2-4 Players. Best with 4
30 minutes. Unaffected by player count
Rudiger Dorn (Goa, Istanbul)
HABA (Rhino Hero, Animal Upon Animal)
Simultaneous Action Selection, Tile Placement
I first learned of Karuba when the 2016 Spiel des Jahres nominations were announced, an event for which I had been waiting weeks to learn if Codenames would be nominated (it was). I had never heard of Karuba or fellow contender Imhotep, so I found Youtube videos to learn more about games I hoped would lose. After watching the video, the game sat on my wishlist for about a year until I acquired it recently. I probably should have gotten it earlier.
Karuba is best described as a multiplayer simultaneous puzzle. Each player starts with an identical board, parts of which are chosen by all players. One player draws a tile randomly while all other players retrieve their copy of that tile, and all players simultaneously choose whether to place that tile anywhere on the board or discard it for movement. Players are trying to create paths through a jungle so that their explorers can reach their matching temple, with players earning more points the faster they reach that destination. However, players do not know the order in which pieces will be pulled, and pieces come in variable shapes, so they are placed on the board with limited knowledge as to their utility. The game ends when all pieces are consumed or when one player has moved all four of their explorers to their corresponding temple. Additional points may be earned by stopping on treasure tiles.
Karuba takes the same amount of time regardless of player count because all players are playing simultaneously. As long as one player does not have analysis paralysis, turns will be quick, and there are at most 36 turns due to 36 tiles. The game can be set up, explained and played twice within an hour. Sometimes sorting the tiles, which is ultimately unnecessary, can be one of the longest parts of the game
Each player has the same limited instruction set of information, as all players have equal access to all tiles and none know the order in which they will be revealed. The game curiously does not come with a chart showing the frequency of each shape like Carcassone does, but that may be to quicken the game and prevent analysis paralysis. I would recommend at least knowing how many four way crosses there are in order to prevent players from trapping themselves.
The scores in Karuba tend to be very close which allows for great parity (unless one player completely screws up their board). There is no rule stating that players cannot copy what you are doing turn after turn, which may help them in the early game, since you are both in the same state until one of you deviates. What seems like the best move may not ultimately pan out, and risks may pay off handsomely, and no one knows until the moment presents itself, making this a fairly balanced game. However, it is possible to trap one of your explorers, which will make it harder for that player to win.
Midway through Karuba, players will find themselves hoping that the next tile will have the specific circumstances needed in order to connect a path, which raises the stakes from turn to turn as other players may be advancing. This can be frustrating for some but exhilarating for others. Once the paths are complete, it becomes a race to see which explorers reach which temple first. Do you stop for treasure to maximize your score or rush for the temple to minimize your opponent’s? These questions make Karuba a fun and challenging game of risk and reward.
Karuba has not yet entered the mass market although it has a good online presence. The price of the game tends to be about $32, which is high for a four player game of short length.
Karuba’s rulebook is only four pages long with ample examples on how to play. Since each player is drawing the same tile, the announcer can easily explain what the options are for this tile. Players need only remember that tiles cannot be rotated, which will inevitably get bypassed by a new player at least once. The rules are simple and straightforward and can be conveyed easily.