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Kahuna is a tactical, one-on-one board game about controlling island territories. The physical boxed set, originally published in 1998 and still available today, doesn’t look like much – a modest deck of cards, a few plastic pieces, and a minimalistic game board. But what initially appears to be a simple game of token placement quickly reveals itself as a meditative test of strategy. USM’s universal iOS version of Kahuna not only capitalizes on this clever design, but also adds a distinctive thematic flavor to the experience.
The game’s back story tells of two magical priests in friendly competition. In order to determine whose magic is stronger, they’ve faced off in a game to connect uninhabited islands by summoning bridges. Whoever controls the most islands by the end of the competition wins. Each game card, which depicts a specific island, can be played to summon a bridge adjoining that respective island. Alternatively, you can play two cards to destroy an opponent’s bridge. If at any time you control more than half of an island’s bridge slots, you place a point token on that island. Points are tallied after each of three rounds, and games typically take less than 15 minutes.
What makes Kahuna so tactical is that island tokens are incredibly difficult to protect. Your opponent can destroy any and all of your plans in a single turn, so anticipating future moves is a must. While chance is inherently a factor in any card-drawing game, Kahuna rewards thoughtful moves far more than a lucky draw. The iOS version offers a 12-tier single-player campaign that gradually increases in difficulty, and while outsmarting the game’s A.I. isn’t impossible, the computer rarely makes errors, if ever. Expect to lose often. Online multiplayer is available and mostly stable, but local, pass-and-play multiplayer is curiously nowhere to be found.
One of the game’s biggest delights is its tranquil sound design. Ambient ocean splashes and chirps of island birds – elements not present in the physical board game – provide a welcome contrast to Kahuna’s challenging gameplay. Unfortunately, no amount of tranquil sound effects can counter the fact that minimizing the Kahuna app during single-player mode almost always resets your game, and we noticed odd instances where the final game score was miscalculated.
The bottom line. Minor technical issues aside, Kahuna is a flavorful reintroduction to a 16-year-old game of Hawaiian-themed stratagem.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Well-designed tactical gameplay. Meditative sound design. Attractive presentation and thematic Hawaiian flavor.
No local multiplayer. Resets when minimizing app. Occasionally freezes or miscalculates final game score.