With a unique theme, beautiful artwork, and engaging mechanics Karmaka is a fantastic game. The theme, which deals with reincarnation, really sets Karmaka apart from most other games on the market today. In Karmaka, in order to become the new leader of your sacred order, a test has been devised to select the most worthy contender. The test has players start life as dung beetles (which serve a very important ecological function). The goal is to live your life by the Karmic code in order to reincarnate as a higher life form each time you expire. Play your cards right (pun alert!) and you’ll move up the Karmic Ladder from insect, to reptile, to mammal, and eventually you’ll reach Transcendence. The first player to reach Transcendence wins!
The artwork is nothing short of stunning, and the painterly illustrations really draw one into the game. The rulebook is well laid out and contains large images detailing the play area, examples of play, and the anatomy of the cards. There is even a nice FAQ for all of the special ability card text. The Karmic Ladder game board, which looks amazing, is where players will keep track of how well they are doing in the race to reach Transcendence. And actually, while saying “racing to reach Transcendence” out loud, it occurred to me that the notion of racing, the desire to come in first, seems counterproductive to actually reaching a transcendent state. And maybe it is. After all, the game does reward balanced (not too aggressive but not too friendly) gameplay.
The mechanics in Karmaka are actually quite clever. As my wife so astutely put it, “Karma is a b*tch”. This sentiment is represented quite splendidly in the game. Cards that are played for their actions may be picked up by opponents to use in their future lives. The saying, “What comes around goes around” is certainly true in Karmaka. So, if you are planning on giving your opponent a little “take that” action, be prepared to have the exact same thing happen to you in the future. Of course, you opponent could take the high road and instead play that card as a deed instead, which might help them reincarnate faster.
The rules of Karmaka are quite simple: you’ll start with a few cards in your hand and a very small personal deck. Your goal is to run out of cards (in both places) while acquiring enough Karma points to ascend during reincarnation. Running out of cards signifies your death, even if you do not have enough points to ascend, and it will always take an entire turn to come back to life. Cards can be played in one of three ways: for points as Deeds, for its ability (which other players may take to be used in their next life), or you may add a card to your own future deck. On your turn you’ll draw a card from your personal deck (if it contains cards) and play a card as indicated above. You may skip playing a card on your turn, but only if your personal deck has cards in it.
As straightforward as that sounds, life is known for throwing curve balls at you. Only Deeds of matching colors are counted toward the points needed to ascend the Karmic Ladder. So, if you have 3 Blue Points, 2 Red Points, and 3 Green Points you will not move up the Karmic Ladder because the minimum points needed to is 4 and you do not have enough points in any one color that total 4. If you died in the above scenario, you’d receive a Karmic Ring since you didn’t have enough points to ascend the Karmic Ladder. Technically, you’d still reincarnate, but you’d repeat your current life cycle. During one of your later deaths, you can trade Karmic Rings for points on a 1:1 ratio.
Other players can also disrupt your best laid plans. Many abilities sabotage other players, forcing them to discard Deeds, cards from their hand, or their future life. When another player removes one of your good Deeds it really hurts and can stop you from reincarnating as a higher life form. Not all abilities are destructive though, some will allow you to draw more cards or play more than one card on your turn. Other cards mirror the abilities of other cards.
The strategic elements of Karmaka become very apparent after your first reincarnation, especially since each rung on the Karmic Ladder requires more points to attain. Should you play a particular card for its action or as a Deed (did I mention I love games in which cards can be played in multiple ways)? Will you harm your opponent’s chance to ascend, knowing the very deed could come back to haunt you? Will you try to send positive vibes to your future self, hopefully making it easier to ascend in your next life?
Karmaka is a great card game that is fun and engaging. It is easy to learn/teach, and has some beautifully illustrated cards. The mechanics work well with the theme, which is very refreshing. Karmaka is enjoyable with any player count (within its 2 – 4 player range) and has quickly moved to the top of my card game list. I highly recommend checking out Karmaka, which is currently live on Kickstarter.
((A prototype copy was received for the purposes of this review, although that did not affect the outcome of the review. Prototype components are shown and are subject to change before final production.