There’s this point, about halfway through a six player game of Jamaica when you start feeling a little unsteady. Your holds are looking near empty, but you’ve got one or two treasures sitting to the side, and you just keep thinking to yourself “when am I gonna get hit?!”
In Jamaica players will take the role of pirates, racing around the titular isle, hoping to be the first to make it back to ‘Port Royale.’ Each round the starting player will roll two dice, and then assign each die to either a morning or evening action. Players will then select a card from their hand with two corresponding actions, allowing players to either move their ship, or collect resources. When moving, most spaces on the board will require players to pay a resource cost. The game mixes things up with some dice based combat to keep rounds interesting. The last round is triggered when a player reaches the finish line. Each player receives a score based on their position on the board, the treasures they’ve managed to collect, and any doubloons in their holds.
If I haven’t let this slip already, I think Jamaica is fantastic. I tend to really go for games with a ‘feast or famine’ mechanic (this means there is luck involved, but that it effects all players evenly), and the way it’s applied here with the dice/card combination is quite special. Combat can feel a bit intense, but exciting. The mechanics are simple, but will often leave new/light players feeling like they’re in the middle of a big epic board game. And ultimately, that’s what makes this game so special. There’s also some historical context salted in, as all of the characters are based on historical figures.
The one hang-up I have with Jamaica has always been the treasure cards. These cards are rewarded for being the first to reach certain spaces on the board. Most of these cards provide bonus points but a few will give the player a special power. When a player is able stack multiple treasures early on it can create a runaway leader situation. While this doesn’t happen often, it will diminish the fun for other players. (I feel like it’s incredibly important to note at this point that the expansion Jamaica: The Crew completely solves this issue. This expansion will be reviewed at a later date.)
Racing around the island, collecting resources, stealing them from your friends, Jamaica is nothing less than a fantastic experience. The issue with the treasure cards does little to dampen the fun, and most of the time they add to it. With great components, a solid rule book, and gameplay that’s accessible to everyone, it’s easy for Token Opinion to recommend Jamaica to all readers.