels from the shop and delivers them to the dock for Hooper to pick up. Hooper races around the waters in his speedboat, picking up swimmers from beaches and passing barrels to Quint. Quint patrols the waters in the Orca, rescuing swimmers and launching barrels at the shark. Act 2 is set entirely on the Orca.

TDJ: Do we get to see Cable Junction from Jaws 2 on the board?

FB: No, we wanted to keep this game true to the first movie. You will see all the iconic characters that bring the movie to life; Quint, Hooper, Chief Brody, and of course the shark.

TDJ: Jaws of course spawned three sequels, if this game is a success can we expect another or is there scope for an expansion pack?

FB: Nothing is currently planned, but anything is possible.

TDJ: How long will the average gameplay last?

FB: We’ve designed the game so that you can choose a shorter game play by selecting your favorite act, or you can play both acts. Playing both acts takes about an hour.

TDJ: Of course this isn’t the first Jaws game, have you played the original one by Ideal where you have to fish items out from its mouth?

FB: I haven’t, but a member of our marketing team had it as a child and loved it! I’ll have to see if we can find a copy to play in the office.

TDJ: What do you think is the ever-lasting appeal of Jaws?

FB: I think it’s hard to pin down one aspect of JAWS that really sticks with audiences. The soundtrack is simple but expertly executed and creates a powerful emotional response. We can identify with the characters in the movie, whether it’s with Brody’s protective nature, Hooper’s naïve go-getter attitude, or Quint’s drive. One of the movie’s timeless attributes is how well it plays on our fear of the unknown.

TDJ: How much is the game expected to retail for in the US/U.K.?

FB: JAWS retails for $29.99 in the US, and £24.99 in the UK.

READ our full review of Jaws The Board Game

Florian Baldenhofer was interviewed by TDJ Chief writer Dean Newman 

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