Board Game Review: Jaipur – Delightful Gameplay for Two

Jaipur - game

Trading games are great, but they are hard to implement with just two players. Nevertheless, Jaipur takes a stab at it and largely succeeds. Each player is trying to buy and sell spices, leather, and precious stones in the hope of gaining fame and fortune. It’s a little abstracted, but the end result is hard to argue against.

The Basics. Jaipur is just one large deck of cards. There are goods and camels. Goods are broken down into leather, spices, silk, gold, silver, and rubies. Camels are just camels. Each player gets a starting hand of cards and a starting market is set up. The starting market contains three camels and two other goods drawn randomly.

On their turn, a player can do one of three things. First, they can always take a card. There’s a hand limit of seven cards and exceeding it means tossing something into the discard pile. Instead of taking one good, the player can take all the camels in the market. Those camels are kept in a personal pile and don’t count against the hand limit.

The point chips for trading in your goods

The point chips for trading in your goods

The second option is to make a trade. Instead of taking one good (or all camels), the player can take multiple goods from the market. But when he does, he has to replace those goods either with camels from his supply or goods from his hand.

Finally, a player can trade in goods. When he trade in, he gets point tokens depending on the type of good. The first leather traded in is worth four points, but later leathers can be worth as little as one. If the player trades in three of a kind or more, though, he will also get a bonus token worth a variable number of points.

The round ends when the players go through the deck. They count up their point chips and the player with the most wins the round. Best of three rounds wins the game.

Don't forget to add in the bonus points

Don’t forget to add in the bonus points

The Feel. Jaipur is a delightful two-player game. All throughout, the players are constantly gaining cards, trading cards, and picking up point chips. It allows both players to feel success. And there are no “take that” style cards where you directly assault the other player. As a result, this is one of my go-to games for couples.

While on the surface, Jaipur seems straightforward, there’s actually a lot to consider. For example, if there are three or four camels in the market, maybe you should take them. Having camels is fantastic because it allows you to grab a bunch of stuff at once and you can easily refill your hand after making a big trade. So why not?

Well, after you grab those four camels, the market is refilled from the top of the deck. And then it’s your opponent’s turn. Which means if rubies or gold come out, they’ll get the first crack at grabbing them. If they have camels and an empty hand, that could be a huge benefit. So it’s often better to grab camels when their hand is full, or when you think the likelihood of a particularly good flop of cards is low.

The cheapest ruby is worth more than the best leather

The cheapest ruby is worth more than the best leather

Another fun aspect of Jaipur is how the points are distributed. Getting points for trading in goods is public knowledge. Everyone knows how much those are worth. But the bonus points are private. If I grab a bonus for trading in four goods, my opponent knows I got between 4 and 6 points, but doesn’t know the exact number. This cuts down on analysis paralysis where a player might try to math out things exactly and allows engagement on more of a gut level.

Plus, I really like the tension between trading in early and trading in late. If I trade cards early, I’ll get the better scoring chips. But if I wait until I gather three or four, I’ll get the huge bonus chips. Of course, if I wait too long, my opponent might get the better scoring chips first. In fact, if I see my opponent collecting spices, I’ll often do a quick trade of one or two just to sap their eventual points upon trading in.

Jaipur isn’t a heavy game. And I think that’s to its advantage. It’s a great two-player title when you want something light, but with interesting decisions. It allows the players to fully engage, yet finish in a reasonable time. As such, it makes almost an ideal couple’s game, even for a spouse that isn’t a particularly avid gamer.

Everything securely set in a compact package

Everything securely set in a compact package

Components: 4 of 5. The cards are on good stock and stand up to shuffling. The illustrations are good and the point chips are on sturdy cardboard as well. Plus, the game has a great insert that holds it all in place.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Sure, there is some luck in how the cards come out. But most of the time, that can be managed. And the balance is actually really well done. You can trade early or late, and collect what you want. But you have to be careful with camels lest you risk a windfall to your opponent.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. Simplicity is largely a benefit. I can teach anyone to play Jaipur in just a few minutes. So it’s the kind of game that’s easy for a casual player to get involved with. No lengthy rules explanation. But there’s also nothing particularly unique here. Still, it does what it does well.

Replayability: 3.5 of 5. Jaipur isn’t the kind of game that I’d want to play every day. But it is the kind I’m happy to take down whenever my wife wants to play a game. And, as you see what the other player does, it encourages you to react appropriately. The title has enough give and take to keep it interesting from play to play.

Spite: 0 of 5. There aren’t any “take that” cards and no way to directly reduce the points a player has already accumulated. And, as a two player game, it doesn’t have “spite” in the same sense as I usually define it.

The man tokens show how many rounds you've won

The man tokens show how many rounds you’ve won

Overall: 3.5 of 5. Jaipur is a delightful light game that is easy to learn yet comes with enough strategy and decision-making to keep veterans entertained. It presents challenging decisions and sometimes you have to make a risky move – or can push your opponent into doing so. It may be the best couple’s game out there, especially if your spouse is not as avid in the hobby.

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