You’re a powerful Kahuna (an ancient sorcerer from the Pacific) walking along a deserted island beach, waves slowly lapping up on shore, the sun beating down on your skin, does it get any better than this? Life seems perfect until, from out of nowhere, another Kahuna appears to challenge you to see who is the most skilled. With this, the stage is set. You and this upstart wizard will battle for three rounds over control of a series of twelve different islands by constructing bridges between them. It sounds simple enough, but Kahuna is a tricky puzzle that is full of interesting, challenging decisions.
Kahuna is a game that has interested me for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently, that I was able to get it to the table. It’s part of Kosmos’ two-player line, and was designed by Gunter Cornett.
Gameplay is driven by a deck of cards each depicting one of the islands in the chain. Players start the first round with three cards in their hand. Three more cards form a face up pool. The remaining card are used as a draw deck.
On a turn, you can play as many cards from your hand that you’d like. For each one that you play, you can add a bridge of your colour from that island. Every island has several potential bridge sites, so which island you connect it to is up to you. No matter how many cards you play on a round, you’re only going to draw one. Deciding when to play conservatively and when to make a big move and play a lot of cards, is an important one. You can even abstain from playing altogether, allowing you to add to your hand and giving you more options for a big move later. You are, however, limited to five cards in hand. Even Kahuna’s have restrictions to their power.
You also have the power to remove your rival’s bridges. By playing two cards matching the islands on either side of one of their bridges, you can take one of theirs away. It’s a costly maneuver, but sometimes, it’s your best option.
If you have bridges connected to an island on more than half of its potential sites, you gain control over it and place a Kahuna token on the island. You also get to remove all of your opponent’s bridges from your island, which may lead them to lose control of an island one of those bridges was connected to. Control of any island is temporary, and lost as soon as you no long control more than half of the potential bridge sites.
At the end of your turn, you draw one of the face up cards, or one from the top of the deck.
Play continues in this way until the deck is exhausted and the last face up card is drawn. At that time, there is an interim scoring. The player with the most Kahuna tokens on the board earns one point. Then all of the discards are shuffled and a new face up pool and draw deck are formed. Interestingly, players keep their hands and the board remains the same between rounds.
At the end of the second round, the player with the most Kahuna tokens on the board scores two points, and after the final round the player with the most Kahuna tokens scores points equal to the difference between the two players.
The most powerful sorcerer is the one who has attained the most points after three rounds. However, there is the potential for an immediate victory. If at any point during the second or third round, a player has no bridges left on the board they lose immediately.
The presentation of Kahuna is quite nice. The board looks down on the island chain from above, giving you a bird’s eye view for planning your strategy. The black and white bridges and Kahuna tokens stand out really well against the blue and green board. It allows you to see at a glance the state of the game. The board itself is designed with yellow dolphins on one side of it and red turtles on the other side. Players should sit on opposite sides of the board and hold their cards in the same orientation. The map on the cards will show exactly where the corresponding island appears in the chain from that perspective. It’s a neat little design element that makes a lot of sense and allows you to focus on your strategy, rather than searching for an island.
Kahuna is an excellent head-to-head battle of wits. Two experienced players can really explore different strategies. One thing to note, it has a real abstract feel to it, so be aware of that, if you’re not a fan of that type of game. I certainly enjoyed this little island retreat. It’s beautiful design and tight gameplay make me happy to recommend it!