KOSMOS is now doing its own U.S. distribution, and in what I think is a very wise move, they started off with a lot of reprints of beloved classics, like Lost Cities and Ubongo. Another classic game of the seminal KOSMOS two-player line (Lost Cities, Balloon Cup, Targi, many more) is Kahuna. Originally released in 1998, Kahuna is a card game from Günter Cornett (also known for Hey, That’s My Fish!) that involves placing bridges between islands on a board to take control of said islands. Does it hold up to today’s standards, over fifteen years later? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: I love when games are beautiful and simple, and Kahuna nails that. The game consists only of the central board, some wooden bridges and discs in two players, and a small deck of cards. The game’s art is very simple, but very pretty. The cards are very clear and have a helpful reminder on them of the number of spaces adjacent to each island. I also really like the box shape, which is the same as Z-Man’s two player games (Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Patchwork, etc.) It’s a bit thicker than the older Lost Cities box but the same heighth and width, which I like. I don’t see how they possibly could have went for an MSRP lower than $25, and they pulled that off somehow. Absolutely zero complaints here.
Accessibility: The central goal of the game – essentially, to score points by controlling more islands than your opponent – is very simple, as are the actions you can take on your turn. However, there are some subtleties that won’t make sense until you play – like the fact that you can take as many actions as you want and how that balances against drawing cards, and the fact that you can deliberately choose not to draw cards (why wouldn’t you, right?), and so on. I played a practice game on yucata.de to start, and I recommend doing the same. I got crushed, of course, but the strategy of the game made much more sense about a third of the way into my first game. It’s a very simple game to get started, but takes a while to get the hang of the rhythms of the card play.
Depth: Keep in mind we’re talking about the same two-player line that’s home to games like Lost Cities and Dragonheart, and that this game plays in about half in hour. Those caveats in mind, there is quite a bit of meat to chew on here. You have to carefully time your strikes – do you grab something early, or do you build a huge hand to do a big move? The key element of the game is that when you take control of an island, you kick off all of your opponent’s bridges on that island, which can cause a bit of a chain reaction. It can also be very brutal and mean! When I first read the rules and looked through the components, I didn’t expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot more going on than in Lost Cities, for example, but not as much as in, say, Targi.
Theme: Well, I guess the theme is “islands”, but there’s not much else here. It’s got a beautiful aesthetic, but this is basically just a very nice-looking – in fact, deceptive-looking – area control game. If anything, the nice artwork belies just how in-your-face of a game this is. I don’t really care, here, though – I love a good card game and to me, it’s more about the cards, and nice art certainly isn’t a negative.
Fun: First off, games-with-spouse types be warned: as I said, this game can be quite punishing. It’s not the low interaction of something like Lost Cities; this has a fair amount of negative interaction. Balloon Cup / Piñata would probably be a better comparison. Even for me, someone who’s played tons of Magic and other “destructive interaction” games, it got just a little tiring just before the game was over. If you like games like that, though, and have a partner to play them with, this is as solid as any other small two-player game I’ve played in the genre.
If you’re into small, short card games, and don’t mind when they’re highly interactive, then Kahuna is absolutely worth checking out.