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Jaipur: pure genius

the disclaimer
Okay, so I may still be in the first flush of new love. I admit it. I don’t want to come across as some hopelessly love-addled fan boy, so at least let me put this little disclaimer up front: Jaipur and I are in the honeymoon phase, and those never last. Do they?

the game
Jaipur is a two-player card game that takes about 30 minutes to play. The box says it’s for ages 12 and up, but the BGG voters suggest a less conservative 8 and up. I’d be inclined to agree with the BGG community’s assessment, as I think an eight-year-old could probably handle it just fine. I don’t have kids, though, so what do I know? YMMV.

Designed by Sébastien Pauchon, illustrated by Alexandre Roche, and published by GameWorks, the game presents an attractive package. While the camels look a bit like they were drawn to accompany Barbie’s dreamhouse in the desert, little touches (like the baby panda under the blankets on one of the camels) help add to the game’s visual appeal. I was also impressed that the chits come pre-punched and laid out neatly in their plastic tray.

Both the game cards and chits look like they’ll be able to stand up to repeated plays, which is a good thing: this game will see a lot of table time.

the overview
It’s a trading-and-set-collecting game where you try to get hold of a number of cards of the same good (leather, spice, cloth, silver, gold, diamonds) and then trade them in for points. On your turn, you can do one of two things: (1) take one or more goods from the market or (2) sell a set of goods for points. These are your only two choices.

the camels
Sounds simple, and it is. But, so they say, the devil is in the details. What makes the game interesting (I suspect what makes the game work at all) is the presence of the camels.

What are camels, you ask? They’re dromedaries, but you probably already knew that. More to the point, camels are the only other kind of card in the deck: there are six different kinds of goods, and then there are camels. Camels are unique in that they don’t take up room in your hand, they’re laid down on the table in front of you. If it helps, you can think of it like this: goods go in your apartment (in your hand) and camels go in the corral outside (on the table).

Anyway, camels are special. While you can only have seven good cards in your hand (thus forcing you to prioritize which goods you want to collect), you can have any number of camels in your corral.

the flow
Why does this matter? Remember how I said you can take one or more goods from the market? There are actually three options here: (1) take one good. Here you end up with one more card than you had previously. (2) trade goods from your hand and camels from your corral for an equal number of good cards. Here you end up with the same number of cards you started with, but you get a different mix of cards. And (3) take all the camels in the market and add them to your corral. Here you end up with more cards than you started with, sometimes considerably more.

Camels, in other words, are like money in the bank: they allow you to grab up to five cards at a time from the market (the market only holds five cards) and add them to your hand (assuming you have room for them).

You can’t ever sell camels for points, but they help you manage the flow of your buying and selling. They help you find your groove, in other words, they help you syncopate your rhythm.

the upshot
And this, ultimately, is why I love Jaipur: it’s got rhythm. It’s got swing. You get into the flow of the game, and everything goes very smoothly: you take camels for your corral when there are lots of them, you sell large sets of goods for big points, you trade your camels for more goods, you take more camels, you sell more goods. When everything is going your way, it’s like poetry.

Of course you’re trying to disrupt the flow for your opponent, and she’s trying to do the same to you, but there are still moments (like flying a stunt kite or riding your motorcycle through the twisties) where it all just gels. And these moments of transcendence, whether in a board game or in real life, somehow make it all worthwhile. :-)

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