The sultan is dead, long live the sultan!? Welcome in the Sultanate of Naqala. A prophecy tells us that a stranger will rise to power in the Land of 1001 Nights. Will you be that stranger? Five Tribes is a two to four player game from designer Bruno Cathala and Days of Wonders. Seek the help of powerful Djinns and make sure the famous Five Tribes rally behind you and let them do exactly what you want them to do. Then you might become that one, that stranger, the future Sultan of Naqala.
What you get for your money:
You get 30 cardboard tiles, 90 cardboard coins, 1 cardboard bid order and 1 turn order track. You can also find 22 Djinn cards and 54 resource cards in the box. Plus, you get 90 wooden meeples, a meeple bag, 12 wooden palm trees, 10 wooden palaces, 2 sets of 8 camels plus 2 turn marker and 2 sets of 11 camels with one turn marker each. Lastly, you will receive a pad of scoring sheets, some reference sheets and the rules.
How do you play the game:
Let me explain the rules for a three or four player game of Five Tribes, a game by Bruno Cathala.
Imagine yourself in a land far, far away; the Land of 1001 Nights. Camels, palaces, mirages, Djinns and tribesmen on trade routes through the desert.
There are 30 tiles and every tile represents a location in this land of wonders. There are villages and sacred places, both blue, and markets and oasis, both red. Then there are 90 meeples in five different colours, the Five Tribes: white elders, blue builders, green merchants, red assassins and yellow viziers.
The tiles are randomly placed in a five by six tile grid. On every tile, three meeples are placed randomly. Every player starts with eight camels in his colour, a turn marker and fifty coins.
A round start with all players bidding for player order. The first player on the bid order track, randomly determined at the start of the game, pays some money, one to eighteen coins, and places his marker on the corresponding spot. The highest bidders is the new first player and the player who must bid first the next round. You can also decide to bid nothing. There are three ‘zero’ spots. The first player who doesn’t want to pay anything, places his marker on the first zero spot. If another player, later on, also decides to bid nothing, then her marker pushes the current ‘zero’ marker one spot further down the zero line. So if three players bid nothing, the first player who chose to do so, goes last.
After the bid for player order, players must take their turn. The basic mechanism in this game is that every turn you have to pick up all the meeples on one tile and move them onto adjacent tiles, leaving one meeple behind on every tile you pass. You can’t go diagonal, there’s no immediate backtracking and, most importantly, you have to place the last meeple onto a tile with at least one meeple of the same colour.
Then, you remove all the meeples of that colour, including the one you placed there, from the tiles and you do three things.
Firstly, you check if there are any meeples left on that tile. If not, you take control of that tile and you place one of your camels on it. Every tile is worth four to fifteen points at the end of the game.
Secondly, you perform the action that belongs to the tribe you just picked up.
The white meeples are worth two points, but they can also be used to gain Djinn cards and use their power.
You can pick as much open resource cards as the amount of green meeples you just picked up. There are thirty-six merchandise cards (nine different types) and eighteen slave cards. They are shuffled together and nine of them are placed in a row on the table. The rest forms the draw pile. You can trade the cards you own (except the slaves) in for money, money means points. Bigger sets of different types are worth more points.
With the blue meeples you can score points. You do that by multiplying the number of blue meeples in your hand (+ slave cards if you have them) with the number of blue tiles (villages and sacred places) surrounding the tile where you just ended your move.
Red assassins are effective killers. You can either kill one meeple located <number of red meeples in your hand + slave cards if you have them> tiles away, or you can kill a white or yellow meeple of your opponent. Through killing you can try to empty a tile which you immediately can claim as your own.
The yellow meeples are only worth points; one each and a bonus of ten points if you have the most of them at the end of the game.
Those were the meeple actions. After you’ve carried out one of these action, you must or may perform the action belonging to the tile you’ve ended your turn on. Every location has a specific action, some are optional, some mandatory. When you end your turn on an oasis, you must place a palm tree on that tile. When you end your turn on a village, you must place a palace on that tile. At the end of the game, both, palm tree and palace, are worth points for the player owning that tile. Palm trees, three, and palaces, five points. When you place your last meeple on a market tile, you can pay some money to take two from the first six, or one of the first three resource cards from the nine open resource cards on the table. Lastly, when you end you turn on a sacred place, you can pay two white meeples, or one white meeple and one slave card, to buy a Djinn card. Djinns give you points, but, more importantly, give you powers that you use throughout the game. You do need additional white meeples to activate these powers every time you want to use these powers. Some Djinns give you end game scoring opportunities.
The game ends at the end of the turn when a player places his last camel or if no more legal move are possible. Add up all your points, from coins, meeples, camels, Djinns, palm trees, palaces and resources, and the player with the most points wins the game.
Let me start with saying that I think the game is quit easy in terms of the rules. The tile actions are pretty straightforward. The meeple actions a little less, but still quit easy to understand. You can quickly learn the rules, what is much harder to do, is to learn how to play the game successfully.
First of all, every game has a different set-up, so it’s hard to find a single winning strategy. The tile grid is different every time, the meeples are distributed differently and every game other Djinn cards will be available.
Secondly, you cannot really plan ahead. A two-player game allows more planning than a three or four player game, but most of the time you can only begin to think about what you want to do when it’s your turn. Players have to place a meeple on every tile they pass, the distribution of meeples changes from turn to turn and therefore the length of the path players can take and also the possible actions they can do. So, the only thing you can hope for, is that nobody is seeing what you are seeing, or that other players will place meeples in such way that there is actually something to achieve in your turn.
This meeple placement mechanism leads to Analysis Paralysis. I choose specifically not to say ‘can lead to’, because it will definitely lead to AP, especially near the end of the game. It’s up to you to decide whether you think it is a problem or not. I think it’s a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. It’s the brain crushingly, interesting puzzle in your own turn versus the waiting and the fear of ‘don’t do that’ or ‘please hurry up, because I see something brilliant’ during your opponent’s turn.
In a two-player game you won’t be faced with this phenomenon as much as in a three or four-player game. I feel that, because you have two turns in one round, in a two-player game you can better plan ahead. Not very far ahead, but just far enough to keep the AP to a minimum.
The possibility to plan ahead is one of the things that make a two-player game a different experience. The bidding is also less important and definitely less exciting.
The Djinn cards, although only a few of them are used during a game, are quit important. They steer the game into a certain direction, without being greatly overpowered. That is if you keep paying attention to what your opponent is doing, of course.
The bidding for turn order also work pretty nicely. You bid with points, so you really need to think about the final yield of your turn. It’s sometimes difficult to assess whether a bid is worth the money. Buying cards from the market with your money, however, is almost always more profitable than keeping your coins in your pocket. When you sell a set of nine different goods you get sixty points. That’s a lot.
In conclusion, there is no single way to win Five Tribes. It all depends on which Djinns come up, how the tiles are distributed and how the players move their meeples. To win, you must continually adapt to the changing circumstances in this game of shifting sands.
The theme. OK, what about the theme?
Well, there is definitely something in there. The wise elders that can summon powerful Djinns. The caravan with merchants who always have some nice goods with them. The palaces, the oasis. These are all little things that give you a kind of 1001 Nights feel. But does that theme come across when you move your meeples from one tile to the other. Do you become immersed in Arab culture? No, not really.
This game does look amazing. All the coloured meeples with their turbans, the camels, the towers, the chunky wooden palaces and palm trees, these components just look great. The illustrations on the cards give a lot of flavour to the game. The tiles are beautifully illustrated and the iconography is also very clear.
Quality of the game parts:
Chunky wooden bits, sturdy cardboard pieces and, yes, the cards are fine too. The box inlay is perfect. Just very good quality.
Five Tribes is a very fun game. It’s a puzzle with an ever-changing solution. You have to continually adapt to profit the most from new opportunities. Sometimes you have so many options to think about and sometimes just not quite enough. You sit there thinking about what to do until your brain starts to hurt. It sounds bad, but it actually is a very fun challenge.
Five Tribes is not a heavy game in terms of the rules, but the amount of options the players will be presented with make it more difficult to grasp than you would think. It’s not a game I would recommend to play with occasional gamers, but for the rest of us it certainly would be a very nice addition to our collection.