Kachina, from Bucephalus Games, is a deceptively simple game with a lot more to it than an initial reading of the rules would indicate. Placing numbered tiles one-at-a-time in crossword-like arrangements, players score points (one for each tile in the row or column) when the tile they place is the highest numbered in that column or row. Of the tiles (numbered 1 through 8), though, those with numbers 1 to 6 also have special powers. For example, when placed on the board, the value of the Wolf (number 4) is equal to the sum of all the Wolf tiles in the row or column. The Eagle (number 5) can be played on top of another tile already on the board, even covering one of a higher number. And the Hummingbird (number 2) dominates any row or column when in position at both ends.

This combination, while pretty straightforward, can yield a very engaging experience. I started my first game expecting something quick and easy but ended up spending the next 45 minutes in a fair degree of concentration. It’s one of those games where you can get so involved in setting up your own moves, that you neglect to notice killer moves set up by your opponents. I’m ready to play some more!

I do have one small complaint, and that is with one part of the game’s components. On the one hand, the tiles are solid, with nice artwork, and the game comes with thick cardboard reference cards to remind players of each tile’s special powers. On the other hand, the pieces used for keeping score are a little difficult to track visually. The colors on the scoring markers don’t stand out very well, and the score board has a number-track lined-up in such a way that it’s difficult to read. Still, I wouldn’t consider this a major issue and it’s easy to work around. Also, Bucephalus has told me that they recognize the problem and already have plans to correct it in the next printing.

While Kachina is clearly an abstract strategy game, I also very much appreciated Bucephalus’ choice for the little theme that is there. The company could easily have gone with something standard, like medieval knights. Instead, the game is about Hopi spirits and the power struggles among them. I doubt you’ll find that subject matter already covered by another game on your shelf.

A copy of Kachina was provided to me for free by Bucephalus Games.