Full disclosure: A review copy of Karuba was provided by HABA.
Another HABA title! Been a lot of those, lately, and there are a lot more yet to come! We’ve got mysterious cats, firefighters, and rally cars to look forward to, at minimum, so that’ll be fun. In the meantime, let’s try out Karuba! I’ve tried out the card game implementation of this one already, so let’s see how the full-box stacks up to its more portable sibling!
In Karuba, you’re just landing on the shore and you need to explore the jungle to plunder its riches. Ethically, kind of dicey, but you resolve that you’ll have time to unpack all of that when you’re rich. It’s not really the best moment for you as a person, being real. Unfortunately, your opponents are seeking to do the same thing! It’s much worse when they do it, you figure. You’ll have to land and chart a course to the temples, but even the best explorer knows that there comes a time when you need to leave the map behind. Reveal tiles to build paths, or forego those tiles to move along the paths you’ve created to collect gems and race your opponents to the temples. As with any race, there really can only be one winner; are you confident that it’ll be you?
Player Count Differences
Beyond it being a racing game, there are relatively few differences. It’s similar in a few ways to Legendary Forests, though I think Legendary Forests does a slightly better job managing as a racing game since you’re not splitting your time between moving and placing tiles. If you tried to say, scale it near-infinitely, you’d definitely run into some problems, similar to other massive games. While it plays well, you now will likely have players with a single-minded focus corresponding to each of the four temples, meaning if you’re not aiming for one immediately, you risk essentially missing out on all of them. For scoring reasons, I’d usually just recommend breaking large games up into smaller games that peak at 4 players, as a result. That said, I do enjoy it a fair bit at two, so I’d love to say that’s my favorite player count, but given that there aren’t really any other differences, I don’t think I have a strong player count preference, provided all players are moving at a good pace. If a player has pretty strong analysis paralysis problem, it’s not going to help them much to have fewer players, so, no real preference on the player count.
- You don’t necessarily need to rush certain temples. One thing that I’ve noticed is that since you can see everyone’s board, you know roughly how far away each player is from the various temples. You also know that explorers can move 2 – 4 spaces on a given turn. Therefore, you know when another player is a threat to you getting to a temple first. If nobody’s threatening you, then no need to immediately gun it towards the temple. You can be like the hare in The Tortoise and the Hare and take a break.
- Don’t set yourself up for a big loss, though. As you might guess, taking after an infamous race loser might not be the best way to set yourself up to win. For instance, you may only get tiles that you really need to place, thereby allowing your opponent to get past you. You may need to build a pathway with some crystals on it and then go to get those, which would again allow an opponent to get past you. You can wait a bit on hitting up a temple, but don’t wait more than a few turns, unless you want to end up with a reduced score.
- It may actually be worth your time to ignore a temple and instead build a lucrative path. There are a number of tiles that have gold and regular crystals on them; you could easily use one of them to get over five points. If you find that a temple isn’t working out for you, it may be worth trying to build a valuable, circuitous path to score yourself some points instead.
- If you find that one temple is now unattainable for you, don’t tell your opponents. If you do, that gives them essentially free reign to stall out on that temple that you can no longer get. Make them do the work of scanning your board for you.
- If your most lucrative tiles end up getting buried, it may be worth waiting for them to emerge. You don’t want to necessarily build a path that doesn’t include valuable tiles, but, you can’t wait too long for them to show up or you won’t be able to move in enough turns to collect them.
- Try not to waste tiles for movement; pick when you want to spend a tile for movement so that you can use as few of them as possible. You need to make sure that you essentially play tiles as optimally as possible. If you’re using tiles to get your explorers one space, you’re really not making great use of them. But, you may not want to waste the 3- or 4-move tiles if you’re still fairly early in the game. They can be really helpful!
- Keep an eye on which path tiles haven’t been used yet. This will help you plan a bit ahead; this means that you need to make sure that certain tiles and routes are available to you so that you don’t box yourself out of certain temples or available crystals.
- Also keep an eye on how close the game is to ending. If anyone can’t move any more explorers, then you’re done. If you’re still holding out on a few temples, you might have messed yourself up. So, plan ahead.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like that players sort-of-cooperate on the setup. Sort-of-cooperate in that each player independently decides where they’re going to put at least one set of temples and explorers, but they work together to do so! I suppose the right word is coordinate, not cooperate. Oh well. Either way, having every player contribute to the setup can give them all a good sense of agency, which is a nice way to start up the game.
- The variable setup also keeps the game fresh. I like that, unlike Karuba the Card Game, the temples and explorers start in different places, which encourages you to not just shoot for the same general patterns every time. You still can’t, in the card game, due to how the cards tend to play out, but it’s even more difficult to do so in this one.
- The path-building vs. movement tension is sometimes very interesting to balance.
- Honestly, this explains a lot of the quirks of Karuba: The Card Game. I was very confused when I first played as to why explorers couldn’t use the same routes, but given that they can’t move through each other in this game, it makes sense why that rule was preserved for the card game.
- I like how colorful the game is! I think I just don’t see enough green in the games that I play; it’s nice to have more titles that are pretty vibrantly verdant.
- Simultaneous play does speed things along pretty quickly. It’s not perfect (as I’ll outline below) but it does at least make sure that most people are playing at the same time and relatively quickly.
- It can be played remotely pretty well. As long as you’ve got eyes on each others’ boards, it’s doable. You just need to have the right camera setup and agree on which player is going to be the caller (the player who randomizes their tiles).
- The small tiles are helpful in terms of allocating space, but they are very difficult to shuffle. I think it’s partially that they’re small and partially that there’s a lot of them. It’s kind of funny, given that the card game adaptation has pretty large cards.
- The disconnect between placing tiles and movement adds enough complexity that I end up preferring the card game. I think I prefer the card game taking care of the movement portion so I don’t have to think about it. In a lot of games, I see players laying the full path and then just mad-dashing to the temples before the end of the game, which, I appreciate that the shorter game abstracts out. I don’t get as much from that half of the game as I do from the path-building and tile-laying parts. And that’s fine, it just leads me to prefer the card game.
- Given that either option on your turn makes you think a fair bit, spatially, the game can take a long time if players are vulnerable to analysis paralysis. I think this is the main dragging point of the game for me. Quick players will be able to get through this no problem, but even if you have a straightforward path to the temples laid out (which, for some players, takes a lot of time and thought), you’re not necessarily going to see some players immediately be able to just … choose a path and go for it. They will struggle. For a while. And while I love games with this kind of spatial path-building, I also have to acknowledge that there are plenty of people I just can’t play this with.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Karuba is pretty fun! I do appreciate how expansive it is, and I love the color scheme! It’s a bright game and it looks great once you’ve finished playing it. I will certainly say that playing this really built up my appreciation for Karuba: The Card Game, because I could see how the card game inherited from the base game. And it does, in a lot of ways! I appreciate that the card game simplifies the pathing mechanics from Karuba, though I do sometimes enjoy the complexity of the base game. It’s fun, having to decide when you want to place a tile versus when you want to move one of your four explorers. I will freely admit that I don’t always want to add in the additional complexity, and so, I tend to prefer the card game. It’s a bit easier to teach, for instance, and it requires fewer moving parts. But I do enjoy the core game. It reminds me a fair bit of Legendary Forests, since they have very similar energy around one player drawing random tiles while the other players follow, and I quite enjoyed that game as well. I think the major drawback for me is that between this and the card game, I play with enough new players regularly that I will likely go for the card game. Fortunately for Karuba, these aren’t regular times, and the ability to play remotely is HUGE in terms of bumping it up my list of replayable titles. And maybe I will, a bit more. Either way, if you’re a fan of a relatively simple path-building game with a cute racing element, you may enjoy Karuba! I’ve had a lot of fun with both this version and the card game.