There are games that require maximum concentration, so much to the point that the friendly chit chat falls away into the silent contemplation of a state of almost analysis paralysis as it is known. Other games demand less attention and less brain power, but will still have those moments where serenity is called for so that someone can sit back and truly decide on their next move. Those are the games were you sit and have a cup of coffee and share stories and catch up, hoping to will your opponent into casual abandonment that hopefully wins you the game.
Kahuna from the mind of Gunter Cornett balances on that fine line like a tightrope walker, where you can safely state that this isn’t going to require huge amounts of rule checking in order to play. It runs as an area control game where you play as one of two sorcerers from the Pacific who have decided compare the size of their egos by trying to control as many of the twelve islands the see in front of them. Decisions on influence is made through card play and selection and the player who controls the most links between an island and the surrounding land will place a token to claim that island.
It is horrendously simple as most of these things are. Play a card and lay a Kahuna bridge that connects two islands together. Play two cards and remove one of your opponents Kahuna bridges. Draw a card at the end of you turn and continue playing that current round until you run out of cards to be drawn. Control of an island is based on who has the majority of Kahuna bridges surrounding an island, have the majority and you get to place a Kahuna token on the island and claim it as your own.
At the end of the first round one of you will score one point with two points being awarded on the completion of the second round. At the end of the third round, the points that are rewarded are based on a difference between the Kahuna token count. Point scoring overall is low and that means that the game is often decided on the final round and usually without the huge point gaps you sometimes see other point scoring games.
I first played Kahuna on Board Game Arena and it was one of my choice games between me and one of my friends when the COVID lockdown first occurred here. Unlike some of the bigger digital choices, it was exceptionally easy to learn. The rulebook is more a pamphlet than a book and about twenty percent of it is taken up with an example on how to play. Like most games of its type you’re lulled into a false sense of security that something so simple could cause you to take time actually developing a strategy.
For all its simplicity, what makes Kahuna work is the chain reaction territory changes that can alter the fortunes of the players within a turn. Adding and removing bridges can sometimes change the tide of control over more than a single island. You have choice to to concentrate on trying to gain and hold onto a few key islands, or spread yourself thinner, hoping to capitalise on a slower war of attrition, building towards the final round where you hope to dominate over your opponent. Tactics can change between games and sometimes between rounds as you try to claw back control over a misplaced bridge. The luck of the card draw may sometimes lead to frustration as you are stuck with a hand were you are forced to compromise rather than attack and sometimes you’ll be sacrificing two cards that you need in order to remove an opponents existing bridge. There is nothing more wonderful than the feeling of triumph if the cards go your way but you are always a round away from having to cease the casual chat and start to dig in.
There’s a disassociation between the theme and the game in my opinion. It gives Claus Stephan the excuse to show off their geography skills with some very serviceable island art, but its safe to say that you won’t really feel like an ancient sorcerer as you play and the game would have worked with another kind of theme just as well. The best thing about Kahuna though is that it is designed specifically to be played as a two player game. There’s unfortunately too many games out there that show two to five players on the box, and don’t have the courage to be honest and advise that you’ll need a good three or four to have some fun. Kahuna does offer a few alternative modes of play that change the rules slightly, but it doesn’t muddy the waters with a band aid single player or third player mode. If you are looking for something to play over a friendly coffee and a chat, Kahuna will do you well in that regard, until you reach that tense third round where you will probably find yourself in a (hopefully) comfortable silence.
You can find out more about Kahuna by visiting https://www.thamesandkosmos.co.uk/product/kahuna/
Designer – Gunter Cornett
Art – Clause Stephan
Graphic Design – Pohl & Rick
This review is based on the final retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
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