Full disclaimer: I’m generally not into ‘multiplayer solitaire’ games. When I play a game with other people, I love lots of dynamic player interaction – bonus points if there’s an element of ‘take that!’
However, there is a game that’s found it’s way into my rotation that fits the ‘multiplayer solitaire’ description. It’s as cute as it is laid back. And I’m not mad at it. Karuba by Haba and designed by Rudiger Dorn breaks my expectations, and it’s brilliant.
Players take the role of expeditioners trekking their way through dense jungle in search of four different temples. Each player has their own jungle grid where four different explorers are in search of one temple each. In order to make their way through the “jungle,” players place a tile onto their grid that creates a pathway for their explorers to move along on. One player serves as the “expedition leader” who draws a random tile. Then each player finds the exact same tile in their collection of tiles and must either A) place it onto their own grid to continue building the pathway through their jungle, or B) discard that tile and move one of their four explorers a number of tiles equal to the path entrances on the discarded tile. As explorers move along the path, they can collect gems and gold nuggets to score some points, but ultimately the big bucks are raked in by getting an explorer to their respective temple.
The player grids themselves are all identical – with explorers starting along two edges and temples along the other two edges. And, as I mentioned, the tile that can be placed each turn is identical for each player as well. Where the strategy comes in is… how do you plan out your network of paths optimally while still making sure you’re discarding some of the tiles so that you can move your explorers along the paths? Each player will likely have a different plan in mind, and even though there’s no player interaction, you still have to be aware of how close the other players are from their temples, because reaching temples yields diminishing returns as other players reach that color temple on their own grids.
I think the reason I love Karuba so much, despite it not being my typical fare, is that the gameplay moves quite quickly. There is a lot of strategy involved (planning how you want to cut through the jungle), but the game never seems to fall prone to analysis paralysis. If you don’t get the tile you need, you simply assess – should I still place this down and change up my original plan? Or – after a quick look at the remaining path tiles – do I discard it and move one of my explorers? A four player game of Karuba might only last a half hour, and the pace accelerates as the game moves along – as players’ path networks become more developed, the race is on to move explorers toward their temples. I think the game’s simplicity and fast pace really work well with the cuter style of artwork for the game. It’s hard not to fall in love with the cartoon explorers. And each one is represented on the grid by a fun little meeple with an explorer’s hat.
Sometimes I can’t explain why I love certain games that – given my usual taste in ultra competitive games – I shouldn’t love. However, Karuba shines because it’s fast, it’s just heavy enough to have a strategic element to it, and it’s cute. This is a great game for both hardcore gamers and for more casual gamers (and young-ish kids). And that deserves major props in my opinion.
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,