Review: Jaipur

Players:  2
Ages:  12+
Time to play:  20-30 minutes

Jaipur is a two player card game designed by Sebastien Pauchon which was released in 2009.  In Jaipur each player plays as one of the two of most successful traders in Rajasthan.  Each player is aiming to gain favour with the Maharaja by gaining seals of excellence in order to gain entrance to his court, thus becoming the most prestigious trader of all.

Well, what exactly are you trading in? ...Well they're goods, of all different types, some luxury ones, like gold and silver and also more standard fare like leather and spices.  Goods are represented by cards and they can be traded for other goods or sold for cold hard cash.

Now, before we continue any further,  I just had to take a moment to mention the beautiful box art by Alexandre Roche which is bright, vivid and totally in keeping with theme of a vibrant marketplace.  The cards sets are beautifully illustrated with bright coloured spices and fabrics which really makes this game come to life on the table.  The tokens too are brightly coloured and along with the cards are laid out in a bright pink inlay, which itself a cheeky nod to the ancient heritage of Jaipur (as it is also known as the pink city).

Once you've emptied the box of it's contents, the setup of Jaipur is really simple.  Firstly, all of the trading tokens are placed to one side of the playing area.  Each trading token is laid out in value order with the highest value token on the top of the pile and the lowest on the bottom. Other than this it's not essential as to how you arrange the tokens but usually you'll have your lower value goods such as leather, spice and fabric grouped together.  And your higher value goods such as gold silver and gems grouped together.  The bonus tiles are usually placed in between.

After the tokens are placed, the cards are laid out and dealt.  The area between the players is known as the market and it always has 5 cards there for players to pick and choose from.  At the beginning of the game, these 5 cards must contain 3 camel cards, so you'll need to dig these out of the deck then give it a good shuffle.

Five cards are then dealt to each player to make up their hand,  if a player has been dealt any camels in their hand then they place them face up in front of them and this represents their "herd".  The only cards that are left in their hand should be goods cards.  You can then deal the final two cards into the market and put the rest of the deck to one side.

So the goal in Jaipur is to be the most successful trader, but how do you go about doing this?

Well, cards represent goods, and during your turn you can do one of two things, pick up goods cards or sell goods cards, bearing in mind that you can only hold a maximum of 7 cards in your hand.

Picking up cards happens one of three ways.  The first way would be to pick up a single goods card from the market and add it to your hand, when you do this, it is immediately replaced from the deck. 

Secondly, if you wanted to pick up more than one goods card from the market, then you must trade your own cards to replace them.  So if you wanted to pick up 3 cards, then you must trade 3 of your own cards, these cards can be goods cards but they can also include camel cards from your herd.

Now the third way to acquire cards is to pick up the camel cards from the market and add them to your herd, the only caveat to this is that you must pick up ALL of the camel cards.  They are replaced with cards from the deck.  Camel cards are useful because they are stored separately from your goods card in a pile called "a herd" so aren't counted in your 7 card limit.  However, they can still be used in lieu of goods in a multi card trade as I mentioned above.  Also, having the largest herd at the end of the game will earn you a bonus token worth 5 rupees.

Selling your goods cards is just as easy, on your turn you simply pick a single type of goods cards and place any number of them into a discard pile.  You then take the equivalent number of tokens for that particular goods type.  When you sell lower value goods like leather, fabric and spices can sell as little as you like but for higher value goods such as silver gold and gems you must sell a minimum of two (even if there is only one token left of that type).

As supply and demand dictates, the value of the goods decreases the more that are sold, and this is mechanic is demonstrated by the ever decreasing values of the tokens in the pile.  The first tokens to be picked up have higher values on them, and the last have the lowest.  Bearing this in mind it seems to make sense to get rid of your goods as soon as possible.  However, holding on to your goods so that you can sell in bulk will give you extra rewards in the form of bonus tokens.  These tokens are issued for selling sets of three four or five cards, and they increase in value in line with the size of the set sold.

So as the game progresses, each player takes goods cards, trades goods cards and sells good cards for cash.  And this continues until either the deck runs out of goods cards or 3 of the goods that you are purchasing have sold out (a.k.a ran out of tokens).  Once this happens, all of the tokens that each player has in their possession are flipped over to reveal a cash value on the back.  The player who has the most cash wins the round and takes a special seal of excellence token of which there are 3.  Jaipur is played as a "best of three" style game, so the player who has managed to get two seals of excellence wins the game!

Jaipur is a delicate balance of luck, risk and strategy.  You are always treading a fine line between cashing in your cards early for the more valuable tokens or waiting just a little longer to trade in a set and get an extra bonus.  But of course, it's vital to keep one eye on your opponent and what cards they are picking up.  This is so you can make decisions on whether to block them by stealing cards that they are collecting or simply leaving them to it if you think that you can sell more expensive goods.

The camels offer one of the most interesting mechanics in the game, acting as a pool of extra tradeable cards which doesn't affect your hand size.  As you can't pick up a single camel card from the marketplace (you have to pick up all of them) you can leave your opponent with a very tough choice indeed if you manage to fill the entire marketplace with camels.  This is because he'll either have to start selling goods to push the turn back to you, or he'll have pick up the entire marketplace for his camel herd.  This means that 5 new marketplace cards will be dealt, and you'll have the pick of them.

Jaipur is a fun game which has enough strategy and complexity to keep gamers of all abilities engaged.  There is plenty of player interaction which helps keep the game exciting, as you often steal cards that you opponent needs or clinch a deal just before they do.  The hand management also makes the game feel a lot like a traditional card game when you play it, which somehow makes it a relaxing and somehow familiar experience.  The games themselves are also really quick with each round lasting around 10 minutes.  Add this to its reasonable pricing and it's portability, it's easy to see that there is so much that is right with Jaipur.

In fact the only thing that I find glaringly wrong with Jaipur is with the cards (as beautiful as they are).  For a game where players sit opposite each other, I find it baffling that they do not have rotational symmetry like playing cards.

This means that in the best possible scenario, one of the players will have to view the marketplace cards upside down but in reality because each player draws a card from the opposing side, you often end up with a higgledy piggledy arrangement of right way up and wrong way up cards laid out in front of you, which to me is utter madness.

However this is a small price to pay for such a solid game, and who knows maybe they'll do something about this for future releases....

you can purchase Jaipur here.


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