Cardboard Children – Five Tribes

Hello youse.

Days of Wonder always make beautiful-looking board games. From Ticket to Ride to Small World to the out-of-print classic Colosseum, they’re all beautiful and all quite light. Great games to play with your family. Entry level. Lovely.

Well, now Days of Wonder are getting a little bit heavier, with the gorgeous Five Tribes: The Djinns of Nagala.

FIVE TRIBES

Five Tribes, as I’ll be calling it from now on, is a real honest-to-goodness Eurogame. You’re going to be chasing victory points down a wide variety of different paths, and then you’re going to all add up your scores at the end of the game and somebody is going to win. Sometimes I HATE games like this, because they’re usually entirely without flavour and feel very procedural. But Five Tribes just has something a little bit suhin-suhin going on, a little bit of special sauce in the mix. Let me strip it down for you.

Five Tribes has a constantly changing game state – you can never plan too far ahead, because the board is in a constant state of flux. In a turn, a player moves some tokens representing a particular tribe. White pieces are “Elders”. Blue pieces are “Merchants”. Red pieces are “Assassins”, and so on. All these different tribes do different things when you move them. And how you move them is important too. At the start of the game, the tribes are spread randomly across the map. When you make tribes travel, you pick up all tribes from one square of the map and travel them one-by-one to a new square, leaving one tribe member behind on each space you move through. At the end of a move you need to join your final remaining tribe member with a matching tribe member on the last movement space. Then you take these matching tribe members in hand and use their power. Assassins can kill other tribe members. Builders monetise all the exploitable spaces surrounding them. Merchants provide you with resources. The amount of tribe members you convert at the end of the move is better for you in every case. You want to activate tribe members, and a lot of them if you can, and you also want to claim parts of the board for your own. Yes – if your final move removes all the tribe members from a space, you can claim that space, and the points printed there.

Okay, so let’s dig down deeper into that. A bit confusing, right? It’s the part of the game that new players take a little bit of time to get to grips with. It’s like a little puzzle game. If you choose a square with three tribe members on it (let’s imagine they are BLUE, YELLOW and RED) you know you can move three spaces, dropping the final tribe member onto that third space. However, that third space MUST have at least one tribe member that matches the final one you drop. So maybe there is only a few possible spaces you can move to. Or maybe a great square you want doesn’t have any legal moves to it yet. Maybe there’s only a green guy there. So you’re stuck. Or are you?

Here’s what I really love about Five Tribes. People miss stuff. Sometimes a great move is staring a player in the face and they don’t see it. There’s so much going on that a brilliant combo move can sometimes hide itself in plain sight. Consider this – a great move can see you moving tribes, clearing a space, claiming that space, activating the Assassins, executing a lone tribe member on another space, clearing that space too, claiming that space, and scoring big.

Another thing that’s cool – because so much of the game is about spotting brilliant moves, it’s important that you get to play first. There’s always a bid for turn order at the start of a round, and it’s one of the toughest little decision points in the game. You bid with coins, but those coins are part of your points at the end of the game. You’re effectively weighing up the value of the moves you’ve spotted, deciding how many points to fling away in the hope you can claim more than you’ve lost with your brilliant play. It’s really nice.

WAIT. I don’t want you thinking that the game doesn’t have loads more stuff happening, because it does. Every square on the board has a special action too. Some of these spaces grow trees, some cause majestic buildings to rise up, some let you buy resources and some let you find favour with powerful genies.

The genies are VERY cool. You need to have some white tribe members, the elders, to claim a genie. But they’re worth it – each genie is worth points and has a completely unique power that bends the rules of the game in your favour. (My favourite is the big rascal who helps your assassins kill an extra victim every single time. Man.)

SUMMING UP

In my recent play of this game, I was beaten by an opponent who focused on growing multiple trees in areas she controlled. I was focusing on collecting sets of resources for a massive bonus, activating a lot of merchants and hitting as many areas that let me take resources as possible. Another player was collecting lots of yellow tribe members, the “Viziers”, for the bonus points they provide. And yet another player was taking a more balanced approach, claiming lots of land and saving lots of coins.

Five Tribes is a game that flows in a fascinating way – often you see your strategy emerge from the chaos, when you realise you have a slight advantage in one area or another. You can try to step all over your opponents’ plans too, as long as you’ve actually noticed what they’re up to. This is a real starer of a game. You’re going to be staring at that board long and hard.

And that’s the one word of caution I’ll leave you with. This is a great game. A fun one. But play it in the right spirit. Don’t take an age over your turn, looking for the optimal move, doing all the maths – self-limit your thinking for the other players’ sakes. Keep the game moving, spot the great moves, leap at them, and have fun.

Another gorgeous Days of Wonder game. Try it yourself!

(Oh, and here’s a fascinating designer’s diary by the game’s great designer Bruno Cathala.)

13 Comments

  1. jonfitt says:

    I enjoyed the game of 5 Tribes I played, but there are two caveats.
    1) As mentioned at the end of the review, if you find yourself easily susceptible to Analysis Paralysis (AP), then this game will end you. There will always be umpteen moves you can make and you’re never sure if you just made the best one. So when it was someone else’s go I would be looking to find at least one move, and a backup move I wanted to make. Even then, often by the time it got to me, both of these moves were taken or no longer applicable. Then you have to quickly find another good move while everyone else waits. You need to be a decisive player or everyone will hate you.

    2) You can buy goods in the market for VP. One of these goods is a general purpose good that lets you power up any other action.. aaand it’s slaves. Yes you can buy and “expend” slaves. In a game where you can summon djinn they couldn’t think of any other representation of a power up, like crystals, or magic beans. DoW have defended the choice saying it is true to the time period. Like the use of genies I guess.
    Anyway, I just avoided buying them the whole game, but if that kind of thing is beyond the pale for you, I would skip it.

    • Scandalon says:

      “Yes you can buy and “expend” slaves. In a game where you can summon djinn they couldn’t think of any other representation of a power up, like crystals, or magic beans.”

      Presumably they should have the assassins replaced with something else too? There’s such a thing as taking things too far into absurdity, and you sir/madame, have done so. (Seriously, it’s like the purchasing district that wouldn’t accept IDE drives that had “master/slave” designations.)

      • gwathdring says:

        Assassins aren’t generally systematically oppressed and dehumanized …

        There’s a difference between calling a drive a “slave” drive because it is enslaved to the other drive (you know, metaphor) and having a game in which you are supposed to be imagining that you’re purchasing actual people for personal profit.

        There’s also a difference between saying “This shouldn’t exist” and saying “This made me uncomfortable, buyer beware.”

      • jonfitt says:

        It’s more of a buyer beware statement than anything. That being said:
        .
        My problem is not with the word slave or even the inclusion of them in any game. I can imagine a place where slavery could be used to deliberate affect. It’s that it is thrown in flippantly with no commentary as a powerup in an otherwise cartoony game. I think if you’re going to use the oppression if untold numbers of people throughout history and today in your game, it should be for more purpose than using it as a shorthand for “buy them to make what you do better”. Because that’s all theme is in games like this. It’s not a simulation. The theme is there to be used as a hook to imply the mechanic. You’re asking for people to link the actual use of slaves with the mechanic “good stuff happening for me”. That’s not a connection I enjoy making. So buyer beware.
        .
        I agree that the act of assassinating someone is used also as a flippant valid action with no repercussions or down side. Often in games its an act that is used for something underhanded that will earn you payback. Here it’s a cheery way to remove a meeple. Assassination in history occurred on a vastly smaller scale than slavery, but also if you feel bothered by it buyer beware also. Personally I have internally rationalised killing for play a long time ago, practically every video game relies on it. You could argue that it’s not healthy and I don’t think I would disagree. But I have not made that cognitive leap with slavery and I do not wish to.

  2. Kefren says:

    I like the fact that the game uses plastic penises to keep track of the score. Much better than the plain discs in Ticket To Ride. Palaces of Carrara counters taken up a notch.

  3. Morph says:

    That’s the second review I’ve seen that suggests you have to play this game without considering all your options all the time and I’m not sure I can manage that. I’d give it a go but I think I will just be paralysed with indecision.

  4. Scurra says:

    And here’s what I really hate about Five Tribes:
    “People miss stuff. Sometimes a great move is staring a player in the face and they don’t see it.”
    Because of the multiplicity of options and the danger of AP and the problem that the board position changes far too much between one turn and the next, it’s not surprising that this happens. All the time. And then the game ends up feeling frustrating instead of enjoyable.
    Especially – and I would like to say this in capitals – especially if you are playing with someone who can’t resist pointing out what you missed because they don’t have to analyse things carefully but see things instinctively…
    It’s an excellent game, yes. But I never want to play it ever again.

    • BisonHero says:

      Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that quickly pushes me away from every considering buying this game. Especially with the group I play with which can vary week to week as the case may be, some people end up with more experience with the game, and it seems like the type of game where the people with a few games’ worth of experience under their belt would spot more moves and be more likely to point out moves that newer players didn’t notice they could make.
      I almost feel like this sort of game could do with a countdown timer, just so there is less incentive to just stare at the board for 6 minutes until you’re fairly sure you’re making the smartest move possible.

    • Kurremkarmerruk says:

      This response confuses me but I’ve read a lot of comments of the sort here and on the SUSD review. It especially confuses me to see it here on RPS because–well, because video games.

      Do you play a video game perfectly the first time? Do you paralyze yourself with decision whenever you pick up a TBS game? Some TBS video games even have timers to force the player to make a decision (and sometimes that bothers people, I know). But games aren’t meant to be min/maxed. Games are meant to be foggy or “indeducible” because that’s where the excitement lies. Did I figure out the right move? Did I just blunder my turn? Did I just give my opponent a serious advantage? The fun lies in watching the next few turns unfold and seeing if your decision really did mean the beginning/end of your greatness. In fact, I would argue that nowhere more-so than in video games would you want to prevent players from min/maxing your game as some do and end up annoying other players just wanting to experience the game as developers intended it.

      A proper (video or board) game should balance the experience that veteran players have from previous play with the randomness/chance given to all new players to possibly win or just make a good decision or just be fortunate enough to gain from someone else’s blunder. This game (caveat: haven’t played) seems to have that. The board changes so frequently that you can’t exactly plan and use your veteran experience too much while also allowing you to gain some understanding of how to find the best gain by looking at the board.

      Anyways, just surprised to see so many feel this way about board games. However, I do understand that some games are meant to be more of a puzzle and that can be fun (though, typically not my cup of tea).

  5. Radiant says:

    I can’t believe analysis paralysis is a real thing that there is both alliteration and an acronym for.

    I play with three of my older brothers.
    I’ve won games of scrabble where the other players are screaming “MAKE A MOVE FUCKER, DO IT DO IT NOW” so stress and decision anxiety is an absolute myth to me.

    • Radiant says:

      “REMEMBER THAT TIME I CAUGHT YOU MASTURBATING?”

      Real thing.

    • jrodman says:

      Scrabble is a game that significant depends on starting your full move deliberation after the prior player is done their turn, and has a very broad game tree where, especially in multiplayer, strategy is not nearly as important as simply finding the best move right now. Also, without the strategic element of 2-player games, the value of those moves are quite obvious by their immediate score. In short, in Scrabble, it’s perfectly legitimate to take a while to make your move.

      Faster games can be more fun of course, so there’s value in keeping pace to what the group in general expects, especially if this was discussed *ever*. I find playing games everyone knows well with a clock actually improves things notably.

      However when the phrase Analyasis Paralysis is raised, it’s usually for games where move configurations come in a large number of combinations, and where the value of those combinations can be muddy. The stereoypical cases are games where you have say 5 action points that can be spent on 3 different kinds of actions in any order and the ordering produces different results, particularly when the value of those results themselves are not clear to the players without significant forecasting of responses. Basically this is the kind of game tree where you have a large number of nodes that are usually relatively close in parameters but not identical and the valuation function is both slow and error prone. Faced with this sort of circumstance, some players plod on insisting on manually evaluating and re-evaluating their options when it isn’t actually helping them, where focusing on higher level objectives and decisiveness would produce a superior move and also a better game experience.

      There is some vaguely related research on emotion in decision making (breakthroughs mid-2000s) that suggest this is really a bit of a normal human thing in all evaluation situations.