Updated: Oct 24
Boy, this is a tough game to review: it's not that I don't like the game; I have fun while playing it and, in fact, everyone who played the review copy enjoyed it, from ages 9 to 54. It's not that I can't pin the game down, either: it's a dexterity party game, for sure, with variable powers to maintain some freshness. It's not even that I can't stand the sport of wrestling in any way, shape or form - in this case Mexican - which is the pasted-on theme. No, it's more that I lack in two key areas: one, I am no longer a teenager (far from it, in fact); and, two, I'm allergic to alcohol. These, I think, are two potential key elements of enjoying Chaka! that I am poorly placed to opine upon and, combined, is likely to be the demographic that would enjoy the game most. So, as that's not a perspective I can give you, bear it in mind as I, approaching half a century on this planet, take a grown-up - but still favourable - look at a very childish game.
Designed by Raphael Pilz and Martin Pilz, with art by Bojan Simonoski, Chaka!'s main components are 120 or so poker chips of good weight and finish in four colours, with each colour assigned a variable 'ability'. As the game progresses, these chips form a stack that will inevitably fall, likely several times. Players try to avoid taking 'damage': damage tokens accrue through misplays, either by knocking the stack over, or not following the base rules and colour abilities. If you do make an error or take too long for your turn, you take 1 damage; if one to five chips fall from the stack, also 1 damage; if six or more chips fall, it's 2 damage: fewest damage tokens wins at game end. The box lid itself is the 'board' for the game: I do like it when a light game utilises the box itself.
As a (usually) sensible grown-up, I did not bother - though nor did any grown-up or kid who played - with saying 'Chaka! Chaka!' every time a chip is placed, notionally within three seconds of the previous. It's just not going to happen for a lot of people and it's a shame the rules didn't allow for that, as several card abilities play off it. About half the abilities are fair and fine and fun for all - switch hands while playing, drop the chip from a height, place the chip blind - but many comprise spoken ones 'speak in a high-pitched voice' and/or NSFW ones, 'make a rude gesture' or 'slap ass'... Yeah, thanks but no thanks.
Which is kind of a shame: as I said everyone who played the game enjoyed it, despite most having misgivings at the outset. But the simple atom of putting a poker chip on a stack, which teeters precariously for much of the game, flat out works and the barracking of players adds to the banter, especially when trying to make others forget rules to ensure a misplay.
The game notionally takes 2–10 players but the top end of the player count might be problematic for some: while utilising the box lid is quite cool, the prospect of having any more than a half dozen players crowded around such a small space gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. We just kept to manageable numbers while playing. We found as well, that the rules as written make the game take too long for its weight; a single round, maybe two, is enough.
At time of writing, I was amused to note that my son and I accounted for 100% of the logged plays on BoardGameGeek. There's a good chance those who would play Chaka! one hundred percent in the spirit it is meant to be played in would not be the kind of party people to log plays; or maybe I just don't get invited to those kind of parties. Either way, there's a fun game here, however you decide to play it. Just don't slap my wife's ass!
(Review by David Fox)