If you’ve ever looked at a board game forum then you’ve probably heard of Jaipur.
People are always posting to ask for advice on which games are good gateway games for two players and responses virtually always include Jaipur. More often than not it’s a gamer asking for help breaking their other half into the hobby. Many happy tabletop homes start with a game of Jaipur one Sunday evening with a glass of wine.
The sub-category of gateway two player games is often mined as when you’ve dragged a non-player to the table you, quite selfishly, you want to make sure they play again. Blackmail and kidnapping are frowned upon so it’s more socially acceptable to just make sure your playing partner has a good time.
This is where Jaipur comes in. Easy to learn, quick to play, tickling that hoarding part of our nature and beautiful to look at, Jaipur does most of the work of making sure someone has a good time. You just need to not power game and they’re sure to smile throughout.
First impressions are that Jaipur is a beautiful game. Each of the seven types of card have a beautiful textless image that clearly tells you either which of the six goods it is or that it’s a camel. As well as the lovely artwork, goods cards have gorgeous borders that give a nice flair. As for the tokens, they are pretty but the best thing about them is their similarity to poker chips, they feel great in your hand and you’ll find yourself playing with them on your opponents turn, doing your best impression of Scrooge McDuck and stacking them into piles to show off your wealth.
As a little aside, Jaipur’s box is tiny. It’ll fit in any backpack and the game space is so small it’s definitely a game for people looking to game on the go.
Initial set up takes less than two minutes if you don’t have hooves instead of hands. Each of the six goods you’ll be buying and selling at market has a correlating stack of tokens, these are all set out in descending value – so you’ll be looking to sell before your opponent and snap up the high value tokens. Next to these goods tokens are the bonus tokens, the deck, and the market. The market makes up the main play space, you’ll be drawing and swapping cards in and out of here.
You and your opponent are two merchants, both hoping to become the Maharaja’s personal trader. You do this by being richer than your opponent at the end of two weeks. The Maharaja certainly has an interesting recruitment policy.
Each of these weeks is represented by an in-game round and each round is made up of turns where you can choose to either take or sell cards. Each round ends when either three types of goods tokens have been completely depleted or when there are no cards left in the deck to fill the market. Whoever has the most rupees at the end of the round earns a Seal of Excellence. The first to earn two Seals is made the Maharaja’s personal trader and wins.
The two or three rounds are broken down into turns. On your turn you can either take cards from the market or you can sell cards for cold hard cash. If you choose to take cards on your turn you can either; take one of the cards from the market and replace it with the top card from the deck, take as many cards as you like from the market and replace them with cards from your hand or you can take all the camels in the market and replace them with cards from the top of the deck.
If you choose to sell cards you can sell as many cards in your hand as you like and take the corresponding number of tokens from each of the goods piles. You start with the highest value token and goods become worth less as the token piles get smaller and the game progress. If you sell more than three cards of the same type in a turn you’ll get a cheeky little bonus token. These bonus tokens are split into piles for if you sell three, four, or five or more cards at market. The more cards you sold on your turn, the more your bonus will be worth.
At first glance Jaipur looks like there’s no meat to it. Draw cards from the market and sell them as quickly as possible to get the big reward tokens. But, like breaking in a new saddle on a camel, after a few sessions you get a bit more used to how the game will flow and feel then strategies start to emerge.
Do you sell your cards quickly to grab the high value tokens? Or should you hold on to them until you can sell five for that juicy high bonus? Do you pick up the three leather cards or gamble on the high pay off and pick up the one silver card and hope another few come around? When there’s two sets of cards in the market you need to try and figure out which one your opponent needs more so you can deny them it. Just make sure you don’t pick up three cards you are taking a gamble on and lay down the three cards they were waiting for. This happens more than you want it to. Far more often.
It’s starting to feel more like a proper game and the camels haven’t even begun to get involved.
Your herd of camels doesn’t count towards your hand limit of seven cards. They sit nicely in front of you, eating or skateboarding or whatever it is camels do while they’re waiting to be traded, and you can use them to trade for goods at the market. This is particularly useful if a few turns ago you traded a load of cards so you had a hand full of one type of good for that tasty bonus token then sold them all. Well played, you’ve made a load of cash but you’ve now got a pretty empty hand and if a few cards turn up at market that you want you can only grab them one at a time if you’ve nothing to trade.
This is when the camels come in. You can trade your trusty, lumpy-backed steeds for goods and bring your hand back up to a healthy number. The camel meta of Jaipur is much more important than it seems at first. I’ve played games that have been won and lost on herds of camels.
Under its chunky, beginner friendly shell Jaipur hides an intense strategy game perfect for veteran gamers or that person you brought into the hobby. Where before they only saw pretty pictures and nice tactile tokens, gameplay intricacies are knitting together in front of their eyes. One of the best parts of being a tabletop gamer is introducing someone and watching them develop from asking your advice every turn to a gamer that can outplay you – well, as long as they don’t make a habit out of it – and Jaipur is the perfect blend of a gateway game and a game that can offer long term player development.