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Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: Jaipur - A Favorite for Two


Jaipur is the capital of the largest city in Rajashtan.  It also lends its name to probably the best two player game I have had the joy of experiencing.  In Jaipur, the Maharaja will invite his top merchant to his court.  While many lesser traders exist, only you and your top rival really have a chance at being that invitee.

Jaipur is quick to set up, easy to grasp, moves quickly, and has a surprising depth of strategy for what, on first glance, appears to be a relatively simple game.

The Basics.  In Jaipur, the players can trade and sell six different kinds of goods. From most precious (i.e., worth the most points) to least precious they are: Diamonds, Gold, Silver, Cloth, Spice, and Leather.  The players may also maintain herds of camels which can be used to obtain additional goods.

On a turn, a player may either sell goods, or obtain goods.  This keeps the game rolling along as there aren't any long delays between drawing a card and then deciding what to do with it.  The market consists of five cards.  It begins each round with three camels and then two cards pulled from the top of the draw pile.  If a player wants to obtain goods from the market he may either take one card, OR take as many cards as he wants, but replace an equal number from his hand or camels, OR take all the camels.

Camels don't count against the hand limit, so having a ready supply can be handy.  It allows the player to trade them in for valuable goods.

Alternatively, a player can sell any number of the same kind of good by discarding them from his hand.  When he does, he gets the topmost disc for that commodity for each item sold.  The tiles are numbered with the highest numbers on top.  So, for example, the first two diamonds sold are worth seven points each.  The next three are worth only five.  By contrast, only the first spice is worth five, and the next two are worth only three and they decrease from there.  If he sells three, four, or five at once, the player will get a bonus tile worth additional points. 

It seems simple enough, but there are a number of strategical concerns.  On the selling side, there is tension between selling early to get the higher valued discs, or trying to save up to get the bonus tiles.  The bonus for a five sale can be between 7 and 10 (more valuable than the most precious diamond).

On the buying side, there is strong strategery with respect to taking camels.  It may be great to snag four camels off the board, but they are immediately replaced with four random cards from the draw pile.  And now it's your opponent's turn.  That means, if gold or diamonds are drawn, your opponent now can grab them before you have the opportunity to do so.  It may be best to forgo camels if your opponent has a small hand and a large herd (thus enabling them to steal many of the new goods played to replace the camels).

It can also be advantageous to 'starve' your opponent of camels by taking them first.  Without them, your opponent will only be able to take one good per turn (a huge disadvantage) or will have to replace cards he takes with cards from his hand.

After a round is played through, the players count up the points on their discs.  The one who has the most wins that round.  The game is played best of three rounds for the winner.  In sum, Jaipur provides a number of strategic choices that can impact game play.

Components: 4.5 of 5.  The components are of top quality.  The discs are made of sturdy cardboard.  The cards are about the size of normal playing cards making them easy to shuffle.  They are also on a nice quality stock that I expect to stand up to many, many plays without much damage.  The artwork is also well suited to the theme. 

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5.  As a card game, there will sometimes be lucky draws.  I've been dealt two diamonds in my opening hand with one on the board to take right away.  I've also had some tough draws where it was hard to get leather together.  Yet, there is a nice balance.  As explained above, there is substantial depth about when to take what items, when to sell, and when to buy.  It's also possible to end a round by buying up all of three types of goods.  So, if a player is ahead, he may try grabbing up a few one point chips if by doing so he'll end the round. 

Mechanics: 5 of 5.  The manual is very straightforward.  And, mechanically, the rules are very clear.  Sell or buy - and buying only has three options.  There aren't a lot of special exceptions or other alterations.  A read-through of the rules took much less than five minutes and we were up and playing within minutes after that. 

Replayability: 4 of 5.  This game comes down from my shelf quite a bit.  I've only owned it for a few weeks, but my wife and I really enjoy it.  We play several times each week.  The game plays mechanically the same each time.  The only difference is what cards you are dealt and how you maximize your sales.  But, I find that it injects just enough of a random element to keep me coming back to the game for another play. 

Spite: 0 of 5.  There is no mechanical way to throw spite at an opponent.  No cards allow you to discard from your opponents hand or discs.  No cards allow you to make an opponent lose a turn.  The most you can do is take an action that would give you the biggest benefit - but that's just competition, not spite.

Overall: 4.5 of 5.  I've played Jaipur over a dozen times now and am still looking forward to more.  It is light, thematically enjoyable, quick to play, and simple.  I've been using it as the conversion tool for my non-gamer wife who now requests that we play Jaipur from time to time.  (All part of the Master Plan).  My only complaint is that this game is limited to two players.  I'm not sure that it would work as well with more, but it's a shame that it can't be played in a group.

Oh, and its also way, way, way better than Lost Cities.  There's no needless math in Jaipur. 

You can get it from Boards and Bits here

You can also get it from FunAgain here.


  1. Hey, Jaipur is the largest city and the capital of 'Rajasthan'. And not the largest city of the capital of Rajasthan. ;)

  2. THERE IS SPITE, of course! :) When opponent notices that I'm buying something, they immediately sell whatever little of it they have, so that my eventual big sale doesn't get the higher priced counters. Also opponents would take a good, when I'm gathering it, even if they don't need it, just to break my series. So, certainly, when playing good opponents, THERE IS A LOT OF SPITE, in this game!!