Game Buzz: Five Tribes

It’s always a big deal when Days of Wonder releases a new game.  They don’t do very many, and they tend to go all out on their releases.  They’ve had some huge hits – Ticket to Ride, Memoir ’44, Small World – but in recent years, their games have not been as well received overall.  Still, everyone is always hoping for another big title for the company.  This year, they’re coming out with what is being billed as their first gamer’s game:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Five Tribes is a new game designed by Bruno Cathala that will be premiering in limited quantities at GenCon.  The game is for 2-4 players and takes around an hour to play.  The Sultan has died, and his sultanate is up for grabs.  Players are trying to maneuver the five tribes in order to gain enough influence to take control of Nagala.  It’s a worker placement game, though Bruno Cathala actually calls it a worker displacement game.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The game comes with 38 wooden camels, 6 turn markers, a bid order track, a turn order tack, 90 tribe meeples, a bag, 12 palm trees, 10 palaces, 30 tiles, 22 Djinn cards, 96 gold coins, and 54 resource cards.  In the beginning of the game, the thirty tiles are laid out in a 5×6 grid to form the Sultanate.  Three meeples are drawn from the bag and placed on each tile.  Each player gets a set of 8 camels and a turn marker (in a two-player game, each player gets 11 camels and 2 turn markers), as well as 50 coins.  Each player’s turn marker is placed randomly on the bid order track, and the player in front goes first.

At the start of a turn, each player (in bid order) places their piece on the turn order track and pays the indicated value.  The turn order track has three zeros, then a 1, 3, 5, 8, 12, and 18.  So if you really want to go first, it’s going to cost you.  If you don’t care, you don’t have to spend anything.

Now, in turn order, each player takes their actions for the round.  First, you move your turn marker to the first empty space on the bid track – not only are you going first in the turn, you’ll be the first to bid next round.  You’ll then choose a tile that has meeples on it, pick up the meeples, and start dropping them on adjacent tiles.  This is a mancala type mechanism – the next tile you drop on is adjacent to the one you just dropped on.  You can’t go diagonally, and you can’t backtrack (though you can make a loop).  The last meeple you place must be the same color as at least one meeple on the last tile.  You can never end on an empty tile, though you can pass through them.

Once finished with movement, take the last meeple you dropped plus all meeples of the same color into your hand.  If this empties the tile, place a camel on it – you own it and will score at the end of the game.  The meeples you hold in your hand allow you to do actions:

  • Yellow (Viziers): Keep them for points at the end of the game.
  • White (Elders): Keep them for points, though you can spend them for Djinns throughout the game.
  • Green (Merchants): Put them back in the bag and take a matching number of resource cards from the face up line, starting at the beginning and not replacing what you took.
  • Blue (Builders): Put them back in the bag and gain coins equal to the number of blue meeples you returned times the number of surrounding blue valued tiles.  Slaves can be discarded to increase this multiplier by one.
  • Red (Assassins): Put them back in the bag, then remove one other meeple to the bag.  This could be a meeple on the board or a yellow or white meeple in front of an opponent.  If you empty a tile with this action, you gain control of it.

Next, you can do a tile action.

  • Oasis: Place a palm tree on this tile.
  • Village: PLace a Palace on this tile.
  • Small Market: You may pay three coins and pick a resource card of your choice from the first three available.
  • Large Market: You may pay six coins to take two resource cards from the first six available.
  • Sacred Places: Pay two elders or an elder and a slave to take a Djinn from those visible.  Elders go back in the bag, slaves are discarded.

The last thing you do on your turn (if you want) is sell merchandise.  You discard a number of different cards from a suit and collect money based on how many you turned in.

Once everyone has taken a turn, there’s a clean-up phase.  You replenish the resource cards and Djinns, and then start the bid again.  When a player runs out of camels, or there is no more possible meeple movement, the game is over at the end of the current round.  You then score (using included score sheets) 1 VP per gold, 1 VP per Vizier plus 10 VP per opponent with less Viziers than you; 2 VPs per Elder; VPs from Djinns and owned tiles; 3 VPs per palm tree on owned tiles; 5 VPs per palace on owned tiles; and the sum of VPs from each set of different merchandise.   The player with the most points wins.

So what do I think?  This is definitely the most stereotypically Euro of any game Days of Wonder has come out with – a weak theme, lots of wooden bits, very little luck, and lots of ways to earn points.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but people expecting DoW’s usual fare may be surprised.  I think it looks pretty interesting – I like how it works with the mancala mechanism to both determine what action you can take and to create a moving city atmosphere (I think that’s the most thematic thing involved here).  It’s also quite different than what Stefan Feld did in Trajan, which is nice to see.

I’m definitely interested to see how this game turns out.  It looks like something I’ll enjoy.  I wonder if the amount of meeples on the board might overwhelm someone at first, but overall, I’m looking forward to it.  Hopefully someone I know will be able to grab it at GenCon, but even if they don’t, it should be out in September.  Thanks for reading!




  1. Thanks for this overview… i confirm that, for me this is not a worker placement game.. just because all worker are still on the board since the setup of the game ! These “workers” (tribes…) belong to everybody. And it’s the way you move, and remove them for the board, which triggers the specific actions you will don on your turn. So, that’s the reason that, for me, it’s “worker displacement” 😉

    hope you’ll enjoy it. This game includes a real learning curve. The most you play, the most it’s easy to focus your attention on best moves

    Bruno Cathala

    • I really enjoyed Relic Runners, but that one hasn’t caught on as much as some of their others. Five Tribes might be the start of a new direction for the company – only time will tell.

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