If you missed it yesterday, I chatted right after the Hall of Fame announcement.
Back in July when I complained in my review of Lost Cities about the shortage of good German-style two-player games, two of you recommended the card game Jaipur, an Indian-themed trading game with a solid mix of luck and strategy. The recommendation was spot on, as it’s one of the better pure two-player games we’ve tried, not quite as good as Lost Cities but perhaps our second-favorite in that category.
In Jaipur, each player is a trader looking to collect and sell cards of six different types of goods, ranging from jewels to leather. Each good sold brings in a token worth 1 to 7 bonus points, with the first goods of a type sold within a round worth more than the same goods sold later. But there are also bonuses for selling 3, 4, or 5 goods of one kind in a single transaction, so there’s a tradeoff between selling early to get the best goods tokens or waiting to collect more cards and receive a bonus for a larger trade. There’s also a 5-point bonus for having the largest herd of camels (also cards), although camels have some strategic value beyond their points.
Each player begins the game with five cards showing goods or camels, and the market opens with five cards as well, three camels and two randomly drawn from the deck. Players place their camels in a pile in front of them, so they don’t count against the hand-card limit of seven. On his turn, a player may take one card from the market; exchange as many of his own cards (hand or camel) with the same number of cards from the market; take all of the camels from the market at once; or choose to sell goods to the Maharaja (what you’d call “the bank” in other games). The round ends when the deck is exhausted or when three of the six piles of bonus tokens for goods are exhausted.
Because cards are drawn from the shuffled deck, there’s a relatively high degree of randomness involved in Jaipur, and you may go through a round where you just can’t get cards of a certain good – but the fact that there are more cards of each good in the deck than there are tokens of that good on the table mitigates that and allows you some flexibility. We found that there is a strong strategic element to Jaipur, including deciding when to sell and how many to sell, when to go for a bonus and when to try to steal the highest tokens out from your opponent who might be collecting the same good, and when to exchange several cards even though doing so may restock the market for your opponent. It’s light strategy, but enough that there are clearly better and worse ways to play the game, and on every turn you’re thinking about your options or watching what your opponent is taking so you know what she’s collecting and what cards are left in the deck.
Jaipur, like Lost Cities, is also extremely compact, with just the single deck of about 60 cards and a handful of tokens that you could just throw in a zip-top bag, so I imagine it would travel well. Even in the box, it’s one of the smallest game packages I own. If you care about graphics and art, everything’s done in bright colors and the images are appealing in a cartoonish way, although I would gladly play this game with bad art and dim colors.
I interviewed Reiner Knizia recently for an upcoming mental_floss article, and brought up my affection for his game Lost Cities. He said many people call it “the spouse game,” because in many couples you find one game-player more serious about gaming than the other, but Lost Cities seems to sit perfectly in between those two poles. That’s not the case in our house, as my wife likes about 90% of the games I like, but I love the “spouse game” description because it gives such a concise description of where Lost Cities and Jaipur are on the strategy scale. I’d still recommend Lost Cities first, but if you liked that and are looking for another game in the same general area of strategy, ease of learning, and fun, I’d recommend Jaipur for your next two-player purchase.