Originally published in 1997 as Arabana-Ikibiti by the designer's own publisher Bambus Spieleverlag, then reprinted by Funagain in the U.S., Kosmos' Kahuna part of its Kosmos two-player series is the best known implementation of this design.
It's a two-player game, played on a board depicting twelve islands. Players use cards to place bridges between these islands or remove opponent's bridges. If you get the majority of bridges around an island, you place one of your marker stones on it and also remove any of your opponent's bridges to that island which might cause them to lose a bridge majority on an adjacent island and lose a marker stone there.
The game is played in three rounds. A round ends when all cards from the face down deck and the three face up cards have been taken. Then points are scored for the islands with a marker stone on them. The game can also end sooner when one player has absolutely NO bridges left on the board.
The Kosmos edition has excellent graphics and nice wooden pieces and plays very well.
Having your own tropical island sounds like it should be a relaxing experience. In Kahuna however, you are competing with the other player to build up your own network of tropical islands.
How does the theme translate into a board game? Read on to find out.
The Game and Set Up
The aim is to have control of the most islands at the end of the game. Players gain control of islands by controlling more than half the links between that island and those adjacent to it. Players gain control of a link when they place a bridge on it. If they have bridges on more than half the links they can place their Kahuna token on the island, gaining control of it. Players are also able to remove the other player's bridges. This sometimes causes a chain reaction across the islands, with it being possible for a player to lose control of several islands at once. When a player gains control of an island and places their Kahuna, they remove all bridges of the other player's colour.
To set up the game the players decide which colour they will be and take all bridge and circular (Kahuna) pieces of their colour. The island cards are then shuffled and each player is dealt a hand of three cards. Finally, three more cards are placed face up above the board with the remainder placed in a face down pile.
How to Play
The game is made up of three rounds, each lasting until all of the island cards have been drawn by the players.
On their turn each player may decide to play cards from their hand to either add bridges between islands or to remove bridges. If you wish to play a bridge you simply need to play a card with the name of one of the islands you wish to connect with bridges. To remove a bridge between islands a player must play either an island card for each end of the bridge, or two identical island cards for one end of the bridge. Players do not have to play a card however, and sometimes it can be to their advantage not to do so.
Once a player has played all the cards they wish they then draw a card either from the three face up cards or from the face down pile. A player can only have a maximum hand size of five cards. However, they can pass this draw phase unless the other player has done so too in their previous turn.
When the draw pile and face up area is empty the first interim scoring takes place. The player with the most Kahuna’s in play will gain one point. The cards are then shuffled and the second round commences. When the second round ends the players again count up the number of Kahuna’s and the player with the most gains two points. The cards are then shuffled for the final round.
In the final round scoring is slightly different. The player with the most Kahuna’s gains points equal to the number of Kahuna’s they have out, less the number of Kahuna’s their opponent has. These points are then added to the points from the previous two rounds and a winner is declared. If there is a tie then the player who scored points in round three is the winner. If there is still a tie, the player with the most bridges on the board wins.
It is possible for a player to win in advance of final scoring but this rarely happens. If during the second or third round a player ever has no bridges on the board they automatically lose.
The games that I have played have always been close by virtue of the scoring system. This really helps with the interim scoring as it never feels impossible to win.
It is very satisfying to build up a hand of cards and play them in quick succession to undo your opponents plans, taking control of their islands. Although the game is such that both players will have an advantage at one point or another.
This can however, be a point of frustration sometimes in Kahuna. It can take a long time to build up a hand you want as you are completely reliant on the draw of the cards. Granted, having some cards face up does negate the "luck" aspect a little; but you can occassionally feel stuck in drawing cards hoping the one you want turns up.
I really enjoy the theme as it is a little unusual but works well for two players. The tactical element of the game is also very enjoyable, working out what bridges you need to add or remove to either gain control of the island or take control from your opponent.
Overall Kahuna is an enjoyable two player experience with quick turns and gameplay, whilst having sufficient tactical decisions to get stuck into.