Dale Yu: Review of Karuba



  • Designer: Ruediger Dorn
  • Publisher: HABA
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: ~40 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by HABA USA


To paraphrase myself from a previous review: When I heard that HABA was going to do a new Dorn game, I was fairly certain that the game would be a balancing act between the more complex mechanics associated with most Dorn games (Snapshot being the exclusion) with the simpler, more family-oriented focus of most HABA games.  Admittedly, this is not a typical HABA game – it is one of the three releases in their more family-oriented (as opposed to child-oriented) games that debuted at Essen 2015.   Karuba turns out to be a more-complex-than-average HABA game that is still accessible and interesting to gamers of all abilities.

The game is played in a Take It Easy-like style where each player has a matching set of tiles, and all players play the same tiles in the same order.  Each player gets their own board which has a rectangular 5×6 grid of spaces with the beach along two sides and the jungle bordering the other two.  At the start of the game, players agree on the placements of four different adventurers (which are placed on the beach) and four temples (which are placed in the jungle).  There is a restriction that the adventurer and temple of the same color must be at least three spaces apart.  Thus, at the start of the game, each player has an identical starting position.  A supply of gems is placed near the center of the table as well as a number of victory point medallions in the colors of the temples (ranging from 2-5 points).Karuba box

The players each take their set of 36 tiles, and all but one player arranges them faceup around their board.  The final player mixes his tiles face down and will serve as the “caller” for the game.  In each round, the caller draws one of his tiles, shows it to all players and calls out the number printed on it, and then all players use the same tile for that round. There are two options on how to use a tile: you can either play it to the board or you can discard it.

If you play the tile to the board, you can place it on any empty space on your board, but it must be placed such that the number is always in the upper left hand corner of the tile.  Each tile has some arrangement of paths on it (straight line, elbow, T-junction, cross).  There is no obligation for you to match up the paths on the tile edges.  Additionally, some of the tiles have white gems or gold nuggets depicted on them.  As you place the tile on your board, place the matching physical gem or nugget on that tile.

Karuba board

If you discard the tile, you get a number of movement points equal to the number of edges on that tile with a path on it.  You may use these points to move any one adventurer – they must move along the paths on the tiles.  Only one adventurer can ever occupy a tile, and you cannot jump over another adventurer.  You do not have to use all the points.  If you end your movement on a gem or a nugget, you collect it – you will score points at the end of the game for these (1 VP for each gem, 2 VP for each nugget).

If your adventurer reaches a temple, you take the most valuable remaining tile of the matching color; that tile is worth the depicted number of VPs at the end of the game.  In a 4p game, the tiles are worth 5, 4 ,3, 2.  If multiple people reach the same temple on the same turn (because remember that everyone is playing simultaneously) – each player takes a temple VP tile and takes gems/nuggets so that all players score the same for that turn.

Purple about to make it to the temple. Image courtesy of henk.rolleman on BGG

Purple about to make it to the temple. Image courtesy of henk.rolleman on BGG

The game ends when either one player has all 4 of his adventurers at their matching temple OR at the end of the round when the 36th and final tile is revealed.  At that time, the game is scored.  Players score points for the temple VP tiles that they have collected as well as points for their gems (1 VP) and gold nuggets (2 VP) that were collected.  The player with the most points wins.  If there is a tie, the player with the most tiles on their board is the winner.

The official website can be found at: http://www.habausa.com/products/new/new-for-2016/karuba.html

My thoughts on the game

Karuba is a nice twist on the simultaneous identical tile playing game – the difference here is that you have a few more options for a tile other than simply playing it to the board.  Having to decide if and when to discard the tile for movement is an important decision in the game.  Early on, you pretty much just have to play the tiles as you generally don’t have a lot of movement options yet.  But as the game progresses on, moving your adventurers along the paths is just as important as laying down more tiles because you cannot score any VPs without moving!

Trying to visualize how you want your paths to grow is a critical pre-game decision.  While you will be limited by the luck of the draw, having a general plan in mind will help you figure out where to place tiles, especially when you are doing so in a non-linear fashion from your adventurer or temple.

You should always keep an eye on what your opponents are doing because you don’t want to miss out on too many points by being late to a particular temple.  In a game that is often won with around 30 points, each point is pretty valuable.  You may even be forced to leave a gem or gold nugget on the path in order to keep moving towards the temple.  Don’t forget that you only pick up a gem or nugget if you end your movement on the tile with the scoring piece on it.

Turns go by fairly quickly – each should take less than a minute to complete for the table.  The early turns are especially quick as generally all players are playing their tiles to the board.  Later in the game, you may have to spend a little more time trying to decide whether to play or discard a tile – possibly taking time to look at the remaining tiles in the pool to decide whether you can wait for a better tile to be drawn.

The components are well done – the tiles are thick and sturdy, and the artwork by Claus Stephan is suitable for families and children.  My only complaint (and it’s a mild one) are that the clear plastic gems are quite small and quite transparent, and it has happened more than once that a player has missed seeing a gem on his board!  The game itself is language independent, and the box and rules are bilingual (both German and English).

So far, the game has been a great hit here, and we have yet to play it in a session where an immediate repeat play was not requested.  I’ve always been a big fan of the simultaneous tile play, but the additional complexity of the play or discard decision makes this one stand out.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (7 plays): I generally enjoy multiplayer solitaire games such as Karuba, and Karuba definitely feels fresh to me.  The only issue I have is that the caller for the game doesn’t have their remaining tiles to look through – but this is a minor nit, with the problem easily resolved by looking at a neighbor’s tiles.  I really enjoy Karuba, and expect it to be a long-term hit with my gaming groups.


Dan Blum (4 plays): I too generally enjoy games of this type, although I would characterize what I like more specifically as “everyone gets the same thing (tile, die roll, etc.) to use.” Karuba is a good example of this genre and definitely feels different from most of the crowd. I would rate it as “love it” rather than “like it” if I hadn’t played Krimsus’ Das Laybrinth des Pharao, which also has everyone playing the same tiles to their personal boards in order to make a path for treasure-hunting. I like that game somewhat more (and it uses cards to determine which tile to play so everyone can see their remaining tiles for planning purposes), but Karuba is different enough to be worth playing also. (Karuba will also be available in the US and Das Labyrinth des Pharao probably will never be.)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y, Joe H.
  • I like it. Dan Blum
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Karuba

  1. omesjtollie says:

    A top notch review Dale. I think this one will be a great fit for my family.

  2. Looks interesting. Thanks for the review. Seems like its Carcassonne without interaction and some Tsuro mixed in. Could be good!

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