Review: Kahuna06 Feb 2014 0
Released 06 Feb 2014
Kahuna was a well-received 1998 Günter Cornett board game with about the loveliest, gentlest theme available: building bridges between tropical islands. You could almost get a tan just from playing the game, and the rules are simple enough for a child to grasp.
Of course, after a couple of games you discover that it's a ruthless exercise in luring your opponent into a position from which you can destroy her bridges and steal control of her islands. There's trouble in this paradise, and that's good.
Kahuna is played among a series of islands with possible locations for bridges connecting them. Your goal is to gain control of islands at the end of each round by having bridges on more than half of their possible connections. You place bridges by playing a card which names an island on either end of the connection, but you destroy your opponents' bridges either by playing two of the cards for its connection or by gaining control of one of the islands it connects, which is more efficient. You have a maximum hand size of five cards and draw one each turn either from the deck or from three face-up cards (similar to Ticket to Ride). As a result, the early game is largely about committing to islands quickly enough to make use of all your cards, but without placing bridges to islands your opponent could easily control, which you must try to infer from which face-up cards they've chosen.
In single-player mode, the game offers twelve AI opponents in what constitutes a brief but somewhat challenging campaign, in which there were some surprising difficulty plateaus. These may have been more due to jumps in my understanding. Sadly, though the game plays well on both the phone and iPad, campaign progress does not sync between them. Asynchronous multiplayer is solid, though the matchmaking appears purely random unless you invite a friend--the only bug I noticed was an occasional misrepresentation of the time since the last turn as a negative, very high number. There is no same-device multiplayer option, which only bears mentioning at all because the game has such broad appeal that I'd actually have local opponents for this one relatively frequently.
The only real problem with Kahuna, and it's big enough to merit its own paragraph, is that it doesn't resume or save your progress in any way. Switch away from the app for any reason, and your game is lost. With games taking roughly ten minutes, that's not absolutely awful, but it's unwelcome, especially for those who game in situations in which interruptions are common.
I really enjoyed Kahuna, and my four- and five-year-old enjoyed watching over my shoulder. With some games, I find departures between the gameplay and the theme irritating, but I've been shoveling enough snow recently that if a game looks more like a tropical paradise and less like an exercise in graph theory, I'm on board. It's a deeper game than it at first appears, and, though I fear it may not be quite as deep as its second impression, it's interestingly different from other abstract games of my acquaintance. The relative value of islands with four connections versus those with five is left as an interesting exercise for the reader.