May 6, 2015

[Games] Five Tribes

Here's another game that came into view because of Wil Wheaton's TableTop web series - Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala. There's been some buzz about the game floating around, but it wasn't until I really took the time to watch the TableTop playthrough that I figured it would be a great addition to our collection of games here at the Sietch. Thankfully Tobie was able to secure a copy and things have been pretty interesting since then.

Five Tribes features a number of different scoring rules that feel like elements of different games that we've played. But the way all these elements were brought together made for a whole new game experience that's definitely fun.

The game is fairly light at first glance, but it also remains highly strategic as well. And you know how much we enjoy our strategy games.

Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala is a different take on the worker placement game as designed by Bruno Cathala. The game was published by Days of Wonder and it game supports 2-4 players.

The game has players vying for control for the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. In order to do this, players need to find ways to best use the titular five tribes to do this. In game terms, the map is a 5x6 grid of randomly placed tiles. Each tile starts with three meeple of 5 possible colors, representing the 5 tribes. Players take turns picking up the meeple and sowing them across the board in a manner similar to the various mancala-style games out there for as long as the last piece must be placed on a tile with at least one matching meeple of the same color. The final meeple you sow also determines what effect you trigger.

Before we talk about the tribes, a little housekeeping. Play order is determined by bidding using the coins provided for in the game. You bid in the order of the last turn and all bids are paid back to the supply / bank. And like any other game of strategy, player order can be pretty critical and so it's up to you to determine how much money you'll need to invest. The catch is that these coins also represent victory points for the end of the game, thus spending more money may mean less points for you in the end.

Now the tribes are what make all the difference and each provides different benefits. Yellow Viziers are collected in front of the player and count as 1 victory point each. But there's also a bonus of 10 victory points for every player who has less Viziers than you do. White Elders are worth 2 victory points each and are also gathered in front of the player, but are also important in summoning Djinns. Blue Builders collect coins based on how many Builders are on the tile and how many blue tiles surround that final tile. Green Merchants help you gather Resource Cards from the deck. And finally Red Assassins allow you to eliminate meeples on other tiles or even Viziers and Elders already in front of other players.

Now there are many other ways to score victory points. Collecting the last meeple on a tile (or assassinating one) allows you to place a control marker (the Camel) as long as no one else owns the tile, thus giving you the points on that tile. Ending a move on an Oasis or a Village adds a Palm Tree or a Palace respectively and each gives more points should someone control the tile. Resources rely on set building and the more unique resources you have significantly adds to how many points you can earn. A single resource card is only worth 1 card while gathering all 9 resource cards gives you 60 points. And of course the Djinns themselves are worth different victory points and give the player access to new abilities or upgraded scoring possibilities.

So like I said before, the game seems to have elements from different games that seem familiar, but having them all together all at once makes for an interesting experience. The many ways to score victory points and potentially win the game provide for a rich variety of options for players to move forward. At the same time, more players means more individuals who might get in the way of your plans, especially given how many of the scoring methods rely on set collection principles.

The random board layout, the shuffle of the Resource cards and even the random seeding of meeples at the start of the game all contribute to keeping things pretty random. Thus every game session is pretty unique, and that's even before you consider the different player strategies out there.

Five Tribes is a delightful little strategy game that's easy to learn but tricky to master, as is the nature of all good strategy games. I'm glad that we now have a copy and I'm keen to get a copy of the expansion soon enough. The game itself gets a solid 4 meeple drops out of a possible 5.

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