Phenomenal Cosmic Power, Itty Bitty Living Space - Five Tribes Review

Hype is something to be careful of when buying a board game, or really anything for that matter. Many a time a product will fail to live up to its hype. Take Destiny for example, the recent game just released for consoles. It had movie trailers, previews, BETA's the works and everyone has been so hyped for that game it's unbelievable. And now it's out, what exactly is it? Just Halo 2.0? Wow, what a disappointment. So much for innovation.

Board games have done this too, but where as something like a movie or computer game tends to affect the majority of customers, a board game tends to be more subjective among players. Dead of Winter got a ton of hype over its theme and semi-cooperative experience, but when I played it, I thought it was "ok" at best. Prefer it to BSG, but some issues I had with the design/theme would stop me rating it above a 7.

Of course this is all just opinion, but nowadays as a result I've learned to not get sucked into the hype whenever possible. It's not always an easy thing to do (looking at you Alien Isolation), but at least it allows you to keep an open mind when playing the game.

Now here we have Five Tribes, another game that also gained a lot of hype as it was made by Days of Wonder who always bling their games with stellar components, yet was a game that boasted about being very tactical for the "gamer" without being too complicated. Sounds like a good combination as Spyrium had that quality though obviously Days of Wonder take the component trophy in a fight. So how does it hold up in the world of Euro games?

"Just call it Five Tribes, life is much easier that way"

Designer: Bruno Cathala (2014)
Publisher: Days of Wonder
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 13+
Play Time: 60 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1356 / 8.02
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Area Control/Influence
A Meeple Horde

All of the tiles are laid out in a 6 x 5 grid in a random order and 3 meeples are placed on each one again at random from the bag. All players receive 50 gold which is also worth victory points at the end. At the start of each round players will bid gold depending on whether they want to go first.

Once the player order has been chosen, each player in turn chooses one of the tiles on the board and collects all of the meeples standing on it. He then places one meeple on an adjacent tile and continues in this fashion without back-tracking until he eventually places his last meeple on a tile that shares the same colour as that meeple. He then takes all of the meeples of that colour only into his hand and resolves the special action for that tribe colour.

There are five colours in total each with their own special ability from end-game/immediate scoring to collecting resource cards, to summoning powerful Djinns and assassinating other meeples. After the tribe has been used, if there are no remaining meeples on the tile, the player places a camel piece on the tile to show that he controls it for end-game purposes.

"It's a very colourful layout when it's all set up"

Players then perform the action on the tile including placing palm trees/palaces down for end-game scoring, buying more resources and summoning Djinns. The Djinns are powerful cards that not only grant points but have unique special abilities that can aid the player throughout the game. Only three are on show however at a time.

At the end of each turn the players have the option of selling resources collected for further gold. Doing so increases their ability to bid on turn order, but should they choose not to, they can simply hold them until the end of the game for scoring.

Once the last camel has been placed or no more legal moves exist, the round plays through and then the game ends. Gold and points are tallied together to give the victor.

The Land of Giants

Components in this game are nothing short of wood-lust without going into Uwe Rosenberg territory. The palm trees and palaces that are only used for end-game scoring are giant wooden pieces, all the meeples are large wooden pieces, the camels are giant wooden pieces, the tiles are huge, it just all looks really colourful and beautiful when it's laid out.

The insert is reasonable but there are some questionable design issues. The resource cards will not fit and stay if you sleeve them, the Djinn cards are of a size that I don't think a sleeve exists for and the rows for the money coins is quite fiddly. That being said, everything will at least fit in the box regardless of what method you use. Also for whatever reason the back of the coins is the same colour for both the 1's and 5's denominations and when you're supposed to keep your money hidden 'ala Small World style, that's a big pain!

"Could be better, but still fairly solid and beats any insert that FFG make!"

The Djinn cards though........WOW........seriously, I want Days of Wonder to design a spin-off game where they base it solely on those Djinn cards. The artwork on them is spectacular, end of. So many unique designs, an intuitive layout and of a good quality I just love summoning these things for the art! It brings my memories back to Tash Kalar by Z-Man Games where you had that really cool artwork on the creature cards, particularly the epic ones, it's that level of greatness.


Dwindling Tactics

But enough about the components, how does the game play? Well certainly at the start of the game and mid-way there's no shortage of tactical decisions as you have an army of meeples to manipulate and many differing paths to victory. Do you stock up on yellow Viziers for the end-game points, do you collect some white Elders for summoning a particular Djinn you like the look of, or are you going to ignore the colours entirely and just seek to grab control of as many land tiles as possible as once you've got control, no-one can take it from you? You really do have a lot of options available, but be warned. At the start you'll be looking at collecting big tribes and scoring big combos, but by the end of the game, there will be a lot fewer meeples to mess with and as such fewer legal moves that can be played so you find yourself scraping for every last point you can get, but this at least makes the turns go quicker as the game goes on . . . . well in theory.

Downtime is fairly minimal in this game despite the potential for analysis paralysis to set in. If you want to stand a chance to win, you need to have considered your next turn while the other players are performing theirs. Yes your initial plan could get messed up by meeples moving around, but have a backup in place. It's like playing Chess with multi-coloured meeples, you can't just have one plan, you need several.

Feeling The Pain With Every Bid

I usually hate auction mechanics in games. Bidding I don't mind, but a lot of the time it feels stapled on and doesn't provide much in the way of interesting decisions. But Five Tribes does it right, no kidding. You have several prices of gold you can bid in order to grab the first turn, which in this game can be significant if you've spotted a combo on the board. But what's cool here is that you are bidding gold on this, which is also victory points. So you're actually hurting yourself to go first especially if you're forced to bid high to do so.

This creates a great decision moment where you have to evaluate whether the points/cards you hope to gain on the turn are justified by your bid. You might bid higher just to deny an opponent an obscene combo or feel that you can take a breather and settle for last place. But the "zero" spots aren't as simple as that. If you bid zero and then another player also bids zero, he pushes you down the order, meaning that the first player to bid nothing is going last, always.

And throughout the game you have to consider if you've gone overboard on the bids. By the last few turns, every point is scarce and sacred and if you've spent the whole game going first, it's probably cost you a packet to do so. And it really does affect the points at the end. My first game had two of us tie on 154 points and it all came down to our final turn bid to make that happen. One mistake can cost you dearly. But bizarrely there's no tiebreaker in the game - why? Would it have been difficult to add in "coins break ties" or something - it's a house rule for me now!

Short And Sweet

Euro's aren't commonly short games so it's always good when one appears that doesn't take up your whole gaming night, particularly when we only have four hours tops to fit all our games in. But the box claims that a game can be finished within 40-80 minutes. And it's surprisingly accurate! The first game I played of this had 3 players and including teaching, we wrapped it up in 60 minutes. A four player game took about 90 minutes but I was subject to some crazy AP from certain players at times. You really can get this game done and dusted nice and quick almost to the point where the setup time doesn't quite justify the length of the game (it's a lot of meeples to put out!) Teaching the game is also very quick though I've yet to find the easiest way to phrase how the movement is done and the blue tribe (builders) explanation is very fiddly - thankfully Days of Wonder provide some fantastic rule reference cards for 5 players. . . . . . yes I got five in mine - printing error or fore-shadowing?

"The reference cards are two sided and maybe a bit too big, but very clear and helpful"

Interactivity is pretty much as you would expect from a Euro game - not a great deal of it aside from occasionally killing off player meeples, foiling plans and having Djinn powers that relate to what the opponents do. So it's not a solitaire game by any means as you have to adapt a lot to what meeples get moved about and how the bids play out, but it's a Euro game at the end of the day.

And with the game bring fairly short you can get plenty of games out often. Will it last for those games, I don't see why not, the whole tile board and meeple setup is completely random and so are the resource and Djinn cards. So no game every plays out the same. That bring said, the tiles themselves aren't particularly varied, pretty much sticking to essentially three kinds of simplistic abilities - maybe it's setting itself up for expansion. . . . .


"Lots of chunky, wooden goodness"

Does it deserve all the hype it is getting? Well in many respects yes. It meets the requirements of what it was trying to portray. It is a Euro game that's not only easy to learn and explain to new players, but also racks the brain cells from beginning to end. The components are great if a little over-sized in places and the game has a lot of replay value out of the box.

That being said, there are some minor niggles. The insert could have been slightly better designed, more ways of summoning those awesome Djinn cards would have been nice and maybe just a little more variety in the tiles couldn't have hurt. But any issues with the game I can think of are as I said, fairly minor in nature and don't impact the game to a great degree. Just be wary of AP players however - I'm very tempted to impose a 60 second timer in the future.

This is a solid Euro game and worth a play if you're even remotely interested in it. You probably won't want to play it all the time, but at 60 minutes a game, you can fit this into your busy schedule easily

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You want a very tactical game with unique mechanisms
  • You're after a game that's simple to teach, yet offers a lot of depth.
  • You like your Euro games short - 40-80 minutes is not a long time for a game.

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • You're after a meaty brain burner - plenty of tactics here, but this is no Power Grid
  • Analysis paralysis is commonplace in your gaming group
  • You want a game that offers more player interaction
Images c/o