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I have never played a Kosmos two player game that left me with a negative impression, and have only played a few that left me with even a neutral feeling. Most have been great games, ones that I can play with my wife, my “manly-man” friends, and pretty much anyone I come across – all with immense success. Kahuna (Kosmos and/or Rio Grande, 1998 – Gunter Kornett) had an interesting name and was part of this austere line of games. How could I not pick it up?
And, not surprisingly, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. I did not think it was as impressive as much as others in the series (Lost Cities, Hera and Zeus, and Odin’s Ravens), but found it fun nevertheless. And even more surprisingly, as I look over my statistics for all the Kosmos games, I discover that I have played Kahuna more than any of the other games in this series. I think the reason for that is that I have more fun playing Kahuna, and that a win in this game is extremely satisfying. Kahuna is just plain fun!
A small board is placed on the table between the two players. On the board are twelve islands, connected together by dotted lines – with each island having three to six of these lines protruding from it. A deck of twenty-four cards (two for each island) is shuffled, and three are dealt to each player. The remainder are placed in a face-down deck on the table, with the top three placed face up next to the pile. Each player takes a pile of 25 wooden “bridges” , and 10 Kahuna wooden “stones”. One player goes first, with play then alternating between the players.
On a turn, a player may play none, any, or all of the cards in their hand. For every single card a player plays for an island, they place one of their bridges on any of the open dotted lines protruding from that island. If, because of this placement, a player has bridges on a majority of the extensions from any of the islands, they take control of that island, by placing one of their control markers on it. All opponent’s bridges, if any that connect to that island are removed immediately. If this causes loss of control on other islands, the opponent must remove their control markers on those islands. A player may also play a pair of cards to remove an opponent’s bridge from an island. This pair must be any combination of the two islands that the bridge connects.
After playing cards (or not), a player may draw one card into their hand, to a maximum of five cards. They may take any of the face-up cards (which are immediately replaced), or the top card from the draw pile. If a player does not draw a card, their opponent must draw one on their turn. When the last card is drawn from the table, the round ends and scoring occurs. If both players control the same number of islands, no points are scored. Otherwise, the player with more islands scores one point in the first round, two points in the second round, and the difference in islands controlled in the third round. The next round then begins, with all bridges and controlling markers remaining on the board. Players keep the cards they currently have in their hand, and the remainder of the cards are shuffled and set up as they were at the beginning of the game.
After the third round, the player with the most points is the winner! It is possible for a player to win in an earlier round if their opponent loses all their bridges – although this is rare.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The box art (which I see all the time everywhere in Korea board game cafes) is that of islands in the shape of a hand. It’s probably one of my favorite bits of art in a game. The box is the same size of all Kosmos two-player games; which means it’s small, compact, sturdy, and holds the pieces well. I really like the board and cards, and how they match up. On one side of the board are fish, and on the other turtles. This way, when a player draws a card (which has a small map of the board on it), the player knows how to orient the cards so that he is looking at the card correctly. The cards are of good quality, showing the island that the card names highlighted in red on a map that is a copy of the game board. The card also has a number of lines on it that are equal to the number of bridges to that island, making it easy to see how many bridges are needed for a majority. The wooden pieces are of high quality, and the black and white pieces make for a stark contrast on the very colorful board.
2.) Rules: The rules are very simple, with one whole page dedicated to color illustrations on how to claim a majority of islands, etc. I find that the game is very easy to teach and play, although the strategies, which seem obvious at first, take about a game (and a crushing) defeat to learn.
3.) Strategy and Luck: Some complain about the luck in this game, especially when it comes to drawing cards. There is luck in this game, but I think that skillful play will almost always prevail over luck. For every card, there are multiple places to put a bridge, and learning just when to put the bridge on the table is a crucial part to the strategy.
4.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is tacked on, unless you can imagine magical bridges connecting Pacific islands. The fun is very high in this game, however. Setting up a chain reaction, that causes the opponent to lose the majority of multiple islands, is very fun and extremely rewarding. (Even when it happens to you).
5.) Time: The games run fairly quickly, especially once both players know what they are doing. It’s definitely one of those games where players will ask to play it again immediately after the first game.
Kahuna is a very fun two-player game, one that includes skillful card playing and clever bridge placement. The only reason I would not recommend Kahuna is if you already own Kanaloa, which is essentially the same game, but allows up to four players. However, Kahuna is easy to store, bring out and play, and it’s very user friendly. I play hundreds of different games each year, so it’s hard to play the same game too many times. I’m glad Kahuna is one of the exceptions to that rule.