“Five Tribes” can be a little difficult to describe, mainly because there’s so much going on at once. It has “worker placement” and “set collecting” mechanics, yet the execution is not what I expected…that is, turns play out as if I was playing the simple yet elegant game of “Mancala”. Still confused? Don’t feel bad, I was too at first. All you need to know for now is that the Sultanate of Naqala has died and players will be competing to take his place through the ancient art of earning the most victory points. Don’t scoff…our history would be a little less bloody had folks back in the day actually adopted such a policy. Before get into how the game plays, I’d like to quickly thank Madison Sites from Days of Wonder for providing me with a free press copy for review purposes.
5 Turn Order and Djinns Summary Sheets, A Pad of Scoring Sheets, 2 Player sets of 8 Camels and 1 Player’s Turn marker each, 2 Player sets of 11 Camels and 2 Player’s Turn markers each, 1 Bid Order Track & 1 Turn Order Track, 90 Wooden Tribe Meeples, A Meeples bag, 12 Palm Trees and 10 Palaces, 30 Tiles (12 Blue valued Tiles: Villages & Sacred Places with a Blue point value – 18 Red valued Tiles: Markets & Oasis with a Red point value), 22 Djinn cards, 96 Gold Coins (48 worth “5” and 48 worth “1” each), 54 Resource cards (36 Merchandise and 18 Slaves)
Setup & Gameplay
There’s a lot of components and thus, a lot of things to mention about game setup. To keep this review moving, I’ll opt to refer you to page 2 of the rulebook.
The game is played over a series of turns (which I prefer to call rounds), with each turn (round) consisting of three phases:
Bid for Turn Order
The player whose turn marker is in the first position of the bid order track (the smaller track without the large numbers) goes first. They’ll choose an empty spot on the bid order track (the larger track with the large numbers), place their turn marker on that spot, and pay that amount to the bank. The higher the bid, the more likely it is that you’ll get to go first when phase two rolls around.
In turn order, players will:
A. Move their turn marker to the first empty spot on the bid order track (for next round’s bidding phase).
B. Gather up all the meeples on a single space. From there, they’ll pick an adjacent tile and place one meeple of their choice. If they still have meeples left, they’ll then place one meeple of their choice on a location adjacent to the new spot. This continues until the player runs out of meeples, though the last meeple MUST land on a space that contains at least one meeple of its matching color. There’s also no backtracking and no diagonally moves allowed.
C. Gather up all the meeples of the matching color on the space the last meeple landed on. If the last meeple to be placed was green, then all green meeples will be gathered up from that space.
D. Take the appropriate tribal action, based on the meeple color. Yellow Viziers grant VP, White Elders grant VP and allow players to gain Djinns/invoke their power, Green Merchants allow players to take resource cards, Blue Builders grant coins, and Red Assassins kill meeples that are alone on a space.
E. Perform the action on the tile, which can be either voluntary or compulsory.
F. Sell merchandise (optional) by discarding resource/merchandise cards to earn gold coins. The cards must be of a different type and the more you sell, the more money you earn.
Once all players have taken their turns, they’ll replenish the row of resource and Djinn cards. If the game ending conditions have not been met, then players start a new turn (round).
When a player drops his last camel on a tile or when no legal meeple moves are possible, the game ending conditions are applied and players act appropriately. Players then total their VPs to determine who wins the game!
(1 VP for each Gold Coin (GC) you own, 1 VP for each Vizier (Yellow Meeple) you own + 10 VPs for each opponent who has strictly less Viziers than you do, 2 VPs per Elder (White Meeple) you own, Sum of VPs for all your Djinns, Sum of VPs for all of your Tiles (those with one of your Camels on it), 3 VPs for each Palm Tree on all of your Tiles, 5 VPs for each Palace on all of your Tiles, Sum of VPs for each series of Merchandise (but not Slaves) you own that are all different)
Editor’s Note: The above does not cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played. For more information, you can check out the manual here:
“Five Tribes” is one of those games that grabs your attention from across the room, what with the colors all but exploding from the set of tiles acting as the main board. With that said, just looking at it when it’s fully set up to play can look pretty intimidating to the uninitiated. On top of five different colored meeples performing different functions, you have resource cards, bid order & turn order tracks, coins, djinns that have special abilities…it’s enough to pack enough of a punch to make casual players reach for that bottle of Excedrin Migraine. Do I mean that in a negative way? Well, yes and no.
There are casual players out there who want games that they can grasp within minutes…you know, the ones with two-page rulebooks. Then there are semi-casual/semi-hardcore players who want a bit more depth, but not to the scope that it would require three or more hours to learn and play. To me, “Five Tribes” falls into the semi-casual/semi-hardcore category and experienced players who know what “worker placement” and “set collecting” means on and off the table should be able to learn this game fairly quickly. I’d hesitate however to bring this out for ten-time Bingo champion grandma…it might be a bit too much if she’s not used to anything more complex.
What attracted “Five Tribes” to me was the fact that it gives you options…a whole boatload of options. Every turn, you’ll be trying to figure out which route or routes you’ll want to take to grab victory points. Perhaps you’ll want some Djinns and use their powers to give you an edge every now and then (along with victory points), or perhaps you’re going to the resource/set collecting route and will thus need those green meeples on a regular basis. Or…perhaps no one is collecting yellow meeples, giving you an easy +10 points for each opponent you have more yellow meeples than should you scoop some up. Perhaps board control and placing trees/palaces are more your thing…there’s really almost no way a player COULDN’T earn VP in some shape, way, or form.
Some might be offended about the use of “slaves” in a game like this, though slavery in the Ottoman Empire back in the 1600’s was indeed a real thing. I personally don’t mind it, but it may still offend some people. If you are such an individual, mentally replace the word “slave” with “wild”, as it performs a multitude of different functions in this game. They can increase the amount of points you’d earn from blue meeples when calculating the amount of coins you’d earn, for example, or allow players to give assassins extra range than they’d normally have. They can also take the place of a resource when trading in cards…again, think of them as “wilds” if it makes you feel better.
“Five Tribes” is a unique blend of a plethora of genres, giving it a long-lasting appeal factor. Bidding, worker placement (a la “Mancala”), set collecting, action taking, money management…it’s a lot to take in from the get go. Once I got used to what the different Djinns did and how all of the possible spaces/actions operate, “Five Tribes” became a joy to play. It’s fairly expensive ($50-$55 as of 5/11/15), so I’d really only recommend it to semi-casual groups and above (which still encompasses a LOT of people). To top everything off, the quality on everything is top-notch. Like “Ticket to Ride”, I honestly foresee “Five Tribes” going places (pardon the pun).
Final Verdict: 9/10