Jaipur is a quick-playing card game for two players, where you both take the role of traders in India. By picking up and playing sets of resources, each players gain victory points. The best of three rounds wins.
One of the things I love about board games compared to video games is the small quirks of phrases that appear when you play a beloved game often. For instance, when playing Great Western Trail I often break into a ‘Yee-Haw’ whenever I have to move my cowboy from the end of the line to the start again. In X-Wing I have my favourite flying manoeuvre as the ‘soft two’. Patchwork is all about the ‘button income’. And in Jaipur, you’ll often hear me exclaim in a vaguely German accent ‘All ze Camels’.
Jaipur is a superb game that is deftly balanced for two. It’s not a 2 player version of an existing game, or 2 players rocking up to play a game meant for 6. Everything is designed to ensure a fascinating duel, and however you play it the scoring phase is always a tight and tense affair. From the minimalistic set-up to the speedy pace of play, you know this game was built ground-up to either fill those spare 30 minutes you might have in an afternoon, or to firmly settle a marital dispute.
The best games, as ever, are a series of interesting decisions. And Jaipur provides these in each and every turn. Each player acts a trader dealing in a variety of six goods (which range from high to low rarity and value). On a turn, players can pick up a card from the five that form the market; exchange any number of cards from the market for that same amount of cards from their hand; or sell any number of goods in exchange for victory points. Once three of the six sets of victory point tokens have been used, a round ends, and best of three rounds wins the game.
The few caveats and wrinkles that create the interesting decisions are then introduced. Players gain bonus points for selling goods in sets of 3, 4 and 5, but will find the first victory point tokens to be picked up are also worth more. Should I sell 1 or 2 of a good now to pick those tokens up, or wait to sell a set of 4 or 5 later? Card rarity is also important - leather, the material which will give you the least value if you sell it, makes up a larger proportion of the deck than the rare rubies. You could quickly sell a set of 5 paper, for example. Or, more tactically, save up a hand of paper cards to then exchange for rarer cards on the market in one turn.
And then there’s CAMELS. In the deck are a set of camel cards which provide further twists and turns. If you decide to pick up a camel from the market, you must pick up all the camels present. This means the market may refresh with rare goods your opponent could pick up on their next turn. Any camels you pick up don’t go into your hand, but your herd - they can be used to exchange for goods on the market but don’t count towards your hand limit. And at the end of a round, the player with the biggest herd gains bonus points.
Camels, therefore, can be used strategically to trump your opponent at various points. Got a lot of them? Exchange for the whole market, forcing your opponent to pick them all up the next turn and giving you 5 new goods to peruse. Need the bonus points? Save the camels, grow your herd. Taking ‘All ze Camels’ can be a risky act but one with a high payoff, especially in the closing stages of a round or in round three.
Jaipur is another a line of tense duel-type games we’ve played, but is probably the most enjoyable. It feels so perfectly balanced, and rewards both a strategic and tactical mindset. Even the randomness of the deck doesn’t feel so random once you’ve got a few turns in, because you can keep track of the cards that come out, picked up and sold. You may get bit a few times with the starting hand draw, but anything after that is a delicate game that rewards multiple ways of playing - the cautious investor, watchful opportunist, aggressive trader, card counter are all valid paths to victory.
For a game that comes in such a small box and with minimal components, there really is a lot of depth to Jaipur that rewards repeated plays with the same player (one of the most important factors for competitive two-player games in this reviewer's eyes). It’s a testament to the game that each round is followed by a discussion of what went right or wrong, the missed opportunities or the times your opponent just beat you to the punch. Jaipur is a huge hit with us and is thoroughly recommended as one of the strongest and smartest two player experiences on the market.