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Five Tribes

Djinns and assassins and Days of Wonder… Oh my! One of the hot games from GenCon 2014 was Five Tribes which was labeled as Days of Wonder’s first “gamer game.” How did it live up to Days of Wonder’s previous reputation? Read on and find out.What Is It?

Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala is a game for two to four players designed by Bruno Cathala and published by Days of Wonder. The premise of the game that old sultan has died and now there are outsiders who are maneuvering the five tribes of the land to gain influence over the city state in order to become the next sultan. The objective of the game is to be the person with the most victory points on the round in which someone places their last camel or the round when the board runs out of legal moves.

Game In Progress

A two player game just getting started.

The board consists of a five by six grid of tiles that are laid out randomly for each game. At the start of the game there are three random meeples on each of the tiles. Meeples are one of five colors that provide different actions during the game. At the start of the round, players will bid for turn order in an open, immediate payment bid. It is possible to bid zero coins, but the each additional person to bid zero pushes the previous people who bid zero back in the turn order, so you don’t want to be the first person to bid zero. Then, each player will take a turn by picking up all the meeples from one tile. The player will then move those meeples, dropping a meeple on each tile that they pass over before dropping the last meeple on a tile with other meeples of that color. The player then removes all the meeples of that color from the tile. If that cleared the tile of meeples, the player places one of their camels on the tile to mark it for points at the end of the game. After possibly claiming the tile, the player performs whatever action is associated with the color of the group of meeples they picked up. For example, green merchants get you resources, while red assassins allow you to kill another meeple either on the board or in front of another player. Finally you can perform whatever action is on the tile which could be placing a palace or palm tree, purchasing resource cards, or gaining a djinn card. Theoretically, you can also sell “suits” of merchandise for gold coins, but I have yet to see this happen in a game. After all players have gone, you replenish the djinn and resource cards and then the next round starts with another turn order bid.

The Djinn cards provide special abilities the bend the rules of the game for the character who controls them. One djinn prevents your viziers and elders from being assassinated by other players. Another djinn makes elders worth more points at the end of the game. There are twenty-two djinn in the game with only 3 available for purchase in any given round, so it is unlikely that you’ll see the same mix of djinn in any given game.

Djinn Cards

The Djinn provide both points and abilities.

At the end of the game, you score points for all sorts of things including vizier and elder meeples you’ve claimed, djinns you have, tiles you’ve claimed, sets of different trade goods, and your gold coins. The person with the most points wins.

What Do I Think Of It?

I was looking forward to getting my hands on this after doing some research of my own. The art looked fantastic and the main mechanism sounded easy enough to quickly get into, but thinky enough to be challenging. I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. My wife and I picked up the game quickly on our first try. If there was one thing we had trouble with, it was remembering to bid for turn order. When you’re playing with two players, each player gets two turns instead of one and you have to bid for each of those turns in the turn order bid. We found it hard to remember to do that, though with more plays that might become second nature. We both enjoyed it, though the number of possibilities at the beginning of the game was a bit paralyzing at first.

While we’re on the subject of two players, let me get into one of my gripes about the game. When you play with two players, each player has two turn markers and eleven camels. These components are only provided for two of the four player colors in the game. The other two colors only have a single turn marker and eight camels. This is a minor pet peeve in the scale of a good game, but I wish they had made any color playable with two players.

The game scaled well to the larger number of players. I think I like how it plays with more players more than I like how it plays with two players. You only have one turn to plan for and with multiple people playing, it becomes more difficult to get into tunnel vision and lets you see more of the game. I’ve yet to get it to the table with a full compliment of four players, but that has more to do with my game groups usually being three or five players. Getting this to the table with four players is high on my gaming to-do list.

Meeples Chilling

Some meeples just like to chill at the oasis.

Aside from the aforementioned player piece issue, the components are all excellent. The art on the djinns is nice and evocative. The art on the tiles is nice, though it’s frequently covered by meeples, so you don’t get to see it as much. The board tiles are the same things on both sides which makes it hard to properly randomize them. It would be nice to have blank backs on those tiles so that you could shuffle them, but there are ways around that to randomize the board.

Player reference cards are sadly absent from many games, but not this one. These cards summarize the round order on one side and the other side lists all the djinn and what they do. These cards are a great reference during the game and ease the transition into the game for new players. I wish more game publishers put effort into this helpful component.

The box insert is top notch, although this isn’t surprising as box inserts are one of the many things that Days of Wonder has always done well. I would like to have had a diagram on where the pieces went. Some pieces had obvious places to go but their were a couple of places where you could put the coins. I had to go find a picture of the components in the box to figure out where things went. Again, a minor pet peeve, but something that stuck out at meet when I first received the game.

Box Insert

Good box inserts are important. I can’t say that enough.

Final Thoughts

This game is excellent. It brings together a simple core mechanic with the possibility for some deep-thinking strategy. Days of Wonder has really hit it out of the park on their first gamer game. This game easily earns its place on my shelf and I look forward to teaching it to my daughter once she gets a little more grounded in the board game hobby. I actually don’t have any concerns about this game’s longevity and see it hanging around in my collection for a long time.

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