You’re racing your kayak down-river. Maybe up-river. Well, not really a kayak. More like a brightly-colored wooden playing piece that looks a little like an iron with a knob in the middle. On the other hand, it’s enough kayak-like to give you that kayak-racing feeling. And it’s not actually a river, you know, but a brightly colored, pleasantly thick, nicely textured piece of cardboard showing something like a rocky river bottom divided into 5 different-colored lanes. One of 8 pleasantly thick river pieces, now that we’re counting. Some of them have boulders in some of the lanes. Others have rapids. Rapids good. Boulders bad.
And then there’s a deck of 54 action cards – also nicely textured, but sufficiently shufflable and dealable and hand-holdable. And, as advertised, it’s in these very action cards where the action takes place – cards that let you move forward or sideways or reposition the river cards, even. Each of up to 4 players is dealt a hand of 5 action cards. On your turn, you get to play as many as 3 cards. Having this choice accounts for much of the fun, significantly enhancing the strategic depth of the game.
The cards are clearly illustrated and color-coded. There are single and double “paddle” cards that allow you to go forward or backwards one or two spaces. There are single and double “swerve” cards which allow you to swerve into an adjacent lane – one or two spaces, in either direction. “Weather Shift” cards allow you to shift any river card so that one lane becomes unplayable (preferably the lane your opponents are on). “Kayak Tipping” cards allow you to rotate a river card. “Whirlpool” cards let you exchange the positions of any two adjacent river cards. And Life Ring cards can prevent another player from playing any of the cards that affect the river cards.
The strategic value of each type of cards encourages players to think hard about what to play and what to keep for another turn. The choice between moving your kayak closer to the goal, or changing the course of the river to keep your opponents from reaching theirs, adds greatly to the tension and the fun of the game.
The name of the game is Kayak Chaos, but the game is only somewhat chaotic. Just chaotic enough to give you hope that you may actually win, but strategically deep enough to make you feel that you can overcome whatever obstacles the river, your opponents, and plain dumb luck send your way.
Designed by SDR Games and published by Simply Fun, Kayak Chaos turns out to be an original and compelling little game. Because of the different kinds of Action Cards and the nature of the river, it takes a little longer to learn (maybe 15 minutes), but it’s a game just short enough (maybe 20 minutes) for even your short-attention-spanning computer-playing kids to want to play again and again. With just enough balance between luck and skill to engage kids over 8, and their families, Kayak Chaos proves to be absorbing, glee-evoking, and, from time-to-time, Major FUN.