Review: Jaipur07 Jun 2017 0
Released 25 Jun 2017
Across all the Indian state of Rajasthan, the merchants in Jalor drive the hardest bargains. Perhaps that's because so many travelling tradesmen pass through the region. The shifting stock makes it difficult to maintain any sort of monopoly. But what's really odd is that while Jalor is a tough nut to crack, almost all the surrounding states are easy.
Welcome to Jaipur, the latest weapon in Asmodee's war to conquer all of mobile board gaming. It's an adaptation of a quick 2-player card game from back in 2009. Each opponent takes the role of an Indian tradesman, with cards representing goods of various values. Plus there are camel cards, you can herd together to help you carry a bunch of goods in a pinch.
On your turn, you can either take one or more cards from the selection in a center, or you can sell cards from your hand. Most goods are worth plenty if sold early, but quickly decline in value as they glut the market. On the other hand you can earn a bonus by selling three or more cards at once. So there's constant tension between selling early and collecting.
Some goods, like jewels and gold, are rarer and worth more than others. For these, you need to have at least two to make a sale. So there's another dichotomy going on between the desire to collect more unusual fare and your limited hand size. Then there are camels, which you can take all at once from the center and use later to take multiple goods at once. They're a smelly, bad-tempered third plank in a pretty engrossing bridge.
Most of this gets explained to you in a short tutorial, but it does leave out a couple of key rules. This is unfortunate, but you should be able to pick them up during play or from the linked rules document. Although the presentation is bright and clear, the usability isn't top notch. It's relatively hard to select multiple cards to swap at once. So much so, in fact, that I had to double check the rules to see if it was legal. But again, perseverance will make things clear.
Once you're down with the flow of the game, it flows nice and smooth. The various competing demands make it a fun challenge, with plenty of tension. Every time you take a card from the middle, its replacement might be gems or gold, a chance for your opponent to make a fortune. So each and every play has the potential for excitement.
Strategy comes down to good timing and card counting. There's one more of each good in the deck than there are scoring tokens, making it easy to watch dwindling stocks. Harder, but more essential it watching what your opponent is collecting. Stealing cards they might want for a quick sale to undercut their profits is very satisfying.
It's not colossally deep, although it's challenging enough. A wonder, then, that the AI seems to wobble all over the place. In normal solitaire play, it didn't seem hard to beat on the toughest setting. There is, however a campaign, a series of duels across the regions of Rajasthan as you try to become the most notorious merchant. For the most part this is great. It's got some narrative, some unexpected twists, and extends the life of the solo game. But now and again, like in Jalor, you seem to hit a difficulty spike. These seem so occasional and so incongruous, that I wondered if the game was "cheating" somehow.
The campaign incorporates some variants to the base game, such as fixed-price goods and limited hand size. It may also be that the AI is just better at some of these variants than others. They're also available in the pass and play and online play modes. It's great to be able to play against other humans: indeed it's pretty much necessary for any modern board game app. But though functional, Jaipur's network play is limited. There's no friends list and no asynchronous play. While that's a minor omission in such a quick game, it's still annoying.
It seems surprising that Asmodee chose to resurrect a title that was nearly 10 years old for a mobile release. After playing it, the reason is clear: it's a great fit for the platform. And it's a game that was perhaps unfairly forgotten after its original release. A slew of minor niggles keep the game from greatness, but it's fast and fun. I'm glad I got the chance to play a game I might otherwise not have heard of. Perhaps tabletop game archival is the next big direction for app store games?