You and your team of adventurers have finally reached the mysterious island of Karuba, an island said to be full of ancient temples and treasure. Unfortunately, other teams made it to the island, as well. It’ll be a race to see who can find the temples and the best treasure first, but it won’t be easy. Any paths through the jungle have been overgrown so you’ll have to uncover them first. Be quick and stay alert, treasure could be anywhere, but so could dead ends.
Puzzle, tile placement, simultaneous action selection
Number of Players
Karuba plays well with any number of players since it adjusts the amount of treasure based on how many people are playing. I think it plays best with 4 though since that provides the most realistic feeling of racing other people to the temples.
I’ve read that you can combine multiple sets of Karuba together to play with more than 4 people and that it still plays really well. I’d love to try that sometime, so if any of you have, please comment and let me know how it went. I think the only question would be how many treasures to put out with more people.
Since everyone is taking the same actions at the same time, no matter how many people are playing, Karuba still only takes around 30 minutes.
Karuba has almost no down time since everyone is taking their turns simultaneously. The only down time I can think of would be during the initial setup while everyone sorts their tiles.
How Does it Play
In Karuba, players use tiles to create paths between adventurers and temples. Whoever gets to each temple first gets the best treasure and the rest get worse and worse treasure as the temple gets picked clean. Whoever gets the most points at the end wins the game. It sounds so simple at first, but the various strategies available make it a puzzle game well worth your time.
What makes Karuba so interesting is that everyone uses the exact same setup to begin with. Everyone has the same player boards, the same starting positions for the adventurers and the temples, and even the same tile options. Karuba pushes that identical concept even further by making each player use the same tile at the same time
To do this, one player keeps their tiles facedown while all the others order their tiles by number to make them easier to find. The player with the facedown tiles draws one, calls out the number on it, and then all the other players look for their matching tile to use that turn.
Often first time players wonder how this would ever be a fun game since everyone would probably be making the exact same paths. They’d most likely all choose the most logical place to put the tile and in the end, everyone would get to the temples at the same time. The key to Karuba though is that each person has a vastly different way of solving a puzzle and because of that, no two games of Karuba are ever the same. Generally, people only play the same tiles in the same spots for the first turn or two. Then their way of thinking starts deviating from the other players as they see new ways to make their paths get to the temples first.
Karuba uses one simple rule to really change the game for every player: when you draw a tile, you can either play it on the board to make a path or discard it to move an adventurer. This means that not only can players put tiles in different spots, but players can actually discard a tile from play all together. This ensures that even though the game starts off identical for everyone, it won’t end that way.
There’s a lot of strategy involved when deciding where to put tiles and when to discard them. If you discard a tile, you can move one adventurer as many tiles as there are paths leading to the edge of the discarded tile. That lets you move 2, 3, or 4 tiles in any direction, depending on which tile was discarded.
Some people assume discarding a tile with 4 paths is the most efficient since they can move the farthest. Often an adventurer doesn’t have four path tiles to move forward on though, so that tile might be put to better use on the board somewhere, helping to build more pathways. There are also times when a tile just doesn’t work well anywhere so it might be better to discard it, even if that means just moving one adventurer one tile.
Another important aspect to consider is that some tiles have crystals or gold nuggets on them, which an adventurer can pick up if they stop on that tile. The gold nuggets are worth 2 points, but since the crystals are only worth 1 point they’re easier to discard without feeling bad. Whoever has the most points between crystals, gold, and the treasures found in the temples wins the game.
These crystals and gold nuggets can be a huge help if you don’t think you’ll get to certain temples fast enough. I’ve won multiple games by focusing on getting two or three adventurers to their temples first or second and then leaving the rest hunting for gems in the jungle so I didn’t have to waste tiles creating four paths. It all depends on which treasure you think you’ll be getting from the temple with each adventurer. For example, the last place treasure from a temple is worth 2 points which is the same as a gold nugget. If you’re sure you’re going to get that last place treasure, you might as well discard tiles for movement to pick up gold nuggets and crystals instead of finishing the path to that temple.
One downfall of the crystals and gold nuggets is that when an adventurer stops to pick them up, their movement is completely over. That means players have to decide if it’s worth potentially losing movement points to pick up a crystal or gold nugget. Often they’re not as important as racing to a temple if you have a shot at getting one of the higher point treasures. If you really want that crystal or gold nugget, there’s always the potential that a different adventurer could pick it up instead later.
One strategy I’ve used is attempting to place tiles with gold nuggets directly next to a temple. That allows me to get close enough to the temple to gauge how risky it would be to stop and pick the gold nugget up. If another player is close and the temple treasure is worth more than the gold, I’ll go for the treasure, but if the other players are far away I’ll try to stop to get the gold nugget and then get the treasure the next turn.
Another big decision when placing tiles is the fact that two adventurers can never be on the same tile and they can’t leap over other adventurers. This is a really big deal when one path connects multiple adventurers to their temples. My first few games I kept running into the issue where I’d build a perfect path that connected all four adventurers to their temples, but the adventurers would get stuck since they couldn’t pass each other. Often I’d run out of tiles or time before actually getting all my adventurers to their temples, which meant the perfect path wasn’t actually so perfect.
Thankfully, Karuba has a few ways to get around this. One option would be to move one adventurer through the path at a time to make sure they didn’t overlap. That’s difficult though since it sometimes takes half the game just to create that full path so you’d run out of time to move them all through one by one.
Another option is to create waypoints of some kind where you can halt an adventurer on the path while you move another adventurer past them, without them being on the same tile. This isn’t too difficult since adventurers can move in any direction as long as paths are built, but it takes planning. The last option would be to just make multiple paths, but sometimes that feels like wasting tiles that you could be discarding for movement.
Towards the end of the game, the player with the facedown tiles might feel at a slight disadvantage. That’s because the other players know exactly which tiles they have left since they’re face up, which means they know if a path can actually be completed or not with the remaining tiles. Thankfully, since everyone is playing with the same tiles, the player with the facedown tiles could just look at another player’s tiles to see which ones are left. That’s a bit bothersome to certain players though, so it’s something to keep in mind. I personally enjoy having the facedown tiles since that means I don’t have to sort them at the beginning of each game.
Karuba is technically a multi-player game, but there really isn’t much interaction between players. Sure, you keep track of where everyone is to make sure you’re winning the race, but you can’t actually do anything to affect their game. It’s good for people who want a competitive game without the “take that” mechanic that many competitive games have. Even with it being a “solo” multiplayer, there’s still a lot of table talk and enjoyment with friends.
Karuba is a really simple game at its core, but the nuances of strategy feel more complex every time I play. It’s really quick to teach and most people pick up the mechanics quickly. Plus, it’s great that games only last a half hour so players can see how the whole game is played quickly and then play another time with more confidence.
The player boards are large, have nice artwork, and aren’t flimsy. The tiles also fit nicely on the spaces provided for them.
The tiles have a nice weight to them and the backs are different colors to sort out each set easily. The paths line up pretty well from tile to tile, as well.
The adventurer and temple tokens each players gets are of good quality and the colors are distinctive so they don’t get mixed up. The adventurer is leaning slightly, which is a bit odd to me, but that’s a stylistic choice and doesn’t affect gameplay at all.
The crystals and gold nuggets are wonderful. Instead of all being the same shape and size, the gold nuggets are larger and a different shape than the crystals, which is a great touch. Plus, they’re shiny!
The crystals and gold nuggets also fit really well over the artwork on the tiles depicting them.
The treasure tokens are different sizes depending on how much they’re worth. They’re also different shapes and colors depending on which temple they come from, which is another great touch.
Everything fits in the box well, even though it seems a bit larger than necessary in order to fit the boards. Karuba comes with nice plastic bags that each fit a full set of player tokens and tiles, which saves a lot of time when setting up.
Overall, Karuba’s components are pretty fantastic.
The treasure hunter in a jungle theme comes across pretty well in Karuba. The artwork definitely helps with that, but overall the whole game does have that race to the treasure vibe to it. If you place any treasure you collect on the image of the adventurer who collected it (which is on the left side of the board) you can even get a sense of which adventurer is the best out of your group. For example, sometimes I end the game knowing that the blue adventurer won me the game and have to credit him haha
Karuba has a high replay value. Not only are the tiles randomized, but the starting positions of the adventurers and the temples change every game as well. Plus, the more you play, the more strategies you tend to notice so it’s a constantly evolving game. It’s also a bit addictive.
Since everyone gets the exact same options, whoever wins is actually the person who had the best strategy. It gives a more satisfying win than some other games since it wasn’t just the luck of the dice, it was your choices that led you to the win.
Least Favorite Part
I really dislike sorting the tiles at the beginning of every game, especially if we play a lot of games in a row. That’s a small nitpick though, but it’s valid. Depending on how meticulous people are, it could take ten minutes just sorting tiles before you even start playing. It’s a necessary evil though, since without doing it, the actual gameplay would slow down while people searched for tiles.
Games Like Karuba
Carcassonne is another tile laying game where players are building various things, like roads which feel like the paths in Karuba. It’s not a treasure hunting game, however, but it is easy to learn. The scoring is more complex though.
Metro is another tile laying game, but instead of building jungle paths, players are building train routes.
There aren’t any large expansions for Karuba at the moment, but there are a few small ones. One expansion includes numbered chips that players draw each turn instead of one player having facedown tiles.
The other two small addons include bonus tiles for things like being the fastest treasure collector or having volcanos that make certain areas harder to move through.
None of these tiny expansions feels necessary, however, unless players don’t like having facedown tiles.
The Bottom Line
At first, I thought Karuba would only be fun for a few plays since the mechanics are so simple. Surprisingly, the exact opposite happened and the game gained an addictive quality that keeps me wanting to play again and again.
This section is for confusing rules. Basically, if I had to look a strange rule up, I’d rather make it easier on anyone reading this and list it here. I apologize if I’m wrong on any of them, please feel free to correct me.
Dead Ends: On page 5 of the rules, “You may create paths where tiles without paths border each other and thereby lead to a dead end.”
Moving past adventurers: On page 5 of the rules, “Only one adventurer may occupy each tile, and leaping over them is not allowed.”
Reaching the temple at the same time: On page 6 of the rules, “If several players reach a temple of the same color in the same turn, each of them receives the same number of victory points: One player takes the most valuable treasure of this temple from the stack. The others take the less valuable treasures from the same stack, and make up the difference with crystals from the crystal stockpile.”
Picking up crystals/gold: On page 6 of the rules, “In order to collect gold nuggets or crystals, an adventurer must finish their turn on the tile in question, and forfeit any additional movement points.”
Moving backwards: This rule has been questioned by a few people since the rules state that “A step is always one tile forwards”, but then it also states that “you may move an adventurer as many steps, in any direction”. I interpret it that you can move backwards, since it’s kind of necessary for gameplay. Also, the rules state that “At intersections adventurers may turn in any direction”, which means they should be able to go backwards. All these rules are on page 5.
Moving to a temple: It’s been questioned if being at the temple is when you’re at the tile adjacent to the temple or if you have to move one more tile to get past the temple itself. On page 6 of the rules, “Once an adventurer moves to a temple (i.e. to the degree where the temple is)” makes me think you have to move one step past the temple. By doing that, the adventurer would be on the degree itself.
Setting up adventurers and temples: On page 3 of the rules, “Each player chooses an adventurer and places it on any number on the beach. Next, place the temple of the same color on a number in the jungle, (a minimum of 3 numbers distance between an adventurer and temple of the same color).”
This means that 3 numbers have to be between the adventurer and the temple, but that doesn’t mean the degrees themselves have to be far apart. For example, 90 on the beach and 90 in the jungle are 4 numbers apart because there’s 100 beach, 110 beach, 110 jungle, and then 100 jungle separating them. However, 100 beach and 100 jungle is not a valid placement since there’s only 2 numbers separating them, 110 beach and 110 jungle.
Basically, this means that at minimum, it should take 5 moves for an adventurer to get to the temple. One move to get on the board, three moves across the tiles, and one move off the board to get to the temple.