Jambo Review

Jambo card game in play

When looking for two-player games to play, one title comes up fairly regularly - Jambo.

In Jambo, the players take on the role of competing merchants attempting to gain money by buying and selling wares.  Each turn, the active player has five actions.  For an action, you may draw a card.  After drawing, you may either keep this card or discard it and draw another one (as another action).  You can do thus up to five times, but you can only keep one card - and it must always be the last one you drew.  After drawing (or choosing not to), you may play cards from your hand and use utility cards that are in play.  Cards from your hand can attack your opponent, buy or sell wares, build an extra market, and several other things.  Similarly, utility cards go into play in front of you (you can have three in play at any given time), and they do similar things, but at a cost - pay a gold to draw a card, take a ware from your opponent but then give them one of yours, discard cards from your hand to collect gold, etc.  If you end your turn with two or more actions remaining, then you earn an extra gold.  Play continues back and forth until one player has more than 60 gold.  At that point, the other player has one final turn to try to out-earn them, with the player having more gold winning!  (Or, if they're tied, then the second player - the one not triggering the end of game wins.  This is odd to me.)

card from Jambo game
The crux of the game is buying and selling wares
The first pro that I have for Jambo is that the game is deeper than it initially seems.  When you first start playing the game, you are basically just attempting to buy goods and immediately sell them (which, when this does happen, is very nice).  However, there are a lot of cards that will allow you to acquire the combinations you need more quickly.  The interesting balance is when to use these, and when the cost is too great.  One of the utility cards allows you to collect any ware that you want for 2 gold.  This can be very good to fill in a missing good, but costs more per ware than using ware cards.  So, it is less effective for filling in all of the goods for a given ware card.  Yet, it is still more valuable than not completing a ware card (unless you could have drawn a ware card that you were closer to completing).  There are also cards that let you sell wares without completing ware cards; but when you do this you only get 2 gold per ware, instead of the 3-4 that you get when you complete a ware card.

The next pro for Jambo is that everything in the game has a price.  In fact, doing well at Jambo requires a player to carefully balance these prices.  But, this pricing is balanced well enough to allow for neat combinations (and tough choices).  For example, one utility card allows you to spend 1 gold to draw a card; another lets you discard a card from your hand for 2 gold.  If you start doing this every turn, you will start making 1 gold per turn.  Yet, you gain 1 gold per turn whenever you end your turn with 2 or more actions - and this combination costs 2 actions!  So, there are many costs that you must balance in the game, including opportunity costs.  Another example of an opportunity cost is in the draw - you can draw up to five times in the hopes of getting a card that you need; but every extra draw prevents you from being able to play as many cards in the next phase.

utility card for game of Jambo
An example utility card
One quick point of note about Jambo before moving on to the cons.  The game has a direct conflict feel, to me, because of the animal cards.  The animal cards are essentially attacks - the Hyena lets you steal a card from your opponent's hand (but then return one from your hand), the Crocodile lets you discard one of your opponent's utility cards, and so on.  Some people love direct conflict in games, and some prefer to avoid it entirely.  So, whereas a game like Jaipur allows you to affect your opponent by performing actions before they can, in Jambo you affect your opponent by attacking them.  There are also "Guard" cards that can cancel an animal attack, but there are not enough of these to cancel all of the attacks, if you find yourself in a very conflict-intensive game.

My first con for Jambo is that, like with many card driven games, luck of the draw can play a major factor.  One example of this is the small market.  There is a rule that if you fill your large market (your starting card, which can hold six wares), then you must spend 2 gold (heavily cutting into future profits).  The small market card can allow you to hold 3 additional goods - which is helpful in itself, because you have extra room to hold combinations of goods.  But, the small market also allows you to avoid paying the two extra gold for filling your large market.  If one player draws a small market in his opening hand and the other player never sees one, the player with the extra market seems to have an advantage.  Yet, other good drawing can defeat this advantage.  There are multiple copies of any given ware card in the deck (I think that there are two of each).  One example of a "lucky draw" is a player that draws both copies of a certain ware card into their hand - poof, use one card to buy the wares and immediately sell them with the other card and make around 7 gold at the cost of 2 actions!  There is not a more effective play in the game!!

My other con for Jambo is that sometimes you feel like you're doing as well by skipping actions as you are by the actions you actually perform.  Remember the rule that you earn an extra gold if you end your turn with 2 or more actions?  Some of the games that I have played I have felt like half of the money I earned was by ending my turns with actions left!  Now, I realize that as you play the game, you will get better, but I think that this feeling can still persist even after your first couple of games.  If you're simply not drawing cards that work well together, a large percentage of your profits can be earned simply by passing. 

Overall, I give Jambo an 8.0/10.  It is one of the better two player games that I have played, but because of the direct conflict, I probably won't play it repeatedly (direct conflict games don't work well between me and my wife - and if you're married, that's probably who you're intending to play most (non-war) two-player games with).

If you are looking for good two player games, you might also check out Hive, Jaipur, and Babel.

1 comment:

  1. This game rocks. We really enjoy the direct conflict. The game overall has a nice CCG-type feel to it - without having to spend tons of money on booster packs and new sets!