In February 1678, after a long career of piracy, Henry Morgan cleverly manages to get himself named Governor of Jamaica, charged with driving out pirates and buccaneers. But rather than driving away the pirates, he invites all his former “associates” and brothers-in-arms to settle there, where they are able to finally enjoy the fruits of their activities with total impunity. Thirty years later, the Great Challenge is organized to celebrate Morgan’s nomination in true style: a race around the island, at the end of which the winning team is the one that amasses the greatest quantity of gold in its holds. All aboard!
The Great Challenge comes to life in Jamaica, the highly acclaimed pirate racing board game for two to six players. Playable in under an hour, Jamaica challenges you to outmaneuver (and outgun) your rivals as you collect gold and buried pirate treasures on your way around the island. However, pirate races are not like other races, and you will have to contend not only with the trials of the high seas, but also with the cannon fire and boarding parties that other captains send your way.
You have multiple goals in Jamaica, many of which often seem to be competing with each other. However, if there’s any one underlying constant, it’s that you need to mind your ship.
Your ship is represented in two ways. The first is the colored plastic ship piece that you physically move around the game board. Naturally, since Jamaica is a racing game, your ship’s position on the board is a constant reminder of your efforts. The second way your ship is represented is through your hold board. This game piece is divided into five spaces to match the five holds on your ship. At the beginning of the game, two of these holds are full. One contains three food tokens, and another contains three doubloons.
As you play the game, you and your opponents will fill and empty your holds many times over, but each time you add goods to a hold—whether you’re adding food, cannon powder, or doubloons—you must add to an empty hold. You can choose to empty one of your holds to make room for another cache of supplies, but you cannot add tokens to a hold that already has tokens in it, even if they’re of the same type.
All this is important because your goal is to complete your circuit of Jamaica as quickly and with as much gold and treasure aboard your ship as possible. But you can’t focus just on collecting gold and treasure, because your journey places other demands upon your ship and crew. You need ample rations of food to keep your crew sailing across the empty seas, you need to spend gold to bribe your way through ports, and you need cannon powder for those times when your rivals attack to seize your treasures.
Once you’ve stocked your holds for the initial legs of your journey, each player draws three action cards, and the race begins! Every round, the first player rolls two six-sided dice, places one in the “morning” spot of the game board’s navigation box, and places the other in the “evening” space. The order in which you place the dice matters, because in the next step of the round, you choose one action card to place facedown. Then, starting with the first player, you and your rivals take turns revealing your action cards and performing the actions they indicate—from left to right.
There are four different actions you can take:
While you will obviously want the best possible results for each of your actions, you have to make do each round with the die results showing in the navigation box. Accordingly, most of the game’s light strategy centers around choosing the best action cards to play and the best times to play them. Even law-breaking pirates can’t do everything they want, anytime they want to do it!
Importantly, there are always trade-offs to consider as you choose your actions. For example, we already noted that your ship only has five holds to store goods, so if you’ve already filled four of your holds before you play an action that gains you five gold and then four food, you need to empty one of your holds to make room for the gold or the food.
Even if you simply aim to sail forward as fast as possible, you had better have the food to feed your crew and the gold to pay for port. Any sea space that has white diamonds requires that you spend that much food, and any space that features a number within a golden circle requires that you pay that many doubloons. Otherwise, you pay all that you can and then move backward along the board until you enter a space whose cost you can afford. In fact, if you’re unlucky, you might even find yourself taxed all your gold before you bump backward into a spot that taxes you the remainder of your food and bumps you even further backward!
Fortunately, there are a few things you can unearth that don’t require room in your holds. Along your journey, you may be the first to sail to a space with a treasure chest on it. If so, you remove the treasure chest token from the map and claim the top treasure card. Sweet pirate loot!
Most treasures are worth some amount of gold doubloons, but some treasures are cursed and subtract from your gold total at the end of the game. Still others provide unique benefits that you can use throughout the rest of your travels. In total, there are four of these unique pirate treasures:
These unique treasures are revealed when they’re drawn, but players keep their gold treasures and cursed treasures facedown, adding an element of surprise to the game, so that no one truly knows anyone else’s current points until the race is won and all pirate captains stake their claim to victory.
Of course, in a game with pirates and treasures, there’s bound to be combat!
You can’t keep a greedy pirate captain from coveting another’s booty, even if his or her rival is normally a friend. Accordingly, whenever your ship finishes its movement in the same space as another pirate vessel (or when another pirate ship ends up in your space), it’s time to man the cannons and prepare your boarding party.
The active player fires first. When you fire, you can spend any or all of the cannon powder tokens in your holds and roll the combat die. For each cannon powder token that you spend, you add one to your total combat value. Then your opponent has a chance to spend cannon powder and contest your roll. Whoever has the higher total result wins and gets to steal either one treasure or all of the goods in one of the rival ship’s holds.
In this way, you can seize other pirate’s treasures, plunder their gold, or leave them without enough food to continue their journeys forward, forcing them backward to calmer waters.
From the moment you open the treasure chest box and unfurl its gold-laden rulebook, Jamaica immerses you in the pirate’s life. Of course, the game goes well beyond its beautiful componentry and will have you and your friends testing out your sea legs, speaking in your best pirate voices, and firing shots across each other’s decks all the way to Port Royal.
Who will show the best for the journey? Test your nautical skills and intimidation tactics in Jamaica!