Saturday, January 08, 2005

Review: Jambo

Jambo is the newest game in the popular line of two player games from Kosmos. In this game by Rüdiger Dorn, players become African merchants, trading wares in an attempt to turn a profit.

Inside the box you'll find a host of sturdy cardboard counters representing gold, wares, and action markers. You'll also find a deck of 112 high quality cards. All of the artwork is very pleasing and appropriate to the theme. This is a very pretty game.

The basic structure of the game is pretty simple. Each player starts with twenty gold nuggets, five cards, and a market stand that can hold up to six wares tiles. On your turn you may take up to five actions. Every time you take a card or play a card you use up an action. Players continue alternating turns until someone ends his turn with 60 or more gold. Then his opponent gets one more turn and the game ends.

Jambo is about trading and trading requires merchant cards. A little more than one third of the cards in the deck are merchant cards. Merchant cards are used both to buy and sell wares. Each card lists three or six wares (there are six different types of wares) in various combinations and two numbers. When you play a merchant card you decide if you are buying or selling. If you are buying, you play a card, pay the amount indicated by the first number, take the wares listed on the card and place them on your market stand. If you are selling, you play the card, give up the wares listed on the card and collect the amount indicated by the second number. Sounds simple? It is but there's a catch. Your market stand only has space for six goods and that severely limits what you can do. You're going to need some help and that's where the other two-thirds of the deck come in.

The rest of the deck is composed of utility cards, people cards and animal cards. Each of these cards allows you to take a special action. Actions are clearly printed right on the cards and for the most part, you're not going to need to refer to the rules to figure out what they do. Animal cards tend to be a bit more powerful than people cards but they can be blocked if your opponent has the proper card. Utility cards are even more powerful but they have to be face up in your play area before you can use their action so that means you're going to have to use one action to get them in play and another action to actually use them. Utility cards remain in your playing area after use, while people and animals are discarded when they are used. There are also five small market cards in the deck that can be used to increase the number of wares you can store.

All of the special actions are extremely well balanced. You're typically giving something up in order to gain something else. All of the cards can be useful in the right circumstance. It's the way the cards work together that really make this game special. This game is about working with the cards you have to come up with a strategy for generating revenue. There are plenty of ways to do that but every game is going to require a different approach. There is no single successful strategy. To succeed, you're going to have to be both clever and flexible.

This game reminds me quite a bit of San Juan and Puerto Rico. It's got lots of great decisions, lots of different avenues to success, and it's extremely well balanced. It's a faster game than both of those. Once you're familiar with the game you can probably play it in around thirty minutes. It's also a little easier to learn than either San Juan or Puerto Rico. If you're looking for a two player game that's got a lot of depth and strategy then you need look no further. Jambo is definitely a winner! It's currently my two-player game of choice.


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