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Find the Treasure – Karuba Review

karuba-board-game-box Karuba places you and your fellow players on a desert island hunting for paths through the jungle and, above all for the treasure of the temples that awaits within.

Karuba is a quick, simple, game which received a nomination for this year’s prestigious Speil des Jahres award and promises fast, addictive treasure-hunting experiences. Let’s have a look inside…

What’s in the box? A treasure hunt!

karuba-board-game-4sMost things in Karbua come in 4s. there are 4 player-boards, representing the island of Karuba itself. There are also 4 sets of player tiles and tokens. Each player gets 4 wooden explorer Meeples, and 4 Wooden Temples in matching colours. Thankfully, there are more than 4 tiles though – 36 per player, with identical fronts (featuring paths and jungle, a number, and possibly some gems), and colour-coded backs for each player to help keep the sets separate.

The overall aesthetic of Karuba is good. The art is clean and colourful, with friendly looking adventurers and clearly marked paths. My copy came with a toy catalogue for young children inside, and the overall feel is that they’re trying to push this towards younger audiences. The Meeples have a bit of character, looking slightly different from the standard Carcassonne chap (this Meeple has a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun out of their eyes), and the crystals have a nice sparkle to them. The components also feel solid, which is always reassuring – you don’t have to worry too much about this one disintegrating 5 minutes after you crack it open for the first time.

The size of the box is set by the player-boards which represent the island of Kabura itself, and there is certainly plenty of space in the box, but this isn’t one of those games that rattles around in a giant container for no obvious reason.

So what do we do? – find treasure!

karuba-board-game-set-up At the start of a game of Karuba, 1 player will pick a temple and a matching explorer and place it on their island. The temples go on the inland side, and the explorers on the beach, but provided they are at least 4 spaces away from each other, they can go wherever you like. Once the first player has placed their figures of a given colour, everyone else will place their pieces of that colour in the same position. So if I put my blue temple at 40 degrees, and my blue explorer at 100 degrees, so do you. Then the next player picks another colour, and places the temple and explorer of that colour on the map, according to the same rules. Again, the positions will be copied by all the other players in the game.

The set-up aspect of Karuba is an interesting one: You could choose to put all the temples so they were connected by straight lines, or you can have the paths all criss-crossing. The fact that everyone puts their temples and explorers in the same place means you don’t have any issues with one player’s board being somehow “easier” than someone else’s.

Once everyone’s board is set up, with 4 temples and 4 adventurers, all matching the other players’ boards, you nominate someone to be the Expedition Leader. They shuffle their tiles at random, whilst everyone else spreads theirs out in a line so that they can find tiles by number quickly and easily.

Each turn, the Expedition Leader is going to draw one of their tiles at random, and call out the number. Everyone else will find their copy of that tile, and all players will play it at once. The fact that it’s a random draw is key to stopping every game of Karuba becoming the same – even if you did find the “optimum” arrangement, there’s no guarantee you’d get the tiles in the right order.

When playing a tile, you have 2 options – place it on the map, or discard it.

karuba-board-game-tile-placement A tile placed on the map can go anywhere. The only restrictions are that it has to go the right way up (as indicated by the printed number on it), and it has to be entirely on the island (not in the sea). Otherwise, it’s up to you – it can go alongside existing tiles, or off by itself. The paths can join up with existing jungle paths, or they can butt against patches of blank jungle it’s entirely up to you.

If you discard a tile, then you can use it to move one of your explorers. The explorer can move up to 1 space per path exit on the tile – so a straight line or a bend allows you to move 2 spaces. A fork or T-junction allows 3 moves, and a crossroad means that you can move your adventurer up to 4 spaces.

How you move your adventurer is the key to Karuba, which means that you have to make sure you have paths connecting them to their destination, and you have to make sure you’ve left enough tiles for discarding to move them along the path once it’s built.

karuba-board-game-gem-nugget If an adventurer ends their turn on a blank bit of path somewhere in the jungles of Karuba, then nothing happens- hopefully they are a bit closer to their ultimate destination, but that’s about it. However, if they end their turn on a tile with a gem or a gold nugget, then you get to take a matching gem from the supply. At game end, each gem is worth 1 point, and each gold nugget is worth 2. Note that you do have to stop on the tile though, you can’t just move through tiles and gather things up as you go.

karuba-board-game-temple-reachedThe other key thing about moving your explorer in Karuba, is getting them to the temple that matches their colour. Once your explorer reaches their temple, they stop moving (for the rest of the game), and you get to take the top temple trophy from the pile. The exact values vary depending on player count, but there will always be as many treasures per temple as there are players in the game, with the first player to reach the temple getting the most points, and the value decreasing from thereon in.

Obviously, you can’t move along a path that hasn’t been built yet, so you’ll need to do a decent amount of building early on: there will often be times when you get a tile you can’t productively place anywhere, so making sure that you have a path ready to move along is important. We played a game like this, where several players got themselves stuck in a corner, desperately needing a crossroads to be able to go anywhere. There were 3 or 4 left in the supply, but they just wouldn’t appear until very late on, making for a mad last-minute charge with several people running out of tiles and time to move their explorers.

A game of Karuba ends as soon as one player has successfully guided all 4 of their adventurers, or the players have exhausted their pile of tiles (this should happen for everyone simultaneously). At this point, you add up the value of the various gems, nuggets and temple treasures, and the player with the most points is the winner.

Who are the Adventurers? All the family!

karuba-board-game-diagram Karuba is not, by any stretch of the imagination a heavy, strategic or “Euro” game. A lot of its charm comes from how quick and simple it is. The box claims that a game of Karuba lasts for 40 minutes, but most of our play-throughs have taken about half that time, with everyone active most of the time, and very little down-time.

If you play Karuba with a group who take their gaming too seriously, I could see this getting bogged down, and a game that did last the advertised 40 minutes would probably feel like a real grind. I feel like Karuba would be a really good game to play with younger folk as it’s simple enough for them to pick up quickly, the theme and art are both very clean and wholesome, and the multi-way interaction of a 3 or 4-player game makes it a good social experience.

Karuba: Seems simple – is it any good?

karuba-board-game-in-playAs I’ve already noted, Karuba has a lot going for it: a quick and simple game with some hidden strategic depth. The designers class the game as “addictive” and with a sufficiently competitive group, I can definitely see cases where the loser of one round of Karuba is immediately demanding a re-match and an opportunity to level the scores.

Karuba is a game which I definitely think works best with more players. With 2, it loses a lot of the fun, and it’s easy for an early mistake to turn into an unassailable advantage for your opponent. I think a lot of the value in Karuba is social, making the 3 or 4 player game more enjoyable, as well as making the decision of which adventurer you need to be pressing on with that bit more complex. Overall, I think Karuba is a fun little game with a lot of interesting idea. I’d be a bit wary of overplaying it, as I’m not entirely convinced as to how much life there is in it. Played sparingly though, it has the potential to be a fun game that sticks around for a while.

5 (100%) 2 votes
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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler. I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.