Game Reviews

Jaipur and Papaya Rum Lassi: Western Cultural Appropriation at its Finest

An interesting Indian drink paired with an interesting tabletop game about the markets of India.

In Jaipur, you compete head-to-head against another merchant to make phat stacks of coin and receive two seals of excellence in order to be invited to the court of the Maharaja.

Lassi is an Indian drink made from blended dahi (yogurt), spices, and sometimes fruit. Traditionally, lassi isn’t an alcoholic beverage, but this blog wouldn’t live up to its Under the Tabletop name if I adhered to that tradition.

Mango is a fruit native to Southern Asia, the pulp of which is sometimes blended with lassi to make a delicious treat. Unfortunately, I was in such a rush to get my groceries and leave that I accidentally grabbed a papaya.

How could you possibly confuse a mango for a papaya?

It was in a bin labeled “mangos” OK?! I literally didn’t even check to see if it was ripe. Look, papaya looks exactly like mango except for the size, shape, color, skin texture, and country of origin—get off my back about it!

Yikes, not going to touch that mess…Was it even any good?

Yeah! I’m not even a fan of papaya and I found it good. Full disclosure, there was rum in it. Blending rum, lassi, and ice made it into a sort of semi-sweet rum margarita.

They were actually pretty good!

I decided to pair lassi with Jaipur for an obvious reason—one is a game that contains the name of a city in India, and another is a drink that is popular in India. But for a far less obvious reason, I paired these two because I found a recipe for rum mango lassi online, which is a culturally appropriated version of the original drink…sort of like Jaipur being a culturally appropriated game.

Oh, this is one of those…

Yes, and no. I think that we should talk about these things so that we can create more inclusive games in the future. But I love playing Jaipur; I’ll probably continue to play it. You know what? I also enjoyed that bastardized lassi. (Although I think it would’ve been better if I had grabbed a mango instead.)

How does Jaipur work?

There are five resource and/or camel cards available for players to potentially collect on their turn. The goal of the each round is to have the most coin. Strategies for getting the most coin include:

  • Collecting a lot of combo chips (sell any set of the same 3, 4, or 5 resources)
  • Selling any one resource first (the top resource chips have a higher value than the bottom ones)
  • Having a shit ton of camels (there’s a special camel chip which gives you 5 coin)

The combo chips have a varying range of worth to reflect the constant change of the market—but if you’re able to collect a 5 combo chip, it can be worth up to 10 coin at the end of the round. Combos are difficult, as players are limited to having up to 7 cards in their hand.

What makes the game challenging, though, is that you can only either sell one type of resource on your turn (discard cards from the same resource and take that amount of chips and the respective combo chip), or collect resource cards on your turn.

The number of resources chips are limited and the person who can sell one type of resource first gets the highest values for that resource…the more players sell, the more a resource depreciates in value. (Except silver, silver is always a cool 5 coin.)

There are also camel cards, which are great to collect just so that you can trade them for resources. (They don’t count as a part of your hand, so you can collect as many as you want!) If you happen to have the most camels at the end of the round, you get a bonus of 5 coins—but I wouldn’t bet on that as your primary strategy.

When three resources have been drained of all of their chips, or the resource card deck has been drained, that round is over. Flip over all of the chips and add the values on the back. The player with the highest value wins the round and collects a seal of excellence. Two seals of excellence, and you win!

Give me the fun stuff first, then hit me with a dose of reality

On Jaipur

Jaipur, in my opinion, is one of the most well-designed games I’ve ever played, both mechanically and artistically. The game comes in a beautiful, compact box that reflects the colorful tapestries, spices, precious metals, and gems that you must trade in order to be a well-respected merchant.

Jaipur checks all of the boxes for me:

  • It’s two player only, which is a harder type of game to come by
  • It’s quick (~30 minutes)
  • The rules are easy to pick up
  • The artwork is beautiful and easy to decipher
  • It’s compact (only cards and game chips)
  • There are multiple rounds, so if you didn’t do well in the first round, you have an opportunity to be the comeback kid
  • Once you know the rules well enough, you can play in near silence (it makes you feel like you’re at a silent auction)
  • The game is well balanced
  • There’s a fun element of chance to the game, but it’s not so overwhelming that you feel like you’re getting the shaft if luck isn’t in your favor
  • If luck isn’t in your favor, there are several plays that you can make to come out ahead

What makes Jaipur fun is in your ability to remember what actions your opponent is taking and to be able to make counter plays to those. For example, if you notice your adversary taking a lot of gold cards, they’re probably going for a combo. If you have at least two gold cards, you can sell on your next turn and take the top chips, which are worth more than the chips underneath them.

On the Mango Papaya Lassi

Lassi is an interesting drink. Popular in India and Punjab, lassi has many variations. Traditionally, lassi is savory but more recently has been made with sweet fruits. There’s even a Bhang (cannabis) lassi that some Hindus drink during certain holidays, like Shivatri (a holiday for the goddess Shiva) and Holi (where they throw all of the bright colored paint at each other). Apparently, the Bhang lassi tastes like trash.

The last words that came out of the English backpacker’s mouth were, ‘Make mine extra strong.’ Well, that and, ‘Ugh, it tastes like the bottom of a garbage bag.’

Vice, circa 2015

I opted for the sweeter, non-get-you-high lassi. Mango, being a fruit from the region, seemed like a good idea but the accidental papaya version wasn’t a bad alternative. It was not as sweet as a mango lassi would be, but I think the rum made up for that.

Here’s the recipe that I used, try it for yourself!

You can pick up most of the ingredients at your average grocery store, except the ancho chili powder.

Allow me to throw in a plot twist—I made a vegan version of the lassi drink:

  • Rum is naturally vegan
  • There’s a cashew substitute for Greek/honey yogurt (I found a great one called Ripple at my local grocery store)
  • All of the other ingredients are already vegan

Great! Now’s a good time to end your blog without talking about any cultural appropriation

Nice try. Look, as a white person, it’s not really my place to delve into the aspects of appropriation of a culture that isn’t mine whatsoever but I think that it’s important for me to think more inclusively about aspects of my “culture” if it can even be defined as such—tabletop games.

Jaipur is one of many tabletop games that take the great mechanics of a resource and market management game, then slap a stereotypical Indian or Arab bazaar trade market theme on it. Jaipur, Istanbul, Taj Mahal…they all have this type of theme and all are heavy on allowing players to set markets.

Furthermore, Jaipur is make by Gameworks, a Swiss company.

Fun themes that are also identifiable to players are important components in artwork and design. I would argue, that theme is the most important aspect of a tabletop game. If your theme (including your artwork) is uninteresting or disjointed, your game won’t be fun to play, regardless of how awesome your mechanics are.

To reiterate, I love Jaipur and will continue to play it. I would like to see more games with a unique theme and the market setting component.

By Neutrino Burrito

A writer and board game designer currently puttering about the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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