Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 30mins
Play Time (Goof): 30-45mins.
Designer: Sebastien Pauehon
Nothing about Jaipur was interesting to me. I’d scroll through Instagram looking at all the cool games people are playing – and keep on scrolling without a second thought whenever Jaipur would come up. I took enough notice to identify some people seemed to like it, but it never grabbed me in any way.
As often happens when you’re involved with any community the way I am – destiny intervened.
This sounds dramatic, but when you consider how little I care about a generic Arabian market theme, I’d have rather gotten this flavour with an added Djinn element like Five Tribes. Or assassins… like Five Tribes. Pretty much I’d have rather just played Five Tribes.
Josh from Tabletop Wonderland brought it out one morning while we sipped our morning coffee (I feel a little pathetic admitting Charlotte and Amy were making pancakes for us at the time… and had made the coffee… but back on topic). Honestly my friends play through a lot of crap games to help me find something I want to review so I figured I’d bite the bullet shaped meeple and give it a go. Besides, he said it was quick.
It’s currently my fourth most played game.
There’s something about the simplicity of Jaipur which rocketed it up my play count. There are games I like more, lots of games I like more, but there are so many times when you can’t sit through a three hour game of Robinson Crusoe or Milennium Blades. And maybe you’re playing with your Dad who struggles to understand the vastly complex (read: incredibly simple) mechanics of Tiny Epic Galaxies.
The issue I generally find in games with simple mechanics is the lack of impactful choices. I don’t mean the game has to make me feel like I’m altering the lives of millions. But the decisions need to have weight. If I make a choice and making a different once would have put me in the same situation, then it’s not a choice – it’s the illusion of one. If I’m faced with a clear difference between a good choice and a bad choice, well it’s basically deterministic.
Jaipur manages to be simple yet weighty. When you take a card from the center, you’re denying your opponent from taking it, you’re increasing the number of cards you have, but you’re also not necessarily putting yourself in a much better situation. Another option you’ve got is to take multiple cards, but rather than drawing new cards to fill the slots you now have to replace them with cards from your hand. Do you get rid of a bunch of cards you don’t need, knowing your opponent can make use of them? Do you hoard your cards until you can score big but sacrifice the relative ease of manipulating the market? – you can only ever have 5 cards in hand and can’t swap a resource for the same resource, also can’t exchange just one item for another item. This makes hand management important. Maybe scoring smaller than you wanted in order to keep your options open.
There are actually two more gameplay elements I believe makes Jaipur so excellent at what it does – which really is drafting for two players. The camel herds, and the victory points. Those of you familiar with Jaipur will notice I have now mentioned pretty much every single aspect of the game. It does so much with so little!
When you take camels, you take all of them from the available cards and fill them with cards from the deck. Such a simple mechanic but because it changes the board state in such a huge way, it fast becomes one of the strategic considerations I spend the most of my experience deliberating.
Firstly, camels don’t clog up your hand limit. The freedom this gives you to then refill your hand after scoring points or if you need to exchange them to grab a few key cards is amazing. You know you can pretty safely put these back into the market row because your opponent won’t score many or any points off them. You get five points at the end of the round for whoever has the most camels, but I have yet to see this be the consistent deciding factor as to who wins. But if you think the scores are close it can be something worth keeping an eye on.
Now, say three out of five cards in the middle are camels. You take them, you’ve just opened up three brand new cards for your opponent to lay first claim to. So you never take those camels, you’re basically playing with three less resources and less ways to build your hand. What’s worth more to you? Did your opponent just score a bunch of cards and will need to rebuild their deck? Might be a good opportunity to grab those camels to deny them the resources to do so easier and force them to pick up a single card (or do they have a decent herd size already?).
Let’s take it a step further. You’ve got some camels and nothing in the market is enticing. You know your opponent is building up the green cards (spice). So you replace the two green cards in the middle with camels which your opponent then takes. You’ve denied your opponent for at least a turn, and you’ve got more options to take from.
I could probably write a whole article on Jaipur strategy (the sort of guide which doesn’t in any way guarantee you victory… so I probably won’t). For such an easy to learn game – and I mean easy, this thing has poker beat in terms of the simplicity to strategy ratio – there’s a ton of depth and interesting decision making opportunities. You can clearly play this game without consideration of any of this by the way. Pick the cards you need and take camels when you want them. Jaipur operates on the level you and your gaming group want it to.
The earlier you turn in a specific type of card for points, the more it’s worth. But the more copies of a card you have when you turn it in the more point tokens you claim and the bigger bonus you get (it sounds more complex than it is, I promise. Check out the pictures in this article for some more clarity).
Like with all good games, it comes down to timing. Watching what your opponent takes from the market and trying to outplay then. Sometimes I’m not going for the purple cards (silk) at the moment, but I have a couple and I know turning them in nets me little but deprives my opponent of points. It’s another decision point – do I turn the cards I have into more useful things for me? Or do I lower the swing in points when they score the five cards in their hand?
Speaking of turning in a five card set, lawdy does it feel good – and then proceeds to be bloody painful to claw yourself back into cards (so try and have at least a couple camels around to help). Because once you’re low on cards you’re basically back to taking one card at a time to rebuild. It works partially as a balancing mechanism, meaning you’re not rocketing away after such a large score. And if you plan for a big turn you can get yourself back to a good hand state faster. I’m beginning to get repetitive but it’s just another great example of simple mechanics, great strategy.
I feel a bit lost at the design choice behind the game length. You win overall by winning best two out of three. As in two out of three full games. You reset everything between games, nothing crosses over except the round token. I just… is there a point to this? Did the game not feel long enough? Why is it any different to play the game three times? Couldn’t it just be a single game so if you need to fit it in between other daily activities or something to play while you’re waiting on another player to arrive? Resetting up between each of these “rounds” takes a little too long to be a quick refresh and continue situation. Maybe… MAYBE the designers were thinking of the law of large numbers and over the course of three games the luck element will balance out slightly more. For those highly competitive Jaipur players with millions on the line (this is a joke but if it’s a real thing someone send me a link immediately). For the casual game Jaipur really seems to be (despite all the strategy you can go into), I just don’t see this as being necessary or even desirable.
Pros: +simple, +choices, +timing, +balancing
Cons: – -artificially drawn out
Jaipur’s theme works. And it’s a lot more clever than I realised at first look (you’ll notice my clever use of language disguises the fact I didn’t realise how clever it was when I first played).
When you break down the mechanics of Jaipur, it’s very straight forward drafting and set collection. Look at other drafting games:
- Sushi Go works because you’re grabbing food from a sushi train. The points being an abstract yet arbitrary system of thematically deciding… who enjoyed their meal the most?
- 7 Wonders Duel (while my initial thought was to write “…barely works at all”) is about building your empire to becoming the most powerful and influential. The points representing your standing in the world.
The problem with the two above examples is they feel quite abstracted. They’re clever but their points systems represent nothing really tangible (except when your military destroys my city…that…that’s pretty tangible). But in Jaipur everything feels quite in keeping with a bustling, chaotic marketplace. The turns are quick so you get the feeling of new goods being bought, traded, or sold. You’re constantly moving cards from your hands to the market or taking them, or turning them in for wealth. The points are your wealth. The camels are good for getting what you need where you need it. And the more supply you’re generating, the less you’re going to be able to get for those goods. Jaipur feels a bit like a high school economics lesson in action.
Can I take an aside here and point out how amazing games are at teaching things again? I’ve written an article on this before, but I had never heard of Jaipur as a place before. It just hasn’t come up. Or if it has the fact the event took place in Jaipur has not been memorable. However after playing Jaipur I was curious… what is a Jaipur? And now I know. It’s apparently the capital city of some place not named after a game in Northern India. It’s got 3 million people in it! And at least at some point it had camels. Honestly, sign me up to Jeopardy. I’m ready.
Pros: ++hustle and bustle
I have one major complaint about the production of Jaipur.
This. Guy’s. Eyes.
Charlotte thinks he looks terrified.
Am I the only one who finds this guy really off putting? He kinda creeps me out. In fact he creeps me out so much I’ve dedicated a not insignificant amount of time writing about it. I even asked Charlotte to go take a photo specifically about his eyes so I can demonstrate just how creepy they are. Although I’m regretting it a little because they keep staring at me as I’m writing the review.
I feel the artwork in Jaipur is very bland. Nothing about it grabbed my attention (except maybe a panda on the back of one of the camels – and the EYES!) but it’s not the sort of thing I’m excited to see or hang on my wall. There are games where I get lost in the artwork, where I spend a disproportionate amount of time checking out the stunning pieces of work artists have lovingly crafted. Jaipur feels a little too “cool, this card is green. Needed one of those”. And hey look, Charlotte actually likes it (so it probably will be hanging on my wall someday). I think the dull artwork is the part which stopped me from giving Jaipur a look for so long. When you’re going through hundreds of games and the artwork doesn’t pop then it just becomes a bland picture you tend to put aside.
I had this whole thing written about how it was a bit annoying to count your score between each round, and how the numbers probably should have been a bit clearer. Then I asked Charlotte to play a game with me before I posted just so I could go over everything and make sure there wasn’t anything I had missed… “hey, it’s cool how they have the numbers on the back really clearly so you can count them.” So yeah… well done GameWorks. And a lesson to me about checking the backs of tokens from now on when I review them.
Tokens like the ones in Jaipur need to be weighty. You’re picking them up at critical moments, the way you have to lay them down helps if they’ve got some substance to them, and to be honest I’d just rather all tokens in every game ever felt solid and tactile. So Jaipur gets a plus here.
The card stock feels great. There’s no noticeable fraying after so many plays (and this is Tabletop Wonderland’s copy so they’ve played additional times). They’re a good size, they’re really nice to use.
The box insert is functional, even if it’s a little jarring to look at. But the pieces slip in well and when I open the box even after a lengthy car trip everything is where I left it and ready to be pulled out and played. Given some difficulty a few months back where I eventually threw out a ton of inserts in favour of coin bags and other methods of game component storage, I felt this was worthy of note.
Pros: +clear token values, +weighty tokens, +card stock, +box insert
Cons: – -bland artwork
I’m going to keep playing Jaipur. I really want to introduce my family to it, but there’s normally more than two people there who are wanting to sit down to a game. I’m sure the opportunity will arise, and it’s still a quick game I can pull out whenever and have a great back and forth.
I give Jaipur:
Speaking of having a quick game of Jaipur, I want to come clean and mention a few of these plays have been on the app. It’s really well implemented and I’ll probably do an App in a Snap about it sometime in the future.
I got my copy through Tabletop Wonderland
Tabletop Wonderland are offering readers of The Goof Review a 10% discount off of your first month to their subscription service! Just use the code GOOFREVIEW10
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