Dale Yu: Review of Karuba the Card Game


Karuba the Card Game

Karuba the Card Game (K:tCG) is one of three small box games that just arrived from HABA USA.  It has the “Game Night Approved” logo on it, so this is meant to be part of the new family line of games.  I love the fact that HABA continues to try to make games for the family market – with the constant stream of acquisitions and mergers in our hobby, it’s nice to see another company working to bring this level of game to the table.

K:tCG also has the advantage of being the smaller followup to Karuba – a nominee for Spiel des Jahres in 2016.  This new take on the game idea has many similarities to its acclaimed predecessor, yet offers enough different to make it a worthwhile standalone.

In this game, players have identical decks of 16 cards.  Like the base game, points will be scored by playing paths that connect explorers of a particular color to the temple of the matching color.   You will also score points if your explorer can pass by gems or gold nuggets along the way. However, unlike the older game, players do not play identical tiles/cards on a particular turn – instead, cards are chosen from a hand of cards, and as a result, each player’s map will grow quite differently from everyone else’s.

As I said, each player has an identical deck of 16 cards, and each player shuffles their deck at the start of the game and deals themselves a hand of 3 cards.  There is a square board that is placed in the center of the table which shows the sixteen cards which are found in each deck. The cards are numbered from 1-16.  The temples are numbered 13-16, and the explorers are numbered 9-12.

The game is played over eight turns.  At the start of each round, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses two cards from their hand.  Once all players have selected their pair, all chosen cards are revealed, and each player adds together the numbers on their two chosen cards.  The player or players with the lowest sum must discard one of their two chosen cards.

Next, everyone plays their remaining played cards to their tableau. You are building a 4×4 grid at maximum, and you cannot ever play a card that would grow your tableau greater than 4 cards in either dimension.  Every card played after the first must be orthogonally adjacent to at least one other previously played card. As in the original game, you may not rotate the cards: the number of the card must always be in the upper left corner.

Finally, each player draws 2 more cards into their hand to bring their hand back up to three cards – though in the final round, there will only be one card left to draw and your hand will be made up of your final two cards.

After the end of the eighth round, scores are calculated.  For each adventurer which can reach his matching colored temple, you score 3 points.  The adventurer must take the shortest path possible, and may not enter a particular card more than once.  The pictured adventurers block each other so you cannot pass thru another one of your adventurers. If your successful adventurer passes by gems (1 VP) or gold nuggets (2 VP), the appropriate number of points is also scored.  It may turn out that a particular gem or gold nugget is scored multiple times if it is on multiple successful routes.

The player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

As with many diminutive versions of successful games, the trick is to somehow incorporate enough of the initial game while providing a big enough twist to make the game actually feel like something different.  This game succeeds in that endeavor; K:tCG feels very similar with the path building, but the use of cards provides a different challenge.

Though I haven’t actually sat down to do it, I’m sure that the map building part of the game could be “solved”.  I’m sure that there is an optimal way to maximize points within the 4×4 grid. But… even if you happen to know that optimal map, the likelihood of having to discard cards along the way make it difficult to get all of your cards played each game.  Thus, it is unlikely that you’d ever be able to make that ideal map. Instead, you have to constantly alter your plan on the fly based on the cards that come out each round.

Once a card is discarded, you’ll never get it back during the game, so you will definitely have to try to choose your cards wisely to limit the number which need to be discarded.  Given your place in the game, you might try a risky play of a lower summed combination of cards OR the luck of the draw might force you to play a low combination of cards.

It is quite likely that you’ll be able to play all of your explorers and temples as they are the highest numbered cards in your deck.  I suppose it would be pretty easy to connect your temples right next to your explorers. The trick here is to get longer paths between them so that you can score points for the gems/gold nuggets.  These points will end up being the difference between winning and losing.

Gameplay is generally snappy – it usually doesn’t take too long to choose which two cards out of three to choose from your hand, and when it comes time to play the cards; you’ve probably already been thinking about where to play them in the process of choosing which cards to take from your hand.

Overall, I think that this game is a bit lighter than the original version, but K:tCG does come in a much smaller package and can expand to include up to 6 players – so it has a lot going for it from that standpoint.  The game is quite easy to pick up and learn, even more so if you’ve played the original Karuba. It is hard to say which one I prefer more at this point; but lucky for me, the gaming basement is big enough to keep both of them around for now!

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (2 plays): It’s not so hard for me to say which one I prefer; for me, the board game is excellent, and the card game is pleasant.  The randomness of when cards come up also moves the game significantly away from the “everyone tries to get the most out of the same draws” of the board game, which is not an issue – but it can make the card game a bit sharp, given a suboptimal order.  The card game is short enough as to not be an issue, but it definitely makes the board game a better fit for me.


Dan Blum (3 plays): I like this a bit more than Joe does but I agree with his points in general. It’s also not a lot of fun to draw a hand of very low cards thus ensuring you will have to discard one no matter what you do. However, the game is short enough I still enjoy it, and the small size and the fact it supports six players mean that there are reasons to play it instead of Karuba.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. Craig M., Dan Blum
  • Neutral. Joe H. John P
  • 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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