Posted by: gschloesser | August 3, 2011


Designers:  Malcolm Braff, Bruno Cathala & Sebastien Pauchon
Publisher:  GameWorks
2 – 6 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 


GameWorks is a Swiss publisher who so far has solely designed games under contract for a private insurance company.  The design team of Malcolm Braff, Bruno Cathala and Sebastien Pauchon has collaborated on two releases, both designed to be light, family games.  The first was Animalia, a card game of collecting awards at animal shows.  The latest is Jamaica, a fanciful pirate ship race filled with loot, combat and treasure. 

Master pirate Henry Morgan has retired, and has managed to get himself appointed as Governor of Jamaica.  His task is to rid the Caribbean of vile pirates, but instead he turns Jamaica into a retirement community for pirates.  Unable to shake the excitement of his old days as the scourge of the seas, he holds a grand race around the island, with the pirate collecting racing the fastest and collecting the most booty receiving top honors.

The components and artwork are, for the most part, top-notch.  The only real complaint I have with the components is the layout of the rules, which have the appearance of a large map.  While the rules are easy to follow, this large, two sided format is unwieldy.  The board’s attractive artwork depicts an overview of Jamaica, outlying islands, and surrounding sea.  Players represent famous pirates racing around the island, moving from space-to-space on the sea.  Pirates must expend food when landing on open sea spaces, and gold doubloons when at port.  Each receives a ship, a mat depicting the five cargo holds of the ship, and an identical deck of action cards.   Captains begin with a supply of three food tokens and three gold doubloons, and draw three cards from their deck. 

Each turn, one player serves as the “Captain” and rolls two dice.  He then arranges the dice in the order he desires – one for the morning and one for the evening.  Each player then selects one of their three cards and places it face-down.  Players reveal their cards and execute the actions in turn order.  At the conclusion of the turn, players draw a new card into their hand, and the captain role rotates to the next player.

 Each card depicts two actions – one for the morning and one for the evening.  Actions include moving forward or backwards, or collecting food, doubloons or cannons.  Deciding which card to use on a particular turn is the key decision on a turn.  When a player moves, he must move in the direction of the arrow on the card played – forward or backward – a number of spaces equal to the corresponding die roll.  Most spaces require the expenditure of either food or doubloons, which must be paid in full.  If a player is unable to pay the required cost, he pays what he can, then moves his ship backwards to the first space where he can afford the cost.  This is a tough situation, as the player must pay two separate costs.  Thus, it is a situation to be avoided whenever possible.  The only time it is usually worthwhile is when moving backwards will take the player to one of the nine pirate’s coves, which is free and rewards the player with a treasure card. 

Other cards reward the player with food, doubloons or cannons.  The player must load those goods into one of his available holds.  If there is no space available, he must jettison something from his ship in order to make room for the newly acquired goods. 

If two ships are on the same space, combat occurs.  These are pirates, after all!  The attacker commits any number of cannon tiles, then rolls the combat die, which as values of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and a starburst.  The number of cannon tokens committed is added to the die roll to determine the result.  Only after the defender sees the result does he commit cannon tokens and rolls the die.  High total wins, unless a starburst is rolled.  Rolling a starburst always wins the combat.  The victor may take all of the contents of one of his opponent’s holds, confiscate a treasure card from his opponent, or give him a cursed treasure.  Combat can be quite profitable, but there is always danger! 

As mentioned, treasure cards are obtained by landing at a pirate haven.  Most treasures grant victory points or special powers, but a few are cursed and deduct victory points.  Fortunately, one can dump a cursed treasure on an opponent – provided you defeat them in combat! 

The game ends at the conclusion of the round when one captain navigates his ship to the finish line.  Players will then earn points based on their finishing position on the board, which ranges from 5 to 15 points, depending upon how close to the finish line they are when the race ends.  To this total players add any doubloons and treasures, and subtract any cursed treasures.  The captain with the highest total is victorious and wins the accolades of the governor. 

While designed to be a light family game, there are some decisions to make and strategies to pursue.  Players must keep a healthy supply of food and doubloons in their holds, as these are necessary to move around the island.  Cannons are useful in combat, but not absolutely essential.  Still, one could pursue an aggressive strategy by arming their ships to the hilt, and go in search of opponents to battle.  This will likely yield booty in the form of doubloons or treasure.  

The design trio has succeeded in developing a fast, fun game that has a fanciful pirate atmosphere and is easy to learn and play.  The game is not a deep strategy game, but rather is designed to appeal to families, especially those with children.  The main choices involve how to use one’s cards, but having access to only three at a time does prevent any overload in choices.  This does often prove limiting, especially when none of the options are useful.  For more serious gamers, this may prove too restricting, but the game is not designed for serious gamers.  One has to keep that fact in mind when playing Jamaica

I no longer have young children at home, but if I did, I can see Jamaica being a very popular choice for family game night.  The game should also prove popular in settings other than with a group of dedicated gamers.  Indeed, I think it fits the definition of gateway game almost perfectly.  I just hope that its distribution will go beyond the private company for which it was contracted.



  1. This is a pretty game and a lot of fun. There is not much deep strategy but you do get to choose from three cards each round. Sometimes those choices may not be good ones but you have to do something. I like that the cards have 2 actions and that the morning one must be completed before you start the evening one. Sometimes they work together and sometimes not. Give this one a try. 6/10

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