- Designers: Oren Shainin and Yaniv Kahana
- Publisher: Lifestyle Boardgames
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 20-40 minutes
- Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Lifestyle Boardgames
Kauchuk was a surprise find for me in the run-up to Essen. There were about 1,000 games which I glanced at on the BGG preview, and obviously there wasn’t enough time to look in depth at them all. The new games from Russia have been of varying quality over the past few years, though I did tell myself that I would look at them a bit more closely after completely missing Smartphone last year (from Cosmodrome, another Russian game company which is relatively new to me). In any event, my love of escape room games had me looking at Escape from the Asylum – an entry to that genre – and then I decided to look at their other Essen release, Kauchuk.
After taking demos (and taking into consideration my luggage weight and space), I actually ended up only taking home Kauchuk – a very interesting take on an area control game. The gimmick in the game is that you are playing rubberbands to the board which is a plastic affair with raised posts. There are actually 8 different scenarios/games in the box, and each has its own playmat which is nestled down onto the base of the board with the posts coming up through the various holes.
To start the game, your group must first choose which of the 8 scenarios to play, and then find the board for the correct number of players and install the paper board over the posts and onto the board. Each player gets a supply of rubberbands in their color, and the scoring marker of matching color is placed on the start of the VP track. The VP track is built around the base of the board. There are also a supply of blue power gems which is kept nearby. Finally, if your scenario needs to track the number of rounds, there is a track for this as well.
The rules for each scenario are nicely and concisely outlined in the corner of each board, but I would certainly recommend reading the rules which are specific for the board prior to starting. While each of the 8 scenarios uses the same basic turn structure, each has its own ways of scoring points, ending the game as well as other rules unique to it.
The starting player gets four movement cards from the deck and then each player in turn order gets one more than the previous player. The rest of the movement cards are placed near the board, and a display of 5 cards is set face up on the table. Each of the cards has a color/shape on it that corresponds to the color/shapes found at the base of each of the pegs on the board (yellow star, red circle, blue hex, green diamond, grey square).
On a turn, the active player has two actions. There are two options, and you can do the same action twice if you want. The first option is to take 2 cards. You can take any combination of two cards – either from the face up supply on the table or the facedown deck. After you have taken both cards, replenish the face up display back to 5 cards.
The other option is to play a rubber band to the board. To do so, you will have to discard cards from your hands that match the symbols on the posts you will encircle. If you do not have the right cards, you can always use a matching pair of cards to replace any one card you do not have. If you already have a rubberband around a post, you do not have to play the card for that post as you already exert control over it.
The rules for each scenario tell you where you must start when placing your first rubberband, and then afterwards, you must also play a rubberband so that it shares a post with a previously explored area (i.e. you already have a band around at least one of the posts) – well unless the scenario rules tell you otherwise! As you place your rubberband, you discard cards for posts which you are the first person to use; if you use a post which already has opponent’s bands on it, you give the card you used for that post to that opponent (your choice is more than one opponent is there). If you played a pair of cards for that post, you must give those to your opponent(s) who were there previously.
Now, look to see if you have explored or enclosed anything – that is, if you have encircled parts of the board which have not been claimed by anyone else. Exploring is a simple concept; look directly down at the area on the inside of the rubberbanded area, and victory points (gold coins) and power gems (blue gems) which are in that area are collected by the active player. Move your marker ahead on the track for each coin, and take a gem for each one you see. Slightly more complicated is the idea of Enclosing. In this case, you look to see if you have indirectly controlled an area of the board via the outside edges of multiple previous explorations. Again, collect the coins and gems as found in that area. All coins and gems on the board can only be collected once per game. So, if an opponent has already explored an area, you cannot later enclose part of that area and then collect the things shown on the board.
After you have taken your two actions, you have the option once to turn in 3 blue gems to take one additional action – again from the same two choices. Afterwards, your turn is over and the next player goes. The game ends based on the specific rules for the scenario. In all cases, players will always take an equal number of turns in the game. After the final round is complete, players can convert sets of 3 blue gems for one VP each. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player who used the fewest rubberbands in the game.
So – now let me explain the rules to a few of the scenarios – as you will see – you’re kind of getting 8 different games in the box as each scenario is fairly different from the rest.
Scenario 1 – Jungle Temples. In this scenario, each player starts on one side of the board, and likely plays towards the opposite side (though, they are certainly not required to do so). You score points by controlling coins on the board, and there is a racing aspect to this scenario. The first player to be able to encircle a post on the side opposite where they started will score 8 VP immediately. The second player to do so gets a 6VP bonus. This scenario continues through the round where at least one player has scored 18 VP.
Scenario 2 – Volcano. This scenario is limited to 6 rounds. In this game, players start on a pin around the central volcano; which is erupting, and which all players are trying to escape. The goal is to score the most points, and as you are fleeing the volcano, you must make sure that you have at least 7 energy tokens left over at the end of the game. If you do not, you are eliminated from winning. The player with the most points at the end of 6 rounds wins.
Scenario 8 – Labyrinth. In this scenario, players have exactly 18 rubberbands to use. When played to the board, they are only played in a direct line comprising exactly two posts. All of the things to be collected lie only on the lines between posts. When you start, you must designate which end of your initial placement is the head of your trail and which is the tail. For the rest of the game, you may only extend your chain from the tail end. You are only allowed to have one path in this game. Each time you cross your own path, you take a penalty of 5 points on the scoretrack. The game end when one player runs out of rubberbands. There are three special artifacts which can be collected (helmet, sword, shield) and at the end of the game, you will score 5 points for each complete set of the three artifacts.
As you can see, each of the scenarios will play differently, and you will have to come up with different strategies for each. For me, this variety is one of the main strengths of the game. Thus far, we have been able to play a different scenario each time, and I have really enjoyed getting to explore each one thus far. Each individual game has been fairly short so far, usually 20-30 minutes, and I look forward to finishing my first play of each of the scenarios. I have certainly liked exploring them thus far.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Mark J: Each year, the word “innovative” gets bandied about referring to board games… and many of them are not innovative, just well-made. Kauchuk is innovative… and very, very cool.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Mark J, Craig V
- I like it
- Not for me…