The Elephant Festival in the Indian province of Kerala is underway! Highly decorated elephants are paraded upon festively decorated platforms. Music fills the air and vibrant colors adorn everything. Kerala is an abstract game tile-laying game that has players competing to create the most elegant elephant platform in order to win the award for best in show.
The goal of Kerala is to have large contiguous areas of each color. Points are lost at the end of the game for color tiles that aren’t attached to the largest group of similarly colored tiles.
Kerala starts with each player placing their Start Tile on the table with their 2 wooden elephants on top of the tile. If there are less than 5 people playing a certain number of tiles (that don’t match the player colors) will be randomly removed from the game. The game tiles are tossed into the bag and shuffled up. The youngest player initiates the first round by drawing a number of tiles from the bag equal to the number of players playing and placing them in the center of the table. They then take a tile and attach it adjacent to their start tile and move one of their elephants onto it. Then, in clockwise order, the other players do the same until all the tiles from the center of the table have been taken. At this point, the bag of tiles is passed to the player on the left and the next round starts.
Future rounds of the game are similar, with the current player drawing a number of tiles equal to the number of players and then each player taking turns grabbing a tile and placing it to build their platform. Now tiles can be placed orthogonally to any tile where an elephant resides, even stacked upon other tiles. The elephant then moves into the newly placed tile. Certain tiles give players special actions that can be taken like moving elephants or tiles. There’s even a tile that contains 2 colors that can be scored for bonus points.
Once the draw bag is empty and the final tiles have been placed the game ends and players score their platforms. The largest contiguous area of each color is scored, while every other tile is removed for negative points. The player with the most points at the end is the winner.
For more details on the rules, scoring, and special tiles check out the full rules.
Kerala contains chunky, colorful tiles and beautifully decorated wooden elephants. The cloth bag is more functional than anything and serves its purpose. The iconography on each tile is easy to read and understand, which makes scoring at the end of the game a breeze. The included score pad is a nice touch, though you’ll want to make sure you make some copies.
Kerala is light but certainly takes a bit of thought to play. Players need to always think ahead about where to move their elephant to give them the best chance of using a tile from whatever set comes out during the next round while making sure to keep their colors bunched together appropriately. Special tiles introduced to a platform can be a major boon to a player, merging two areas of color together or helping them maneuver their pieces with a bit more finesse so that more opportunities arise.
While Kerala is certainly a beautiful game, it’s a bit over manufactured for what it is. Thames & Kosmos certainly could have kept the game fully intact, and still just as beautiful, in a small package, possibly with a lower price point. Kerala is fun and great for the whole family, but its box has a bit too much of a footprint and the game’s price is just a bit too high for what it actually is.
Still, as far as abstract strategy games go Kerala is pretty solid. It doesn’t stand out among its genre, but it’s by no means a bad game and fans of this style of game certainly owe it to themselves to give it a shot.
A copy of Kerala was provided free for review by Thames & Kosmos