"Five Tribes" is a fantastically fun game that provides both diversity & complexity for the experienced player, but is simple enough to include a new gamer. In it, you are in charge of moving members of, well, five tribes across dessert landscape, making sure they meet up with one of their friends, or fellow tribesmen. When you meet your matching colored meeple, it'll do one of several things:
- Work towards points
- Work towards resources, including Djinns that can help you throughout the game
- Assassinate meeples to gain yourself points or take points from other players
Things I Really Like
Randomization. While other games in our collection have even more variety, Five Tribes still offers enough randomized elements to create a unique game every time. You start by shuffling the land tiles and placing them in a 5x6 grid. Next, you finish setting up the board by the placement of meeples, which is decided by pulling 3 at random from a bag to place on each tile. It's nearly impossible to start the same way twice.
Purchasing of Turn Orders. I found this unique, as it is the first of our games that used this particular game mechanic. Every round (each player takes one turn), you bid for turn order that round, from 0-18. The catch is, you're bidding with your victory points, so you have to decide if being able to take a specific move is worth losing victory points. It may appear to help you now, but cost you at the end of the game. NOTE: Elisabeth and I both found this mechanic a little tedious in a two player game. With multiple players, this mechanic weighs heavily in the strategy, since even if someone doesn't "steal" your move, their move may render whatever you were planning useless. As we played just the two of us (in which, you use two turn markers instead of one), we discovered that most of the time we were just rotating turns as you would in a normal game, so instead of enhancing game play, it really became a way to just spend our Victory Points.
No Single Way to Win. How you approach winning is in itself is a strategy. There are several things that earn you points:
- Claiming Land Tiles. If you finish a move by clearing a tile, you claim it and the points associated with it. This is done by placing one of your Camels, or as we've come to call them, Camwhales*, on the tile. The tile's value can increase if, through game-play, a Palm Tree or Palace has been placed down on the tile.
- Collecting Victory Point Coins by playing Blue Tribesmen (Builders)
- Djinns (Each has a point value, but can also provide extra points throughout the game.)
- Gathering Resources. The more varied the resources you collect, the more they are worth at the end of the game.
- Collecting Yellow & White Tribesmen (Viziers & Elders)
We played one game where it seemed that Elisabeth would be the clear winner. She had lots of land, tons of Victory Points piled up, and many, many Djinns. However, I had one Djinn that increased the value of my Yellow Tribesmen (Viziers), creating a 20 point increase, which enabled me to edge her out by 2 points.
Things I Didn't Care For
We already talked about turn bidding for the two player game, but there was one other thing I didn't quite love. Lack of clarity. There were several places in the rule book that I would have appreciated a little more clarity, specifically when it came to scoring the Viziers. All things considered, these are two very minor complaints.
Score: 9 Victory Points
This game has quickly become one of my favorites. As I said at the beginning, it is simple enough for your average player, but for someone who likes a more advanced game, this really hits the spot. I think that that is a really hard place to land, and for that reason, I would feel good recommending this to anyone. Even 7 Wonders, which I think has much simpler game mechanics, has a more difficult learning curve. While Five Tribes has a high price tag, I would argue it is worth every penny. It's one I expect we will be playing in our house for a very long time.
*So, when we were first unboxing this game, people were a little confused about the camels. Because the camels are laying down, from one direction they look like camels and from the other it looks like whales half out of the water. There ended up being a lot of silly debate at the table on whether these were camels or whether they were whales or whether or not they were some sort of weird camel-whale hybrid. Hence the name "camwhales".