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Kalua Board Game Review and Rules

How to Play | Review | Final Verdict | Comments

How to Play

Setup

  • Sort the cards between the disaster cards (local and global) and the bonus cards. Shuffle the two decks. Each player then draws five cards. Players can choose how many cards they draw from each deck.
  • Each player is given 10 families represented by meeples. The grey meeples represent 1 family while the black meeples represent 5 families.
  • Each player takes the meeple of the color they choose as well as the cube of the same color. The cube is placed on the 5 spot on the Kalua board.
  • Each player is given 5 prayer points. Prayer points are represented by the colored cubes with the white cubes representing one prayer point and the red cubes representing five prayer points.
  • Three families are placed on the Kalua board for every player in the game. For example in a four player game twelve families would be placed on the Kalua board.
  • Choose who will start the game.

Playing the Game

On a player’s turn they will perform five actions. The actions are as follows:

  1. Draw Cards
  2. Activate Leader
  3. Play Action Cards
  4. Convert Families
  5. Pray

Drawing Cards: The current player starts their turn by drawing cards from one or both of the decks of cards. If the player has less than five cards, they draw cards until they have five in their hand. If the player already has five cards in their hand, they get to draw one card. At any time during the game a player can pay five prayer points in order to draw another card.

Activate Leader: Every player that still has a leader will perform this action. The current player gets to choose one action first followed by the next player in a clockwise direction and so on. The players can choose one of the following actions:

  1. Increase your people’s happiness by 1 on the Kalua board.

    Increase Happiness in Kalua
    The red player has chosen to increase their happiness by one.
  2. Take two families from the Kalua board.

    Gather Families in Kalua
    The green player has chosen to take two additional families from the Kalua board.
  3. Take one family from another player.

    Steal Family in Kalua
    The yellow player has chosen to steal one family from the green player.
  4. Sacrifice you leader and take five families from the Kalua board.

    Sacrifice Leader in Kalua
    The blue player decided to sacrifice their leader in order to get five additional families.

Playing Cards: All of the players have the ability to play cards from their hand. The current player can play as many cards as they want while the other players can play one card. The current player plays their cards first and then the rest of the players play cards in a clockwise manner. A player can choose not to play a card. In order to play a card the player has to pay prayer points equal to the number next to the tiki head on the card that they want to play.

Paying Prayer Points in Kalua
To play this card the player has to pay six prayer points.

After everyone has played their cards, the cards are resolved in the order that they are played.

There are three types of cards:

  1. Bonus Cards: These cards are played on yourself and give you a benefit.

    Bonus Cards in Kalua
    This bonus card gives the player who played it two additional happiness.
  2. Local Disaster Cards: These cards are played against another player and only affect that player. The player chooses who to play the card against when the card is resolved.

    Local Disaster in Kalua
    This local disaster will take one happiness away from the player it is played against. That player will also lose one family to the Kalua board and one family will be killed and removed from the game.
  3. Global Disaster Cards: These cards punish all of the players. It costs 0 prayer points to play the card. The player who plays the card can choose to pay six prayer points in order to protect themselves from the card’s effects. If the player pays twelve prayer points the card will deal the effects of the card to all players twice (including the player who played the card).

    Global Disaster in Kalua
    With this global disaster all of the players affected will lose one family to the Kalua board and one family will die and be removed from the game. Each player will get to roll the die to see how much happiness they get and each player will also get one prayer point. If the player who played the cards pays six prayer points they are immune from the card’s effects. If the player pays twelve prayer points the effects of the card are doubled.

All of the cards use symbols to indicate the effects of the card. The symbols are as follows:

  • Prayer Point Kalua Prayer Points
  • Lose Families in KaluaThe player has to give up a family to the Kalua board.
  • Take Family Symbol Kalua The player can take a family from the Kalua board.
  • Happiness Symbol in Kalua Happiness
  • Discard Card Symbol from KaluaDiscard a card.
  • Card Symbol in Kalua This card is kept on the table until it is destroyed.
  • Family Dies Symbol Kalua A family is killed and is removed from the game.
  •  New Leader Symbol KaluaThe player who plays the card recovers their leader.

There are three cards that have a special ability.

Special Cards in Kalua

  • Temple: This card stays in front of a player until someone plays a “temple destroyed” card against the player. The benefits of the card are applied during the praying action.
  • Amulets: This card stays in front of a player until they use it. By using the amulet the player avoids losing any families due to the effects of another card.
  • New Leader: One of your families becomes the new leader of your religion. You take your leader meeple back but remove one of your family meeples from the game.

Convert Families: After cards are played, the players determine which families will convert to new religions (go to a new player). The families that will convert depends on each player’s happiness.

  • If all of the players have the same happiness, no families convert to another religion.
  • The player with the least happiness has to give up two of their families into a convert pool. If there are two or more players tied for the least happiness, all of the tied players have to give up two families.
  • The players that don’t have the most or least happiness have to give up one of their families to the convert pool.

The player with the most happiness will then take the families from the convert pool (up to a maximum of three families). If two or more players have the most happiness, the tied players will share the convert pool with any remainder being put on the Kalua board. If there are more families in the convert pool than the player(s) with the most happiness can take, those families are put on the Kalua board.

Recruit Families in the game Kalua
The blue player has the least happiness so they must give up two of their families to the convert pool. The yellow and green player would have to give up one of their families to the convert pool. The red player would take three of the families from the convert pool and the remaining family would be added to the Kalua board.

Praying: All players will receive prayer points based on how many families they currently have. A player receives one prayer point for every five families rounded up. The player(s) with the least happiness get an additional four prayer points. The players that are not the happiest or unhappiest get two additional prayer points.

Receiving Prayer Points in Kalua
The player on the left only has one family so they only get one prayer point. The middle player has six families so they get two prayer points. The right player has eleven families so they get three prayer points.

At this point players will check for the end game conditions. If the end game conditions are not met a new round is played with the next player becoming the current player.

End of Game

A player is not eliminated from the game unless they have lost all of their families and no longer have their leader.

The game continues until only one player has any families left at the end of the prayer action. The player who has families left is the winner. If a global disaster card is played and all of the players lose all of their families, the player who had the most families before the disaster card wins the game. If two or more players had the same number of families, all of the tied players share the victory.

Winning Kalua
Since the green player is the only player to have any families remaining, the green player has won the game.

Review

At its’ heart Kalua is a take that game. Basically you are trying to mess with the other players more than they mess with you. You can build up your own group of followers and their happiness but the other players will quickly tear it down. The only way to really win the game is to be aggressive and try to take down the other players before they take you down. Not being a huge fan of take that games, I really didn’t know what to think of Kalua. The game does some interesting things but has quite a few issues that keeps it from being anything more than a very average game.

One positive with the game is that it is pretty easy to learn for a game with as many mechanics as the game has. The game might look a little complex but it is quick and easy to teach. I would say that the game takes five to ten minutes to learn. Once you understand the process of each turn the game moves pretty quickly. The main hurdle to understanding the game is understanding what all of the different symbols on the bottom of the cards mean.

The thing I liked most about Kalua is the idea that you have to balance happiness, prayer points and number of families. I thought it was clever that happiness and prayer points were kind of inverses of each other. The happier your people are, the less prayer points you get. If your people are too unhappy though you will end up losing your families to other players. This balancing act is an interesting idea and could have made for a really interesting game. At times the mechanic works but other times it just doesn’t work.

I applaud Kalua from giving players different options of how to play the game but some of the options don’t seem like good options until they are forced on you. For example the ability to sacrifice your leader is a terrible option unless you have to do it. Unless you have the card that will immediately bring back your leader, there is no reason to sacrifice your leader before you have next to no families remaining. Having a leader gives you the ability to get back into the game so I don’t know why you would give up that ability just to take five families. This decision just feels like a last ditch effort to get back into the game.

Another problem with a lot of the actions are that they are dependent on there being families on the Kalua board. Maybe it is because my group is really conservative in games but it seemed like there were rarely ever any families on the Kalua board. This essentially takes away the benefits of a lot of cards and takes away two possible leader actions. If there are no families on the Kalua board you can only steal families from other players or raise your happiness for your leader action. This resulted in all of the players having a happiness above seven and players just stealing families from whichever player had the most families.

Card draw luck also seems to be pretty prevalent in the game. The players who draw the best cards in the game have a big advantage in the game. In particular the temple cards, amulet cards, and the cards that give you your leader back are the most powerful. The card that gives you your leader back is powerful as long as you can take all five families from the Kalua board since it nets you four families. The amulet card is really powerful since it can prevent you from losing families when all of the other players get decimated by a disaster. The most powerful card though is the temple card. This is by far the most powerful card in the game since whenever a player was able to play one they almost immediately moved into first place with the most families and happiness.

While you can impact your fate in the game, luck is a large determining factor. In addition to card draw luck, how much the other players target you plays a big role in your fate in the game. Kalua is largely a take that game so whoever is messed with least has a big advantage in the game. Timing also seems to play a big role in the game. The player who ultimately wins the game seems to be the player who has the victory fall into their lap due to cards drawn or by the other players eliminating each other.

The biggest problem that I had with Kalua was that the game drags on for far too long. There is just too much back and forth in the game. One player will get a lead in happiness or number of families and then the players will just target that player and will take their happiness or families from them. At times the game feels like an exercise of passing meeples and cubes around the table. Kalua is the type of game that would work best as a 15-20 minute game. The game runs closer to an hour for most people. If all of the players are really aggressive though I could actually see the game ending in minutes.

The biggest problem with the length is that the beginning of the game feels kind of pointless. What you do early in the game really has little impact on the final outcome of the game. Unless you play really poorly or get unlucky and get eliminated early, your early actions don’t have much of an impact. With families and happiness changing so often, your early actions don’t feel like they matter since they will get reversed by the end of the game. Since the early game doesn’t really matter it just feels like you are wasting time until enough families are eliminated from the game where it is possible to eliminate the other players. Nothing really can happen in the game until a lot of families are eliminated because it is too easy to get new families which prevents players from being eliminated. Since the lead changes so often it just feels like whoever gets lucky at the end of the game will end up winning the game.

Even though the players tend to stay pretty close to one another for most of the game, Kalua has a problem where the leader can easily expand on their lead if the other players don’t gang up on them. A player that has a large lead in the number of families will generate a lot of prayer points which allows them to play more cards which they can use to extend their lead in families and happiness. Usually this is not a big problem though since the players can easily gang up on the leader. If the players don’t gang up on the leader though the leader will continue to expand on their lead.

The instructions are fine for the most part but there are a couple areas where more explanation could have been helpful. The biggest problem with the rules is what happens when a player is down to just their leader. When I played the game I interpreted the rules to mean that a player was not eliminated from the game if they were down to just their leader. The instructions never say what happens though when a player loses families and they don’t have any families left other than their leader. Based on the instructions that say that a player is not eliminated when they still have their leader, we played the game where the player just didn’t lose any families in this situation. I don’t think this is how the game is intended to be played though since I am guessing that a player is forced to sacrifice their leader if they lose families and have none remaining. If that is not the case this rule ruins the game because it just lets players stay in the game for way too long and lets players that should have been eliminated from the game easily come back and win the game.

Component wise the game is decent. The artwork is pretty nice and uses a theme not used by a lot of other games. The balance between happiness and prayer points is also a really nice touch for the theme. The cards make heavy use of symbols which lead to some confusion when you are first learning the game but you eventually get used to them. Otherwise the components are quite average. The meeples are typical meeples. I think the game could have used something better than cubes to represent prayer points though.

Final Verdict

Kalua is a very average game. The idea of trying to balance your followers and their happiness is an interesting idea that could have made for a good game. I had some fun with the game. The problem is that luck plays too big of role in the game and the game drags on for way too long. The early game doesn’t seem to even matter as it feels like whoever gets lucky at the end of the game will end up winning. Kalua is not a terrible game and I wouldn’t be opposed to playing the game again. It probably isn’t something that I would request though.

If you like take that games I think you could enjoy Kalua. If you don’t really like take that games though I don’t think it is going to be the game for you. If you think the game sounds interesting and you can get a really good deal on the game, it is probably worth picking up Kalua. Otherwise I would probably pass on the game.

If you would like to purchase Kalua you can purchase it on Amazon here.

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