Players: 2-4 Duration: About 90-120 minutes (The rules say 40-80 minutes but we’ve never managed to finish a game in that time)
Age Range: We’d say about 10+ (The rules say 13+ – it is a deep game so I can understand their rating)
So this was another game I’d been dying to try. I’d heard good things about it from a number of friends, and people seemed to be raving about it on the boards as well…but did it live up to the hype? Five Tribes is produced by Days of Wonder, the same company that brought us the hugely successful Ticket to Ride series, Small Worlds and Memoir ’44 so I can perhaps be forgiven for having very high expectations of Five Tribes. A couple of weeks back I purchased a copy from Amazon and planned to unleash it on our Monday night games group, however on the Saturday night I had the opportunity to play the 2-player rules with a friend who had a couple of hours to kill. I was pretty much hooked from the first five minutes, clever game mechanics coupled with beautiful production and great re-playability make this a great acquisition for any one’s games collection. I had actually managed to persuade people to play it four more times by the end of games night! Five Tribes will set you back about £36($52) if purchased on Amazon.
For a game costing only £35 Five Tribes has undeniably beautiful production. You notice almost immediately the vibrancy in the colours, the nice finish on the cards and the large number of quality wooden playing pieces. A great deal of care and attention has been spent making this game look and feel really good. I especially like the little cloth draw string bag for the preponderance of meeples, not strictly necessary given the game play but a very nice additional touch. The crenelated edges on the cardboard coins give them a rather nice unique feel and the artwork on the cards is attractive. Another nice touch is the scoring pad; the largest I’ve seen for a game but that does make it very easy to use especially if like me your arms have been getting successively shorter in the last few years. The rule book is well laid out and easy to follow and the card game references, the large mats in the picture, a luxury as they serve only to help you with quick look-ups during the game. Did I feel I received my money’s worth in the box? Definitely…I would happily have paid another £5-£10 for this quality of game.
You have arrived in the Kingdom of Naqala to find it’s Sultan deceased and the five tribes in disarray. You have to cleverly manoeuvre the tribes into supporting you so that you can defeat your opponents and become the new Sultan of Naqala. To do this you must capture regions of Naqala, influence all powerful Djinns, gain influence through manipulation of the tribes, build palaces and oasis, and ultimately become a very rich man/woman. The trope works well and although the game mechanics would work equally well in multiple different genres you do get the feeling that the author has tried hard to make everything in the game fit comfortably into the backstory. This is a good instance of backstory definitely adding to the game.
The Game Play
Five Tribes is played on a board constructed of 30 region tiles. The region tiles are placed randomly at the start of the game. Each has a score and a special ability. The fact that the board is different every time definitely adds to the re-playablility of the game. Each tile has three meeples randomly assigned to it from the five tribes of Naqala (merchants, viziers, elders, builders and assassins).
You bid for who moves first and this can be key if you can see a particularly good move on the board. Bidding involves paying for a position on the player order board, but don’t pay too much unless it really benefits you as your hard earned cash translates directly into victory points at the end of the game!
The central mechanic of the game involves how you move the meeples around this board. On your turn you get to take all of the meeples from any one tile and move them in a line either horizontally or vertically (or both) leaving a meeple on each tile you move through until all your meeples are gone. You have to colour match on your last tile, in other words there must be a meeple of the same colour as the last meeple in your hand when you place on the final tile in your run. When you place on the final tile you remove all the meeples of the colour of the last meeple you placed.
So in the above example we took a blue, green and white meeple from the top right hand corner and left one meeple on the (5) tile another on the (15) tile and placed the final white meeple on the (4) tile. There was already a white meeple there so we were able to remove both white meeples.
Once you’ve moved there are three things that you can then do:
- Activate the power on the tile which allows you to buy resource cards, Djinns or buildings.
- Claim the tile by placing one of your camels on it if you removed ALL of the meeples (i.e. they were all one colour)
- complete the action for the meeples you removed
The meeples all allow you to complete different actions:
- Elders (white) – these give you points at the end of the game and enable you to buy Djinns
- Assassins (red) – Assassinate meeples and can help you claim additional tiles
- Merchants (green) – allow you to claim resource cards
- Visiers (yellow) – pure vp at the end of the game
- Builders (blue) – allow you to claim gold during the game
In Five Tribes gold and victory points are the same thing, You can earn victory points by collecting resource sets, djinns, tiles, gold, buildings and meeples. These all tally up at the end of the game to determine a victor. It’s worth mentioning the Djinns as these have special powers on them that can effect your strategy significantly during the game. I found it was really worth buying djinns but you then had to play to their special powers to gain the full benefit. So there is one djinn that multiplies the gold bonus of your viziers but it’s pointless unless you collect viziers. You get the picture. I guess the point here is don’t ignore them they’re a great strategy to play.
Five Tribes is a “tour de force”; it has deep gameplay, requires you to play multiple strategies to win, pits you in very interactive tactics with your opponents and delivers more than enough mind bending for even the very seasoned gamer. In the games I’ve played with friends so far it has had a greater quotient of “hang on a moment I need to think” than pretty much any other game I’ve played. Given the relatively short time it takes to read and grasp the rules, finding such depth of gameplay is a welcome surprise. The cost is more than reasonable given the quality of production and the fact that this is a very good game. It’s rare that as a game designer that I come across a game and honestly think that there is nothing I would do to improve it but Five Tribes gains that honour and hence there’s only one way I can really rate it.
Otter Rating: 5 Otters
very much the case here.