Karuba

Designer: Rudiger Dorn

Artist: Claus Stephan

Publisher: HABA

How nice that these guy share treasure with the latecomers (Photo credits: Francois Haffner@BGG)

Hot on the heels of Take it Easy! XXL, I promised my kid that we would try out Karuba, a game with similar elements with Take it Easy! in terms of simultaneous tile-laying and route building on individual player boards. However, Karuba is slightly more thematic and with a few more bells and whistles than Take it Easy! XXL. I have played Karuba many times before, but not since the start of the pandemic. So, how does it compare with Take it Easy! and do you need both?

For starters, Karuba only plays 4 out of the box. There is no way to add more players even if you have two copies of the game as the point tokens are awarded based on who reaches the objectives first. More on that later. Take it Easy! can theoretically handle an unlimited number of players which makes it a good game for larger gatherings. I would give a thumbs up for Take it Easy! over Karuba in terms of player count, though it is not necessarily an advantage if you usually game with four or fewer players.

Like Take it Easy! Karuba forces all players to play the same tile simultaneously. One player flips over a tile, announces the number and all players will hunt for the same tile and place it on the board. There is a web-based app posted on Board Game Geek that automatically selects the tile for you. This is a better option since the first player is at a disadvantaged not being able to see what other tiles are available for placement. It does matter as you need to see what remaining tiles are available for route connection.

The theme of Karuba is treasure hunting. Here, players must make a complete path between the explorer and the lost temple to score treasure. There are 4 matching pairs of adventurers and temples on each player board and a trail must be made between the matching pairs before the temple treasure can be collected. So, a purple adventurer can only score treasures collected from a purple temple even though they can move on a shared network of paths. At the start of the game, adventurers and temples are randomly places on the edges of the board, with adventurers being placed on the beach, and temples deep in the jungle. Essentially, players take turns to place a matching pair of temples and adventurers and this actually provides some variability between each session. One can choose an easy route where the two pieces are parked close by each other on the edge of the board, or they can be placed on opposing corners, thus forcing you to make a longer route. Eventually, when tiles with paths fill up the board, it will form a network of trails that hopefully connects the adventurers to their respective temples.

OK, thus far, the mechanisms for tile selection and route connection seem similar between Take it Easy! and Karuba. It’s the scoring that differentiates between the two games. In Take it Easy!, the value of each connection is plainly stated. If you make the complete, unbroken connection of the same type, you will score points based on the value of each of the segments multiplied by the number of tiles. It is an abstract exercise. In Karuba, you don’t score points once a path is connected. Instead, you must move the adventurer from the coast to the temple to claim a victory point chit. The faster you arrive at the temple, the higher the point value of the chit. First come, first serve. You only get to claim one chit though. Sharing is caring, guys!

Movement of the adventurer costs tiles. Instead of placing a tile, one can discard a tile to move an adventurer. You get to move the adventurer a number of tiles as there are exits on the discarded tile. The printed paths on each tile means that there is an entry and exit point – the minimum being two, for a straight path from one edge of the tile to the next. That means at minimum, when you discard a tile, your adventurer will move twice. There are 3 and 4 exit point tiles. The “+” tile which feature four connections is easily the most valuable tile in the game as it will allow you make those crucial links at a busy junction. So, if you discard the tile, you will get to move a single adventurer four times.

To top it off, there are gems and gold nuggets to pick up along the way. Some tiles feature either a gold nugget (2 points) or a gem (1 point) that can be picked up by the adventurer should they make a pit stop at the tile. Passing through the tile does not entitle you to the goodies, you must make a complete stop at the tile. This is a crucial decision in the game: should you stop at a tile to hunt for gems or nuggets or rush toward the temple to claim the chit. This is more important if the tile you discard can move you further along the path, bypassing the gem/nugget tile. This means if you stop, the movement is immediately terminated and you lose any remainder movement points. Since this is a race, it matters. I have to say that the decision to pick up the booty along the path is not just mindless chrome that adds scoring complexity for the sake of it because it does contribute toward an important decision space in the game. The end-of-game scores are not sky high, each point counts and this decision can have consequences.

Now, because of the same reasons above, the expansion tiles also has a place in the game. I am fervently in the “no-expansion/no-promo/no-add ons” camp. If given a choice, I will play only the base game and prefer to buy a new game than to get an expansion. There are exceptions and in this case, I tried out the self-printed four-tile expansion designed by Dorn. These bonus tiles change the tenor of the game in a profound way because it makes you reevaluate your strategies for route connection vs. adventurer movement. For me, route completion takes precedence in a way that if I draw a useful tile that I can place to efficiently make a connection, I will opt for that choice. If I can’t, then I will discard and move my guys. This works well for me and I have won pretty consistently with this tactic. It is also a very efficient way for me to end up moving all my adventurers to their temples. That usually takes up all my tiles to do so. With these four bonus tiles, things are shaken up a bit. Bonus points are awarded for the first player to reach specific milestones: first to collect a set of gem+nugget; first to pick up set of four gems or nuggets; first to have an explorer reach a temple and first to complete a network that links all temples to adventurers. As you can see, these bonus points forces you to move your guys in suboptimal ways if you want to be competitive in grabbing the extra points. The scores at the end are tight and a point here or there can make a difference. This is an example where the promo/expansion tiles really introduce something different to the game that shakes things up and not just adding more complexity. You should print it out and give it a go. It’s freely available.

In my review of Take it Easy, I claimed that Karuba is a better game. I am not so sure now. It is different even though the core mechanism is similar. The experience itself is different and it scratches a different itch. Part of what makes Karuba unique is the race element. But the possibilities and variety in Take it Easy! feels more…. tremendous. It always feels to me that there is an efficient way to assemble your network in Karuba. Even if tiles are coming out non-sequentially, the network itself can be arranged in a very optimal way, plus-minus a few differences in tile arrangement. You just need to be patient. I rarely feel angst when I draw a tile I cannot use because it is used for movement. In Take it Easy! Not all tiles are used and so you can never tell if your desired piece will be selected. Plus, the agony in Take it Easy! where you must break a connection or place a “1” tile to start a new row is not really replicated in Karuba. The hard choices are harder in Take it Easy! Perhaps, that’s what makes Karuba a HABA game. I still am not sure if you need both games if you want a lean collection, but in my experience, both games are distinct enough to warrant a place on your shelf if you enjoy no-conflict, route connection games.

Final word: Good

Kids Corner

7 years 10 months: Again, she has no problems absorbing the game on the first try, but was highly inefficient in route building. Subsequent games, she got better and better and the scores became tighter. However, I appear to have an edge in Karuba over her and my partner. Not sure why. The bonus tiles shake things up a bit as they are gunning for the extra points, bringing the tally even closer. I still win with my route completion over adventurer movement strategy, but I no longer think its full proof. She likes Karuba enough, but I haven’t asked her if she likes it more than Take it Easy! At this age, I think Karuba will be a perfect fit for kids and I do recommend this game. It is also easy enough for younger kids to pick up. I think a sharp 5 year old can do this even though it might take a few attempts to become competitive.

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