October 8, 2014
The premise of the newest jewel of a board game from Days of Wonder is thus: the Sultanate of Naqala is leaderless (he has recently passed), and each player is vying for influence to take over the nation’s leadership for himself. The ever-changing board is made up of thirty tiles, which are randomly distributed at the start of the game into a 5×6 grid. Also distributed randomly upon these tiles are ninety counters (or meeples) in five colors, three per tile.
The basic mechanic of Five Tribes is very similar to Mancala, a traditional stone-counting game from Africa. On each turn, a player picks up all of the counters on a chosen tile and then places them in a path leading away from that tile, one counter per tile along the chosen path. In the last tile of each path, there must already be a counter matching the color of the counter that is being placed. If there isn’t a match, the counter cannot be moved there. After a player has created her path, she then picks up all counters of the same color as the last counter that was placed in the final tile of a path. If there are no counters left on the tile at that time, it is then claimed for victory points, given out at the end of the game. Players are also allowed to take an action based on the color of counters that have been picked up. As well, each player may take special action based on the particular ability granted by the last tile of each path.
The detailed strategy of the game lies in taking advantage of these special actions by building the proper paths and taking the most beneficial colors of counters. This is largely done by choice, as the most random element of the game is the initial distribution of tiles and counters upon those tiles. There are many different ways to acquire victory points, so players must carefully choose which methods to pursue, making key choices about how to play. This makes for an engaging game that you can play many times over and over without getting bored or mastering the layers of strategy. In my experience, no one strategy has proven to be stronger than another, and all the games I have played have been scored very closely. The basic mechanic of building paths and collecting counters is also different enough from other games that it provides a nice change of pace.
One cannot talk about a new Days of Wonder release without also mentioning the production value. This game is just beautiful! In particular, the Djinn cards are incredible: each one represents a nature spirit that offers the player a specific special ability. As gorgeous as the components are, the relationship between the game’s theme and the actual game play is not particularly relevant, but that is the only part of the game I would call less than strong.
Days of Wonder usually offer one full-production game per year and it is always something to look forward to. Five Tribes is no exception, and I think it’s one of the best to have come along in some time. It’s somewhat of a departure from their usual style of family board game, feeling much more like a proper Eurogame than something like Ticket to Ride. But it’s easy to learn, beautifully produced, extremely replayable, and a ton of fun. If that sounds good to you then follow me into the world of Naqala!