PunchBoard Media: The Big List of Games
Nominated by Eric Buscemi
Eric Buscemi (The Cardboard Hoard) - Jamaica is an exceptional family game that plays between two and six players. In the game, players take on the role of famous pirates like Edward Drummond and Anne Bonny in a race around the Caribbean isle, starting and ending at the city of Port Royal. Jamaica is highly thematic -- it’s box even looks like a treasure chest -- with beautifully drawn pirates and scenery that are cartoonish and family friendly, not historical or realistic. The game blends dice rolling, simultaneous action selection, grid movement, resource management, loot acquisition, and pirate ship battles in a seamless, intuitive way that can be picked up by an eight-year-old, but is still tons of fun for parents, grandparents, and friends young and old. Because of its lively gameplay, beautiful components, broad player count, and sub-hour playtime, I can’t recommend Jamaica highly enough.
Dustin Boatman (Board Game Gumbo) - Jamaica is a great family/gateway game that pits rival pirates against each other in a race around the island of Jamaica. This game’s theme and easy to learn rules is what got me interested originally and I have never regretted purchasing it. It is a staple in my house with my family, and I have also used it in to introduce friends and family to the hobby. While it is a race game, finishing first does not guarantee victory but gives you bonus points and ends the game. Of course, along the way you will have to battle other player's pirates if you land in their space, find buried treasure and weapons, and manage resources such as gold for ports and rations to feed your crew. Overall it is one of my favorite family/gateway weight games and I recommend it for anyone who plays those styles of games. If you don’t like player interaction or combat, you may want to stay away from this one though, because it can be mean. But then, what did you expect? You are pirates after all.
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games) - Eric and Dustin have covered a lot of what makes Jamaica great above, but for me the wonder of Jamaica comes down to two things: beauty and simple, but purposeful, decisions. Beauty first - this game is gorgeous. Game Works has always been known for fantastic art direction and production values, and Jamaica is one of the earliest examples of just how much a work of art a game can be. From the box (designed to look like a lockbox which opens to show coins on the rulebook) to the map, to the little plastic ships, everything in Jamaica is eye candy and meant to delight gamers. The coolest little artistic Easter egg of Jamaica, though, is in the player action cards. If you string them together just right from end to end it creates an enormous panorama that you can see right here! Besides all the beauty, players will find great satisfaction in deciding which action card is the right one to play depending on the roll of the dice, which holds to put loot in and which to jettison, how much gunpowder to add when combat rolls around, and, most importantly, which route to take during the race to Port Royale. Do you take the “shortcuts” to jump out in front of the other pirates, or do you take a stroll around the outer perimeters for a chance at more loot? There’s really no wrong choice - except when you lose! But Jamaica is so charming and quick to play that you’ll want to get it back on the table, just to delight in the beauty and satisfying decisions again and again.
Links to PBM Reviews of Jamaica
Nominated by Marti Wormuth
Marti Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): I used to have very little interest in games with a racing theme - but, after Restoration Games stole my heart with Stop Thief! (my top game of 2017), I knew I had to get all of their other great games at some point - and yes, even Downforce. It ended up being a huge surprise the first time that Sarah and I brought it out.
There has not been a case where Downforce wasn’t a hit. We’ve played it at 2 players, and loved the head-to-head nature of trying to outplay one another. And, we’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum, playing it at max count (6 players), where the game is filled with “yellow gets to move one. Green gets to move - nowhere. Blue gets to move - nowhere” because they decided to play a card that just put yellow in everyone’s way. I’m not usually a big fan of mean games, but in Downforce, everyone is getting screwed over, so it’s just funny.
The game is light, but not so light that there isn’t any strategy. Everyone I’ve introduced to the game loves it, and it’s one of those games that we always bring with us to large group gatherings because of its player count and how easy it is to teach to other people. In short, even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the racing theme, Downforce is still a game that you want to have on your shelf.
Ryan Gutowski (One Board Family) - It’s not an exaggeration to say that Downforce was our biggest surprise of 2017. No one in our family is into the sport of racing, yet this was still our most played game last year.
Restoration Games put a fresh coat of paint and new mechanics on a game that had already been published a couple times in the 80’s and 90’s under different names. Downforce has been an incredible game to teach new gamers and non-gamers alike. The game is more of a betting game than a racing game. It shares some qualities with a game like Camel Up while giving you ownership over a vehicle of your own.
There’s a simplicity to moving the cars around the track according to the card you play. As players finish their first race they begin to see some of the strategy that makes players say “just one more game”. Competing for 1st place is a very small part of earning the most money. Players have to pay attention to every car on the track and use their cards to manipulate the outcome of the race according to their bets. Downforce is a gateway game that regularly brings both kids and adults to our table.
BJ Rozas (Board Game Gumbo): I’ve always been a fan of racing games. Years ago, I bought Formula D but it has always felt a little dry and overly long. I was not familiar with Downforce or its progenitors prior to Restoration Games. However, Restoration’s announcement got me excited enough spend my entire lunch break at GEN CON 50 visiting the booth instead of eating, and I immediately bought the game. I was drawn in by the driver powers, auction system, a much cooler movement system than the stick-shift-and-dice-rolls system in Formula D, and finally, the amazing graphic art and illustrations. The game is well designed, and it has been a big hit with almost every game group I’ve taught, although for some reason, my hard core game group was less enthused. Is it too simple? Not for me -- I think it is the perfect blend of luck, an easy rule set, bidding, and tactics to appeal to any gamer. Downforce easily made my list of top games of 2017.
Ken Grazier (Geek-Craft): I generally enjoy racing games, even if I am not a gear head. There's jockeying for position, trying to outmaneuver your opponents, and the thrill of cutting someone off in a turn. Downforce adds a wagering aspect, which works well for the game. I love the cards that make you move multiple cars forward - it makes you strategize more and do your best to plan ahead. Of course, if an opponent is forced to help you, all the better. Very approachable, great for up to six players, and with new maps coming soon, I think this is a great racing game that everyone should try.
Links to PBM Reviews of Downforce
Nominated by Charles Hasegawa
Charles Hasegawa (Things of No Interest) - I love racing games. And while games like Formula De (or D depending) have their place, this is not that kind of race game. Ave Caesar is a tactical knife fight in a phone booth with 5 of your friends. The game is simple - players must make three laps around the track (and must pass through the lane to acknowledge Caesar during the first two laps). Everyone gets a deck of the same movement cards and has a hand of three cards. On your turn, you play a card and MUST move the total amount on the card. If you cannot (the track is crowded), you cannot play a card and must pass, allowing those ahead of you to pull away. There are some ways to catch up though. The biggest movement card in the game can ONLY be used if you are not in the lead or tied for the lead. And while this sounds simple (it is), it is vicious and brutal and fun. This might be one of my all time favorite “be a jerk” games, because everyone at some point is going to be a jerk and then giggle at everyone else. You see, the total movement available to players (ie the sum of the cards), doesn’t allow for many mistakes - sometimes you have to play a card and take a less efficient path (ie the outside lanes). Doing so can mean you might not have enough “gas in the tank” to finish. Poor timing (or more likely, the other jerky players) can force you to sit in frustration watching someone race around the track. But don’t worry - if this was pure frustration, it wouldn’t be fun. The tracks are short enough that a runaway leader often gets theirs when they come around and get stuck in the logjam. And that is the beauty of this game - you very rarely feel out of a race. And those times you know you are out? Well, you can get your payback in the next race by jamming everyone up and watching them howl in frustration as you lap their sorry butt. This is light fast fun that is underrated. If you can find the original version by Ravensburger, get that over the newer Asmodee version (the tracks were redone slightly in Asmodee’s revision - they are a little better in the original) get it, but any edition is worth playing.
Race for the Galaxy
Nominated by Ken Grazier
Ken Grazier (Geek-Craft): Race for the Galaxy is one of my favorite games to play with my wife. It's one of the first engine building games that I ever played, and with the different ways to get points, it offers a lot of replayability. I'm not saying it's the easiest game to learn - you basically have to learn a new icon based language - but the game can be a lot of fun. It also rewards multiple plays and knowing the cards in the deck, which can be frustrating to new players. If you enjoy engine building games, this one is one of the ones you need to try. You can play in 15-20 minutes once you get it and shuffle up and play again. One game I will always teach to anyone who wants to play it.
Danielle Bock (Draft Mechanic): Race For The Galaxy was my first “on a whim” purchase when I got back into hobby gaming. I remember pouring over the cards to make sure I understood the oft-maligned iconography and getting excited about how each games would force me to come up with a new combination to get my engine running.
Race For The Galaxy is a game of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. You always want more phases to occur than you are able to ensure with your own action cards so it becomes critical that you are in tune with your opponents’ strategies to predict what they will play so you can take advantage of their phase. Each card is itself a choice. Do I need this for the powers and points or do I want to use it to pay for some other card with its own benefits? The fact that you can’t ever have everything you want makes it all the more satisfying when you make the right choices and rack up combos and points.
Whether it’s 2-player duel or a 5-player expansion fueled game Race For The Galaxy always feels like a wonderful puzzle to be solved.
Adrian Richardson (Mile High Game Guys): Confession: I have never played San Juan, the spiritual successor to RftG and considering how much I love Race, I doubt I ever will. One of the first games I played as I was beginning to dabble in the hobby, Race immediately hooked me. I promptly bought several of the expansions and started playing it all the time. Over the years I have played it less and less at anything other than two players and I have grown increasingly wary of trying to guide new players through the minutia of it's sometimes confusing iconography, but my love of the game has never diminished.
It's one of my most played games in my collection largely because of 3 factors: it's a fantastic 2 player game, I can play it in about 30 minutes, and the entire game fits in one of it's small expansion boxes. Because of those 3 things my girlfriend and I take it everywhere. We've played it in breweries, on mountain tops, in the back of a Subaru, and even in a tent in Iceland on a rainy day.
A fantastic action selection and tableau building game, I wholeheartedly recommend Race for the Galaxy to anyone and everyone looking for a portable card game that has enough variability to withstand 100s of plays.
Links to PBM Reviews of Race for the Galaxy