Sébastien Pauchon (Jamaica)
Asmodee (Asmodee owns Days of Wonder, Space Cowboys, Repos)
Hand Management, Drafting
Jaipur was first described to me as a two-player trading game, a label which I find inaccurate – it is better described as a two-player drafting game. Interestingly, I’m not sure how either mechanic would work as a two-player game (I have yet to play Bohnanza: Duel for trading), yet I enjoyed Jaipur a lot more than I thought I would. The game is an intriguing mix of hand management and optimization that is as much about waiting for opportunities as making them yourself.
To win Jaipur, a player must win two rounds, which are won by having the most points at the end of a round. On your turn, you must take only one of four actions, most of which utilize the lineup of five cards available to both players. First, you can take a single non-Camel card from the lineup; second, you can take all Camel cards available; third, you can trade any cards from your hand and/or camels for an equal number of non-Camel cards from the lineup (the same type cannot go in both directions); and finally, you can sell a set of cards of the same type for coins. Players are rewarded further for selling sets of three, four or five of a kind in the form of tiered, hidden rewards. The larger the set, the higher the potential award, which is only known to the receiving player. Most card types have diminishing returns for selling, where the value of each coin of that type lowers as the game progresses, eventually becoming exhausted. The round end when either the lineup is unable to be filled or the coins for three types are exhausted.
The strategy for Jaipur is the same for every game – selling goods for their optimal value – but the nuance of the game lies in determining when is most appropriate to do so. Each of the six card types has a different payout scale, with only the Silver maintaining its value throughout. There is only one extra card per good, but scoring set bonuses is key to victory; players must balance waiting for high quantity sets with holding on to cards too long, since there is a seven-card limit. Players may be forced to sell goods at an incomplete set in order to make room for future value.
Jaipur has a moderate of amount of luck involved, which can make the game either frustrating or stimulating. The player who draws the better value cards is likely going to win, since the Diamonds (Red), Gold (Yellow) and Silver (Blue) goods maintain most of their value after depreciation. However, both players’ behaviors determine which player is going to draw which cards, since they are drawn in the same order regardless. This is particularly true when taking the Camels; drawing too many Camels will result in many cards being replaced in the lineup, increasing the odds that one of them (or more) will be a great card for your opponent to draw. However, avoiding Camels decreases your flexibility for grabbing multiple desirable cards at once. Additionally, the player who has the most Camels receives five points at the end of the round. When a player draws a meaningless card and inadvertently reveals an extremely valuable one, this can be frustrating; at the same time, it forces a player to be cautious about every move. Perhaps it is better to trade in goods at suboptimal value to force the other player to draw an undesirable card – this is one of the most interesting decisions in Jaipur.
The Hand Management of Jaipur is extremely important. Although the Camels do not count towards the hand limit, the limit of seven cards is extremely restrictive, particularly when players are holding out for higher quantity sets. Having too many cards in your hand will prevent you from hate-drafting valuable cards that you are not targeting at present. Players may freely trade two or more cards from their hand with the lineup; sometimes a set of one good is traded for a set for another. If you are not careful, you may supply the other player with a pair that is useless to you but perfect for them. Additionally, there are a limited number of turns where you can score points; your opponent can actively advance the game, so constantly thrashing on trades during your turns can be wasteful. Your opponent might have the same set and take the higher value coins while you are busy trading. Every turn, a player must anticipate what could happen in the future and compare this with the present value, adding tension to every turn.
My favorite aspect of Jaipur is the non-deterministic scoring; neither player knows exactly how many points the other has. Because the set bonuses provide a range of points, players can approximate their opponent’s scores but it is quite common to lose a round by just a few points. Near the end of the game, players will have to decide whether to end the round before their opponent can score again or try to maximize their points. Higher value goods cannot be sold in a single quantity, so drafting them late may result in them never being sold. Over the course of the game, players will learn what is in each other’s hand based on what is drafted, but it is also possible to conceal your initial hand for much of the game. Some rounds will be lost by incorrectly assuming what your opponent is capable of, particularly when bonuses are involved. A set of five Leather might be worth only five coins, but the bonus may be worth as many as ten additional coins.
Each round of Jaipur is completely independent from all others. Losing one round terribly has no impact on the next, which prevents a runaway leader problem. The winner of the game must play consistently throughout each round, as extreme bouts of luck do not guarantee a victory overall, just the current round.
I see Jaipur as an excellent game for couples as it requires careful interaction between players without an overall feeling of cutthroat competitiveness. I consider it a bit overrated (it does not deserve to be on the top 100 on BoardGameGeek, like it is at the time of publishing) but it is very solid overall. The game’s emphasis on luck prevents one player from dominating outright and the strategies are readily apparent. Mistakes can be overcome, as long as you do not make too many, as your opponent is equally capable of making them; as a result, many games will be close, which encourages a second game immediately after. Games will be similar from playthrough to playthrough, but the decisions are interesting enough to keep the game engaging. Whether in digital or physical form, I would recommend Jaipur as a good introduction to drafting and a quality gateway game.
Jaipur is a 30 minute game that mostly advances towards a finite conclusion. Ironically, the game’s length will increase if a third round is required, but you almost want this to occur as it means that an exciting winner-take-all is required.
Aside from the initial hand draw, the game is completely public as far as components are concerned. The hidden scoring is not a concern since the hidden side merely conceals a number.
The game’s rulebook offers tips for new players, but I suspect most players will not read them; additionally, the rulebook advises players to not look until after the first game. An experienced player would know what mistakes to avoid, mistakes which may seem counterintuitive. As a result, a completely new player might not perform well.
Even though you are waiting for the right cards to appear, I do not find this game particularly exciting. Often, players will have no good options, which means waiting for an opportunity or your opponent to make a mistake.
The game’s price point seems a bit high for the game’s length and size, which I suspect is due to the quality of the coins. There is a digital version of the game which often goes on sale, which allows players to try the game first.
The game is very easy to teach with minimal rules to remember. Scoring is intuitive and straightforward. The only rule requiring special attention is that Diamonds, Gold and Silver must be sold in sets of at least two.