Five Tribes… And a Whole New World

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Base Game Review

Player/s: 2-4

Playtime (Box): 40-80mins

Playtime (Goof): 60mins

Producer/s: Days of Wonder

Designer/s: Bruno Cathala

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Growing up I enjoyed board games, but I never had the pull to them I do now. My parents had the usual collection of Guess Who, Trouble, Scrabble, Monopoly, Battleship and Trivial Pursuit. My Dad would occasionally try to get us excited at Christmas with a “how about a board game?” and we’d go into Kmart or the nearest Mr Toys Toyworld and find Disney versions of the same games we already had, play them once or twice and not touch them again.

Tabletop gaming has vastly changed. The shelves of Kmart now include Pandemic, Crowdfunding has so many various and wonderful ideas being implemented, and there are now webseries about my favourite hobby. When Christmas time rolls around, Dad comes to me for suggestions on games to get the kids.

With so much of the landscape changing around this hobby, it has left some people behind in the dark. I’ve had a lot of conversations that go along the lines of “Board games? I love board games. Except I’ve never heard the ones you’re talking about. Do you have any normal board games?”
After I recover from my heart breaking, I try to find out which games they enjoy the most. And find suitable games to transition and open up this new world to them. Depending on what they’re keen on, this normally means a game like Sushi Go!, Timelines or Zombie Dice. But in some cases, when the person is into that puzzle-like challenge, this means Five Tribes.

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Gameplay (10/10)
One aspect I adore in Five Tribes is the skill involved to play. By which I don’t mean it’s overly complicated. In fact the rules are fairly straight forward. It’s about pattern recognition, and making decisions based on an ever changing landscape. In the beginning there are tons of decisions, and you’ll find that most new players will try anything, and should be encouraged to do so. As players become more familiar with the rules they start to hone the decision making aspect. And then it’s about how many patterns can you see, how many can you filter as being useful. With the game board changing each time you play! There’s skills to be learnt in this game, and your skill base will grow over time. It’s one of those few games where you can feel yourself getting better, and you can clearly track the results.

There are so many options, yet they’re so well implemented you don’t feel lost among the vast variety of strategies. Do you go for a Djinn to get another useful ability while netting yourself a few more points? Or do you risk trying to complete the set of resources you’ve got? Should you take up an assassin opportunity and net yourself control of two tiles while you can?

One of the more interesting aspects of the game, and one I feel gets overlooked, is the importance of bidding for turn order. In a lot of games, once you’ve decided who goes first, play simply passes around the table or a first player token dictates who goes first in the round. But bidding adds additional layers of strategy. Maybe you want to go first to nab that play you can see before someone else does, or maybe you go last this round to set up a turn next round and bid higher then.

I do feel it’s worth mentioning I haven’t seen the pickup and drop mechanic in another game. I’m not going to make any bold statements about it being the only game to ever do it, but it’s certainly well implemented here. It makes you think about future moves and plays which you’re creating as you play. It encourages forward thinking. And I love it.

Can I give a quick shoutout to gamers out there who don’t always have a full house of gamers to play with? The way this game balances for two is awesome. It’s actually my preferred way of playing.

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Pros: ++Skill based, +Logical mechanics, +Variety of strategies, +Biding for turn order

Cons: None

 

Theme (5/10)
The theme in this game caused a bit of controversy when it first came out. I have the first edition of this game, which includes a card that was replaced in the second edition. The theme is loosely based on the Arabian Nights tales, of which I know only a few but I’m told this card is an attempt to be accurate to the source material. While the card included does make a lot of modern era people rightfully uncomfortable, if you’re offended by the inclusion of a ‘Slave’ card then I highly recommend you don’t let it deter you from this giving this game a go and instead grab a copy of the second edition which includes the ‘Fakir’ replacement.

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One of the aspects in which I feel has the highest thematic feel in the game, is the various roles of the different coloured meeples. Quick rundown for those few who don’t know what meeples are. They’re these things:

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Stands for “Mini People”

As you’re manipulating them around the board you quickly lose sight of the fact they’re all the same in various colours, and easily find yourself calling them assassins, elders and so on. While this sounds intuitive, think about Lords of Waterdeep. Another great game but people only ever refer to the blocks as black/white/purple/orange.

The djinns are where the theme draws from the artwork in this game. They’re awesome. The various styles and abilities that the djinns come with really make this game for me. It’s unlikely you’ll get more than a couple played throughout the course of a game, which is really the thematic way it should be. But those that get played will likely have game changing effects.

The concept of ‘maneuvering the five tribes to gain influence over the legendary city’ makes very little sense to me. What are we actually doing in terms of theme? Are we asking individuals to move to different campsites? Are we relocating people? Why would they listen to us? It’s one element of the theme I just can’t get to mesh with any imagined situations. I like to use the theme to teach my games, but here it just becomes confusing. And I find myself wandering if you could swap out the theme for something different without taking away from the overall experience.

I’m an immersion kind of guy. I really like the suspension of disbelief that comes with many of the big box games that I play. Dead of Winter, Arkham Horror, Firefly. When it comes to games like Qwirkle, or Scrabble, I’m less interested. They’re fun for a game now and then, but you can’t think about the different scenarios your characters find themselves in. You can’t imagine the larger consequences your actions are having. And on the drive to work each day I don’t find myself thinking “oooh. If I played this tile that way, it would have a unique effect!”. Five Tribes feels too puzzle-y for me. Don’t get me wrong. I really like the game. And I’ll have a game more regularly than a lot of other games I’ve purchased. But although attempts to include theme have been made, I still don’t feel incredibly absorbed in what’s happening. However, if it sounds more like your style, tip the scales a little bit. Where I’ve subtracted a point, you add one. I’ll allow it.

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Pros: +Meeples integrated to theme, +Djinns abilities and feel

Cons: -Theme/Mechanic disconnect, -Not immersive

 

Production (9/10)
Damn this game is colourful. It’s got to be one of the most colourful games I’ve ever played. It just makes the game so visually appealing and non-threatening for new players; I adore it. Filtering the various colours into patterns is a part of the skill required to play the game I mentioned above. It’s an element of the production that translates really well into gameplay.

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The artwork in this game is beautiful. I would happily use the various djinns as wallpapers for my smartphone or computer. They’re so awe inspiring. And the slightly animated feel of the characters strikes a chord in my nerdy heart. If you don’t look at the box and immediately fall in love with the vibes this game is putting down, then I don’t think we can be friends (I’m totally kidding. Come play board games with us!).

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Utilizing camels as a way to identify what areas of the board you control is something I quite like. And the card backs are clear enough to identify what they are while adding to the overall vibe. It’s well produced. I like it. And the inclusion of scorecards for counting points at the end is incredibly useful.

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But hey… damn those reference cards are annoying. I’m a huge fan of reference sheets in games. It keeps from everyone having to check the rulebook each round and streamlines the game. So the inclusion of reference sheets is a plus. The downside is that you spend the whole game flipping them over to read the other side. And they’re printed the same way so you have to awkwardly flip them from the side and not the bottom. Talk about telegraphing your play. Maybe it’s the competitive side in me, but they feel clunky.

 

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Pros: ++Colour translates into gameplay, +Beautiful artwork, +Useful components, +Reference cards

Cons: -Clunky reference cards

 

Conclusion
I think I’m going to have to check out some of these tales of the Arabian Nights (if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments). I feel like it’s a gaping hole in my knowledge base.
I give Five Tribes:

8/10

It’s an awesome game and I really think you should check it out. Whenever I pull this one out I have new players look at me with doubt. But everyone I’ve played with have finished this game having really enjoyed it. And once you get over that hurdle, a whole new world awaits them. (Well… now Aladdin’s stuck in my head).

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