About BoardGameGuru

BoardGameGuru is a UK based online retailer, specialising in board games.

To use the shop, please follow the link below:


To read the full articles below, please follow the link to their own pages.

Hawaii - Tactical Tips and Strategic Surmises

I have played Greg Daigle’s wonderful game 10 times face to face and about 70 times on boardgamearena. Most of the following is mainly applicable to 2 and 3 player, because the resources and tiles don’t scale with the number of players the game provides a different experience with different numbers of players. I am going to assume you are familiar with the rules and may even have played the game once or twice.

Hawaii is a tactical game, with a little strategic direction sometimes imparted by the lie of the tiles and first round cost of tiles and gods. Over the five rounds the game follows the well worn path of shifting from purchasing income producing assets to Point scoring assets – however the random placement of the 10 areas where you purchase tiles or income tiles being expensive in the first couple of rounds can turn the game on its head – you might need to go for the foundation of victory points first and pray your income will carry you through.
Points come in five ways.

a) From the five end round scorings.
b) From Kahunas at the end of the game (45 Points max)
c) From Visiting Islands
d) In game scoring from spear huts, Ku and Lono gods
e) End games bonus tiles and gods

Most beginners focus on scoring at round end and from Kahunas and a typical score in the first couple of games in 70 to 90 points. However, after a few games you should be looking to score in excess of 120 on a tough pitch and up to 160 on a good one – and I have seen a score of 197.

Opening moves

Rule number one ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ – if a tile costs two and is going to provide you with income throughout the game grab it – and pay double for the double benefit. Each player gets a set, and declining income, each round of the two currencies (Shells and Feet). The income declines so sharply that by the fifth round you only receive three feet and five Shells – enough for one purchase and certainly not enough to get you over the increasing end round scoring threshold. So you need some supplemental income. The income available is from Shell, Feet and Fruit huts (fruit is the third currency – a wild card). One or, preferably, two double tiles from these three will set you up for the rest of the game. If you take fruit then you almost certainly need an exchange hut to be able to convert resources from one type to another

Rule number two – grab a double boat as early as you can. If a boat is going to cost 2 then it’s almost always my auto first move to buy a double. It’s almost impossible to win against a competent player without a boat – and a double boat means you can reach the last island AND you save one feet on all of your island visits. Assuming you go every round (on average I visit four islands in a game) then it has paid for itself by the end of the game and resources are so tight in this game that can make the difference between winning and losing

Why is the boat necessary? Because visiting islands scores points (the furthest scores you 9 which is huge) and you also get a ‘double’ version of a tile to place in a village. Most importantly it’s the most efficient use of the Feet currency – you can spend all your feet running around the island or you can visit an island using just feet. There will often be a round when the price of the tiles you want is prohibitive, turn order and a big boat will usually make up for that. Another beauty of boats is that it gets you back to the beach for nothing if you have walked to the top of the island. Multiple boats purchases are sometimes seen and if your income is foot heavy this can be a killer source of points – though at the expensive of letting your opponent get more cheap tiles on Hawaii. Multiple boats is quite powerful in four or five player games if you (almost) are the only person using them

So having established 2 golden rules I am now going to give you an exception. Watch out for the gods! There are two gods who may merit a first choice; especially if there are plentiful cheap income earners out there. First is Pele, if you can pay double for him at the beginning of the game then he will provide you a huge saving in the cost of feet. Moreover he grants you the ability to jump around grabbing tiles from an opponent who has tried to map an efficient walk up or down the island. I won’t normally take the single version of this god as it often does not payback the cost. The other god to consider taking early is Kanaloa – If the income producing tiles are expensive AND the boat/surfer part of the island is near the beach then a double Kanaloa god can score you mega points at game end – 4 points for each boat and surfer.

One of the best players on Boardgamearena likes to take a double spear hut in the first round, with the aim of scoring lots of in game points, especially if he can pick up two double spear huts and a Ku god. It’s very effective in four and five player games and needs to be countered in two player by denying cheap Speer huts to your opponent

Third rule

The Kanaloa god should probably be here – if Income tiles are expensive or you are at the back of the turn order and they have gone then don’t pay more for the same assets as your opponents. Think about grabbing end game scorers or enablers. Normally I would like to get these tiles later in the game or from visiting an island but if there is slim pickings then the mighty Hula girl and Irrigation are worth an early pick. The Hula girl is one of the two most ignored tiles by beginners (the other is the Surfer). But one or two of these grass skirted ladies is almost always necessary to win. To explain why I need to move on to ...

Village Construction

In your first game Kahuna points seems the most obvious way of scoring at the end game – and beginners will set out on a path of building five villages down the board – with excessive purchase of the long hut early in the game (I almost always won’t touch ‘em – and think I have paid double for one maybe once in 60 games). At the end of the game their tableau might look like five short villages of two to four tiles with a maximum score of 45 for Kahunas. However, whilst we all love to score the max for Khaunas the average number of Kahuna points scored by the winner is 30 (according to the stats on boardgamearena) . And the reason for this is that end game bonus points from the Hula girl, irrigation and god or two more than make up for not scoring one (sometimes two Kahunas)
Most of your villages need to be just long enough to score the Kahuna i.e. they must reach under your leftmost Tiki. I like to have one long Village which will score me lots for a double Hula girl (20 – 24 points is common) and 10 points from the Irrigation tile – they work very well together as the fruits score you both for Irrigation and the Hula girl.
The other point to make about village construction, which I sometimes get tempted by cheap tiles to ignore is that you need to start a send village and preferably a third as soon as possible –because if you don you might miss out on a super cheap god that appears or a second Hula girl.

Because the Hula girl is so useful I would not delay in picking one early to midgame. A lot of my opponents will wait till the end game and then it’s possible to take it from them – it might only net you four points in a short village but it can cost them a lot more.
So my template is one long village and three or four more that just scrape in under the wire. It’s not the only approach though and in a tough game with Fruits and Irrigation at the top of the board then you have to be flexible and look elsewhere.

End of round scoring

You got to be in it to win it. This holds good most of the time in two player, less so with more players. It’s pretty simple in two player if you don’t make the end of round threshold you are gifting your opponent a lot of net points. In 3 player plus if you are not going to place first or second then the resources spent gaining scraps from crossing the threshold might be better spent elsewhere – or saved till the next round.

Surfers are a great investment from round 2 onwards – they will help get you past the threshold – you won’t necessarily win the scoring but you are only giving up a few points round on round and in a tricky round they might mean you are the only person scoring. I don’t think I have ever taken a surfer on the first round unless I am playing against someone who does not know the value of boats (you buy them from the same island location). Another beginner mistake is to value the price tokens in the second and onwards turn order spaces above turn order. This is almost a golden rule – if you know you are going to make the end of round threshold then go for turn order. In a two player game you are giving up three points to go first – and most of the time that will repay itself many times. Where I might be happy to go second is in that rare position where I am going into the last round with nothing essential left to do, or (in a two player game) I know by going second it means my opponents won’t make the threshold – and even then I might want to go first if there is a tile I absolutely have to have (say a double kahuna or tiki)

Fishing – it’s a wonderful pastime but something I only use on rare occasions in Hawaii, especially in a two or three player game. Resources are precious and I don’t want to use them (and a boat) in pinching a few points at the end of the round. If I have spare capacity and for one foot can get in the scoring or win the scoring it’s a good trade off – that does not happen often though. Once in a blue moon you might grab a fish just to get you back to the beach for free. In the four and five player game fishing is much more important because the end of round scoring can be a larger percentage of total points than in the two and three player game.

Which comes on to my last point. Often you are presented with the decision on your last move ‘ I can take this crap tile for five and get in the scoring or save my resources till the next round’ – If you can save the resources and grab first spot in turn order that’s often the right way to go. Don’t feel compelled to spend all of your resources every round – especially in expensive rounds.

When to shoot for end game scoring

The beauty of this game is that there is no correct answer to this – so many ‘build engine then score Vps’ games have a narrow tipping point – as I have suggested earlier Hawaii does not. By leaving it to the last or penultimate round to grab Hula girls and irrigation and gods you are risking the caprice of the cost tiles and the ability of other players to take them before you. When I lose it’s often because I have neglected to take Tikis and been forced to pay through the nose at the end of the game. I think I have only once seen someone win without taking any Tikis – and if you have invested in Kahunas and a village that does not score you will be in peril. Tikis are almost always an instant choice if they appear on an island and I have to think long and hard if they appear cheaply on round two. In three player and upwards I‘d almost say they are the most important tiles to secure because of their scarcity and importance in enabling other end game scoring. In a four player game I’d take them on round one.

Some thoughts on tiles

Ku – Lovely in a Spear heavy strategy. Good if cheap for the foot income
Kane – Good for the income and very useful in multiplayer for the option to purchase a tiki. Happy to pay double for in first round for the income.

Lono – I am usually happy to pick this god up late in the game to fill space and for a few extra points. My wife likes to double him on the first round for up to 20 points over the game. Like Kane probably more powerful in the four or five player games with tighter scoring

Laka – The icing on the cake of a Fruit/Irrigation/Hula/Long village strategy

Exchange huts – I struggle in games where I don’t have one exchange hut, I have never paid double for one, though 2 have sometimes proved useful in the last round

Kahunas – In a two player game I try to delay taking them, there are three spots open so its quite likely they will be available and cheap late in the game. In multiplayer I take them when they are available and cheap.

Long Huts – They have more value in 3+ player games as Tikis are scarcer.

A last note on gods - be warned, don't take a marginal scoring god in the last round - it might just reveal a killer scorer for your opponent(s) to grab


Hawaii is a tactical game, with some strategic considerations. My approach has been fairly successful on boardgamearena – though I have been totally schooled by the designer Greg Daigle who likes a thin income strategy, and other players swear by Spear huts .If I ever go into a game with an inflexible approach then I lose. The most important consideration is efficiency and adapting to the changing game board, what I like so much about Hawaii is how every game provides a slightly different challenge depending on the initial island lay out and the changing cost of tiles. I hope this article gives you some food for thought, and If I have missed anything please do let me know. Maybe we will meet on boardgamearena.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Very usefull guide... thank you for your suggestions

  3. I must say that overall I am very taken with this site. It is apparent that you know you subject matter and you are passionate about it.