Review - Jaipur
Designer: Sébastien Pauchon
Player Count: 2
Jaipur is a 2-player card game in which players compete to become the Maharaja’s personal trader by proving that they are the best merchant in Jaipur. Players take turns trading goods and camels in a shared market, aiming to sell the goods for rupees (which just act as victory points). Selling multiples of a single good gives bonus rupees and goods are worth less rupees the more of them that have been previously sold. The game comes in a small box and plays quickly so it can be played anywhere with a small table.
How to Play
In order to set up a game of Jaipur, lay out all of the tokens for each of the six goods (diamonds, gold, silver, cloth, spices, and leather) in descending order. Bonus tokens (for trading in three, four, or five of one type of good) are shuffled and stacked next to the other tokens. The “camel token” is also placed there. Three seals of excellence are placed within reach of the players. Three camel cards are placed in the central market between the two players. The deck is shuffled, and two more cards are dealt to the market. Each player receives five cards. Any camels that the players receive are placed in a face up stack in front of them, this is the player’s “herd”.
The game is now ready to be played. Each turn players can do one of four things. The first action available to players is to take one good card (non-camel card) from the market. The second action that can be taken is to trade several goods at the market. This can be done by taking any number of goods from the market and exchanging them for the same number of cards from the players hand or camels from their herd (or a mix of both). The third action available is to take all of the camels in the market and place them in your herd. At the end of the players turn, the market is refilled to five cards. At the end of their turn players may not have more than seven cards in their hand (not including the camels in their herd).
The final action that players can take is to sell goods. Players choose one type of goods and discard as many of that type of card as they wish to sell into a face up discard pile. They then take a corresponding goods tokens for each card discarded, starting with the tokens worth the most points. If the player sells three, four, or five (or more) goods on their turn, they take one of the corresponding bonus tokens. If players wish to sell an expensive good (diamonds, gold, or silver), they must sell at least two of one type of these goods (for example, two diamonds, or four gold).
A round ends when all of the tokens of three types of goods are gone, or the deck runs out. The player with the most camels receives the camel token, worth five points. Both players count the points for all goods tokens, bonus tokens and the camel token that they received. The player with the most points receives a seal of excellence. The players set up another round as before and the game ends when one player has two seals of excellence and becomes the Maharaja’s personal trader.
Game play in Jaipur is quick with no real downtime to speak of. This largely due to Jaipur’s gameplay flow of player one taking one simple action, player two taking one simple action, player one taking a simple action, etc… The only really moments when the game slows are when players swap several cards or need to refill the market from the deck. This upkeep can take a second or two but that’s the slowest Jaipur will get. Decisions are relatively simple, so analysis paralysis never really sets in.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting strategic decisions to be made. The mechanic of goods sold earlier being worth more rupees does a lot of the heavy lifting for creating an interesting decision space and interesting player interactions. Deciding whether to sell three of a good this turn or take a fourth of that good from the market and sell next turn for a more bonus points (for a set of four instead of a set of three) gives the game an interesting risk-reward tension. Equally, selling just one of a lower value good to essentially skim the cream of the top of the milk and get the highest value token for that good, before your opponent can sell five of that type, feels very satisfying.
Much of the game is built around this push and pull tension of when is the right time to sell. As you play the game other strategies around control of the market emerge. For instance, if the market has four camels, taking all camels may give an advantage to your opponent as the market will get four new (potentially valuable cards) for you opponent to exchange. This means that timing an action like that is incredibly important. You need to do it when they have an empty hand and herd so they have nothing to exchange for any valuable good, or you could notice that they have been taking a lot of valuable goods and that their hand is already full of them. There is a caginess to games of Jaipur. You never want to give your opponent an inch and keeping control of the game state is important and satisfying.
That’s not to say that Jaipur is flawless. It is highly dependent on random card draws. Games often get into a flow of each player taking one card from the market (the remaining four cards being cheap leather or camels) per turn. This essentially leaves one interesting card and your turn is entirely dependent on what comes out. In cases where this continues for a few turns and you receive cloth and spices, but your opponent receives all diamonds, there is not a lot you can do and it doesn’t feel overly satisfying.
Jaipur only plays at two players so there isn’t a lot to say here. Jaipur does do a great job as a two-player game. At no point playing it did I think to myself that there was something missing from the game that would have been improved with more players, which isn’t always the case. I’m sure a variant either already exists or could be conceived that would make this game work with more players and I would imagine that that could work fine, but I don’t feel like it would add anything.
In terms of setup variability and scoring, the game is basically the same every time you play. Only two of the cards in the market could be different between different games. As such it is conceivable that there is a dominant (at least weakly dominant) strategy for your initial action in games of Jaipur. However, after a lot of plays of Jaipur I haven’t encountered it. Furthermore, the random nature of the deck of cards means that the game state quickly randomise.
That said, the lack of setup variability and scoring variability does impact how often I play this game. I played it a lot when I got it but as time has gone by, I find myself less likely to pull it out. I feel that, to an extent, I’ve seen all there is to see.
The first thing to say is that I have no real idea of whether Jaipur is historically accurate in terms of the goods traded and its depiction of the traders in the box art. If there’s anyone knowledgeable on Rajasthan, please let me know on the Instagram post for this article (here) what you think.
It seems like Jaipur is trying to capture the tone of a colourful marketplace buying/selling precious metals, colourful cloths and Indian spices. This theme might open Jaipur up to being criticised for orientalism in its depiction of exotic goods and places (given the designer and artists are Swiss and French). However, there don’t appear to be any negative stereotypes or tropes in Jaipur. Certainly, no mystical or exotic actions. Jaipur merely portrays normal merchants trading at a regular market. These sorts of places exist everywhere. Therefore, any claim of orientalism would seem like a stretch to me.
Jaipur captures the tone of acting as a merchant in a fast-paced marketplace well despite only involving two players. Turns are quick, and this tempo does most of the work in capturing the feeling of hustle and bustle of a busy market. The mechanism of being able to swoop in and get a better deal for you spices by selling sooner than your opponent also does a good job of selling the theme.
Art and Components
It should be noted that there is a new printing of Jaipur expected to release very soon with new artwork, a different box and potentially different component quality. If you’d like to take a look at it some pictures and details can be found here. The remainder of this section of the review is for the version of Jaipur I have, which is now out of print. Maybe it will useful if you’re thinking of picking up a second-hand copy. Otherwise feel free to skip directly to The Verdict section.
Overall the artwork on the cards and tokens is very clear and quite pretty. The game makes good choices of colours to ensure all types of goods clearly contrast but the specific colours used don’t feel garish and fit the tone that I think the game is going for of a vibrant marketplace with interesting spices and cloths.
The cards and tokens are both very durable and thick. This is important because the cards in Jaipur are shuffled and handled a lot. Furthermore, this a game that you will want to be able take with you and to play on the go, often in less than sterile locations, so durable components are a big plus.
I’m not usually one to gush over an insert, I usually find them a hinderance rather than a help, but Jaipur has the perfect insert. Everything fits snugly so it won’t end up a total mess if you try to bring it somewhere in a bag. The colour of it fits with the overall aesthetic of the game and the name of the game is embossed into it in Jaipur’s signature font, which is a nice touch.
Jaipur is great game. I would recommend it to everyone, particularly people who are just getting into board gaming as a hobby. Rounds are quick, and decisions are interesting, without the rules or decision space being overwhelming. That said, Jaipur may have a shelf life. A lack of setup variability and a reliance of randomness eventually made me feel like I seen all there was to see in the game. Jaipur still won’t leave my collection. I still love introducing this game to new people and, from time to time, I still like to take it out to play with my partner because so many good memories are attached to it.