Sometimes a game excels because of its simplicity. Too often in fact, designers try to cram in too much complexity in an attempt to make an elegant gaming experience. The result usually ends up as a jumbled mess, point salad or similar failure in design. Abstract games have a bit of an advantage in this department. They eschew any pretense of theme and get right to the mechanics of the game. Without a theme you don’t have to explain your mechanics or add superfluous ones to make everything make sense. Now having said all that I have to admit I’m not the biggest abstract fan there is. I admire the challenge of design, but I do love a bit of theme to take me away.
Kulami is an excellent game that came out a few years ago from FoxMind Games. Like most abstracts, Kulami has a very simple rule set. Two-players face off to control different blocks of wood, placing their coloured marbles out one at a time and trying to get a majority to gain points.
The board is made up of different wooden blocks that can be assembled randomly to form a square or rectangle or really any other abstract shape you want. Each block has 2-6 grooves for holding marbles. On a turn players will place one of their marbles into one of the grooves. Simple enough, to start, but after the very first one has been placed some rules kick in. The next stone may only be placed on the same column or row as the previous marble, but it cannot be placed on the same block of wood. You also cannot place on the same block of wood twice in a row.
This is when the real gamesmanship comes into play. Placing your own stones can be as much of an aggressive move as it can be a defensive one. You want to defend your potential for scoring as much as advance your control over certain blocks.
The game ends when one player runs out of stones, or there are no legal moves left. The board can then be pulled apart for easy scoring. Each block is assessed individually with the player with the most marbles on it getting points equal to the number of grooves on that specific board. In the case of a tie, no one gets the points.
Kulami is a game that works on a lot of different levels. The depth comes through in the myriad of choices you can make, not in the rule set. The components themselves are also simple, but very pretty to look at. It’s definitely worth trying if you’re a fan of abstracts, but even if you’re not, you may like this one. It won me over and is now a game I go to often when introducing people to the hobby.