Jaipur, the well-loved two-player game of trading goods and camels in medieval India, has jumped on the ship of board-game-to-digital-app conversions. It seems like a natural fit, if you think about it – a quick and simple card game that’s easy to play in a few minutes, even in its physical form. So, how does the digital version stand up?
How It Plays
Jaipur is a trading card game for two players (check our review of the cardboard version here). “Trading for two? How does that make sense?” You say. Not an unfounded question.
It works by putting a set of 5 cards in the center of the table – that’s the Market. Technically, you trade with the market, not the other player. However, anything you put on the market naturally becomes available to the other player.
You can choose to either take 1 goods card from the market, trade two or more goods between the market and your hand, or take all the camels on the market. Camels are special – they can’t be sold, but they also don’t count towards your hand limit. You can use them, in addition to goods from your hand, to trade from the market.
Instead of taking or exchanging goods, you can instead sell your goods for Rupees. You can only sell one type of good at a time, and you take 1 token from the corresponding stack for each card you sell. If you sell 3 or more cards at once, you get a bonus token (with likely values increasing the more cards you sell at once). The more expensive goods – Diamons, Gold, and Silver – require you to sell at least 2 cards at once. Also, the value of the tokens you collect typically decreases as goods are sold, so it’s best to sell early if you can.
A round ends when either 3 piles of goods tokens have been emptied or the deck runs out. The player with the most camels gets a bonus 5 points, and whoever has the most points wins the round. Everything resets for the next round, and 2 rounds wins the game.
That’s a basic overview. So let’s get to the app.
Precious Jewels, Precious Camels
The first and biggest challenge of any board-game-to-app project is getting the user interface right. The natural interface of cards in hand and on the table (assuming the game is well-designed) creates a flow of organized information and ease of use. You likely don’t think about it often, but the simple act of taking a card from your hand and “playing” it on the table is a form of user interface. Once you learn it for the first time, it’s natural and automatic and easy. Something like that has to be translated to a four inch screen for a digital app, and it’s never as natural or easy.
Fortunately, Jaipur doesn’t have a lot of wild actions going on. You mainly need to see your hand and the five cards in the market. The bright colors and designs of the cards make them easy to see, and for the most part the UI is fat-finger-friendly. You can even see the stacks of goods tokens clearly laid out to see what’s left, but if they read too small you can tap and hold your finger to zoom in.
The layout ensures you have all the information you need at any given time, with nothing hidden behind menus or extra buttons. That’s pretty important for a quick game like Jaipur. You even have a little “advisor” who gives you hints (which you can turn off), and who you can tap to review your opponent’s last turn.
Now THAT is a feature that I love. It’s so easy to glance away from your phone for a moment and miss something, and in many cases it’s not easy to figure out what just happened. The advisor pops up a single icon that clearly and immediately shows the cards that were traded, taken, or sold. So useful.
All that said, there are a few clunkiness issues that pop up here and there. Most of the time you just tap-and-drag to do what you want. Tap-and-drag a camel to take all the camels. Tap and drag a good from your hand to sell your goods of that type. Tap-and-drag 1 card to take it from the market.
If you want to trade goods with the market, you have to select each card individually – which makes sense, except that you have to tap the market first. If you tap on cards in your hand, it assumes you want to sell, and if you don’t realize that and start tapping on cards in the market (or camels) you wonder why they aren’t selecting. Not sure why the app can’t just automatically figure that out.
A few minor bugs make it worse – sometimes a card appears to be selected but isn’t, or you get your cards selected but the app thinks you’re exceeding your hand limit when you aren’t, so it won’t let you trade. If you tap a card and select it but decide you want to sell or take different cards, you can’t tap-and-drag those cards anymore, you have to deselect or carefully select your new cards, which just adds a bit of clunkiness.
These are minor issues, but every bit of clunkiness impedes the enjoyment of just playing the game. And it has caused me problems in online play, which I’ll mention later.
In the meantime, I have plenty more good things to say. This app is packed with the goods. Not only do you get a play-vs-AI mode with multiple difficulties, a pass-and-play mode, and an online mode, but you also get a campaign.
The single player vs AI mode lets you modify number of rounds to win and select different variants of play unlocked in the campaign mode (Hooray for using the power of the app to do things you can’t in the physical game!)
The campaign mode has you conquering India (at least economically), moving from region to region, gradually introducing you to new variants and increased difficulty. Your earnings from each game allow you to access new regions; camels from every round you win let you travel from region to region, and winning games without losing a single round earns you the ability to build on to your palace. As of yet, I’m not sure the palace does anything other than look nice, but hey. Have fun with it!
The regions range in difficulty and vary the rules, giving you reason to keep playing. So far I’ve played with 5-card and 9-card hand limits (instead of 7), reversed goods values (first sales get fewer points than the last), and every goods token worth the same in the stack. These variants aren’t necessarily game-changing, but they at least require you to tweak your strategy and approach the game from unique angles.
I’m also happy to report that the AI is actually well done. In just about every other board game app I’ve played, the “challenging” AI is either fairly easy to figure out and defeat after just a couple plays, or relies on imbalanced luck (like stacked decks and such) to gain the upper edge. Perhaps because of the mathy nature of the game, Jaipur’s hard AI is a worthy opponent, making for an interesting challenge. The lower AIs are passable for their difficulty, although I’ve noticed a few obvious quirks that remind you you’re playing an AI.
The online mode is quick and easy to get into. You need an Asmodee account, but fortunately you can use the same login for all your Asmodee digital games. The lobby shows you who’s online and available to play, but it also shows how many players are online and how many active games there are. THANK YOU FOR THIS! It’s extremely helpful to see that people are online and playing, and the lobby isn’t just empty. It can be worth sticking around if you see a lot of active games even if no one is waiting to play in that moment, and you don’t feel like you’re in a ghost town wondering if people are ever online.
Online play works exactly like single player (although I couldn’t find a way to adjust settings, like how many rounds to win or using the variants), with the addition of a 30-second turn timer.
Now, I appreciate a timer, but there’s also frustration there. 30 seconds is fine as long as things go smoothly, but I’ve encountered a few frustrating moments where I struggled with the interface thanks to some of the problems I mentioned above. In one instance I ran out of time struggling to figure out how to get the correct cards selected. The penalty? Immediate forfeiture of the game. Wow, that was harsh, despite an otherwise perfect (time-wise, not necessarily strategy-wise) game.
On top of that, there are some technical issues with online play. This is probably the worst part of the app. Many of my online games have ended in the game crashing before fully completing a game. There’s no way to tell if this is happening on my end or my opponents’, or if they’re quitting out, or what. In some cases I’ve been stuck on the game screen until I quit out of the game, and I think I suffered penalties to my player rating for that. I know it’s not because my phone is old and crappy – I’m playing on a fairly new Pixel phone with plenty of hardware.
Still. When the game works, it works well. Those bugs and crashes will get smoothed over in time, and hopefully the user interface will be tweaked and polished. The online crashes do knock my rating down a few points, but for everything else, this app is a great buy. Tons of content with the campaign mode keeps you coming back to play, online mode is quick and easy to get into, and there are a bunch of variants to mix up the vanilla flavor of the original game. Even without online mode, the app is worth the price of admission – at the time of this writing, it’s only $3 in the Google Play app store – so get on that.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee Digital for providing a review copy of Jaipur.