Shark Hunt is a kid-friendly board game about protecting the beaches from shark attacks that might need a little more refinement before it gets a solid recommendation.
Title: Shark Hunt
Release Date: Coming to Kickstarter April 19th
Suggested Audience Age: 10+
Time to Play: 20 Minutes according to the box, a lot longer in my experience
Recommended for fans of: Jaws, Maneater, and solo board games
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Shark Hunt sounded like a lot of fun right off the bat. I mean, who doesn’t love a chance encounter with a horrific, prehistoric monster of the sea? I was really excited to give this one a go, but my first game let me down a bit… however, playing it solo with some reinterpretation of the thin rules made it a bit more fun!
The box for Shark Hunt is nicely eyecatching. There's a pair of cartoony characters and a big ole shark! Inside the box, you’ll find a board representing the waters around the beach, four colored tiles for boats with four matching character tiles for the score tracker, a single six-sided die, and tokens for the sharks.
Everything is printed well enough on sturdy cardboard, but the designs overall feel a little flat. Each of the shark icons has a different fin on it, which is cool, but the boats and character icons are really uninteresting. There are different colors, but otherwise, nothing to make the character pieces feel unique. Having more than two character portraits and some different stylized options of boats would have been nice, especially since this game seems to be targeted towards a young audience.
The biggest issue I have is that the instructions in this game are pretty poorly put together. They are printed on one sheet in two different languages, with a total of two images that are both scaled horribly. Honestly, the images were so fuzzy I had trouble figuring out what the text on them said.
The basic gameplay that the instructions describe is that each player's turn involves them rolling a die to determine where the sharks move, then moving their own boat. The shark mechanic is really pretty interesting. Each shark is represented by a hexagonal tile on the board, with the numbers 1-6 printed around the edges. Whatever number the player rolls determines which direction each of the sharks moves. The randomness of this is pretty cool and makes the sharks feel really dangerous, even though they only move one space on each individual player's turn.
After the sharks move, the player who rolled “can move their boat in any direction”. We read this as meaning that on the player turn you only got to move your boat one space, but I’m not sure that was the intent. More on that later.
Shark on Boat Action
The next step of gameplay comes when either a boat moves on to a shark or a shark moves on to a boat. If the shark moved on to the space, it attempts to attack the player, with a roll to determine whether it damages the boat (and causes the player to lose points) or runs away. If the player initiated the contact, they get to try to capture the shark.
Rolling either a 5 or a 6 on the die means that the player successfully captures the shark. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the instructions don’t actually tell you at all what that means. We decided that capturing a shark was worth one point, and then we put the shark back in the “deep blue sea” at the edge of the board so that they would come back into play on the next roll. I think this has to be what happens because otherwise, you’d run out of sharks before you scored enough points… but the instructions very clearly don’t say.
My first attempt at playing Shark Hunt didn’t go very well. I sat down with two of my brothers and my sister-in-law and… I mean, we did play the whole game, but following the rules as we understood at the time completely wrecked us.
Since we were each only moving one tile on our turn, and all of the sharks were also moving once per player turn it felt like the sharks were four times faster than us. You’d try to get into a good strategic position on a shark, and then it would move four times before you got to go again.
The randomness was neat, but it ended up making for a really frustrating experience.
My brother ended up hunting two sharks successfully, which was pretty cool, but then he got attacked by a shark which set him back to zero points. On the other hand, we had trouble managing the sharks swimming near the shore. Each time one hits the shore the sharks get a point.
At the end of our game (which took more than 30 minutes), the Sharks got to ten points to win, I had one point, and everyone else was sitting at zero points.
Tweaking the Rules
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy playing Shark Hunt very much, but it felt like there was something interesting there, and the game stuck in my mind. I kept trying to figure out if we’d misread the rules, and the biggest thing I came up with was player movement. We had only been moving our boat one tile per turn, but I thought maybe it’d work better if you moved whatever you rolled on the dice.
I tried the game again solo and had a lot more fun with it that way. My boat felt fast and zippy, and I was able to do crowd control way better than when I could only move once per turn. The sharks still felt threatening, but it seemed like I actually stood a chance this way.
Shark Hunt is a fun concept that feels like it’s a little held back by the presentation. The whole package could look a bit better, the rules could be tighter, and oh my gosh please make the hexagonal shark pieces fit inside of the hexagons on the board so that two shark pieces next to each other don’t overlap.
Note: The size of the pieces gets mentioned in the video that I talk about at the end of this article as something that will be fixed in the final product.
The randomness on how sharks return from the Deep Blue Sea can feel a little too chaotic and I’m still not sure I understand exactly what’s supposed to happen to a captured shark. Still, I’d be interested in sitting down with a group or solo to try this again and see if I can figure it out.
The mental image of your friends getting attacked by sharks is enough of a hook to pull me back.
Okay, I'm absolutely going to play this game again. I had my thoughts all put together here and then found a video of a member of the development team playing the game with his son. It looks like he's playing the same prototype version that I have, but since they already know the game they just set it up and started playing without looking at the rule book. There are several things in their gameplay that don't match at all with how I interpreted the rules.
Most importantly, boats do only move once per turn, but every player gets to move on every player's turn. Basically, that means that instead of the Sharks feeling four times faster than our boats, they'd end up feeling exactly the same speed.
I'm going to watch this video again and try to figure out exactly what I was missing in the rules, and I think the game is going to be a whole lot more fun that way. Keep an eye on Geek to Geek Media for an updated review when I get a chance to play it again!
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