Can you wield the magic of the islands to become the Big Kahuna?
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Android & iOS
# of Players
Kahuna is a two player hand management, area control game from USM. Players in Kahuna take on the role of a priest, wielding powerful Kahuna magic to build bridges in an attempt to control 12 islands. The game is played out over three rounds, with scoring at the end of each based on the state of the 12 islands. After the third scoring round, the game ends with the player who collected the most points winning, a game usually takes about ten minutes.
Kahuna is played on a map of 12 islands, each with multiple paths between it and neighboring islands. Players use cards to place bridges between islands, once one player has placed over half of the possible bridges going from one island, that player gains control of that island, represented by placing a Kahuna Stone. During scoring rounds, the player with the most stones earns points.
A turn in Kahuna consists of a combination of playing one or more cards, discarding, and acquiring a new card. Cards have the name of a single island and when played you may place a bridge on any of the paths extending out from that island. You may play multiple cards to place multiple bridges on a single turn. There is a hand limit of five cards, so you may discard if you don’t want to play a card. You may acquire a new card by either selecting one of three face up cards or one from the face down pile.
There are two other rule twists in Kahuna. First, you may remove an opponent’s bridge by playing two cards which could be used to place the bridge. Second, when you gain control of an island by placing enough bridges, any bridges your opponent has connected to that island get immediately removed. A round ends when there are no more cards left to draw and players each take one last turn. Scoring after the first round awards one point to the player with the most stones, scoring after the second round awards two. The third, and final, round is scored differently as the player with the most stones earns points equal to the difference in the number of stones they have versus their opponent. A player with five stones to an opponent’s three would earn two points, for example. Should any player find themselves with no bridges in play at any point in the second or third rounds, they automatically lose.
Kahuna is a clever duel game. Players can hoard cards aimed at a particular island and drop a few of them in one turn to take control of an island. In doing so, you remove opponent’s bridges connected to that island which can trigger them losing control of a neighboring island. This is because an island is only controlled if the majority of paths are owned by one player. Timing a big swing is an important and tactically satisfying experience. Timing it well in relation to the scoring phase could swing the tide of the entire game by not giving your opponent enough time to recover.
Kahuna isn’t a heavy game, but there’s a depth in strategy that might take some time to show itself. Learning when to stock up cards versus show your hand and start building is a key decision. Making the right choice between building and removing an opponent’s bridge can be the difference between a win and a loss. Kahuna hits a nice spot being incredibly easy to describe, but it will also take time to master.
Barrier to Entry
Kahuna has a full set of text rules and the first solo game has tutorial-like popups explaining things as you go. The rules are minimal, so even the full text version can be scrolled through in just a few minutes. Between the rules and the popup help, I found the game very easy to learn and had no issues with the rules beyond that first game.
Learning the game
Look and Feel
The app looks and controls great. The game has a fun, comic style artwork that is carried over throughout the entire app. The AI opponents each have a unique character which adds to the Polynesian theme. Throughout, the colors are bright and vibrant, the whole game looks great.
Controls are simple. Select a card then select what you want to do with it, be that place a bridge, discard, or destroy a bridge (if you selected two cards). When grabbing a new card, simply select it from the face up pile, or click the face down pile, and it’s yours. The only complaint here is the lack of an undo button which I could have used on a few occasions after making dumb moves.
Kahuna features asynchronous online play. You can find a random match or invite a friend. The only real downside here is that the game uses the platform’s online service, so there is no cross platform between iOS and Android. Android users will see the familiar Google Play Games interface, and probably shudder a little bit when they do. I have started a few games of Kahuna on Android, the matchmaking wasn’t instant, but it did not take too long to find an opponent and the system notifications worked when it was my turn to play. There are not really any surprises in online play, it works as you would hope. My only complaint isn’t with the game, but with the players I’ve been matched with taking way too long to play their turns, so this one may be best with a friend to play with.
Kahuna does not feature a local pass-and-play mode. There is hidden information in play so pass-and-play would have to account for this, but we’ve seen this done plenty of times, and it would have been a nice addition here.
Kahuna features a “campaign” as its single player mode. It’s not really a campaign, but rather a series of 12 different AIs to play against. You can earn up to three stars against each and you must defeat the previous AI to unlock the next. The AIs increase in difficulty as you go, the disappointing part is how easy the first handful were. I played through the first five or six AI opponents before surrendering any points to the AI. The latter AIs definitely present a challenge, but the build up to get to them is a bit too drawn out.
Learning through the tutorial
Kahuna features 27 achievements to chase. These range from the standard fare of winning games, achieving a certain score, etc… all the way up to the sort of ridiculous such as playing 1,000 single player games. Good luck to the true completionists out there.
The Wrap Up
Kahuna is a fun duel game. We’ve been reviewing a lot of two-player games lately and they are all very satisfying at the same core level: feeling like you outwitted somebody when starting on an even playing field is a fun experience. Kahuna certainly delivers in this aspect.
There are a handful of downsides to the app, it is up to you how important any one, or the collection, are. On the multiplayer side, the lack of cross-platform cuts down the potential opponent field considerably (especially for Android players). Not having a local pass-and-play is a bit disappointing as well. For single player, needing to go through and beat so many weak AIs just to unlock the more difficult ones is a bit tedious, but certainly forgivable. The only real implementation annoyance is the lack of an undo button.
The app does get a lot of things right. The game runs smoothly and looks great doing so. The underlying game is a lot of fun; a simple to explain, difficult to master duel game is a permanent sweet spot in my book. Does it stand up to the others in this area? I’d say it falls a bit short of some of our favorites, but it does still provide a lot of fun and your personal preference might lead you to another conclusion.