Developer: United Soft Media
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

I have fond memories of playing the board game version of Kahuna, dating back to a time in the late 90s when I first became infatuated with German/Designer boardgames. Kahuna was something new: part of an experiment by publisher Kosmos, called their ‘small box’ line, designed for two players exclusively (something of a rarity in German-style games). It was an immediately appealing game – small box, quick setup, and almost archetypal ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ rules. In fact, as I write this I realize that it’s still sitting on a shelf behind me in my office. So many board games have come and gone from that shelf, but Kahuna retains its place.

IMG_5466Fast forward to 2014 and Kahuna has finally made a transition to the electronic realm courtesy of a new universal iOS app. There could not be a more apt game to make this translation, as Kahuna plays quickly while still providing a strategic challenge. The premise is equally simple. Each player (rival South Pacific magicians or some such thematic mumbo jumbo) is attempting to place bridges between a set of South Pacific islands. When a player controls the majority of the pathways to an island, that player controls the island and scores a point. Bridges are placed by playing a card with the island’s name on it; players then choose which path from the island they wish to occupy. Players can also remove opponents’ bridges by playing the two cards that represent two connected islands. It’s all the stuff of abstract strategy with a thin veneer of a theme, but the mechanics work so well it’s easy to forgive any quibbles with the theme. After three rounds, the player with the highest score wins the game.

There is a single-player campaign included with the game, with some relatively challenging AI opponents. I was surprised at how easily I was bested just playing through the tutorial game, and this is a game I’ve played before! Full multiplayer is also available through Game Center, though when I tried to find a match there weren’t many to partner up with. Hopefully this is a situation that will change as more discover this hidden gem.

IMG_5465Kahuna looks exactly like the original board game, which is to say it mirrors the original’s bright and colorful graphics. It’s pretty much a one-to-one translation of the analog game, so don’t expect any particular bells and whistles. It looks good, the sounds are serviceable, and it plays fluidly. There really isn’t a more faithful translation of a German-style board game available.

Kahuna is one of those games players will find themselves returning to again and again. Much of that is due to the fact that it provides a quick abstract strategy fix. The other part of its appeal is that, in the midst of an often-brutal winter, we all want whatever taste of the tropics we can get.

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