Game Reviews


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| Kahuna
| Kahuna

If I mention the South Pacific you'll probably be thinking about azure waters, shining white sand, and juicy pineapples.

You probably won't picture angry Polynesian gods fighting each other by conjuring magical inter-island bridges and asserting their dominance by throwing down colossal round stones with handprints on them.

But that's Kahuna in a (coco)nutshell.

Before you presume the designer is a dangerously deranged genius, rest assured that all this is a thin veneer for what's actually a very simple two-player abstract.

There's a map of interlinked islands and you have a hand of cards that correspond to island names. Play one, and you can place a bridge between it and a neighbor. Get a majority of bridges to claim the island.

But there's a neat twist: when someone gets control of an island, all her competitor's bridges which connect there are destroyed, opening up the game once again. Victory goes to the player who controls the most islands when the cards run out.

Grass skirts

None of this proves that the designer wasn't deranged. But it does demonstrate a certain level of genius.

Because, like all the best abstracts, a truly fiendish game is lurking under those deceptively placid rules. You'll need to look at your cards and try and work out a way to build a base of operations, an area from which to expand your influence.

Outer islands, or those with few connections, are easy to gain but also easy to lose. Or you can start from the centre, maximising your ability to spread but also maximising your risk of being undermined by your opponent.

The whole game is smug with similar little trade-offs. While you only draw one island card per turn, you can play as many as you like.

So do you stock up your hand for a sudden blitz, or risk losing the initiative to an enemy that's content to gain territory piecemeal? Do you build to an unsecured island now, with the danger of having your foe take control and destroy your handiwork, or suffer the possibility she might build on that connection first?

It's also surprisingly vicious. Gaining control of a hotly contested island can collapse a lot of enemy-held bridges, and that in turn can remove their control of adjacent islands. A clever move can transform the game state in a single turn, and the lead can be swapped along with it. It's not a game to play against someone who holds grudges.

Coconut shells

Which may be why developer USM has bizarrely left out a pass-the-handset option from what's otherwise a pretty polished package. There's a single-player campaign against an increasingly difficult series of AI opponents and an asynchronous play option that's smoothly integrated with Game Center. But no hotseat, which, given the ideal bite-sized ten-minute game times, seems an astonishing oversight.

The short play time may, in turn, explain another odd omission: there's no save feature in Solo mode. If you have to walk away mid-game for any reason then you'll have to start that round all over again. Combined with occasional crashes, this is absolutely infuriating - especially against some of the more challenging computer competitors.

Flowery garlands

But once you've booted up again, heard the funky hula theme tune, seen the charmingly cartoonish enemy avatars, and been soothed by the lapping waves and softly crying gulls that comprise the in-game soundtrack, you'll be ready for another bout of this absurdly addictive game.

Although USM's track record of updating its software and listening to user feedback isn't great, a patch is apparently already in the works to address some of the shortcomings. When it arrives, this'll be a fine addition to the App Store's line-up of boardgame conversions and, in spite of a few rough edges, it's already highly enjoyable as it is.


A cracking head-to-head strategy game, full of hard choices and brutal interaction. It could really use a patch, though