Doug Adams writes:
Designer: Gunter Cornett
Kahuna is a two player strategy game where players are wielding magical powers in an attempt to bring a chain of islands under their dominion. The game was initially released under the name of Arabana-Ikibiti at Essen in 1997 and was a small success. Kosmos have picked up the game and have released it, with some improvements, under the name Kahuna as part of their two player game series.
The mechanics of the two games are virtually identical. A small game board depicts a group of 12 named islands. A small deck of playing cards is included, with each island being represented on two of the cards. Two sets of wooden playing pieces are included for each player, bridges and control stones.
Each island has a number of paths leading off them to other islands. The number of paths could be as low as three or as high as six, and varies from island to island. The players play island cards to place bridges onto these paths in an attempt to control the majority of paths leading off an island.
The deck of 24 cards are shuffled and three are dealt to each player. Three more cards are turned face up beside the board, with the remaining cards placed face down next to them. During a player's turn, they may play up to five cards (five being the hand limit) and then draw one card into their hand from either the deck or face up cards.
When a card is played, a player takes a bridge piece and positions it on the board, on a free path leading off the island indicated on the card. This may give a player a majority of bridges on that island. When a majority is achieved, the player may place a control stone the island AND remove all of the bridges of the opposing player from that island - this may affect control on another island, a key tactic.
Players may also play pairs of cards to remove opposing bridges, a tactic that is hard to implement as you need two of the four cards in the deck to remove the bridge, and ideally a third card to take the now clear path before your opponent can take it back. This tactic is usually reserved for late in the game when most of the paths are taken and moves are limited.
The game is played over three rounds, with a round ending when the deck and face up cards are taken. The players count the control markers on the islands and points are awarded. The scoring is slightly different depending on whether you are playing Arabana-Ikibiti or Kahuna.
At the end of the game the points are tallied over the three rounds and the highest wins. An automatic victory is awarded if all of a player's pieces are removed from the board.
While the basic mechanics are identical, Arabana-Ikibiti suffered from an interesting quirk when the English translation appeared. Apparently the original German rules did not allow a bridge to be placed between two islands if your opponent controlled either of the two islands. The English translation did not mention this, so most of the English speaking world were playing incorrectly by building bridges to controlled islands. Funnily enough, this improved the game, as the correct method made the game incredibly hard to catch the leader. Once a player had a lead, the person trailing essentially had to play two cards to the leader's one to make headway. Fortunately Kosmos has published the "wrong" rules in their version, so while catching the leader is still difficult, it is now definitely possible.
Kosmos has put further restrictions on early leads by awarding only 1 point in round one. This makes players think long term, and an early setback can be run down over three rounds.
This is the type of game where better players will win regularly, as strategy, planning and a good memory are essential to success. Both games have nice handicapping rules included, allowing the weaker players to start the game with some bridges already on the board. In addition, Arabana-Ikibiti comes with a "Seafarer" variant! A small dig at Siedler, perhaps?
Overall, both games are worth picking up if you are a fan of two player games. They each have nice features, Arabana-Ikibiti names each island in such a way that the first and last letters are identical, enabling the left handed player to fan their cards easily! Kahuna has two symbols on the game board which are replicated on the cards. Players can orientate their cards to match the orientation of the board symbols, making the island the card represents much easier to locate on the board. In addition, the Kahuna cards reveal the number of paths leading off that island in question. Very nice.
Either game may be played with either rule set, although the Kahuna rules are strongly recommended for a nice, close contest. The are both fine games, but for the beautiful pieces, I recommend Kahuna.