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Subject: Jambo -- My Thoughts After 1500+ Plays... rss

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K. David Ladage
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Jambo
By: Rüdiger Dorn
Published: KOSMOS (distributed by Rio Grande Games)
Web: http://www.riograndegames.com/games.html?id=120

===

A Brief History
My wife and I like to play games together. We are always on the lookout for games that play well with two players. We play Scrabble (she kicks my hind end something fierce in that game), Sequence (see note on Scrabble), Fill or Bust (a cute little game), Cinq-O (very portable), Catan Dice and Catan Cards (a lot of fun; although Catan Cards is very frustrating at times), and so on. We had played enough of these games that some of them were feeling a little lackluster.

Once day, I am in my friendly local game store, and I see Jambo. Next to it is another game (forget the name) with a similar theme. I cannot recall what it was that attracted us to Jambo -- perhaps the brightly colored box? who knows... -- but we decided to get this game.

We took it home, opened it up, read the rules together, and played a game. We hated it. I mean, this was terrible. We went turn after turn unable to do anything! We put it down after one play. I was quite sure this would be the last we would see of Jambo.

Flash forward a week or so. My kids were asleep, it was a Friday evening and we both do not care to watch television under most circumstances. So we go back into the game room/office and look to see if there is a game that trips our fancy. I cannot recall if it was her or me that suggested that we give Jambo a second chance. But we did. Perhaps it was an odd shuffle that first time around. Perhaps we missed something. Who knows. But the game was lively, fun, interactive and quite thought provoking. We fell in love.

In the last 1½ years, this is -- without a doubt, and by a large margin -- the game I have played more than any other. I wish this were hyperbole, but my wife and I have averaged somewhere between 18 and 22 games per week. If you assume 1½ years is 78 weeks, this comes to 1404 to 1716 games. Let's call this 1500 games or so. And Jambo shows no sign of becoming something we have tired of. I cannot tell you the number of times the kids have been asleep, I have finished doing the dishes, and as I exit the kitchen, I will see my wife mouth the word "Jambo" and we will each go back into the office, smiles plastered onto our faces, to enjoy our favorite two player card game.


Good Business for Two Clever Merchants
Jambo is a game of trade, themed as an African Merchant game (the word 'Jambo' being a Swahili word meaning 'hello'). All of the artwork is quite good; it is very bright and generally cheerful in tone.

The game consists of a central deck (the card supply), a collection of wares (the supply), two large market stands (one for each player), tokens representing one or five gold coins, and five action markers.

You start the game with 20 gold coins, a hand of five cards dealt from the card supply, and your large market stand. Randomly determine who will start the game and alternate turns from that point. If, at the end of any player's turn, he or she has 60 or more gold coins, the end of the game is triggered. This means their opponent gets one final turn. The that player can accumulate as much or more gold at the end of this final turn, they will win the game; else they will lose.


A Game Turn
In your turn, you have five "actions" available to you. As you use each action, your opponent will keep track of them via the five "action" markers. Once you use these up (or decide to end your turn), your turn is complete, and play passes to your opponent.

Your turn consists of two phases:

Phase 1: Draw a Card
You have the option of drawing a card from the card supply. If you do, this costs you one of your actions. If you draw a card and do not like what you get, you may discard that card and draw a new one; this will cost you an additional action. You could cycle through five cards, keeping the last one, and your turn would be concluded, having used up all of your actions.

Phase 2: Play Cards from Your Hand
There are five kinds of cards in Jambo: Ware Cards, Animal Cards, People Cards, Utility Cards, and Small Market Stands. Each type of card has a different purpose in the game.

Anytime you play a card from your hand, unless it states otherwise, that card will cost you one action. Assuming you draw no cards in Phase 1, you could play as many as five cards in Phase 2. If you end your turn with two or more actions unused, you get a gold coin as a bonus.


Card Types
Ware Cards: At the core of the game are the wares. There are six wares you can trade in -- fruit, hides, salt, silk, tea, and trinkets. There are six of each of these commodities in the supply; if there are no copies of a commodity in the supply, then a player cannot purchase any more of that type until someone sells some.

Of the 110 cards in the card supply, 40 are ware cards. There are four kinds of ware cards available:

* Three-of-a-Kind: some ware cards have three of the same ware pictures on it. This could be 3x silk, or 3x salt, or what have you. These cards will allow you to buy the pictured wares from the supply for 3 gold coins; or, if you have those wares on your market stands, sell them for 10 gold coins.

* Two-Wares-Plus-One: some ware cards have two of one kind of ware, and then one of another. This could be 2x fur plus 1x tea, or 2x fruit plus 1x salt, or what have you. These cards will allow you to buy the pictured wares from the supply for 4 gold coins; or, if you have those wares on your market stands, sell them for 11 gold coins.

* Three-Different-Wares: some ware cards have three different wares on them. This could be 1x fruit plus 1x salt plus 1x trinket, or what have you. These cards will allow you to buy the pictured wares from the supply for 5 gold coins; or, if you have those wares on your market stands, sell them for 12 gold coins.

* Six-Packs: a few ware cards have one of each of the six wares pictured on them. These cards will allow you to buy one of each ware from the supply for 10 gold coins; or, if you have those wares on your market stands, sell them for 18 gold coins.

These cards are the basis of making money in the game.

Animal Cards: Generally speaking, animal cards are attacks against your opponent. Examples are cards that will destroy one of your opponent's utility cards (Crocodile), let you pilfer their hand (Hyena), or pilfer their market stands (Parrot), and so on. These attacks are not without a defense against them, however. A special people card (Guard) can be revealed and discarded from your hand to stop any animal attack. This defense costs you no actions, since it is played when it is not your turn.

People Cards: Generally speaking, people cards are one-turn bonuses and boons. Examples are cards that let you swindle the supply (Dancer), let you trade wares (Shaman), or purge wares for a small profit that you cannot otherwise sell (Portuguese), and so on.

Utility Cards: Utility cards can act in a similar fashion to animal or utility cards. However, rather than being a one-time effect, utility cards remain in play and can be used on future turns to duplicate their effect. Playing a utility card from your hand costs one action; gaining the benefit of a utility card in play also costs one action. You are limited to three utility cards in play. Thus, if you have a fourth you want to play, this will cause you to have to discard one already in play to make room.

Many of the utility cards are "resource exchange" cards. For example, trade one card in your hand or an in-play utility for a ware from the supply (Boat); trade two gold coins for a ware from the supply (Leopard Statue), trade one gold coin for the top card from the card supply (Well), trade one ware on your market stands for a card from the card supply (Drums), and so on.

Small Market Stands: The large market stand you start with can hold six wares. Unless you have room on your stand, you cannot gain wares from the supply. The first five items placed on the market stand are "free" (in that they do not cost you anything more than the purchase price to store there). The sixth one, no matter how it got there, will cost you an additional 2 gold coins (think of it as stress on the stand).

Given the distribution of wares on the ware cards, it is often helpful to have some extra space to store wares. This is where the five small market stands, shuffled into the card supply, come into play. Each one can hold three wares, allowing you to store three more wares as you play, as well as avoid the 2 gold coin penalty for filling your large market stand by delaying that possibility by three wares. Small market stands are not utility cards, and so do not count toward the three utility limit.

Expanding Your Horizons
There are two expansions for Jambo available from Rio Grande Games. I cannot recommend these enough. Each expansion includes new ware cards, animal cards, people cards, utility cards, as well as new cards that offer you new ways to play the game (huts, carpets, etc.).

Two of the most interesting and useful cards are also two of the simplest ones:

* Two-Ware Ware Cards: these ware cards have only two wares pictured. These are always two different wares. These cards will allow you to buy the pictured wares from the supply for 3 gold coins; or, if you have those wares on your market stands, sell them for 7 gold coins.

* Two-Ware-Wild-Card Ware Cards: these ware cards have two crates pictured. These cards will allow you to buy any two wares from the supply for 5 gold coins; or sell any two wares on your market stands for 5 gold coins.

It is amazing what dynamics these two types of card add to the mix of the game. But beyond these two simple additions, you have many, many options with these expansions to make the game of Jambo play any way you like.

In the core game, the Guards are used to stop animals. There is no defense to prevent the boons of a people card. The expansions add in a defense for people (Spirit of the Ancestors) that works the same way -- played as a reaction and costs you no actions since it is not your turn.

The rules suggest that you maintain a certain ratio of wares : animals : people : utility. However, in my experience, it is best to set up the entire card supply in such a way as to suit your style of play. If you increase the number of ware cards (in proportion to other cards), the game tends to play faster; if you decrease it it will play more slowly. My wife and I find that a deck consisting of 45% ware cards plays at the rate we like.

Also, as you set up the game to you tastes, picking and choosing which animals, people, and utilities to use (and how many of each to include) can tailor the game even further. Over time, my wife and I have created the style and feel of card supply that we enjoy most. It has remained this way for several months (and several hundred games) now. Add in huts, carpets, or other options, and you can see that this game is completely customizable.

Conclusions
Jambo is a simple to learn, fast-paced, two-player card game that is very entertaining and quite addictive. The game's strategy changes every time you play it, because the choices you make must take into account the ware cards you are drawing, the utility cards you and your opponent have available, and so on. Honestly, one utility card in play has the power to shift a choice that seems obvious in other circumstances to dicey at best; it can shift a choice you would not normally consider to something that is quite timely and advantageous.

There are some oddities within the game. These are not "flaws"; they are just "unexpected". For example, there is a people card in the core set: The Tribal Elder. This is one of the few cards in Jambo that has two possible uses. It can be used to draw your hand up to five cards, or to force your opponent to discard down to three cards. I can recall the first time I used this card in its 'attack' mode. My wife played a Guard triumphantly... and I said "This is not an animal." There was an audible blink. We had gotten into a mode of thinking: attack=animal; boon=people. She asked how you stop this attack. I said there is no way to stop it. This has fortunately been corrected. See Spirit of the Ancestors above.

My final assessment is simple. Any game that I can play 1500+ times and still get excited over is an unmitigated success in game design. I cannot recommend this game enough.
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Ingo Griebsch
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Thanks for the review. Wow, 1500 plays, that's what I call value for the money... thumbsup
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Andy Andersen
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Other than the "normal" stuff, I can't think of many things I've done 1500 times. I think this game was made with you in mind. Congratulations on a fine review.thumbsup
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Myles Wallace
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I really enjoy Jambo too. Can't imagine playing it 1500 times. Wow.

Another game you'd probably like is Jaipur. It's not quite as deep as Jambo but it's a quick playing strategy economic game for two people. My girlfriend and I play that quite a bit when we don't have time for a full game of Jambo.
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Greg r
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Great Review, and while I cannot say we play it as much, we sure wish we could. We played it the first time while my wife was in the hospital this year and we found it just as you said...
KDLadage wrote:
Jambo is a simple to learn, fast-paced, two-player card game that is very entertaining and quite addictive. The game's strategy changes every time you play it, because the choices you make must take into account the ware cards you are drawing, the utility cards you and your opponent have available, and so on.


It has quickly become one our favorite 2 player games!!
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Железный комиссар
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Quote:
I cannot tell you the number of times the kids have been asleep, I have finished doing the dishes, and as I exit the kitchen, I will see my wife mouth the word "Jambo" and we will each go back into the office, smiles plastered onto our faces, to enjoy our favorite two player card game.


To me it doesn't matter what game it is, I just wish there were more of this going on in the world at large and being talked about on BGG.
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Count Ringworm
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great review, and they echo my wife's and my thoughts as well. This is also our most played game, but we're more around 40-50 plays.

This game always gets thrown into the backpack whenever we travel. I like to write down where we were when we played. It's even made its way to Alaska, played in a cabin up at Denali
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K. David Ladage
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Does not matter where we go, if it will be for more than a few hours, Jambo goes as well. Especially when visiting the in-laws.
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Greg Clensy
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Ours too has been well traveled. We played many games of this in "tea houses" throughout the Everest region of the Himilayas.

Curiously enough we did not bring this with us to Tanzania (where they speak Swahili). I regret that now. We brought other games instead.

I thoroughly enjoy playing Jambo because I find it a very pleasant experience. This is not to say that there are few meaningful decisions. It is that there is usually more than one good choice for advancing your goals. This does not mean there is not one "best" decision, but at least you never feel stuck. I think this cuts the tension.

Tension is fun too, but it is also fun to play games that are less angsty.
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Marshall Miller
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While your review of the mechanics is thurough, I'm curious to hear more personal commentary. How has your play style changed between then and now? What mistakes do you no longer make? Do you make more use of attack cards or do you two play more independently (my wife and I tend to underuse attack cards because we default to conflict averse)? Is there a card you always take/never take? Who do you think wouldn't like this game? Have you had any games that were real outliers (unlikely confluences of cards for better or worse, faster or slower)?
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K. David Ladage
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OK... I will think about that and put together a "personal commentary" review of the game as soon as I can and will post it in this thread.
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Joe
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This review is why I purchased the game. Definitely didn't disappoint. It's now a top 3 game for me!
 
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Johnpatrick Marr
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Great review! More than any other 2-player game Jambo has a "one-more-time," effect on me.

I'd love to see what your cards look like after all these plays! Have you had to buy additional sets over the years?
 
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Hunter Bennett-Daggett
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I'm curious whether other people didn't click with the game initially? I just bought this game for my wife for Christmas, to play together, and after three plays it's definitely not rocketing towards the top spot. So far we've found it overlong for what's happening - too much waiting for the right ware card with a full stall, that sort of thing. Obviously a big part of that is not knowing the utility cards and using them optimally (or at all, in some cases). I want to like this game, but right now it's in the "play when tired of other games" pile. Any advice? I'm hesitant to buy the expansions if we're lukewarm on the original game.

FWIW, our current two players favorites are Battle Line, Innovation, and Mystery Rummy (Jack the Ripper).
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The other Euro guy
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DiAtros wrote:
I'm curious whether other people didn't click with the game initially? I just bought this game for my wife for Christmas, to play together, and after three plays it's definitely not rocketing towards the top spot. So far we've found it overlong for what's happening - too much waiting for the right ware card with a full stall, that sort of thing. Obviously a big part of that is not knowing the utility cards and using them optimally (or at all, in some cases). I want to like this game, but right now it's in the "play when tired of other games" pile. Any advice? I'm hesitant to buy the expansions if we're lukewarm on the original game.

FWIW, our current two players favorites are Battle Line, Innovation, and Mystery Rummy (Jack the Ripper).


Its a great game - stick with it.

I would make two suggestions:

1. Play the (official) variant that places all small marketstands in a face-up stack in the middle of the table. For one action, players may draw a marketstand - rather than drawing from the main face-down deck. For a second action, the marketstand can be placed face-up in the player's play area. This variant offers players a bit more control and should open up more options with the ware cards. Often you will find yourself holding a combo of ware cards that when bought/sold in a timely way can yield plenty of gold. All you need is space to temporarily hold the wares (and maybe use a leopard statue or something) and at that point you can draw your extra marketstand to make the play.

2. Experiment with the cards. Don't worry about winning/losing - just enjoy discovering what the different cards do and see what happens. You will find yourself inventing new combos and discovering new strategy before you know it.

Have fun.
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Hunter Bennett-Daggett
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Steve - thanks for the input. We will definitely give that variant a try. I do want to like the game!
 
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Vince Lupo
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Bought it. (just now. on amazon. because of this review)
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Shane Larsen
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DiAtros wrote:
I'm curious whether other people didn't click with the game initially? I just bought this game for my wife for Christmas, to play together, and after three plays it's definitely not rocketing towards the top spot. So far we've found it overlong for what's happening - too much waiting for the right ware card with a full stall, that sort of thing. Obviously a big part of that is not knowing the utility cards and using them optimally (or at all, in some cases). I want to like this game, but right now it's in the "play when tired of other games" pile. Any advice? I'm hesitant to buy the expansions if we're lukewarm on the original game.

FWIW, our current two players favorites are Battle Line, Innovation, and Mystery Rummy (Jack the Ripper).


Hunter, FWIW, it didn't click with me either. My favorite 2p card games are Battle Line and Innovation. Balloon Cup is up there too. But Jambo just sort of fell flat with us.

While I can appreciate this game's design, I don't think it's for everyone.

This review has inspired me to give it another shot though. Thanks for the outstanding review.
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Mark L
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Just noticed this thread for the first time! Cool review, David!

To Hunter and Shane: of course there's no such thing as a game that will please everyone. But my own experience of playing Jambo with my wife is that I initially found the game interesting, but it didn't excite me. It dragged too much; I felt that if we could just play it in under an hour I'd enjoy it a lot more, but our first few games took nearly double the 40 minutes listed on the box.

However, we persevered, and I'm glad we did. The last few games have been under an hour, largely (I think) because we're more familiar with the cards and can plan intelligently, and I've enjoyed them a lot more.
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Jonathan Harrison
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xipuloxx wrote:
[M]y own experience of playing Jambo with my wife is that I initially found the game interesting, but it didn't excite me. It dragged too much; I felt that if we could just play it in under an hour I'd enjoy it a lot more, but our first few games took nearly double the 40 minutes listed on the box.

I never got past this point. Before I did (if I ever would have), we discovered Morels, which entirely replaces Jambo for me.
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Mark L
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Did your first few games take well over an hour too then, Jonathan?

Morels looks really good; I may well get it at some point. But I was interested in Jambo for a number of reasons, and since I don't play 2-player games all that much I'm reluctant to get yet another one when I still have several I've barely played!
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Jonathan Harrison
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Ugh. Yes. 90 minutes, usually. Or slightly more.
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Shane Larsen
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
Ugh. Yes. 90 minutes, usually. Or slightly more.


I think we were at about the 90-minute mark too.
 
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DiAtros wrote:
I'm curious whether other people didn't click with the game initially? I just bought this game for my wife for Christmas, to play together, and after three plays it's definitely not rocketing towards the top spot. So far we've found it overlong for what's happening - too much waiting for the right ware card with a full stall, that sort of thing. Obviously a big part of that is not knowing the utility cards and using them optimally (or at all, in some cases).


I feel similar towrads this.
Bought it because it looked interesting and had good ratings.
Yet the game felt uninspiring. It worked ok, but nothing more. Nothing which is really interesting or exciting in this game. Theme is not well implemented either, e.g. the effects of the animal cards have no connection at at all to the animal.
This a the best example of a mediocre game: not really bad or broken, but nothing exciting, original or fun about it either.
I really can't understand how anybody can rate this higher than 6 or 7, unless the rater is very limited either intellectually or in experience with games.

If I compare this with the best games of the Kosmos small suqare box series like Targi or Rapa Nui, I think it is obvoius that those games are superior to Jambo in quite every respect:
- more original and more elegant mechanics
- deeper, with more strategic possibilities and interestin choices to make
- in case of Rapa Nui also better theme implementation.
On the other hand. I can't think of any aspect, in which Jambo would be better than any of those.

This is one of the most overrated games imho. There's of course other games, which are rated high, and which I don't like so much. Yet, in most cases, I can still understand, what fascinates others about those games, but not so here.
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Roel van M.
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Damn, I just found out that I'm very limited intellectually.
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