Review: Jungle Joust
Designer: Daryl Andrews, Adrian Adamescu
Artist: Josh Cappel
Publisher: IDW Games
Category: Hand management
Price: $29.99 Amazon.com
Jungle Joust is a new title from IDW Games, featuring hand management and card play mechanisms underneath a theme of rhino jousting.
Daryl Andrews and Adrian Adamescu made a major splash in the board game scene with their 2017 hit, Sagrada. (Please excuse me while I swoon over how amazing this game is.) Itching to see what else these designers had to offer, I was ecstatic to try their newest game, Jungle Joust.
This is a game about knights jousting on the backs of rhinos (read that again). In Jungle Joust, players bet on the outcomes of three clashes, with the goal of having the most money at the end. The lance-wielding competitors are not controlled by any one person, but are instead moved and manipulated by all players.
At the start of the game, the rhinos are placed at opposite ends of the board, eight spaces away from the center line. In typical medieval jousting fashion, a barrier divides their two sides. Players each receive a hand of two cards and a token indicating which rhino they want to win. The cards are unique, each bearing a different combination of the game’s icons.
On a player’s turn, she plays cards into a staggered column to move the contestants. Cards may be played on either jouster’s side, but must always have at least one icon that matches the card before it in the column. For the sake of playing the first card, all of the main symbols are pre-printed on the board, so it is easy to match with them.
Every time a card is played, the corresponding rhino is moved one space. If three matching, non-movement symbols are ever played in a row, a favor token is placed on the third card in the series (see photo to right). This will boost that side’s overall performance. Favor tokens come in two colors, matching the two rhinos, but either color may appear on either side. This means a red token can be placed on the black or the red side, but favor tokens matching a side’s color are better. When a favor token is placed, the current player may take an immediate special action.
Once a player has added one or more cards to the board, moved rhinos accordingly, and taken applicable favor actions, she may bet on the outcome of the joust. There are two ways to do this:
- She may bet on an individual aspect of the clash. For example, she could take a betting token (pictured below) that predicts the red rhino will have a higher Accuracy score than the black rhino.
- She may bet on the overall winner of the joust. To do this, she places a card from her hand in front of her to indicate her prediction. Players may bet on either or both rhinos.
After the player has placed her desired bets, she ends her turn by drawing either one face-up card from the two available, or two face-down cards from the deck.
As cards get played, the rhinos move down the tracks toward each other. When they are in adjacent spaces, a clash occurs, ending the round. There are multiple scoring phases, which work as follows:
- Determine the victor. Count up the number of favor tokens on each side. Tokens matching a side’s color are worth two points, and tokens of the other color are worth one. Additionally, for every space a rhino traveled past the center line, that rhino scores one additional point. The higher-scoring side wins the joust. (In case of a tie, the rhino that crossed the centerline wins.)
- Score allegiances. During setup, players received a token indicating which rhino they wanted to win the round. All players receive points equal to their rhino’s score (even if it didn’t win).
- Score betting tokens. For each of the card icons (except movement), players count up the number of corresponding favor tokens each of the rhinos earned. Favors matching the rhino’s color are worth two points, and favors of the opposing color are worth one. For example, if the red rhino had one red Strength favor and one black Strength favor, its Strength score would be three. If a player’s betting token indicates the higher-scoring rhino, she scores points. If it indicates the lower-scoring rhino, she loses a point. Movement and valor tokens are scored slightly differently.
- Players score points based on their predictions for the overall winner of the joust (the bets they made by playing cards in front of themselves). For each symbol of the victor’s color on the victor’s side, they gain a point, and vice versa for the loser’s color.
After three rounds, the player with the most points is the winner.
I wanted to like Jungle Joust, but this game didn’t do it for me. It’s a shame, because it has great production quality, an inviting table presence, and an awesome theme; it just feels too convoluted for what it is.
The “point-salad” scoring system is a bit fiddly. If you found my description of the scoring to be confusing, that’s because there is kind of a lot to it. (Or possibly because I’m a bad writer.) It’s critically important for everyone to understand how scoring works so they can strategize accordingly, but, even as an experienced gamer, it was challenging for me to keep everything straight. There’s nothing wrong with multi-faceted scoring in games, but it just doesn’t seem necessary here. I didn’t feel that it enhanced the overall experience or offered enough strategic choices to warrant it.
One thing I really did like was the card play. Since cards can move either rhino, the game presents players with opportunities to help or hinder either side. If one jouster is close to earning a favor token, a player may wish to lay down the “wrong” cards to prevent this. It’s not overly mean, but there is a subtle level of indirect interaction.
If Jungle Joust‘s game system was more streamlined, I think I would have enjoyed it more. To draw a comparison to a better-known title, this game reminded me of a more complex Camel Up. If this sounds like something you’d like, I encourage you to demo it at your local game store!
A review copy was provided by IDW Games.
The Bottom Line
Jungle Joust could have been a great game, but it struggles due to a clunky, overly-complex scoring system.