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Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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1. INTRODUCTION

Jaipur is a fast cardgame for 2 players by Sébastien Pauchon, published in 2009 by GameWorks. The game is about a fictive match between two salesmen in India vying for the honour to supply the Maharaja's court. In a best out of three match, the players will trade cards in their hand against cards being drawn from the draw deck in order to create sets of similar type. These sets are then subsequently sold for victory points. To make things interesting the point value obtained by selling sets diminishes as more cards are sold; but an ever growing bonus is awarded to the selling player the larger the set is. After a hand has been completed, the player with the highest amount of points is awarded a seal of the Maharaja; and the first player to gain two wins the game.


2. GAME MATERIAL

In the small box we find rule booklets in three languages (English, French, and German), a deck of Magic-sized playing cards, and a large number of round carboard chips. The cards have a pleasant and durable coating which makes handling them a joy. The chips have already been punched, obviously to keep the size of the box down to its present size. Unusual is the inlay which for once has been specifically made for this game: it even has the emblem of the game embossed in it. The inlay holds the components in place very well, so there is no need to take it out and/or bag the components. All in all, very high production quality.

The rule booklets are very clear in describing the game, although if I wanted I could complain about one or two very minor issues. These have to do with the organisation of a few rules which have been moved to an addendum of sorts instead of being incorporated in the main text, but it's no big deal. All the information you need to understand and play the game is there. Tiebreaker rules have been provided up to a certain point, but in my experience they have not been necessary yet. I suspect they very rarely are, in any case.


3. GAME MECHANICS

Both players control two 'hands' of cards: one is literally in their hand and contains up to 7 merchandise cards, the other is open in front of them and contains an arbitrary number of camel cards. A players is not obliged to share the exact number of camels with his opponent, so it is recommended to form a neat stack.

Between the players is the market: a set of five open cards, accessible to both players. It may contain any combination of resources; a resource being either a camel or one of the six types of merchandise.

Also between the players are the victory point chips, which are arranged per type of merchandise into neat rows of descending value every time a new hand starts. There are 'expensive' chips such as gems which are valued between 7 and 5, and 'cheap' chips such as hides which are valued between 4 and 1. The speed at which the value of chips decreases also varies from type to type: metals always have the same value, but hides rapidly decrease to 1 to the point where a large majority has this value.

Then there are the bonus chips, arranged in three different stacks. These are awarded when a player sells a specific number of identical merchandise cards: 3, 4, or 5 or more. Each stack has a basic value which is augmented by a small random amount of at most 2 points.

The game mechanics can be split up into two groups: those dealing with purchases and trades with the market, and those dealing with selling merchandise. A player wishing to spend his turn with the market can either

— take one merchandise card from the market, add it to his hand, and replace it with a card from the draw deck; or
— take several merchandise cards from the market, add them to his hand, and replace them with a mixture of his own camels and/or different merchandise cards from his hand; or
— take all the camels from the market, add them to his 'stable', and replace them with cards from the draw deck.

The player should take care not to exceed his hand limit of 7 cards after his turn is complete. A common source of confusion is the fact that no action 'trade one card from the market against a camel or other hand card' exists, and is thus not allowed.

A player wishing to spend his turn by selling merchandise shows any number of merchandise cards in one type and one type only to his opponent, then discards them. He takes an equal amount of victory point chips from the correspondig row, starting at the end with the highest value showing. Should he discard 3 or more cards, he takes a corresponding bonus chip. For the three most expensive types of merchandise there is an extra restriction: a sale must consist of at least two cards. Camels cannot be 'sold' this way and remain without value until the end of a hand, when a bonus is awarded to the player having the highest amount of camels in his 'stable'. In case of a tie this bonus is not handed out.


4. GAME PLAY

The cards are shuffled, and then the market is formed by taking three camels and two random cards from the draw deck. The players get five cards each, and immediately place any camels from their hand in front of them. (Camels are never placed in the hand, and do not count against the 7 card-limit.) No replacement cards are drawn.

Then players take alternating turns, selecting either a market or a sales action; they cannot do both in the same turn. The game ends when a player must draw a card from the closed deck to replace all cards taken from the market but is unable to do so for a lack of cards; or when 3 types of merchandise no longer have victory point chips available.

The players then discard any remaining cards in their hand and award the camel bonus chip. They count up the point value of all chips in their possession, and the player with the highest score wins this hand. He is awarded a seal of the Maharaja. A new hand commences, and the first player to gain his second seal wins the game.


5. DISCUSSION

Jaipur is a game with simple rules, but this is not the same as stating that the game itself is simple. Although the rules governing bartering and selling are not complex, they can lead to some unexpected interesting decisions.

For example, if the market is full of camels, then the active player can do one of two things. He can a) take all the camels or b) sell some of his merchandise. Having a large amount of camels is to some extent beneficial as they allow a player to minimise the impact on his own hand when trading with the open market cards. And, of course, as the end of the game nears, they increase the chance that the player is awarded the substantial camel bonus of 5 points. But since the cards are replaced by fresh specimens drawn from the deck, it gives the opponent the opportunity to choose from a completely new selection of resources. The alternative to this dilemma, selling merchandise, is also not without problems. If the player has one or two valuable sets which in addition would bring him a bonus chip, then selling is not a bad course of action. But if the remaining chips are worth little, then it might be better to try and enlarge the set so that a more valuable bonus chip can be claimed—and that means taking the camels.

Both players should be highly aware of the ways in which points can be obtained. At first, the urge to create sets of three or more cards is nearly Pavlovian. But this isn't the most efficient means to obtain points. During the fist stages of a hand, it can be very worthwhile to sell just one card to claim the not-too-shabby victory points of the first chip of the rows of the 'cheap' goods. It also makes sense from a strategic point of view to take this course of action: by allowing a high-valued chip to remain on the table, players run the ever increasing risk that the opponent can claim both it and a bonus chip. Since the row has then lost its valuable head, it will be difficult to make up for the resulting point difference with what remains. Following a similar line of reasoning it becomes obvious that expensive goods may definitely not be allowed to remain on the table for long. A point difference resulting from a player being able to sell 4 or even 3 gems is very difficult to close, so these types of merchandise tend to be sold in pairs—the minimum amount set by the rules. Jaipur is therefore, in essence, an efficiency race against the clock and against the other player given a variable input of resources.

The result is that players soon learn to keep track of what their opponents do. Apart from the cards given to the players at the start of the game, everything they do thereafter is public knowledge. Counting camels is therefore a must, as is counting gems and gold. It appears to be not absolutely necessary to count the number of regular merchandise cards taken up by the player, as long as a player has a general idea what merchandise his opponent is trying to collect. Based on that information he can then either attempt to lower the point value of the remaining point chips even further, or focus his efforts on a type he knows his opponent is not actively seeking out.

It then also becomes apparent why the bonus chips have a small random variation in their value: this is to keep the players from accurately calculating their opponent's score. Of course the score is known to within a small margin as both a lower and an upper bound can be computed. There is a darker side to this variation, however. If it is taken into account that a player usually scores between 2 and 4 bonus chips, it follows that at most 8 points can be awarded randomly. That is a significant amount, as the total scores between players usually vary between 60 and 80 points. Comparing the random variation to the difference in total scores, the validity of the preceding statement is readily seen. Viewed in that light, the guaranteed 5 point-bonus obtained via the camel cards is therefore much more important than would seem at first.

Adding all of the above together, Jaipur can become quite a tense game, especially when played against an opponent who is equally aware of the above facts. The game can be won or lost on very little, which keeps it fresh and exciting. In other words, in order for this game to 'work', the gamers should push themselves as far as they dare go, and then perhaps even further. There is a lot to keep track of, but not so much that it swamps the human brain. It gives Jaipur an air of a piece of delicate machinery, where the slightest miscalculation or jitter can cause problems which are difficult to resolve. That is not, as I stated earlier, the hallmark of a 'simple' game. Unfortunately, it is also here where the game's Achilles' heel becomes apparent. Due to raw randomness, it is possible for a player to draw an extremely valuable set of cards from the draw deck. He can get these at the beginning of a hand, but he can also draw them in the course of a hand thus allowing his opponent first pick. Either way, for the player not having these cards it then becomes very difficult to remain in a competitive position. The effect is rather like jamming a screwdriver into that delicate machinery. Based on personal experience I estimate that such a situation occurs about once every six to seven hands, which in my opinion is rather often, perhaps uncomfortably so.

Subject-wise, the game doesn't have much to show for. There is no sense of a life-changing event which will see one of the players basking in the radiance of the Maharaja until death claims him, or something similar. It is a fairly abstract card game, although a lot of attention has gone into making it playable. This is shown best by the fact that the 'best out of three' has been cast in the setting of the competition: the winner is, after all, awarded 'a seal of the Maharaja'. That is, admittedly, not something Earth-shattering, but it is a nice touch nonetheless.

A hand of Jaipur lasts between 5 and 10 minutes, and the complete game usually takes about 15 to 25 minutes; setting up a new hand is a bit cumbersome as all the point victory chips must be sorted out and stacked in a precise order.


6. OPINION

Despite the fact that a hand of Jaipur can be lost infrequently due the capriciousness of Lady Luck, I rather like this game. It is fast, and it presents the players with an excellent array of choices, none of which overstay the game's welcome. The game is not particularly strategic as there is too much randomness in the cards to make such considerations worthwhile, but there is little wrong with the game's tactics. Against seasoned card players, this game is difficult to win: I lost the first dozen games in resounding 2 - 0 defeats against my partner until I 'got it' and was able to play significantly better as a result; and still the win/lost ratio isn't at precisely 1, meaning that there is more than sheer luck involved.

If you've thought about Lost Cities while reading the above, you are not the first nor the last to do so. There are many similarities between the two titles, if not in the actual game then in what the games attempt to achieve. Although I haven't touched Lost Cities in many moons (I've simply finished with it) and it is very likely that Jaipur's newness is still rubbing off on me, I easily prefer the latter to the former. The reason is that the choices in Jaipur are somewhat more involved, and that the game demands more of me as a player. I have now played both games about the same number of times (+/- 25), but I do not detect any waning of interest in me at this point when it comes to Jaipur. I cannot say with absolute certainty whether that will remain to be the case, but given the number of times I've played it to date and the enjoyment I've gotten out of it, it certainly was €16 well spent, and for the time being will continue to be €16 well spent. A very warmly recommended game for 2, doubly so if the old Kosmos titles are beginning to show their age for you.



Some images will be added at a later stage as my camera has decided to act up for the time being.

First edit: corrected some grammatical and semantical errors.
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Maaike Fest
Netherlands
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Thanks for a great review! This one is on my wishlist .
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Brian Gee
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Excellent review, on my wishlist now too!
 
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Peter
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Good review.

Re Lost Cities - Jaipur has significantly more interaction. I consider Lost Cities to be fairly boring in comparison
 
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elementary
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cymric wrote:

Some images will be added at a later stage as my camera has decided to act up for the time being.


Okay, it's been over a year. Time to get a new camera.
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Michal Eysymont
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This definitely is a review which lets you learn something about the game, give information for making yor own choices and also feel the spirit of the gae. The author also lets us feel what aspects of gameplay he pays attention to (as a person), thus making his review even more valuable. Good job!
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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elementary wrote:
Okay, it's been over a year. Time to get a new camera.

Apologies for the delay meeple. I'll see about adding some images this week, but I require a few bright sunny days to take the shots.
 
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Justus
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cymric wrote:
elementary wrote:
Okay, it's been over a year. Time to get a new camera.

Apologies for the delay meeple. I'll see about adding some images this week, but I require a few bright sunny days to take the shots.


Just curious cause you mentioned that you burned out on Lost Cities...how has Jaipur held up after a couple years?
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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aaarg_ink wrote:
Just curious cause you mentioned that you burned out on Lost Cities...how has Jaipur held up after a couple years?

Apologies, I hadn't noticed your comment until now.

Regrettably, since the time I've written this review I've changed my gaming habits significantly. I rarely play 2P games anymore, and if I do, it's in preparation for a 3P+ game. So I really can't say if Jaipur has held up over time, and it wouldn't be fair to speculate because it not hitting the table has nothing to do with the game's inherent qualities—or lack of them, for that matter.

However, I can say that if I had to bring a little game with me on, say, a holiday, I would still pick Jaipur over Lost Cities. As it stands now, I feel I haven't quite mastered determining the ideal moment to grab all camels in the market: it is dangerous to let the market fill up with them, but I'm not sure what the effect on game play is if I were to move the moment of camel grabbing forward. Put another way: there is still unfinished business to explore, so to speak.

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As for those images... I don't think adding any adds anything new to the reviews with images found in the Reviews-section. meeple
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