Designer: Carlos Moreno
If the title of this game evokes thoughts of a coffee based liqueur that would supplement your coffee on a frosty winter evening, or as an addition to a white Russian for a Big Lebowski festival, you would be dead wrong. Kalua represents an island where you play a game of “my god is better than your god”. You can supply your own lilting tune.
Once you sort through the rules and play a turn or two, the game becomes a straight forward, take that, in your face, style of card game. In this game, you are doing your best to covert people to your religion by tempting atheists or converting other players believers. And, if that doesn’t work too well, you can pray for bad things like tornados and earthquakes to smite the other player’s religions causing unhappiness and death. Last man standing is the religion that wins the game.
Abstractly, there are two currencies in the game: people and prayer points. People keep you in the game. When you lose all of your people, you are out. There are two decks of cards, one with bonuses and one with disasters and you can decide which cards to acquire. Prayer points are used to conjure up, or pay for, the disasters or bonuses.
Here is the flow of the game:
1. Draw cards. Active player draws up to 5 cards. If he has 5 already he may draw one.
2. Leader Actions. All players in clockwise order can do one of these:
a. Pick up two atheists from the pool (if there are any).
b. Increase your happiness. This is a track from 1 to 10. Happiness affects how much you pray or earn prayer points. If you are unhappy, you pray a lot. If you are happy you don’t pray much but a lot of people want to come to your side to be happy.
c. Convert a believer. Steal a person from another player.
d. Sacrifice your leader. This will cause five atheists (if there are any) to come to your side. This can be a bad idea if you do not have a future play ready to create a new leader.
3. Play cards. This phase the leader starts and can play as many cards as they can pray for. Other players may then play a card. Some examples of a bonus would be a Double Harvest. It costs five prayer points and will give you four happiness. Another bonus would be an amulet which costs four prayer points and would give you a happiness and prevent a loss and a death from a future calamity. The bigger deck, however, is the disaster deck. And there are two types of disaster categories, local and global. If you pray for a local disaster, you can decide which player it affects. A direct, in your face, smack at another player. An example is an earthquake. If you pray for a local earthquake it costs five prayer points. The player of your choice loses three happiness and one of their followers dies. A tornado would cost four prayer points and a player of your choice would lose one happiness, one person would die, and one person would convert back to atheism (go back to the pool). Global disasters typically affect all players and are free to play. A famine, for example would affect all players by them losing three happiness, one dead person, and one person converting to atheism. Praying does help with global disasters. If you pray with six prayer points, you will be exempt from the affects of the global disaster. And, if you pray with twelve prayer points, you will double the affect of the global disaster for everyone including you! Why would you do this you ask? Well, if the global disasters kills everyone on the same event, the player who had the most people before the disaster will win the game.
4. Conversion. The player that is the least happy loses two people while everyone one else but the happiest player loses one person. The happiest person gets three of these people converted to his side and the rest (if any) convert to atheism.
5. Praying. The least happy person now prays a lot and gets four prayer points. Everyone else but the happiest person gets two prayer points and the happiest person gets nothing. Now everyone gets a prayer point for each five family members rounded up.
This cycle will continue until one person is left with people and claim the role of the dominant religion. People move back and forth quite a bit. The population of the island slowly dwindles as it is a closed system of people and they do slowly die off and are removed from the game. It seems the happiness track is designed so that happy people get a lot of people, but not as many prayer points whereas the unhappy people can amass prayer points and inflict disasters on the leading players.
As a take that game that directs disasters at specific players, many people will not appreciate the king making. The game feels to me like it overstays its welcome and gives me little control over my destiny whether I pray in or outside of the game.
Comments of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Ben McJunkin (1 play): I recently received a review copy of Kalua from Passport Game Studios. Since Ted had already written this review, I made an effort to get it to the table despite being fairly confident that this was not my type of game. Sadly, my expectations proved to be correct. I found the gameplay to feel largely repetitive, even when using the designer’s “Spiral of Death” variant to shorten the game. With only three types of currency in the game, the cards themselves all felt very similar, meaning that I didn’t get that sense of excitement or cleverness when deciding between them. As someone who was targeted early by my opponents, I found it was actually better for me to stay behind in happiness and citizens (since gaining citizens only meant that the happier players would steal them at the end of the round) and inflict disasters instead. This kind of destructive gameplay, at least in this particular package, did not appeal to me. Particularly in a modest filler, I would have enjoyed more control and more opportunity for clever moves. When I stack Kalua up side-by-side with some of the other simple, clever fillers I play during gaming events, it seems unlikely to be recommended again.
Jonathan F.: I am not a ‘take that’ kind of guy, so this game is not my sweet spot, but some aspects of its design are quite interesting, such as having the game come to an inevitable end by starting with a large pool of potential converts and they dwindle throughout the game, so the economy is always shrinking. Also, there were some cool plays, such as a double global disaster for the win.
Ratings of Opinionated Gamers:
Neutral: Ted C., Jonathan F., Dale Yu
Not for me: Ben McJunkin