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Jamaica announces a new edition of the family board game, but the art remains disappointingly whitewashed

Yo ho, and a crumb of representation.

Pirate-themed board game Jamaica garnered several awards and nominations when it first released in 2007 and has since become a classic title loved for its relative approachability and colourful art style. It’s no surprise, then, that publishers Asmodee and Space Cowboy have announced a revised edition, albeit without addressing the lack of Black characters in its art.

Jamaica is a racing board game for two to six players centered on an annual celebration held by Henry Morgan, a Welsh pirate captain who retired from the seas to become Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. Morgan has invited all of his old buccaneer buddies to race around the island in a bid to collect the most gold before the circuit is complete.

The players piloting these ships must use the holds of their ships and the cards in their hands to amass as much treasure as possible before one of them crosses the finish line. This can be accomplished through a round’s normal course but also discovered during detours or raided from opponents’ holds. Everyone is a pirate, after all, so best to keep one’s cannons loaded and bellies full.

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Originally designed by Sébastien Pauchon, Malcolm Braff, and Bruno Cathala, Jamaica as published by Space Cowboys and its parent company Asmodee North America will be packaged in what’s being called a “classic ‘square format’ box” and will sell at a price point more fitting for a title with a reputation as a strong family board game. A press release claimed that the rules will be “slightly altered and streamlined” in a booklet format that will include coloured side tabs to make flipping through it a slightly less tedious experience.

The same press release mentions that the art and components inside the box will be of a similar quality to the original, and if the advanced images are any indication that means the many fans hoping to see some change to the overwhelmingly white depiction of Jamaica’s stylised Caribbean likely won’t change. The board game’s pirates sport big, toothy grins, and its playable captains draw from historical figures such as Mary Read, Edward Drummond and Samuel Bellamy. Besides a disregard for maritime laws, something all of them have in common is a broadly white European look.

That whitewashing has remained a criticism of the board game’s art - done by Mathieu Leyssenne - and gained more staunch voices in the wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police. Like many of its peers, Asmodee released a statement in solidarity with Black communities that called for donations, volunteering and “just listening.”

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Like many others, Jason Perez of board game YouTube channel Shelf Stories thought this might indicate a new direction for titles in Asmodee’s cardboard portfolio. A July 16th video titled The Reprint of Jamaica Should Look More Like Real Jamaica displayed his frustration and disappointment that the artistic representations of the reprint still would not reflect the majority Black and Afro-Caribbean peoples of Jamaica and its neighboring islands, to say nothing of its indigenous population.

Perez goes to admirable lengths to explain his critique in order to curtail what he feels will be anti-political backlash from viewers, and he does a great job explaining how easy this fix should be. The back half of his video - which is worth a full watch - simply lists several notable African and Black pirates that Asmodee and Space Cowboys could have used in Jamaica - Diego Lucifer and Laurens de Graaf among them.

Dicebreaker has reached out to Asmodee North America and Space Cowboys, who also publish Jaipur and Splendor, for more information. The new edition of Jamaica is currently planning to ship its first printing to local stores and online retailers November 26th.

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