The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Karuba - The Card Game

The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Karuba - The Card Game

Karuba: The Card Game is the latest in a long-running trend of card versions of popular board games, with notable examples of this trend including Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game and Ticket to Ride: The Card Game.

Karuba: The Card Game, like Karuba, was designed by Rudiger Dorn and is published by HABA. However, unlike its predecessor, it plays up to six players and only takes 10-15 minutes to play. The original Karuba only plays up to four, and takes 30-40 minutes to play. From here on, I’ll be referring to Karuba: The Card Game as K:TCG for short.

In K:TCG, each player will get an identical deck of sixteen cards, numbered 1-16, featuring four adventurer cards, four temples, and eight pathways, some of which have gold and gems on them. Over the course of eight rounds, players each choose two cards from their hand of three to play, and add them to a four-by-four tableau in front of them, in an effort to connect each adventurer to the temple of the matching color, with bonus points given if the route passes cards with gems and gold. However, the player with the lowest sum on the two cards they played must discard one of the two, and can only then add one card to their tableau that round.

This gives the game three main restrictions. First, the threat of losing a card any given round, especially if you are playing lower numbered cards. Second, the randomness of drawing three cards and having to play two leaves less control in the order you can play your cards. Third, the cards must be laid out in a 4x4 grid, giving the game a spatial constraint.

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Now that I’ve given a brief overview of how K:TCG plays, I want to touch on its similarities and differences with Karuba.

  • In both games, players will take square tiles -- technically, square cards in K:TCG -- and place them in a grid in front of them, maintaining a specific orientation, with a goal of connecting treasure hunters and temples, and collecting gold and gems along the way.
  • However, in K:TCG, the treasure hunters and temples are printed on the cards, and the treasure hunters are never moved. If their route reaches the correct temple, they score at the end of the game. This removes the entire race element of Karuba, where players have to balance creating pathways with discarding tiles to move their treasure hunter meeples.
  • The end condition is also different in K:TCG, as it is a set eight rounds of play, removing another important race aspect of Karuba, which ends when the first player reaches all four temples with their adventurer meeples.
  • Unlike Karuba, which requires each board to be set up identically, and for tons of tiles to be set out and viewable, K:TCG takes almost no time to set up, and takes up much less table space to play.
  • Another major difference from Karuba, is that players do not all place the same tiles each turn in K:TCG. With only sixteen cards in each deck, there wouldn’t be enough variability. Instead, they will choose two cards from a hand of three, and simultaneously reveal them, with the player that’s played the lowest sum of the two cards being forced to discard one card.

In short, K:TCG distills Karuba’s spatial puzzle of connecting the adventurers to the temples on a grid, but removes all of Karuba’s racing elements, as well as its mechanism that had everyone playing the same exact tiles at the same times throughout the game.  While the limited number of cards in the game does shrink the decision space, since the game plays in ten to fifteen minutes, that is, at least in my view, an acceptable trade off.

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Pros: K:TCG is highly portable, and takes almost no time to set up. It is easy to teach, plays very quickly, and plays up to six players well.  It is a solid distillation of the spatial aspect of Karuba. While it loses the race aspects of Karuba, it maintains an element of interactivity through the lowest sum discard mechanism.

Cons: The game could have been more portable, if not for the oversize square punchboard reference card. As previously mentioned, K:TCG does not have any of the  race aspects of the original game. The square cards can be hard to find sleeves to fit them.

Karuba: The Card Game successfully takes the main concept of Karuba and distills it into an easy-to-teach, quick playing, light spatial puzzle that plays up to six in fifteen minutes or less. It in no way replaces the original game, but supplements it for times when there is not time or space for the original.  For those reasons, it’s exactly the kind of game I always like to have on hand -- and I’ll be keeping it in my collection and adding it to my Quiver. (In order to make that work, I did have to scan in that large square reference card and make my own Quiver-friendly version).

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Karuba: The Card Game from HABA.

 My edited, Quiver-friendly version of the Karuba: The Card Game reference card.

My edited, Quiver-friendly version of the Karuba: The Card Game reference card.

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