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, 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.)
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!