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.