Why I play Kahuna even though I usually lose
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Why I play Kahuna even though I usually lose

Carolin Teufelberger
Zurich, on 16.05.2022

A few weeks ago I bought myself the brilliant strategy game Kahuna. It’s taught me that having a good strategy is crucial and that I’m a painfully sore loser.

My feet are buried in sand. Gentle waves are the only movement in an otherwise calm sea. Dense jungle is right behind me. The sun beats down relentlessly. The odd cloud covering it only rarely. A white bridge connects my island Coco with its still uninhabited neighbour Gola. I’m not the only one who wants control over the island. My nemesis has already built a bridge to the other side of it. We’ll soon find out who’s pursuing the superior conquest strategy.

The rules are simple

Kahuna, a board game for two players, whisks me away to this perfect world tainted by a desire for revenge. Using your island cards, of which you can have a maximum of five at a time, you can build bridges or tear down those of your enemy. Some of the cards face up, others face down on the pile. It’s up to you which pile you draw your next card from – and whether your opponent sees the card or not. All you’re obliged to do is take one card. If you’re already holding five cards, you must either play one or more or place one face down at the bottom of the deck.

If you play both cards of connected islands, the existing bridge is destroyed.
If you play both cards of connected islands, the existing bridge is destroyed.

The aim of the game is simple: taking control over more islands than your adversary. You’re in possession of an island as soon as you’ve occupied more than half of the connections with your own bridges. Each time all the cards are gone, the possessions are counted. You can earn one point the first time you take score and two the second time. At the third score-taking you get points for every additional island you have over your opponent. It’s a matter of luck whether the right cards on the table are in your favour. Everything else is down to strategy.

Struggling with strategy

That’s why I lose quite frequently. Even in my perfect world – think balmy spring evening and quality couple time – I’m grasped by vindictiveness. Kahuna not only reveals that I’m in need of some strategic brain training. It also unmasks me as an incredibly sore loser. At least when I’m playing against my boyfriend.

He’s pretty decent at chess and owns about ten books by grandmaster Garry Kasparov. This means he has no problem thinking a few steps ahead, whereas I’m easily overpowered by my impulsiveness. Just as it did during my school days, where this trait led to many a careless mistake. In maths class, I’d occasionally forget signs. In Kahuna I overlook bridge connections or miss which card my opponent has picked up. The latter being crucial to anticipate the tactics of my opponent.

Don’t do as I do. Pay attention to what cards your opponent picks up.
Don’t do as I do. Pay attention to what cards your opponent picks up.

Our mismatched actions, which I find unsettling at the best of times, are only made worse by unnecessary comments like: «Caro, I’ve had a pretty bad day today. Can we play Kahuna, so I can have at least some sense of accomplishment?»

The angry child

I wish I could say this kind of provocation is like water off a duck’s back. But it’s not. It does exactly what it’s meant to do. It feeds my inferiority complex and puts me in the following mood: «Your day’s about to get even worse when I take over all your islands!». It goes without saying that this frame of mind makes me lose even more. The room is consumed with my childlike rage I’m always very ashamed of in hindsight. For the time being, however, I’m too busy wiping the bridges and tokens from the board with a swipe of my hand and insulting the winner.

A great game

At least I’ve improved my bad loser outbreaks to the point that they’re getting shorter and shorter. I also manage to apologise for my childish behaviour soon after. Firstly, because I’m bloody 30 years old. Secondly, because I want Kahuna to keep being fun, so that we look forward to getting it out of the drawer in the evening. It’s set up in no time, easy to understand but never dull. What’s more, a game lasts 30 minutes max. That’s perfect for someone like me, whose attention span is not the longest.

And then there’s that Polynesian atmosphere, which provides the antidote to my negative feelings. It’s the antithesis to the stress bubbling up inside me each time my hard-earned island connections are snatched from me. I dread to think how bad my mood would be if my feet weren’t dug into warm sand, but in the muck of a brutal battlefield.

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My life in a nutshell? On a quest to broaden my horizon. I love discovering and learning new skills and I see a chance to experience something new in everything – be it travelling, reading, cooking, movies or DIY.


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