Jambo is a nice little card game, but it does seem to have one significant weakness - there seems to be, at least after 15-odd plays, one general strategy that trumps others.
First, all of the cards are useful, though some are more and less useful than others, most of them have some relative value - for instance, the boat is quite handy if you've got eight cards in your hand, but you might prefer the well, scale, supplies, or leopard statue if you're short on cards but still need wares. In general, the utility cards' value is very situational, and you need to play them appropriately - one might in general be better than another, but other, less optimal utilities may combo well with other cards - see Scale/Ape, and Throne/Parrot.
Second - animal cards can be very, very important. The Cheetah is possibly the most useful animal card, as it does several things for you: Allows you to hurt your opponent by stopping them from completing their plans, can help you accomplish something, and, on occasion, most importantly, it's usually a card that your opponent will use their guard on if they've got one - and if they do have it and don't use it, you can take it so you can continue to beat on them. Other cards are situational, but can be very useful. For example, if you have a lion, crocodile, and ape in your hand, and nothing else, have the same or less utilities than your opponent, and they have at least a few cards in their hand, you can clean their clock - use the lion, then crocodile a utility, then use the ape and take half or more of what they've got left. To say that is painful is an understatement. There are many combos in the game like this, and I can't get in to all of them here, but the main point is that even an undervalued utility, animal, or person card has a pretty significant use.
People cards can be important, too. Psychic and Dancer are probably my favorites - being able to pick the card you want out of six is nice, and it combos very, very well with other card drawing cards as you know whether they are worth using or not. Dancer is a relatively obvious choice - allowing you to turn any 3 wares in with any ware card is very handy, though the +1 card cost isn't insignificant.
Cards are also very important. They are the most important resource in the game. With more cards, you have more flexibility, and more ability to defend yourself, attack, and in general make things miserable for your opponent. So, if possible, you want to try to do a few things to maximize your cards: Use utilities that give you cards as much as possible. Keep guards in your hand - don't discard them, because when you've got seven cards and your opponent has two, an ape can be a game changing play.
The same goes with animals - if they perform a useful attack, you should probably keep them. For a cost of one action and one card, you can generally cause a significant cost for your opponent. The best moves you can make are ones that turn the tables - for instance, if their cart is full of wares, and yours is empty, an elephant is absolutely devestating, particularly if they've been wasting their gold on whatever's in the cart.
So, your primary strategy is to make things expensive for your opponent. You can easily calculate costs for both your opponent for yourself and for your opponent. Dont' do anything that costs you more than it hurts your opponent. Costs of acquiring things also depends on what your opponent has in play. If they've been using their gold leopard, then their wares are worth 2 gold and 1 action, whereas if they've been using a throne to pick up wares, their wares are worth significantly less, as a manner of cost. In general, I like to value things like this:
Wares that you know are likely to be sold on the next turn - 2 gold
Wares that might be sold on the next turn - 1 gold
Wares that are languishing - .5 gold.
Cards - 2 gold for first 3 cards, 1 gold thereafter.
Next, you need to calculate your opportunity cost. You might need to use resources that could make profit for yourself. As these values are known, you will need to calculate them for yourself given what your hand and utilities are like.
So, if they've got two wares, a leopard, and you're pretty sure that they'll be able to sell the wares in the next turn, if you can eliminate those wares, you will incur a loss to your opponent of 2 gold each. If it costs you 2 cards,and 2 actions to force your opponent from being able to sell those wares, that's roughly a +2 gold gain for you. But they also lose the actions and cards that they used to acquire the cards that they've got - whereas you probably used less cards and resources to attack them
So, when should you try to make money?
Well, you are looking for efficiency, and safety. If you're playing someone who is playing aggressively, keeping wares in their cart for any duration of time, then the strategy here is pretty simple...
You need cards. Keep your hand filled with a reasonable number of cards as much as possible, by any means - it doesn't matter that much whether you're using the scale, well, or whatever else you've got. Make it difficult for them to progress, while you're saving cards for yourself, so you can make profits too.
The best way to work with making your own profit is to ensure, as much as possible, that you aren't open to attack from your opponent.
This means that you want to minimize the number of wares that you have in the market at all times when you're not pushing your own transactions. This makes it hard for your opponent to know what you want, and even harder for them to do things that harm you. Next, you want to plan out your turns so that you can fill your cart and sell the items in it all at once, leaving your opponent nothing to pick at when you're done. Finally, if possible, it is generally a wise idea to try to keep yourself from having significantly more utilities in play than your opponent - there is another means of them attacking you. You don't want to have 2 more than your opponent.
On the extra market stall: I've found it very, very rare that I find it's worth spending six gold for that space. As it's quite uncommon that I have a need for more than five spaces. If your opponent plays one, at a cost of 3 it becomes slightly more viable, but in order to protect your assets, you don't want to have four wares sitting around when your turn is done, and it's very difficult to be ion a situation where you can turn over more than six wares in one turn, so it's still generally not worth the added cost. If your opponent does spend the 6 gold for one, if you have an elephant, don't toss it, because there very well could be a treasure trove for the taking in the near future. If you desire to build it, just calculate the benefit you gain versus the 3 gold it costs. If you have a pair of the 6 ware cards, spending one more gold to turn them over may be a good idea if it's early in the game (as the sixth market square is 2, 1 more gold is a rather low cost), but in general, the benefits of having more space are significantly mitigated by how keeping a bunch of wares in your market is a frequently horrible idea.
Beyond the basic strategy outlined, what happens is very dependent on the cards you draw. You will have to play more aggressively at times if you've no means of attacking your opponent - just do the best you can, and keep pushing for more cards if that's the case. Quantity really is your friend. It gives you flexibility, and that flexibility is necessary. Games I've played with a more aggressive, chance taking player, and myself playing defensively have ended in surprisingly lopsided scores - 64-35 and the like. Games where both players have played more carefully, defending themselves better, have scored a lot closer and been a lot more interesting.
So, in one sentence:
Defend your assets by showing the bare minimum, acquire cards, and make things as expensive for your opponent as possible. This is the way to victory in Jambo.
Thanks for this great guide, it might just get me back into the game. I must say when folk compare it to Lost Cities and the like for 2p fun it's a bit misleading as it's absolutely stuffed with strategy.
M Van Der Werf
I completely disagree with this guide. I don't think you can get punished that hard for having wares on the stand regularely, just don't keep more then 3 on the stand. Never keeping wares on the stand to completely void their parrots and possibly a throne and elephant is hardly a viable strategy anyway. If they really want to use their parrots they could always use a carrier or even a travelling merchant to force you to get wares on their turn.
The name of the game is efficiency imo, using the full 5 actions most of the time and occasionally stopping at 3. Often this forces you to play ware cards without selling them directly. Keeping too many cards in hand is imo more dangerous then some wares on the stand as the cards that attack you for having many cards in hands are stronger imo and even worse: you can't stop the tribal elder attack.
The key focus on cards in hand is also something i disagree with. Having access to more cards is very important and the early game should often be spend to find some way to get more cards (some equipment like the supplies, tribal elder, arabian merchant etc) but at some point i feel actions actually become the limiting factor. If you have multiple equipment going then you have plenty of stuff to do on your turn anyway and having more cards simply won't do (unless they are of the type that can be used without extra action). One equipment that ensures extra cards is enough most of the time imo, having too many cards at hand is some dead weight imo and only makes you more vulnerable to some cards and makes certain cards less good for you, for example drawing the tribal elder or ape while holding 6 cards just sucks.
In the mid and lategame card selection becomes more important then extra cards imo because at that point there is a substantial amount of dead cards you can draw, extra market stands and equipment for example just suck at that point.
Overall i think the flow of the game is this, first focus on cards that generate extra card income, then focus on cards that give an use to your dead cards by selection or discard. (the strongest equipment by far therefore is the supplies imo as it has good uses in any phase of the game).
How to play the game is completely dependant on the cards you get and going in beforehand with the mindset of purely defense is wrong i think, some hands require you to play out your cards quickly (lots of equipment or cards like tribal elder) while other hands require a slower approach (especially with something like the lion in hand).
Efficient use of turns, thus always doing 3 or 5 actions should be the guiding principle in whatever strategy you use though.