Released in 2009 by Asmodee. Designed by Sébastien Pauchon. For 2 players.
Little. There’s something that rather gets to me about the half-heartedness of compliments which include the word ‘little’. ‘My Neighbour Totoro is a great little film’ or ‘The Master and Margarita is a great little book.’
Jaipur – a two-player, trading-themed card game – seems, to me, the greatest victim of this among board and card games at the moment. Hardly can the game receive praise without that irksome adjective slipping in somewhere.
For reference, at the time of writing, Jaipur is ranked among the top ten family games on Board Game Geek – that is, if the numerous iterations of Ticket to Ride, and the two versions (to date) of Small World are not counted separately. In the overall rankings it is in 133rd. There can be criticism of how each ranking is calculated, but, nevertheless, Jaipur should have reached the point where its apparent admirers are ready to praise it without dismissing it at the same time.
Perhaps, though, Jaipur has achieved these high rankings in part because some who have rated it have been generous due to low expectations being exceeded. For me, Jaipur is good, but not great – in either a little sense or not. It succeeds in producing some relatively tough decisions in a short play-time, but it lacks room for inventive play. As a two-player trading game Jaipur is characterized by a back-and-forth motion of cards (through an intermediary pool – players do not trade with each other directly), and mostly ends up feeling accordingly two-dimensional.
In Jaipur, players accumulate cards representing various goods in order to sell batches of the same product to the bank for points. Goods sold earlier in the game receive a higher points value. For instance, the first cloth card sold is worth five points, the next three, then three again, two, two, one, and one. Other goods are of different values – from precious rubies, to leather, which is both the most numerous good and the most pants. Bonuses are also available for selling three, four, or five cards depicting a particular good at a single time (between one and three points for selling three goods, four to six for selling four, and eight to ten for selling five).
Each turn, a player can only perform one action. In short, he or she may either collect extra cards (up to a hand limit of seven) or sell a set. Thus, pacing play is one of the game’s key elements. Selling small amounts can often yield the best price per item, but it means missing out on the valuable bonuses for collecting large sets.
When collecting cards, a player chooses from a pool of five face-up cards. Either he or she takes a single card, or trades at least two cards from his or her hand for an equal number in the pool. Herein is one of the game’s cleverest features, in that in order to collect needed cards quickly a player must offer something to his or her opponent. If, say, three spice are on offer, I might have to sacrifice a valuable good from my hand – for instance, silver – in order to take the whole set. This is then available to my opponent on his or her turn. Unless I’ve been very unfocused in what I have been collecting, it’s unlikely I’ll have many cards I want to part with. I can even get some use out of leather if I have enough of it. So to speak.
The exception, perhaps, are the game’s ten camel cards. There’s no love for dromedaries among the merchants of Jaipur. These cards can be collected, or exchanged for new goods cards, but not sold. However, they sit in front of a player when taken from the pool, rather than adding to his or her hand, and more than one can be taken at once without the need to trade-in hand cards. Thus, when a large set of a single type of good appears in the market, it offers the enjoyable possibility to take them in exchange for a wodge of camels: I’m not giving the sap opposite anything sell-able (though the player with the largest herd of camels at the end of the round does get five points for his or her herding skills). However, accumulating camels in the first place can often be risky – taking a load them from the market at once can give your opponent first dibs on a slew of attractive new goods.
It is through the camels that depth is added to the experience of playing Jaipur: Sitting outside a players hand, they offer, if you will, a hint of a third-dimension – the one significant complication to the collect or sell binary. They mean that a game of Jaipur cannot be played without some consideration; they prevent the same rhythm of buying and collecting from being repeated each game, in that the point at which taking camels makes sense is not the same every time, and depends on both the amount of goods already sold and the kind of cards left in the deck. However, a lucky player can nevertheless often beat a good one – if, say, I start with three or four premium goods in my hand (rubies, gold, or silver), my opponent will stuggle to win, however shrewd her decisions. A game takes less than half an hour, but the likes of Dominion have shown how much more can be achieved by a card game in that sort of time frame.