Review: Shark Attack!
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Year: 1988

A cartoon shark is menacingly swimming toward fish

how we met

Shark Attack! is a pretty desirable game, so finding the vintage version at thrift is fairly uncommon. We have found a few over the years, so sitting down to play was a must. I wanted to know: what is all the fuss about?

how it plays

Shark Attack! is a children’s game, so gameplay is pretty simple. Each player gets a certain colored fish pawn which they place on the game board at the correct starting space. The shark starts in its correct starting space, a ways back from the pawns.

Fish pawns yellow, red, green and a missing spot for white
Looks like I was missing the white fish pawn

When play starts, turn on the electronic shark and it will slowly eat its way around the board. Your goal is to try and be the last fish standing.

One player is declared the Roller. Their job is to roll the dice and then call out the colors. If your color is called, you get to move your pawn to the next space on the board, further away from the imminent danger. If the same color comes up on both dice, that player gets to move their pawn two spaces!

The dice with colored circles on each face
My copy of the rules did not address this (that I know of) but I assume one die has a dot in the middle and the other does not so the person calling colors does not accidentally call the same die twice. Kind of clever!

Once all the fish are moved the Roller rolls the dice again. Rinse and repeat. The shark will continue to grow closer. If it covers an entire fish in its mouth, that fish is considered eaten and is out of the game. Continue play until only one fish remains. That player wins Shark Attack!

The shark closing its mouth on the red fish pawn
Red is about one second from being fully eaten

NOTE: the game suggests that Shark Attack! veterans play an alternative version where the shark begins a bit further along and the Roller role passes from player to player.

how it went

I can see why little kiddos might really enjoy Shark Attack! I myself enjoy a constant tension in gameplay. But guys, this game is not good.

I think you could argue (if you are the argumentative type) that a lot of games are driven by luck, and perhaps you could just roll a die to determine the winner instead of playing the game. This argument is often astonishingly dismissive of certain elements of gameplay and enjoyment and social interaction. But it’s kind of how I feel about Shark Attack!

True, there is no strategy. True, this is entirely luck driven because if your color comes up more often then you are safer than the other terrible fish. True, assigning the job of rolling the die to a single person means that this could be played alone, and you could just bet on specific fish. But is that fun? Is the constant, droning threat of the shark enough to make this fun? Maybe for some people. I wasn’t into it.

I thought of several possible alternative forms of gameplay for your consideration:

  1. Introduce a story element to gameplay. Require each player to assign their fish a back story before play begins. This would at least make you give a tinker’s cuss about the little thing, and then you might actually care whether your fish gets eaten by the shark or not.
  2. Everyone picks a charity when they pick their fish pawn. Every 15 or 30 seconds players are required to throw a bet down on one of the fish pawns – could be dimes, quarters, dollars, whatever. The winning fish pawn’s charity gets that donation.
  3. Place magnets in your fish pawn and use fishing poles from Gone Fishin’ to move your pawn forward when your color is called. I picture this as short but ridiculous. And crazy fun.
  4. Require each player to share a little known fact about themselves before rolling the dice. This could be particularly painful in groups that include strangers.
  5. Require each player to ante something precious to them that is tied to their fish pawn. The winner of the game then owns each of the items that were offered up in the ante. This may sound familiar to Magic the Gathering players, though I never played that way myself. You’d have to be nuts.

These alternative gameplay suggestions are not tried and true. The game sold before we could really test these suggestions. But I feel pretty good about them.

Keri won our gameplay. She’s so lucky!

Keri making a fin over her head in the background
The electronic shark is in the foreground. The adorbs shark in the background is Keri celebrating her win!

play or pass

Pass, pass, pass. I tried to figure out what all the fuss is about and instead dived deep into suggesting ways to improve gameplay, because as it stands this is barely gameplay.

Please comment with further alternative gameplay suggestions! 366 BGG users are claiming ownership of this game, and they need you.