Buzzworthiness: Jamaica

Back on track after a really busy week for me with a review of

image by BGG user loeffe
image by BGG user loeffe

Jamaica is a 2007 game that was designed by Malcolm Braff, Bruno Cathala, and Sébastien Pauchon.  It was published by GameWorks.  Jamaica is a pirate-themed game, with 2-6 players racing around the island of Jamaica trying to accumulate the most gold.  Each player has a plastic ship and a hold with five cargo slots, as well as an identical deck of 12 cards.  The game is played over a series of rounds.  At the start of each round, the start player rolls two dice, then chooses which one to put in the day slot and which to put in the night slot printed on the board.  Each player will have a hand of three cards, and will simultaneously choose one to play.  Each card has two symbols on it, with the symbol on the left indicating what can be done with the day die, and the symbol on the right indicating what can be done with the night die.  These can get you cannons, gold, food, or move you around the board.

Players reveal their cards, and in turn order, resolve the day and night actions of their card.  Cannons, food, and gold are loaded into your holds.  However, each haul you get MUST go in an empty hold – if you don’t have an empty hold, you have to dump something overboard.  When you move, you could land on a space that requires you to pay gold or food.  If you can’t pay, you move backwards until you reach a place where you can pay.  Some spaces don’t have a cost, but instead will provide a treasure if you are the first to land there.  This can be positive or negative gold for the end of the gam, or a special ability like an extra hold, extra cannon strength, reroll the combat die, or holding an extra card in hand.  If you ever land on the same space as another pirate, you have to fight.  You both can choose to spend cannons to up your strength, then each roll the combat die to see who wins.  The winning pirate will raid the other’s hold and steal some cargo.

When a player makes it back to Port Royal (the start space), the game ends after that round.  Players then add up their gold, adding or subtracting based on their position around the island.  The player with the most gold (not necessarily the one who won the race) is the winner.

COMPONENTS: One of the most noticeable things about Jamaica is that it has some absolutely stunning art by Mathieu Leyssenne.  The game just looks fantastic, from the board to the cards to the designs on the money.  My favorite part of the art is that you can line up all the player cards in your deck to make one complete panoramic picture.  The tokens are all of nice quality, and the holds are well designed.  The box insert is very functional, and holds everything quite well.  The plastic ships are nice models, and the dice are made of wood.  My only real complaint about the components (and I don’t know if this was fixed in later versions) is that the rulebook was written treasure map style.  So instead of reading a book, you have to unfold a big piece of paper every time you want to look something up.  It’s annoying, but hardly something that breaks the game experience.  Overall, I think the components in this game are phenomenal.

THEME: This is a pirate game through and through.  It falls more on the lighter side of piracy – pirates were bloodthirsty criminals, and this game tends towards the more romantic notions of them.  Each deck features the name of a real pirate – Mary Read, Anne Bonny, Edward Drummond, Olivier Levasseur, John Rackham, and Samuel Bellamy.  The racing idea works for me, as I can imagine pirates in a competition for gold, taking pot shots at each other when they can.  Maybe not realistic, but I can visualize it.  So I say that the theme works for what it is.

MECHANICS: This is a racing game where the goal is not necessarily to be the first one across the finish line.  That idea helps shape the game, which might just be a standard roll-and-move affair otherwise.  The big thing that makes it different is this programming of the dice – placing them in day or night spots, and then everyone choosing a card to see what they’re going to do.  It is very simple action programming, but it is there, and it really is the heart of the game.  There’s a lot of dice rolling, both in determining the actions and in combat, but there are measures in place to help you mitigate the luck – choosing cards to play and adding cannons to combat rolls.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is a lot of luck in the game to be sure, but there is some light strategy there as well.  The big decision you’ll have to make every turn is which card will be most advantageous to play.  Do you want to use that six to race ahead on the board, or do you want to take some gold instead?  Would a potential move land you on a space with another pirate, and can you afford to fight that battle?  Can you afford the port you’d land at?  Should you go the long way to try and get a treasure, or take a short cut and possibly move ahead?  The decisions are all there right in the card play, and with only three cards in hand, shouldn’t slow things down too much.  There’s some luck-pushing in the combat as you decide how many cannons to add, and there’s always the possibility that someone will roll the burst that wins you the fight automatically regardless of the cannons used.  So, light on strategy, but it is definitely there.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is definitely a gateway level game.  I’d say it’s a really good game to introduce programmed actions, as well as concepts of resource management and focusing in on what the goal is supposed to be.  If you’re the first one to cross the finish line, but have no gold in your holds, you’re going to get 15 gold while the person who stopped two spaces short and had 10 gold remaining is going to have 19.  I’d say this game is a really good one for kids 8 and up, and adults will enjoy it too.

REPLAYABILITY: This game has good replayability.  The variety primarily comes from the way the dice are rolled and the cards you happen to have in your hand at the time.  It’s a puzzle that needs to be solved, and it changes constantly.  I think Jamaica is a game that can be played a lot without decreasing your enjoyment.

SCALABILITY: The game lists itself as a game for 2-6 players, but I would advise against playing with two – that’s got a dummy player.  I say the more people there are, the better.

LEGACY: As I mentioned before, I think this game is really good as a gateway game.  It has very attractive art, simple mechanisms, and an accessible theme.  It really sets the stage for what a simple game can accomplish, and I think designers or similar projects should look to it as an example.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  Jamaica is a great game for families and casual players.  Gamers might find it too simplistic for their tastes, but then again, they might be able to discover the depth of the hidden strategies that are present.  I give it a big thumbs up, and encourage you to seek it out.  Thanks for reading!

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