Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Mayfair Games/Lookout Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 60-90 minutes; $35)

The exotic city of Johari nestled in Jaipur is the hub for gems, jewelry and jewel sales. Players, as gem merchants in that far off locale, compete in selling valuable gems (as well as fakes) in order to gain the most prestige in this new game by Carlo Lavezzi: Johari.

johariboxThe central board of Johari depicts a “gold track” to chart each player’s gold supply. Above the board, there is room for five “Stores”, each Store dedicated to one of the four jewel types in the game (white diamonds, blue sapphires, red rubies and green emeralds) as well as one to hold gold and/or Prestige Point cards. The bottom of the board is where the Bazaar Booths are to be found, each being able to hold an assortment of goods. (Two more stalls that the number of players will be used throughout the game.) There is also a track for nobles (available to be enticed to a player’s aid as the game progresses). Gem cards, depicting all the resources of the game (jewels in groups of one, two or three of the same type as well as gold coins and Prestige Points), are shuffled with as many cards as players drawn and placed in their appropriate slots in the Stores and two more cards than players placed, from left to right, into the Bazaar Booths.

Noble cards play an important role in the game. Nobles come in three varieties (numbered 1, 2 and 3 on their card backs), 8 of each type. The three varieties are shuffled individually and four randomly drawn, face down. They are then stacked, the four number 3 nobles on the bottom, the four number 2s on top of them and the four number 1s on the very top. Now, the first two nobles are drawn and placed on the first two spots on the board’s noble track.

Each player receives their own (identical) player board to track the prestige accumulated from jewel sales and (an also identical) set of 7 Action cards. Everyone starts with 15 gold, indicated by each player’s token on the 15 space on the board’s gold track. All player tokens are randomly placed on that space and now players, starting with the player whose token is at the bottom of the stack and working your way up, take ONE gem card from the board and place it into his own display.

For each round, the first thing done is to draw the top nobles card and place it on the noble track, with all nobles already on the track sliding down one slot. Then, gem cards are drawn (equal to the number of players) to be put into the Stores and more gem cards drawn (two more than the number of players) to go into the Bazaar Booths. Now, we get to the core of the game: “Market Days”.

Each Market Day follows a set pattern and Action cards go to work in the three Market Days of each round. All players choose one card from their hands, put it in the first slot atop their player board and then reveal it simultaneously. Cards are resolved based on money: the player with the most money goes first, second most second etc. And, speaking of money, some of these cards cost money to activate. (Spent funds immediately reduce your position on the gold track.) Although you have to pay full price for the first card played in a round, the second card gets a 2 gold discount and the third card is free! But what do these cards do? That’s where you put your strategy to work!

Some of these cards are straightforward. “Purchase” allows you to take ALL the cards from a Store or Bazaar and add them to your display, “Baksheesh” gives you two gold (immediately acknowledged by moving your token up on the gold track) and the “Doppelganger” allows you to repeat the just played action of the previous Market Day of that round. The other cards are a little more involved.

johari2“Sale” allows you to convert your jewels into Prestige Points in one of two ways: you can sell your gems to a Jeweler OR to a Collector. To sell to a Jeweler, you need at least one of each of the four jewel types. (A gold card may be used as a “wild” to replace any one of the four needed colors.) Selling does not get you money. Rather, it allows you to advance ONE of your scoring markers ahead on your track the number of spaces on that matching card. (So, for example, if you sell emeralds, rubies, diamonds and sapphires to a Jeweler and you have three emeralds on your emerald card, you may advance your marker three spaces on the emerald/green track. Selling to a Collector is a little different.

With a Collector, you can only sell one TYPE of jewel AND you must have MORE of that type than any other player at the time of the sale. Then, when selling, you advance your scoring marker for that type of jewel the number of spaces equal to the DIFFERENCE between what you’ve sold and what the other player has. (So, for example, if I’m selling five emeralds to the Collector and another player has two emeralds in his display, I can advance three spaces – the difference between five and two) on the emerald/green track. But a Collector sale comes with a peril – for the OTHER players.

Many gem cards have a little icon on them called a “Supervisor Symbol”. This icon means that the jewels on the card are FAKE! These counterfeits may be used as real gems with impunity when selling. However, when there is a collector sale, it means the Supervisor is on the job and every OTHER player MUST discard ONE fake jewel card in their display (if he has one). But there is a remedy for this. One of your Action cards is “Bribe”. If played, the Supervisor has been placated and you do NOT lose a jewel card. Another remedy of sorts is the “Exchange” Action card which allows you to swap 1 of your jewel cards for another one of the same type. (So, you can get rid of a fake jewel card and exchange it for a “real” one or swap out a card with one jewel for a card with two or three jewels instead.) The final Action card is “Trade”.

Trade allows you to do one of two things: You may take ALL the cards in a Store and, temporarily, place them on the Trade card. These cards will not become part of your display until the NEXT Market Day. The downside to this is that you won’t be able to sell them this round. On the other hand, they are not vulnerable to the Supervisor and are safe from being lost while on the Trade card. But instead of taking gem cards, play of a Trade card allows you to “recruit” a noble.

Nobles are all good. They are all worth Prestige Points (from 1 to as many as 8!) and often bestow nice advantages (ranging from reducing the cost of playing an Action card to allowing you to add cards on your Trade card to your display immediately to moving your scoring marker on your track further and more)! But nobles have a cost. Depending on where they are on the noble track, you have to spend 1 to 5 jewels of the same type to entice them to your side. (There is even a noble card that allows you to use gold instead of jewels to make this “enticement”.)

After three rounds of Market Day action are completed, players collect their used Action cards (ready to be used in the next round) and we do it all over again, adding gem cards to Stores and Bazaar Booths and adding another noble to the noble track. When the last noble enters the noble track, the final round begins. With the last Market Day completed, Prestige Points are tallied from those gotten from the jewel track, Prestige Point cards and nobles collected. The player with the highest combined total is the supreme jewel merchant of Johari!

Scoring is interesting in Johari. When selling to a collector, you score rises in the matching jewel row as you would expect. But when selling a set of four, you only go up in ONE of the four jewel types row (your choice). Prestige Points accumulate as you go across the columns but they don’t increase as much as you might expect. The first two columns result in 4 Prestige Points and then 8 (a +4). But the next two only add 3 PP, the next 2 and the final 2 columns only 1 PP each! It is to your advantage to try to balance your scoring in all four types of gems rather than concentrate on one or two. But the gathering of Prestige Points also seems to be quite balanced. Collecting Prestige cards is a solid source as are nobles who bring points as well as powers with them. The fact that only half of the nobles of the deck actually appear in the game prevents players from “expecting” a particular noble to arrive and, thus, to plan for it, meaning a certain degree of flexibility is required and will be to your advantage. Although not a source of Prestige Points, gold is important because of its effect on turn order and in its ability to take the place of a needed jewel to complete a set of four to score.

While a deck of cards is the mechanism that propels the action here (in that respect, similar to Concordia which is reviewed this issue), Johari, unlike Concordia, is not a deck-building game. Although both games start with a hand of seven cards, the seven Action cards in your Johari deck are the only ones you will have throughout the game. This makes decision making simpler in some regards than games that rely on deck-building to seemingly exponentially increase possible actions. (For this reason, players who exult in dealing with multiple card combinations may not find Johari to their liking.) Here, sometimes your move is obvious (such as playing your Baksheesh card simply because you NEED the money or a Sale card because you have just acquired the right mix of gems needed for a sale). This makes the game move quickly. Yet simpler does not mean easy.

You have to consider the cost of an action you take and the impact those actions (and those of your opponents) will have. You might, for example, have your eye on a cache of gems in a particular venue only to have them snatched away from you by an opponent with more gold who goes ahead of you. Or, you may find yourself on the verge of attracting a noble to your cause or making a sale only to have your fake, but necessary, gems lost to the supervisor because another player has made a sale before you could unload your phony jewels. Or you may have simply waited too long to snatch up a coveted noble because the jewel price was too much for you but just right for someone else. Also, delaying an action can save you lots of gold (as much as four gold) which can impact on turn order. But waiting too long to do an action may make that action less effective or even not possible. Timing is extremely important here. The game works with two players (where you can keep a sharper eye on the opposition) but also works very well (maybe even better) with three and four when the potential plays others may do AND their relative turn order position ups the challenge. Consider Johari a step or two up from a filler but a step or two below a grueling gamers’ game, making it a comfortable fit as a “gateway game” allowing potential strategy game players to discover a type of game beyond the roll and move that many have come to think of as the norm.

In its relatively small box, Johari packs a lot of game and value. Which, come to think of it, is a lot like those jewels that players attempt to collect and sell. Which makes Johari a gem of a game.


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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