Full disclosure: A review copy of Karuba: The Card Game was provided by HABA.
More HABA titles! We’ve mostly powered through the yellow box games, so now we’re moving on to their next set of titles: the Game Night Approved line! These are a bit more strategy-oriented than the yellow box line, I feel, which are more family-oriented, but hey, in this economy, you’ve gotta be open to trying to capture different markets when you can. I covered one of the titles, Mountains, a few weeks ago, but let’s see what else is going on in this specific set of games with Karuba: The Card Game this week. Maybe more will follow?
In Karuba: The Card Game, you play as intrepid (but astonishingly rude) explorers working to cut a path through the dense jungle to the temples they’ve sworn themselves to explore. The thing is, you don’t really like sharing or competing all that much, so you’ve got to forge your own path if you want to make it to the temples and claim the treasures within! Will you be able to find your way through these dense forests?
Pretty much none. Set out this tile in view of all players:
It shows you what’s on the 16 cards. Give each player a card set:
Have them draw three cards, and you should be ready to get started!
Gameplay is also pretty straightforward, which I appreciate. Your goal is to build out a 4×4 grid of cards, maximum, where paths lead from explorer to temple so that they can claim the treasures. But the real treasure is also the treasure you found along the way, so keep an eye out for those too. At the end of the game, once every card is played, the player with the most points wins!
The hard part, of course, is the actual card playing. To start a round, every player chooses two cards and then reveals them simultaneously. Add the numbers on the cards together; the player with the lowest sum (or tied for the lowest) must choose one of their two cards and remove it from the game. Harsh, but fair.
All players must add all remaining cards to their grids. Note that cards must be in a 4×4 arrangement and, unlike most games, may not be flipped or rotated; the number must always stay in the top-left corner. Roads don’t have to connect to other roads, but once a card is played, all subsequent cards played must be played adjacent to at least one other card.
Once all cards have been played, you score! Score as follows:
- Temples: For each unbroken path from an Explorer to its corresponding temple, gain 3 points. Note that Explorers are unfriendly, so one Explorer may not use a path that goes through another Explorer’s starting space.
- Crystals: For each Explorer’s path that goes through a space with a crystal, gain 1 point for a crystal and 2 points for a gold nugget.
Nothing else scores points. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Pretty much none, gameplay-wise. The major change is that at lower player counts the game becomes much more of a knife fight in a phone booth, since there are fewer players to play “the lowest” card combination. At two, it’s either one or both of you, but at six, there is all kinds of variance based on who draws what and what they want to play. You’ll see generally fuller boards at higher player counts, for that reason. Beyond that, like I said, there aren’t that many differences. I do enjoy the tension of the plays at lower player counts, though, so I’m a bit inclined to say that I prefer this at two. It’s also a relatively low-key game to learn, so, it makes for even a great date night or 1:1 hangout game. That said, I don’t have a problem with it at higher player counts; I just enjoy the dramatic tension of playing this with fewer players. I’d happily play it at any player count.
- Limit your risk. I wouldn’t recommend playing two of your temples together; what if every player plays higher than you? Now you have to get rid of one of them and you’ve just cost yourself a major scoring route. I’d recommend trying to avoid doing that. Naturally, you can’t plan for every outcome, so you’re highly likely to lose some cards (especially at two), but you can plan ahead so that you’re less likely to take massive losses, usually.
- Try to plan ahead if you can. One thing that I note to players is that the middle path for every explorer connects to their corresponding temple. You should try to make sure that that stays true if you want to get at least 12 points. Just keep in mind that 12 points alone doesn’t win games. You’re going to need to set up some paths; bonus points if they all go through one or two of the crystal spaces, so that you maximize your score.
- Don’t lose explorers or temples. More than just playing two explorers or two temples together, you should also not throw any away unless you’re certain that you won’t be able to use them. They’re the single way to earn points in this game, so keep as many as you can (or focus on making a few really long and lucrative paths; it could work).
- Generally speaking, if your sum is below 10, you’d best be prepared to lose one of those cards. It’s not an exact science, but given that the range is a bell curve from 3 – 31, I’d say being in the bottom third of the range puts you a bit outside the safe range. Don’t throw away too many of those branching cards if you want to make a long path.
- Remember that you’re limited to a 4×4 grid. This usually messes people up a lot. You’re trying to plan around chunks of empty space, which doesn’t always work with people’s brains. Just remember that if you have a 3 by X grid, you can only place one more card before it becomes a 4 by X grid and you’re locked in. That can prevent you from clowning yourself.
- Try to make long paths that everyone crosses over. This is usually the money, in that it’s literally the most financially profitable path since you get a ton of explorers all walking the spaces that award bonus points. This will basically give you multiplicative returns, which is always good.
- Also remember that Explorers cannot cross other Explorers’ spaces. This also messes everyone up. It’s a bad idea to connect Explorer spaces together, since they can’t cross through each others’. Try to use a 1 or a 2, instead.
- Try to keep track of what cards your opponents could have. This will help you sometimes predict what cards they’re going to play (or, better yet, if you have an unbeatable hand). It’s impossible to track them all at six, so just try to make sure you’re less likely to play the worst possible pair.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love how simple it is. It really is just play two cards to build a path; I love it. It’s such an easy game to explain.
- For a multiplayer solitaire game, the interaction mechanic is simple but very very effective. That might be my favorite part about this game; it causes the game to shift drastically based on player count. At two players, it’s a knife fight in a phone booth; at six players, it’s occasionally a mild inconvenience. The gambling part of it is also a really nice feature; players are taking on a lot of risk to get certain cards played at the right time.
- Plays quickly. Once everyone knows how to play I suspect you could bust this one out in 10 minutes or so.
- Seems like it would be easy to expand. I think there’s a lot of potential here! Larger grids! Different types of cards! Some games do a thing where you swap a card out for a card of the same value. Even promos could be cool, if you had the right stuff. Or Winter Karuba; you play as various elves trying to get to their workshops or something. I’m really just spitballing here; I’d be down for whatever happens.
- Pretty portable, if you ditch the box. Fairly small game in a fairly large box. As you do. You could throw this into a Quiver, I think, without much trouble, though. Or at least a small plastic bag.
- I’m generally a big fan of path-building games. It’s one of my ongoing favorite mechanics. I’m pretty much always into a game a bit more if there’s a path-building component.
- The insert is pretty mediocre. The cards don’t really fit in it as much as they just kind of slide around it. That seems to be an ongoing trend with the games I’ve been playing from HABA, though; they’re not really an insert-focused company, as far as I can tell.
- The box is also a lot bigger than it needs to be. I usually complain about stuff like this but I’d just like there to be a travel-sized version so I could take this with me a lot of places.
- Some vulnerability to analysis paralysis. As is to be expected with any and all path-building games, being honest. This is helped significantly by the fact that the cards can’t be rotated and must be confined to a grid; once players have made certain decisions it becomes very difficult to expand the decision space much farther out. They’ve already become limited by choices they made on previous turns. Speeds up the game.
- I wish there were some way to weigh the cards down a bit. A bad sneeze could really mess this game up. But I guess if it used tiles it would just be regular Karuba, right?
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I kind of love Karuba: The Card Game. It’s so many things that I like all wrapped up into one game! It’s got path-building, which is always one of my favorite mechanics; it’s dead simple to set up, which means I can just get it to the table constantly; it’s interactive without being overly destructive, so players feel like they’re playing together but not enough to really mess each other up; and it’s so portable! It’s really an impressive little game. I also really like its numbers game as a way to add interaction to other multiplayer solitaire games, mechanically. I think it’s a smart little design choice (though I’m not sure if this is the only game that employs it). As with all grid-based card games, one wrong move can really mess you up, so I do kind of wish this were tiles instead of just cards, but I understand the desire to keep the price point lower for a game like this. I’d also love to see if it’s possible to expand a game like this; maybe 5×5 grids or adding additional special cards would be cool. It would be really interesting if there were a bunch of 0-value cards that were extremely good. But I digress. If you like the thrill of exploration, the tension of potential denial, or just really want to build some paths, I think Karuba: The Card Game might be right up your alley! It certainly was a game I enjoyed.