Karuba is my new war cry. Karuba! It has a lovely sound to it? No, really, what is Karuba? Karuba is an enjoyable tile placement game that was nominated for the Spiel Des Jahres in 2016. The game is produced by HABA, who I mostly know for creating some very good, light games for young children (e.g. there is a Karuba Junior and they also make the enjoyable family tower building game Rhino Hero).
In Karuba, players attempt to transport their explorers through the jungle to find sought after treasure in abandoned temples. They are Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, but without the guns and whip. Oh, and without the boulder chasing you through a trap infested tunnel.
Karuba is for 2-4 players and is made up of four individual player boards. Each player has an identical set of 36 numbered tiles to potentially place on their board. The tiles show jungle terrain with different types of path connecting one side of the tile with another. This means that some allow you to travel in any direction whilst others only allow movement between two sides.
There are also 16 wooden men, 16 wooden temples, some attractive gold nuggets and crystals, alongside some victory point tokens. In general, the design is fairly standard, comparable to most tile laying games that I have played. The attractive, but simple, style is almost certainly why the cost of the game is very competitive.
Each player is allocated four identical explorers and temples. Each player board is set-up in exactly the same way. Four explorers are placed on the beach sides, with the four temples on the jungle sides. One player has a face-down pile of tiles with the remaining players' tiles face-up around their respective board.
The player with the face-down tiles then draws a tile and each player decides whether to place their corresponding numbered tile on their board or to discard it so that they can move one of their explorers.
The objective is to lay your tiles in such a way as to move your explorers from their beach location to their corresponding temple and routes can double up for explorers. The fastest explorer to each temple gets the greatest reward. You also score points for collecting gold and crystal along the way.
The mechanics are simple enough for a quick game start, with most age groups able to play.
Succeeding in the Wild
The crux of Karuba comes down to knowing which tiles to place and which to use as movement tiles. You must also know which explorer to move, meaning that you minimise the number of tiles on your board and are as efficient with your resources as possible. You also need to be mindful of which temples are worth aggressively pushing for and which are a nice to get to, rather than a necessity.
You cannot be the first player to every temple, so you need to make some sacrifices, and this is particularly important in games with more than two players where you can find yourself behind on a number of routes, so is it better to be second to three of the temples than first to one. Who should you try and beat to which temple?
With your paths eventually crisscrossing each other on your board you might want to be mindful that you do not inadvertently block off a route to one of your other temples, but you are restricted by what tiles are drawn and when. You are often left waiting for the right piece of the puzzle that allows multiple movements, connecting up your partially built network. It is a light touch game which encourages tactics and thought, but often with very limited choice. For some players looking for a more strategic experience this is unlikely to be enough.
Exploring on your Own
Like many other tile laying games, Karuba does suffer from players becoming silos. You can sit focused on your own little island with the only interaction being the reading out of tile numbers…. 33, 24, 12, 17 etc. As well as some cursory glances to see how far your opponents have made it through the jungle and so which of your own explorers you should rush to the finish.
The board size means that it can only take one or two goes for you to fall behind in a race you thought you were going to win. Along with the speed of the game, this creates a sense of pressure.
Final Thoughts on Karuba
In general, Karuba is one of those light games that most people will like, but few will really love. It has the attraction of being easy to play, easy to set-up, quick and relatively addictive meaning that you would often be more likely to pick it up and play over some more tactical, potentially better, games.
It is not a game with high levels of interaction. However, it does encourage some thoughtful decision making, if not any high drama. There are similarities to other limited choice, but accessible games like Ticket to Ride, but it does lack the depth of other tile placement games like Isle of Skye.