The ABCs of Gaming: J is for…

On to the Js in our continuing series about the ABCs of Gaming.  J is for…

image by BGG user binraix

Jambo was designed by Rüdiger Dorn and was originally published in 2004 as part of the Kosmos two-player line (Rio Grande publishes the game in the US).  It’s a game for two players aged 12 and up, and takes around 45 minutes to play.  The game is set in Africa (Jambo means hello in Swahili), and you’re a merchant trying to turn a profit by buying goods and selling them for more.  As the game goes on, you’ll be able to take special actions and mess with your opponent.  In the poll, it beat out top-seeded Jaipur, 18.3% to 15.3%.

image by BGG user Plush

The base game comes with 112 cards, including two large market stands, five small market stands, 40 ware cards, 22 utility cards, 29 people cards, and 14 animal cards.  There are 52 gold piece tokens in denominations of 1 and 5.  There are 36 ware tokens, including 6 each of trinkets, hides, tea, silk, fruit, and salt.  You also get five action markers.  Each player gets a large market stand, a hand of five cards, and 20 gold.

On your turn, you have action points to spend, and you’ll use the five action markers to keep track of them.  You have two things you can do – draw a card and play cards.  If you’re going to draw cards, that has to be the first thing you do.  For one action point, you can draw one card.  If you don’t want the card, you can discard it and draw another for another action point.  Once you get a card you want to keep, you can start playing cards.  You don’t have to draw any cards, you can skip straight to the playing.

You spend one action point per card you play.  There are five different kinds of cards:

  • Small Market Stand – These add three spaces to your market stand, which can normally only hold six wares.  The first person to build a small market stand pays 6 gold for it.  All future market stands (for both players) only cost 3.
  • Wares – If you play a ware card, you can either buy or sell goods.  If buying, you pay the smaller gold number indicated and take the shown goods, placing them in your market.  If you don’t have enough empty spaces, you can’t buy with the card.  You must always buy all of the goods on the card, which means there must be enough in the supply.  The sixth space on the large market stand costs two additional gold to fill (small market stands help you skip that space).  If you’re selling, you turn in all indicated goods to the bank for the larger gold number on the card.
  • Utilities – Utility cards are placed face up in front of you, but you have to spend another action point to activate them.  The cards remain in play until you are forced to discard them, which means you can use special abilities several times (though only once per turn).  You have a limit of three utility cards you can have in play at a time.
  • People – When you play a person card, you take the action on the card and discard it immediately.
  • Animals – The same goes for animal cards, though these can be blocked by a guard your opponent plays.

Once you’re done playing as much as you want to, you pass.  If you have two or more action markers left, you get one gold.  When one player gets at least 60 gold, the opponent takes one more turn and the game is over.  The player with the most points wins.

When I published the poll, I had not played Jambo.  I have now, and it’s a great game.  The push and pull of trying to collect the right resources and sell them at the right time is very fun.  Initially, I thought it was more of an auction game, but that’s a small part of it, only a certain action given by some cards.  The cards have some great special actions, and you can come up with some fun combos.  The rules were extremely simple to comprehend, and all you need to know is printed on the cards.  There’s no confusing symbology – card actions are written out.  It can come down to luck of the draw, but there’s such a wide variety of cards that it isn’t a big deal.  I played with the expansions included, and they add a lot to the experience.  I voted for Jungle Speed as the top J game, and I would again, but I think that Jambo is a worthy winner.

Here’s a rundown of the remainder of the poll:

  • Jaipur came in second with 15.3% of the vote.  This 2009 card game from designer Sébastien Pauchon was, coincidentally, another 2-player economic game (though Jaipur is set in India).  I’ve never played, so I can’t speak to similarities with Jambo – I just find it interesting.
  • Junta came in third with 14.6% of the vote.  Junta was originally published in 1978 from designers Eric Goldberg, Ben Grossman, and Vincent Tsao.  It’s a game set in a fictional Central American country where players vie to accumulate the most wealth, assassinate each other, and try to overthrow El Presidente.  I’ve never played, and I’m probably more apt to play the newer version (Junta: Viva el Presidente!, just published in 2010).
  • Jenseits von Theben came in fourth with 12.7% of the vote.  This 2004 game from Peter Prinz was later released by Queen Games as Thebes, but they’re two separate entries in the BGG database.  I enjoy Thebes, random as it is, and it would be cool to see how the original compares.  Probably won’t happen.
  • Other came in fifth with 11.5% of the vote.  Nominees included JAB: Realtime Boxing, Jacynth, Jäger und Sammler, Jenga, Judge Dredd, Junkyard Races, Junta: Viva el Presidente, Jutland, and Jyhad (which is now called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle).  I haven’t played any of those, so I can’t comment.
  • Jungle Speed came in sixth with 6.5% of the vote.  I already mentioned that this 1997 game (designed by Thomas Vuarchex and Pierrick Yakovenko) was my pick – it’s fast, it’s fun, it’s sometimes painful, and it is easy to find (I recently saw it on the shelf at Toys R Us).  It’s a game that I’ve had a ton of success with when introducing new players, and I think it’s essential gaming.
  • Java came in seventh with 6.4% of the vote.  Published in 2000 from the design superteam of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, this was the second game in the so-called Mask Trilogy (with Tikal and Mexica).  The games are all about exploring different parts of the world and make use of the action point allowance system.  I’ve played Tikal and didn’t like it very much, so I don’t know how I’d feel about this one.
  • Julius Caesar came in eighth with 6.2% of the vote.  This 2010 game from Columbia Games and designers Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson was the only wargame to make the J poll.  Obviously, it’s set in ancient Rome, but I don’t know too much beyond that.
  • Jamaica came in ninth with 5.6% of the vote.  Jamaica came out in 2007, and was designed by Malcolm Braff, Bruno Cathala, and Sébastien Pauchon.  It’s a very light pirate racing game that features some absolutely gorgeous art.
  • Jet Set came in tenth with 1.8% of the vote.  This 2008 route-building airplane game from Kris Gould and Wattsalpoag Games was reminiscent of Ticket to Ride, and probably has been replaced by Airlines Europe.  I’ve never played, so I can’t speak to the similarities.
  • Jerusalem came in eleventh with the final 1% of the vote.  Published in 2010, this game from designer Michael Mura was an area control game set during the Crusades.  I don’t know a whole lot about it.

There you have it.  See you next time for the Ks.  Thanks for reading!

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