Rise of Tribes (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Brad BrooksLength:  30-60 minutes
Artist: Sergio ChavesAge: 10+
Publisher: Breaking GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5

Rise of Tribes by Breaking Games looks like your normal area control game with the usual random terrain made out of hexagonal tiles. The game is set in ancient, prehistoric times, and you move your tribe members around the terrain, collect resources, craft tools to upgrade your tribe’s abilities and generally do things that you will have seen before in other games. However, look closer and you will see that there are at least two interesting mechanisms in this game, which make it stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Let’s start with the most obvious mechanism, which are the way the dice work in this game. On your turn you roll two six sided dice, showing a mix of moons, suns and blank faces. At first glance it sounds like this game is heavily influenced by chance – after all, you’re rolling dice. However, chance is heavily mitigated, because you place your dice into one of four action slots, each of which already has three of these types of dice in them. As you place a dice, you knock the “oldest” dice in the relevant action slot out, leaving you with a combination of moons, suns and blanks on the three remaining dice. Having two or more suns is a good thing, making that action more powerful, while having two or more moons makes it less effective, and all other dice combinations mean the action has its standard efficiency.

That means that even if you roll two moons, which aren’t powerful dice results, you can benefit from the existing dice to at least get the standard ability of an action. So a really bad roll won’t necessarily mean you have a bad turn. In fact, the opposite is true too. If you roll two suns, which is a good symbol, you won’t necessarily benefit from stronger actions, if none of three dice in an action space shows a sun. On top of this, you want to avoid leaving a good dice combination in an action space that the next player can benefit from.

Suddenly what seems to be a relatively simple dice placement mechanism turns into a real puzzle in itself. You might really need to carry out a certain action now, but you don’t have the dice to get the better version of that action. Alternatively, maybe you have two suns, but you don’t want to leave the next player the option of getting a more powerful action, which will benefit them more than it would you taking the same action on your turn. You really have to pay attention to what other players are up to and take that into consideration when you decide where to place your two dice.

Now there is another very interesting mechanism in this game. Unlike in many other area control games, in Rise of Tribes you can happily occupy a hex that another player already has tribe members in. In fact, it is not uncommon to have hexes containing three or more different tribes all at the same time. There is a population limit though, and when a hex has reached or exceeded that limit at the end of a player’s turn, combat commences. Now don’t expect to roll more dice to decide the outcome. The process is quite simple. You basically keep removing a single tribe member from every player on the contested hex until only a single player’s tokens are left. So if player A has two tribes members, player B one and player C three, then by the end of the battle only player C will be left with a single tribes member.

However, that isn’t the interesting mechanism I was thinking of, even though the idea of being able to share hexes is quite unsual in area control games. What is interesting though is the idea that you can have a single tribes member on a hex and on your turn take the so-called Grow action, which allows you to add anything between two and four tribe members onto any hex where you already have a presence.

You can find that two tribes happily co-exist on a hex, with player A having two tribe members present while player B has a single, unassuming meeple on the same hex. Then, suddenly, player B takes the Grow action with two suns, allowing them to place four new tokens. They decide to place all four on the shared hex and at the end of their turn they trigger combat, which results in player A losing both of their paltry two tribe members, while player B is victorious with two of their members remaining on the hex. Imagine that – a single meeple takes over a hex in one swoop.

So both mechanisms create a really interesting game, quite different from all other area control games I have come across. There is plenty for players to think about on every turn, without making the game feel too taxing. In fact, I don’t think the game will cause analysis paralysis in players, because choices on your turn are limited – you have to place two dice, that’s it. Yet you do have to plan ahead and hope that the Gods are in your face and give you the dice rolls you need.

Five Tribes (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2014Players: 2-4
Designer: Bruno CathalaLength: 45-90 minutes
Artist: Clément MassonAge: 13+
Publisher: Days of WonderComplexity: 3.0 / 5

The task in hand wasn’t going to be simple, but the rewards were huge. You could become ruler of Naqala if you were able to influence the people of the land to help you reach your goal. You were hoping to get the help of the djinns, but they would only listen to you if the people were on your side. It seemed impossible, but you knew that you could talk to each group individually and over time you would eventually have the help of all of the Five Tribes by Days of Wonder.

Here is another game where the theme feels stuck on and not actually particularly integral to the gameplay. What you’re really doing is playing a kind of Mancala, but instead of going in a circle, you move the differently coloured pieces around a randomly created board. I appreciate that Mancala is too abstract for many people, but even though the theme is attractive at first and will want you to take a closer look at the game when you’re at your friendly local games store, along with the gorgeous cover art, in the end, the theme really doesn’t help with the gameplay.

You’re just picking up a bunch of coloured meeples and deposit them, one by one, from square tile to square tile until you run out. The colour of the meeple you place last decides what action you can then take. So there are the viziers, elders, builders, merchants and assassins, and the elders allow you to get control of a djinn, while the assassins allow you to kill other meeples, removing them from the board, and so on. All very thematic, for sure, but you can never quite remember what colour is what type of meeple.

Some will probably stick in your mind: red for assassins and white for elders. Yet, when you play the game, you probably will always just say that you’ve got some red meeples and want to kill a white meeple that one of your opponents has. The djinns are also just a way of giving you special actions you can carry out, which doesn’t feel very magical at all.

At the end of the day, this is a game all about area control and planning ahead – and it’s a lot of fun and will make you think quite a bit. You do have to think about which group of meeples you pick up and how you deposit them around the board, so that you don’t give the other players an advantage while still giving you a few options on your next turn. It’s sometimes quite tricky to work out what you want to do, especially during your first few games, but when you have found the solution, it feels actually really great.

There is also a set collection element to it, which I don’t think was necessary, but does add a bit more variety and another opportunity to make points and possible take the win.

The game offers a lot of strategic thinking, but also has a lot of tactics involved. It will really suit people who like these sort of thinky, abstract games. It’s a puzzle that will really challenge your brain. However, I’d still think it’s a family game, mainly because of the theme, be it for slightly older kids.

There is plenty of replayability in Five Tribes. The board is randomly assembled from a set of square tiles and there are 22 djinn cards to keep you busy. There are also 54 resource cards to give you plenty of variety for the set collection part.

So Five Tribes is a bit of a jack of all trades, offering players a variety of things to do and focus on. The artwork is wonderful, the components are really good quality and overall Days of Wonder have done a really good job.

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Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I borrowed the game from a friend, so didn’t have to pay anything for it.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)
Music: Jalandhar by Kevin MacLeod (https://filmmusic.io/song/3934-jalandhar)
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/