Five Tribes Review
The very first time I heard a game called Five Tribes, I thought you can play the game up to 5 players, which it couldn’t. Did you think the same like I did? The truth is you can only play the game up to 4 players. Five tribes only represent the five tribes in the game, shown as 5 different colors that can be used by any players and have different abilities. So in the game, we are a powerful merchants trying to influence the five tribes to support you as their new leader (or whatever). The game is designed by Bruno Cathala and published by Days of Wonder (you can expect great quality components from them).
Not really important, the theme integration is somewhat just flavor. In this game you try to be ___ with the most ___ (so common). Anyway in this game you win the game by collecting the most points (from coins and end game bonuses). To get those points, you need to cleverly bid your turns and getting most profiting tiles, Djins and Resource Cards. You are a foreign trader / merchant, trying your business endeavor in the world of mystical power and camels and also vast desert. There are five different tribes that you can influence to your benefit, each with their own specialties. The tribes are Viziers (Yellow), Elders (White), Merchants (Green), Assassins (Red) and Builders (Blue).
Days of Wonder is the one behind this game, a guarantee for the art to be stunning and beautiful. The tone is vibrant with colors, thematically middle-eastern and full of decorative elements. Though some people has an issue with the thematic element of slave trade in the specific historical background reflected in the slave cards. Which was changed by them in later prints with Fakirs instead. I found them to be purely historical which you couldn’t ignore or forget, but some people thinks that this brought up the issues at hand about slavery and how the industry salvage from that unpleasant topic (mostly in Europe).
The Game Components
Days of Wonder always produce good quality games, that includes the components. The game comes mostly with square tiles, resource cards (small size), square Djinn cards, lots of colorful wooden tokens (meeples, palm trees, camels, palaces and pawns) and money tokens. Also included in the game is a score sheet to track points in the end game and a black cloth bag to keep the meeples. The biggest eye-candy would be the vibrant color components from meeples and also camels and palm trees and palaces. The wooden camels, palaces and palm trees, aside from being unique in shapes, also in colors and sizes. They’re colorful and huge.
The Game Play
First of all you need to set up the game. Randomize the tiles and create a 5×4 tiles map from it. Place all the meeples and into the black bag and randomly distribute them into the tiles, 3 meeples on each tile. Shuffle the spice cards and reveal 9 cards. Shuffle the Djinn cards and reveal 3 cards. Each player gets money tokens with the value of 50 and pawn and camels of their own color. Place the turn tracker board beside the tiles.
Randomly place player pawns into the track. The game starts with an auction to determine the turn order for a round. Player with the highest bid can decide their turn in the round after paying the bid cost. The bid is not once around, so you can always outbid your opponents as long as you have the money. After the auction phase determines the turn order, players take their actions based on the new turn orders. Their action is to choose a tile with at least one meeple on it and distribute each meeple from the tile to an adjacent tile subsequently. The tile that they place the last meeple will be the target tile to do the action. There are 2 actions that players can do in the target tile, these two actions depend on the last meeple they place and the tile action itself. Players will take all the meeples in the target tile with the same color as the meeple they place and take the corresponding action of the meeple color. Viziers (Yellow) are used for end game scoring, Elders (White) are used mainly in conjunction with Slave / Fakir cards to purchase Djinn cards, Builders (Blue) are used to generate money based on the blue based tiles around (and include) the target tile, Merchants (Green) are used to get resource cards from the available line, and the last are Assassins (Red) which is used to kill meeples. From this main mechanic, you can feel that the real gist of the game is about moving meeples in mancala style. A classic mechanic used from a traditional game with the same title, Mancala. You can found this mechanic in Trajan by Stefan Feld, not sure what other games use this, it’s not commonly used in modern board games.
Before the meeple action is resolved players need to check control, if the target tile is empty after players do the actions, they place one of their camels on it (which secure that tile from anyone else and will give points to the owner in the end game scoring). If later other players target this tile, the owner will get a coin from the supply.
The tiles also have an action that you can use, there are tiles that you can buy resource cards (Small and Big Market), purchase a Djinn card by paying Elders and / or Slave / Fakir cards (Sacred Place), place a palace (Village) and place a palm tree (Oasis). These actions are optional.
Before players end their turn, they can sell their resource cards to gain money / points, though the points are counted in the end game, there’s a reason why you want to cash in those sets mid game, to give you more capital to bid for your next turn. The set is for each different kind of resource and each resource type has different amount of cards in the deck, this create different rarity / common value to that specific type. Hoarding rare resources usually good to block your opponents set collection to grow more.
In this game, basically you are moving around meeples to get the most points. The catch is to get most points / benefit by doing three things altogether in your single turn (not really), moving meeples and activate the last, activate the target tile and then claim control over the target tile if possible. In order to do that there are 2 things you need to consider, Bidding phase and what will you do in your turn. Know what other people do also helps big deal, but you already have enough in your platter, so usually I don’t really care. Just check your situation and do what gives you max points or benefit.
You collect Viziers for end game points, Elders also gives you points but mainly you spend them for Djinn cards (it’s has higher points and then you can use their abilities during the game or gives additional end game points). Merchants help you collect resource cards, where you can get a lot of points from collecting sets. Builders give you big points based on strategic activation of the blue based tiles. Assassins in the other hand, are more complicated than the rest. They serve more tactical options to give you indirect benefit, whether to reduce your opponents Viziers or maybe remove a meeple on the board that could lead to your advantage.
The game ends when one player already place all of his camels into the tiles, or there is no legal movement available. After that the final scoring takes place, accumulated from total money left, points from Camels, Djins, Viziers and Elders, Palm trees and Palaces and resource card sets.
My Thought About The Game
I find the game to be simple, bid your turn, move the meeples and activate actions. The meeple and tile actions are also simple. But I believe the game has serious AP prone issue. The combinations and possibilities can really give you headaches. You need to consider and calculate all the options before you and in addition, you can only do that after it’s your turn. You need to wait after all your opponents move because they will drastically change the situation. Okay, you can plan ahead but you need make more than one plan to survive. So in short, it’s more like a puzzle game that encourage you to get the best move from what’s in front of you. Sort of puzzle-move-activation tile game.
And then there is the bidding part. Personally I am not a fan of bidding mechanic, that’s why I less like Power Grid, which has strong bidding / auction mechanic that really affecting the game play. In this game, bidding is very important, it determines player turn order and turn order is essential for players to get what they want before taken or screwed by other players before them. The tricky part is players bid with their money, which also their points. So if you bid high, you waste your points.
The game usually takes longer than it is, because downtime between players cannot be mitigated because they need to wait other players before they can come up with possible options during their turn.
The 2-players game mode has a different game play, since each player will get two turns in a single round. Each has 2 bidding markers, this means they bid twice, each for one of their marker. This changes the game, minor change on the game play but really affecting how players plan their moves.
I doubt that it has some meaningful replayability. There’s no variation in the game else than the Djinns availability, which is random. You can try different strategy but everything almost viable to get in a single play, whatever you choose, there’s nothing that drastically change how the game feels.
I find the game to be fairly simple but holds lots of combinations to ponder through your turn, so it takes quite considerable amount given the vast possibilities, but the game still within the same scope of simplicity of moving meeples, activate the meeple and then the tile.