Game Review: Five Tribes

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In the game Five Tribes, you have traveled into the Land of 1001 Nights to the Sultanate of Naqala. The previous sultan has died and control of this city-state is up for grabs, but the five tribes within need to believe you are a worthy candidate. With the help of a few Djinns, you must move the Five Tribes into position to become The Great Sultan.

Designer: Bruno Cathala
Publisher:
Days of Wonder
Genre: Area Control, Auction, Set Collection
Players: 2-4
Play Time: 80 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

At the start of every turn, players bid for turn position. The board is a series of tiles randomly placed in a 5×6 grid. You grab a pile of meeples and place them one at a time on adjoining tiles until you run out. You choose the order in which you drop meeples from your hand as you move from tile to tile, but you must make sure that the last meeple you drop goes on a tile with at least one meeple of the same color.

The tile you end on and what color meeple you drop last will determine what bonus (see below) you receive. If the tile you end on is not already owned, it becomes your territory, and is designated by a wooden camel in your assigned color.

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Each tile provides a bonus:

– Villages  – Place a palace on this tile to provide a point bonus at the end of the game.
– Markets (small and large) – Pay gold to purchase resource cards.
– Oases – Place a palm tree on this tile to provide a point bonus at the end of the game.
– Sacred Places – Pay either 2 Elders or 1 Elder and 1 Slave to take a Djinn.

Each tile begins with three meeples in five different colors that represent the Five Tribes, each providing an additional action:

– Assassins (red) – Place back in the bag and you may kill one other meeple (either on the board or a meeple in front of an opponent).
– Elders (white) – Keep in front of you as these provide victory points at the end of the game and can also be traded in for Djinns.
– Builders (Blue) – Place back in the bag and gain gold for surrounding number of blue valued tiles times number of blue meeples you collected.
– Merchants (Green) – Place back in the bag and take a matching number of resource cards from the marketplace.
– Viziers (Yellow) – Keep in front of you as these provide victory points at the end of the game.

The game ends when there are no legal moves left on the board and the player with the most gold is declared the winner.

He Said

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Have you ever played Mancala and thought that it would be awesome if each bead had a special ability? If you answered yes, then this is the perfect game for you. You’ll be assassinating meeples, claiming territories with camels, and gathering rare goods from the market on your way to victory.

That being said the game is quite a brain burner, especially at the beginning when there are an endless amount of options for your first move. You’ll scan the board looking for the best possible move to get the maximum bonus from a meeple group. Also, each movement of a meeple could result in an amazing move for other players if you aren’t careful.

Once everyone gets their bearings of the board, the next step is the bidding phase, which will largely be effected by the current board setup. I like the bidding phase quite a bit because the currency used for betting are also victory points in the end, so you’ll have to determine whether outbidding someone for that first spot is worth it. There’s a good amount of risk and reward since you can take the sure thing or hope someone else sets you up for an even better move if you’re later in the turn order.

The djinns also add a bit of variability since there are 22 of them and only three will be available for purchase at a time. Some djinns have great abilities like Utug who lets you take control of any tile that isn’t owned and has at least one meeple on it, or Ibus who lets you assassinate two meeples instead of one.

The board is comprised of the same 30 tiles every time, but they’ll be arranged different each game. The meeple placement is also completely random at the beginning, making the game pretty replayable since your strategy will have to adapt to the board layout, Djinn options, and available market items. I enjoy that every game will have you try out different strategies that may not have worked the previous game.

This variability is great, but it does result in some drawbacks – the biggest one being downtime. You can rarely plan your turn in advance unless you bid to go first, especially at the beginning of the game when there are so many options. Since the board is constantly changing, it could also lead to some really long turns if you foil an opponent’s plan with your move. One way to reduce some of this downtime is to lay all the meeples on the board down on their backs and stand up the ones you’re placing down, in case you want to backtrack.

The last con for me is that the two player variant isn’t nearly as fun as the three or four player game. In a two player game, each player gets two bidding/turn order pawns which will let them take double turns. This does create a different dynamic because you can set yourself up for some big moves. However, it just doesn’t seems as enjoyable to me as a game with more players.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this game every time I’ve played it, even with the occasional turns that take a bit longer than others. It has awesome components with the meeples, cameeples, palaces, palm trees, and great artwork on the tiles and djinn cards.  I think it would be a really good medium-weight game for someone looking for a game with a good amount of strategy.

She Said

img_1011If you grew up playing Mancala, this game will bring back a lot of memories. This game is incredibly well-balanced and provides all players equal opportunity to win. No one strategy is more effective.

I’m always a fan of a strong theme, but this game misses the mark. There are attempts to have the theme make sense with each of your actions, but I don’t think it accomplishes this as well as other games. The theme feels a bit forced and I don’t necessarily feel invested in the concept of becoming The Great Sultan.

At times, this game can be a bit of a brain bender when you’re trying to plan ahead a few turns, something that is virtually impossible with this game. I find myself trying to determine if I’m benefiting my opponent by leaving that color meeple on a specific tile. And it’s hard to notice the impact of where you placed each color meeple unless you take forever analyzing the board on each of your turns.

Another issue I often have is remembering where I last left off when I’m placing meeples. It’s been recommended to set the meeples upright so you can backtrack if you change your mind, but I’m not the best at doing what’s recommended.

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The other element of this game that I find lacking is the implementation of the slave cards. Their only real purpose is a currency for taking Djinns. Beyond that, they don’t serve a purpose and add an offensive (although historically accurate) element to the game that isn’t needed. Even the Djinns feel a bit forced in their implementation, although that could just be my fault for not utilizing them as best as I could.

Overall, I’d say this game is a good if you’re looking for something that requires a little more thinking and strategy than simpler games.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Well-balanced game
  • Good player interaction
  • Great components
  • Don’t know score of the game until the end (some may find this to be a con)
  • Easy to learn
  • Get to play Mancala with meeples
  • Modular board (different every time)

Cons:

  • Theme could be stronger
  • Some elements of the game seem pointless
  • Hard to keep track of where meeples were placed
  •  Can’t plan turns ahead
  • Each player’s turn can take a long time (depends on who you play with)
  • Game can cause analysis paralysis

The Verdict

He gives this game 8.5 cameeples out of 10 (6.5 as a 2 player game).

She gives this game 6.5 camels out of 10.

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