Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Bruno Cathala


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Over the years the publishing house of DAYS OF WONDER has established a good reputation for solidly designed family boardgames. Some of these games like Ticket to Ride or Pirate's Cove are lighter and easily accessible, whereas the one or other more strategic game like Wolfgang Kramer's Collosseum or Richard Borg's Memoir '44 also has found a home in DAYS OF WONDER's portfolio. A factor shared by all DAYS OF WONDER games is the wonderful artwork and the high quality of the playing components, and this factor certainly is also shared by Bruno Cathala's newest creation Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala. However, seasoned DAYS OF WONDER fans should be warned, since the game's orientation is quite strategic and so it cannot be compared with many of the older titles from this publisher.

In Five Tribes the players compete to become the new ruler of the Sultanate of Naqala, and in gaming terms their success will be measured by Victory Points which can be scored through eight different options. So, at the end of the game the players possessions of gold, meeples, Region tiles, Djinn cards, palms, palaces and goods will be turned into Victory Points, and - of course - the player with the best combined value will have won.

This review starts with the scoring options, because such a variety of scoring options emphasizes the initial statement that Five Tribes is indeed a challenging strategy game. However, the presence of many scoring options usually makes it hard to see which player is in the lead, and here Five Tribes is no exception. Some vague guesses which player might have done best can be made by looking at his possessions, but the final outcome of the game only will be known once all scores have been calculated. This is not a flaw, but seems to be a chosen part of Bruno Cathala's design since he builds up tension by keeping the current scores unclear.

But let's now have a look at the game itself. During setup, the players arrange a rectangular area of 6 times 5 Region tiles, representing the Sultanate and serving as a gameboard. On each of the tiles three randomly drawn meeples will be placed, and the five different colours of the meeples represent the five tribes (or professions) of Naqala. During the game the players try to collect these meeples, and whenever a player gains some meeples he will be allowed to use their abilities to his benefit. So, let's see how this acquisition of meeples works…


During his turn a player must choose one of the Region tiles which contains at least one meeple. He will empty this tile, taking all meeples into his hand, and then he will start placing these meeples onto new Region tiles. The rules for making this placement are fairly simple, since the meeples are placed one at a time and each of them must be placed on a tile adjacent to the tile where the last meeple was placed. In this fashion an unbroken chain of meeples is created, but the player must take care that the last meeple is placed onto a region which already contains at least one meeple of the same color. This is important because the player is entitled to take all meeples of this color from the final tile and use them for an action. The different meeples can be used in the following ways:

  • Vizier (yellow): These meeples are simply kept for Victory Points.
  • Elder (white): Can be kept for Victory Points as well, but they are more often used to conjure Djinns at sanctuaries.
  • Merchant (green):The player may take as many goods from the open display as he has gained Merchants. Afterwards the Merchant meeples are discarded.
  • Master Builder (blue): The number of surrounding Region tiles with sanctuaries and buildings is added up and multiplied by the number of Master Builders just taken by the player. The player gains a corresponding amount of gold and discards the meeples afterwards.
  • Assassin (red): Can be used to kill (discard) one Vizier or Elder of another player, or one meeple on the gameboard. On the gameboard the maximum range is determined by the number of Assassins taken. Once again, all taken Assassins are discarded after use.

Once the active player has dealt with the action provided by the taken meeples, he also has to perform the action provided by the Region tile from which he has taken the meeples. The player may have to place a palm tree (Oasis tile) or a palace (Village tile) from the stocks onto the tile, or he may be allowed to purchase some goods for gold (Market tile). If the tile shows a holy place (Sanctuary tile), the player may discard some Elder meeples to conjure a Djinn card from the open display in order to gain access to its special ability. A total of 22 different Djinns exists in the game, and whereas some of the Djinns provide bonus Victory Points for certain feats, other Djinns give the players either a one-time or a continuous benefit during the game. These benefits are manifold, and as it is often the case with special effect cards their usefulness depends on the strategy followed by the player and the current situation of the game. To keep the different Djinn abilities manageable, only three Djinns are available at a time, and so the players do not need to learn about all Djinn abilities when the rules are taught.

The taking of meeples also may entitle a player to ownership of the Region tile from which the meeples were taken. If the player empties the tile (because all meeples there had the same colour), he will gain ownership of the tile and mark this by placing a camel of his color onto the tile. The tiles have different values, and at the end of the game the players will get Victory Points corresponding to the values of all their Region tiles.

An element which has not yet been explained are the goods. 9 types of goods with different degrees of rarity exist in the game, and the players should strive to collect sets of different types of goods. These sets can be turned in for gold either during the game or during the final evaluation, and the more different types of goods the set contains, the more valuable it gets. During the game a player may use the goods to gain some desperately needed funds, but usually it is better to wait for the game's end (if the player can afford this) in order to collect a greater variety of goods.

Quite a bit of money can be spent by the players during the turn-order bids which are made at the beginning of each round. Items like goods or Djinn card are only revealed once per round, and likewise stocks of palms and palaces are restricted. For these reasons the game depends highly on the players' timing, and so the players are always tempted to spend some gold to play early. The bidding itself is done in a slightly innovative way, with players bidding no gold being put backwards by later players with the same bid. This leads to an interesting dilemma which gives the whole procedure a somewhat different feeling than in other games.

Indeed, it is not only the bidding but the whole playing experience which can be found in Five Tribes which makes it stand apart from many other products. As the rules outline should have shown, Five Tribes is no worker placement game despite the abundance of meeples which can be found in the gamebox. Instead, it is a strategic movement game which offers a degree of innovation comparable to Istanbul and its unique movement rules. However, the strategic approach in Five Tribes is rooted even deeper, and especially during the first few turns of a game the players are hard pressed to decide on a sensible action. This situation gradually changes during the game since the number and variety of available meeples decreases, but for the first few turns especially new players usually will resort to some experimenting. Seasoned gamers on the other hand quickly will discover that clever collecting of Djinn cards and goods is one of the keys to do well in Five Tribes, and if all players do this with approximately the same skill the Sultanship of Naqala will be contested quite vigorously.

As a final note it should be mentioned that DAYS OF WONDER has announced the release of an expansion for summer 2015. Five Tribes - The Artisans of Naqala seems to be dedicated to hard-core strategy gamers since a sixth kind of meeples (the name-giving Artisans) are introduced to the game. The artisans can be used to manufacture magic artifacts, some of which count for Victory Points whereas others provide special abilities. In addition, the expansion will feature new Djinns and special Region tiles with obstacles, and it can be predicted just by checking the expansion's description gameplay will get even more challenging.


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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany