Imagine a pirate galleon race around the island of Jamaica, where you try and pick up buried treasure en-route, and on occasion exchange cannon fire with your fellow rivals… You have imagined GameWorks’ Jamaica, by popular designer, Bruno Cathala! Up to six salty seadogs (erm, players) can join the race: one lap around the island, the game end triggering when the first ship lands back in Port Royal. But the first buccaneer back isn’t guaranteed to win… Instead, the richest pirate at this moment takes the bragging rights.
Each player has the same deck of beautiful, large cards that they shuffle and then draw a hand size of three. The first player rolls two D6 dice and assigns one to morning (left), and the other to evening (right). Then each player picks one of their cards, with the icons in the top-left/top-right being what they will activate that turn, according to the dice that were just rolled. This will either be acquiring food, gold or gunpowder, or moving forward or back around Jamaica.
Of course, the first player places the dice to suit a card of their own choosing. These might not work to such a good fortune towards your own cards. (It’s at this point in the game where verbal curses are hurled across the table, usually involving Davy Jones’ Locker.)
However, moving forward (or back!) in this race around Jamaica isn’t a simple case of raising anchor and whispering, “Bring me that horizon,” into your compass. You need food (to feed your crew, presumably) to land at a sea spot. You’ll need to pay doubloons to dock at a port. If not, you have to retreat to the first spot you can afford – which could undo all the hard progress you’d just made reaching it that far!
And on top of that, your ship’s five holds can only store so much, so your resource management has to be on top form. Or else you’ll have to toss goods overboard to make room for the new, and that’s not very pirate-y – every time you do this, somewhere, the spirit of ‘Calico’ Jack weeps a little.
There is buried booty to pick up along the way, too. This could be worth up to seven points come the game’s end, or it could be ‘cursed’ treasure (worth minus points). Alternatively, it could be an ability you can use for the rest of the game, such as a larger hand size, an extra hold to store goods, or a way to tweak the Battle Die.
Oho, yes. Jamaica sees ships that share the same space have a battle, where they invest gunpowder and have a dice roll-off (the winner steals something from the loser, whether that’s a treasure card or a complete hold worth of goods).
Jamaica is a gateway game that offers oodles of fun, theme and interaction. The golden age of piracy is translated here with a wealth of glorious colours, components and chunky dice: another winner from Bruno Cathala.
Player Count: 3-6
Time: 30-60 Minutes
YARRRRGGGHHH ME HEARTIES, WELCOME TO JAMAICA! IN CELEBRATION OF HENRY MORGAN’S NOMINATION AS THE GOV’NOR OF JAMAICA, A RACE AROUND THE ISLAND IS HELD, AT THE END OF WHICH, THE CREW WITH THE MOST BOOTY IN THEIR HOLDS BE THE WINNERS. LAST ONE BACK TO PORT ROYAL’S A SQUIFFY, SON OF A BISCUIT EATER!
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Jamaica is essentially a pirate ship racing game for 2-6 players designed by Bruno Cathala, Malcolm Braff and Sebastien Pauchon.
Setup & Play
During setup each player selects a character and keeps the corresponding character deck in front of them, along with a long tile containing five spaces, or ‘holds’, for goods (doubloons, gunpowder and food). The cards in each character deck show icons in the top left and right corners, as well as beautifully colorful and light-hearted illustrations by Mathieu Leyssene.
The game starts, as you might imagine, at the starting line of Port Royal. From there, everyone takes three cards from their character deck into their hand and the captain (first player) of each round rolls two dice and assigns them to one of two spaces on the board; The morning space or the evening space.
This is where the icons in the top corners of the cards come in. The top left icon indicates the action you can take in the morning and the top right is the evening action. So, according to whichever value is assigned to whichever space by the captain, players either gather resources or move around the island.
Lets say the captain rolls a one and a six at the top of the round, he/she then assigns the one to the morning space and the six to the evening space, looks at his/her cards and decides to put down a card with a gunpowder icon in the top left and a green arrow in the top right.
After the remaining players choose their card for that round, the captain reveals his action card and collects one gunpowder token from the supply and places it in one of his empty holds (if he has no empty holds, he must replace a pile of different resources with the goods he just collected), then moves his ship six spaces around the island, paying the cost of whichever space he lands on (food or doubloons).
Once the rest of the players have resolved the actions on their card, players draw back up to three cards, the first player (or captain) token moves to the next player and the sequence repeats.
Every time your ship lands on a space you must pay the cost depicted on the board; either food or doubloons shown as small white squares or numbered golden circles, respectively. If a player can't afford the cost of that space, they must move backwards to a space they can afford. Dotted around the island, though, are free spaces that contain treasure tokens.
The first player to land on one of these spaces can remove the treasure token from the board and take a treasure card from the pile in the middle of the board. These treasure cards can be extra victory points (booty), an extra hold for your ship or combat bonuses. However, there are also ‘cursed’ treasure cards, which subtract from your final score.
Combat & a hint of Strategy
It wouldn’t be a game about pirates if it didn’t involve some sort of seafaring combat, right? Combat happens when you land in an already occupied space. When you arrive, you may commit any number of gunpowder tokens from your holds, which add one per token to your roll, then roll the combat die.
There is a one in six chance of rolling the blast symbol, which means you automatically win the combat. Otherwise, the player who rolls the highest number (plus any gunpowder or treasure modifications) is the winner and gets the chance to either; steal goods from one of your opponents holds; steal one of their treasures, or hand-off a cursed treasure.
Although it has all the hallmarks of a classic roll-and-move game, Jamaica manages to present players with tactical choices every round by means of the character decks. Granted, your choices are fairly limited by the three cards you have in your hand at any one time, and it’s either collecting some resources or moving some spaces around the island, but it’s all about choosing the right cards at the right time - which is an interesting challenge in itself.
The fact that every round a different player gets to roll the main dice and decide which value is assigned to the morning and evening actions, and hence, gets a distinct advantage actually balances the game out quite well, despite the many random elements in the game. It manages to avoid anyone running away with the game, everyone has a fair chance of winning all the way to the end.
The big selling points of Jamaica are that it’s really easy to learn; it’s fun, and it’s quick. An average game takes around 45 minutes to an hour. Not only does it allow players to assume the identity of a famous pirate and put on their best pirate voice (because you physically can’t say the word ‘doubloons’ without putting it on) but also the rule book provides a short backstory on each of them.
It should also be said that the components provided with the game are of superior quality. The ships look great and there is no expense spared when it comes to the cargo holds and tokens. If I were going to change anything though, I’d buy metal doubloons. Just because… It’d be cool…
Final Thoughts on Jamaica
I think Jamaica is a great transitional game for kids; it walks the line between children’s games that may not hold the attention of some more experienced players and something that’s a bit more challenging and encourages younger players to engage their thinking muscles.
Because of its simplicity, it may not appeal to everyone, but I would say that despite this it still manages to engage every player, create an exponential increase in tension as players approach the finish line in typical rat-race type fashion, and remains an entertaining experience throughout.