[Editors note: The following is a Nemesis Review, featuring opinions from our in-house eurogamer, @Farmerlenny, and his deadly enemy, the thematic, space-loving @Futurewolfie. Make sure to read both opinions to get a better overall picture of the game!]
I had heard buzz around the Internet about a great two-player game called Jaipur, but I wasn’t sure about it. Mostly because the pricetag was $25, the box was small, and the components, as far as I could gather, were a deck of cards (granted, beautifully illustrated cards) and a few stacks of pogs. But when I found it for a deal, I decided it was worth a try. And I realized just how foolish I was to balk at the pricetag, because this game is fantastic.
How It Works
Jaipur is a game of trading for two players that is played over three rounds. The winner of each round receives a “seal of excellence,” and the player who secures two seals of excellence becomes the Maharaja’s personal trader, thus winning the game.
The game starts with three camels placed in the center of the table in a row, a hand of five cards dealt to each player, and two random cards turned face up to complete the five-card center row (the market). The cards depict either goods or camels. The pogs, which are divided into expensive goods (diamonds, gold, and silver) and regular goods (cloth, spice, and leather) are organized in descending order by value off to the side. The bonus tiles for three-, four-, or five-card trades are shuffled. Players remove any camels from their hands and place these cards in front of them. Players determine who will go first and are off.
On a turn, players may do only one of two actions: “buy” cards (take cards from the market) or “sell” cards (discard cards for pogs). This is such a simple concept, but the way this is done is clever. Here are options for buying cards. Players may:
- take one face-up good
- take all the camels
- take two or more goods, replacing them with cards from their hand and/or camels
Players may also sell goods, one type per turn, discarding cards from their hand and taking an equal number of pogs from that good’s pile. If three, four, or five goods are discarded in this way, players also take a corresponding bonus tile. (For example, if five cloth are discarded, a player would take the top five cloth pogs and the top bonus pog on the five pile.)
The round is over whenever three piles of pogs are emptied. Whoever has the most camels receives a five-point bonus, and the combined point value of all the pogs players acquire in a round will determine who receives the seal of excellence.
Jaipur is a fantastic game. A trading game for two players seems like a lame idea, but it is surprisingly excellent in Jaipur. Players don’t trade among themselves (a la Settlers of Catan), but the interaction with the market really does make it seem like you’re trading with the other player. I like that every decision made in this game has consequences for both players, so it’s highly interactive. And it’s not a game where one player can really run away with it (at least if the other player is careful) because it is so well balanced.
The basic concept of Jaipur is so simple, but the game is deceptively clever. The game is full of trade-offs. Buying decisions are full of give-and-take. Taking one card from the market is the slowest way to build up your hand, but it also limits the new cards your opponent will get to choose from (as only one card from the deck will replace it). Taking all the camels is a good move sometimes, as it gives you more to work with (camels don’t count against your hand size), but taking all the camels also opens up the market for your opponent. Exchanging goods is a great way to get what’s best in the market, but you have to get rid of cards in your hand or camels, which your opponent can then take.
Each selling option also has its set of challenging decisions. Pogs are organized in descending order by value. This means that the most valuable pogs of each good go to the player who sells first. But players get a hefty bonus if they sell three, four, or especially five goods at a time. Should players wait to trade in more goods, or should they sell early to get the top-scoring pogs? The expensive goods are worth the most points per good, but they also must be traded in sets of at least two (all other goods can be sold one at a time). And the pogs are shorted: there aren’t as many pogs as there are cards of that good in the deck. So if you wait too long to sell, you could be out of luck. I love this give-and-take aspect of the game because every decision has a consequence. Because of these consequences, every decision is an interesting one.
I also like Jaipur because it is so variable. At the beginning of a round, I might start with a hand of three leather, making me think I should collect leather. But when gold or diamonds show up, I have to rethink my strategy on the fly. I could exchange those leather in my hand for gold (which are worth more), but in doing so I would give my opponent the chance to take multiple leather cards. I like this constant reevaluation. It keeps the game interesting.
Overall, Jaipur is a blast to play. And it’s so simple (that doesn’t mean “easy”). I read and understood the rules after one pass through the rulebook (about seven minutes), taught it to my wife in about five minutes, and twenty minutes later we were cleaning up the last scraps of my pride. It is fast-paced, and because there is only one decision per turn (buy or sell?), I don’t anticipate “analysis paralysis” setting in for even the most overconscious players. The game feels sleek and streamlined. Play moves quickly and is unimpeded by superfluous decisions. Jaipur also gets deeper the more that we play. At first we played conservatively, trying to collect our sets without getting in the other person’s way. Now we play much more aggressively, which makes the game even more interactive and enjoyable.
The downside of Jaipur? You’re paying $25 for cards and pogs. I wasn’t willing to make that initial investment in such a compact game before I had played it (I was a fool!), but now that I have, I think the game is worth every penny for the fun contained inside, especially for people who have trouble finding two-player games. Another downside is that Jaipur is a two-player game exclusively. This is great because many two-player games are variants of larger games, few are specifically built for it, but it also limits the chances you’ll get to play it in larger settings.
These quibbles (and they are merely quibbles) aside, I can’t recommend Jaipur more highly. The artwork, components, and theme are great, but the gameplay is phenomenal. Seriously, check this game out.
[Ed. Note: @Farmerlenny’s portion of the review was adapted from his original review on Tongue Fried Goat.]
Let’s be honest. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you probably have an idea that a light-themed Middle Eastern trading game doesn’t exactly sound like my cup of tea. And it doesn’t.
But you know what? Just because I like heavily thematic games doesn’t mean I don’t know a good game when I see (play?) one. Jaipur is a delightful little game that’s easy to learn, easy to setup, and plays very quickly.
There’s a lot to like about this game. From a strictly material perspective, the art looks very nice, the cards are bright and colorful (and very clearly matched to the correct set of pogs—some games use colors that look very similar, but there’s definitely clear distinction here). The design in general is solid—from the unique art as well as color on each card set clearly differentiating the pogs with values all around the edge so it’s easy to read from any angle—and with the number printed very large on the back so it’s easy to add up at the end of each round without distracting colors.
I like Jaipur’s scoring mechanism. With three rounds that reset at each round, you can make a comeback from a bad first round. Even if you lose by 80 points, it’s all evened out at the start of the next round, and you have hopefully learned from your mistakes.
@Farmerlenny covered it pretty well—with limited options, there’s little room for analysis paralysis. But that doesn’t mean the game is too simple. On the contrary, every decision you make feels important, but there’s only so much out there to analyze. Every decision you make will likely help you; the trick is to avoid helping your opponent more.
Jaipur can get pretty intense. It can be very easy for your wife to get nasty and start taking cards just to keep them from you—and it can be frustrating when you take okay cards on your turn, only to have those awesome red or gold cards you’re trying to collect flip up just in time for your opponent to nab them. Of course, maybe you should have traded some of your precious but not-quite-as-great cards to the middle so no new cards appear for your opponent. It’s your choices, your risk, and your reward. And if you totally blow it…well, it’ll be over shortly.
The $25 price is pretty steep for the actual physical materials, but you’re getting a solid, extremely well balanced, excellently designed game for two. If you’re still hesitant, no worries. You can easily get it at a discount. It’s only $20 on Amazon, or $16.99 at CoolStuffInc—a great game to toss into your order to push it over $100 and get free shipping.
I haven’t played every game put out by Asmodee, but the ones I have played are excellent. Jaipur is no exception.