Are you the most powerful ancient sorcerer? Find out by trying to take control of the most islands... in... Kahuna.
Style of Game: 2 player, Abstract
Play Time: 30 minutes
Theme: Taking control of islands
Number of Players: 2
Main Mechanics: Area Control/Area Influence, Card Drafting, Hand Management, Network Building, and Take That
Weight: Medium weight
THEME AND MECHANISMS:
- It's an abstract game with a theme tacked on. The tacked on theme certainly supports the mechanisms if you are wondering what is going on as you play, but for the most part this game plays as an abstract game, as it is categorized.
GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW (In five sentences or less):
Two players will face off in a battle to take control of the most islands (out of 12) in the South Seas. To do so players will use cards to link the island on the card to an island that is "adjacent" to the played island by bridge. Each island has a number of connections linked to it, to control an island a player must have a bridge built on more than half of the connections. If an opponent can remove the other player's bridge that player can suffer a chain reaction of lost islands as their bridges and control markers are removed from islands. After three rounds of scoring the player with the most points win the game.
- To remove an opponent's bridge from an island a player must play two cards of the same island (either island that the bridge is touching) or play one of each of the islands that the bridge is touching.
- When a player has control of an island they place a marker on the island to indicate their control and removes any of the opponent's bridges that were already connected to the island. This can again, cause a chain reaction of lost bridges and control of islands for the opponent.
- The player with control of the most islands after round 1 earns one point, the player with control of the most islands after round 2 earns two points and the player with control of the most islands in round 3 earns as many points as the difference between the two players.
My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Quality of Design, Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics, and Replayability.
Area Control/Area Influence: This is a very pure form of area control and area influence. The two go hand in hand and don't always show a clear difference, but in Kahuna you can very clearly see when you are influencing an island and when you are controlling an island. This makes for an instinctive ability to understand where you stand at all times and yet the gameplay keeps you on your toes because so much can change on an opponent's turn. It isn't "so much" in the sense that a lot of things happen, but you will surely find yourself having to change your plans periodically throughout the game.
Card Drafting: A very simple system of drafting cards. You have three face-up cards available to choose from or you may draw from the top of the deck. You replace a drafted face-up card with the top card of the deck. The twist is you draft at the end of you turn so the planning is just slightly counter-intuitive. By now, many gamers have played games that required this, but for those newer to gaming this may be a twist to their typical experience with the flow of gameplay.
Hand Management: There really isn't too much going on in the hand management that makes it unique but there is an element to the game and mechanisms that is worth mentioning. Since there are 3 rounds in the game and the board does not reset from round to round, you have to approach each round according to the dynamic of the board. In the first round you may not want to use two cards to remove an opponent's bridge very often, but in round 3 you may find yourself trying to tip the scales in your favor by removing more bridges. It does create a nice change of speeds in the game.
Network Building: The only thing that makes this more than just play a card and lay a bridge is that you can remove opponent's bridges relatively easily. It makes for a "chess match" kind of feel that makes the mechanisms a little deeper than meets the eye.
Take That: Take that isn't always admired by gamers. However, in Kahuna I think it does something nice to balance the impact of the action that hits the opponent. Playing two cards rather than one is a significant choice to have to make. It is true, that it is often the clear cut choice, but spending time trying to obtain the right cards can allow your opponent the opportunity to secure and island more strongly to take the impact of the play. It is a necessary mechanism in this game that spices up the game and while it stings, it is expected. It has an intuitive feel that players seem to accept as part of a strategy more easily than in games where it feels thrown in the design haphazardly.
Quality of Design:
3.5 = A good design that can engage some players for more than just a few plays.
Depth of Strategy and/or Tactics
In Kahuna you will have to account for a clear change of speeds throughout the three rounds of play. I often see people play this game pretty similarly... get as many bridges on the board as quickly as possible, then change speeds and start accounting for what the opponent is focusing his or her efforts on. That is not to say just grab and place bridges with no intent, but with only a few cards available to you to start you can't plan too much at the beginning of the game. You begin to see the long-term approach become more clear as the first rounds draw you a picture. Timing your change of speed is vital and can thrust you into an advantageous position or sink you into a reactionary state, destined to spend numerous turns trying to change the tides. Once players have shifted into second gear they will start to see the decisions that Kahuna can offer. They aren't expansive beyond comprehension, but you can certainly find yourself making a decision you feel will impact your success.
All of these decisions, both simple and difficult, will set the table for the final round. The final round of Kahuna typically forces yet another shift of gears for the players. This is because now, the players will begin to see well-played take that moves that can create a back and forth tug-of-war on the majority control of the islands, both on individual islands and on the overall score. This requires players to begin incorporating the use of bridge removal.
In the end, it feels as though Kahuna offers an opportunity to be strategical. I think that is clear. Where I think the game restrains that strategy is that there are so few cards available to draft, causing a luck of the draw element that can sway the game toward one player at times. I'm not claiming that it makes the game unbalanced or not fun. I just think it impacts the depth of the strategy in this game enough that it doesn't seem to feel like the mindset I typically associate with purer abstract strategy games. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, because sometimes people want a lighter feeling game. In fact, I'm not a big fan of abstract strategy games that offer up every piece of information in the game so Kahuna offers me an element that makes it more enjoyable a somewhat tactical at times.
Depth of Strategy/Tactics:
3.0 = The long-term strategy is clear and there aren't numerous ways to get there but a well-planned approach will certainly give you an advantage.
Now we get to the oh so important replayability. Up until now I have meant to be complimentary of the game because I see it's merits. It is a solid game that encourages planning and well-time tactics. It has some well-designed mechanisms that make for a nice experience that I haven't had anyone dislike. Unfortunately, I also haven't had a single person ask to play this game again. I can't say with certainty why no one seems enthralled with the game... and to be fair I don't end up being in a lot of two player situations... but I think it is because the game feels just heavy enough to make to make it feel too heavy for what it appears to be. You look at Kahuna and you expect a light quick game but when you play it you get an unexpected mental task that can be unforgiving and requires a lot of brain power to overcome mistakes.
If this was what the game appeared as I think I the people I present it to would be more keen on it but even explaining what the game is going to require isn't enough to get people into the mindset of what Kahuna brings to the table in a small 30 to 40 minute play time. My best way of explaining why this game's replayability isn't higher for as quick as it is is to say that it is simply too abstract and thinky to allow for much fun. If you have people who are looking for "fun" it probably won't do the trick. If you are wanting to engage someone who likes to think a lot in their games this may be a good choice.
2.0 = I think the replayability isn't necessarily limited in terms of longevity but it is situational.
My final thoughts on Kahuna are that while I personally enjoy the game while I play it. I very seldom want to play the game. Like many good two player games Kahuna suffers from being in a category that has some absolute gems that definitely outplay Kahuna. As I have said before good gets forgotten in board games today and I think that is what happens with Kahuna. I can't give it a poor score because if someone asked me to play it I would certainly oblige, but if I were suggesting the game I doubt I would suggest it over my go-to two player games in very many situations. So, nothing broken in the game, and it actually offers some good gameplay but just seems to miss the replayability mark for most people I have introduced it to.
Overall Rating -
Kahuna is a good little two player game but don't expect it to demand everyone's attention.
Overall Opinion: Just barely positive
One Positive / One Negatives
- (P) A lot more game than you would maybe expect.
- (N) Gives off too much of an abstract feel for a lot of people.
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| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Patchwork
= similarity to two other games of its type.
*I honestly couldn't think of two games that were really similar to Kahuna so I have Battle Line listed as a similar game and Patchwork as a 2 player game that is at the other end of the spectrum in case you are not interested in what you have read about Kahuna. Battle Line offers a set collection mechanism and a majority control win condition. The games are different and I don't think your first thought would be to compare the two but if you have one or the other you may like the other. Patchwork really offers very little similarity to Kahuna but it is two player only and while it doesn't require the same amount of thought as Kahuna, it does require planning and good decisions. If you have another game that is similar to Kahuna please leave it in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
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Would having 4 cards out to draft increase strat or would that mess up the design?
Good question. I have never done it so take this with a,grain of salt but I would think it would probably change the game quite a bit. There aren't many different islands and there are multiple copies of each island card and there are multiple ways to technically link to an island even without having the exact island card for an island so adding another card may cause a little too much freedom. As is there is a good balance of possibilities and limitations.
Another spot-on "For the Meeple, by the Meeple" review!
I also find myself enjoying the game every time we pull it out but nobody (including myself :-() likes to play it more than once, and then it goes on the pile not be touched again for months. Not sure what to improve. All the elements of a great game seem to be here but it just doesn't have much of a fun factor.