BGG Rank #41 – 1/7/2017
Today we’ll be taking a look at the 2014 release from Days of Wonder, Five Tribes. First though, please join me as I discuss a brief history of “cameeples”.
- India, ~600 BC: Wooden or stone Chess pieces of various shapes are made to represent people, such as queens, knights, and pawns. Chess goes on to become a timeless classic that is still played by millions worldwide today.
- Germany, 2000 AD: Wooden figurines in the rudimentary shape of humans in the game Carcassonne are referred to as “meeples”, a shortened version of “my people”. Carcassonne wins the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (“Game of the Year”) award, the term “meeples” sticks, and the shape becomes an iconic symbol of board gaming.
- Germany, 2014 AD: Camel Up becomes the first game to feature camel meeples, or “cameeples”. These cleverly designed bactarian cameeples are stackable, a feature that is integral to the beautifully designed gameplay. Camel Up follows in the footsteps of Carcassonne, winning the Spiel des Jahres award.
- USA, 2014 AD: Headquartered in California, board game publisher Days of Wonder releases Five Tribes, featuring dromedary cameeples. With only one hump, these cameeples are not stackable. The game also features regular meeples in five different colors, palmeeples (palm tree meeples), and archweeples (archway meeples). And some wooden things that look kind of like pawns.
Of the above list, would you guess that only Five Tribes is currently in the BGG Top 100? Neither would I. Let’s take a closer look and see if it is deserving of that spot.
Five Tribes is an ambitious design, with a bunch of moving parts and many paths to victory. If you’d like a brief overview of how the game works and/or are struggling with insomnia, please read the following paragraph. Otherwise, skip ahead. You’ve been warned.
The board is modular, with a grid of 30 tiles placed randomly during game setup, and 90 meeples of five different colors also placed randomly, three per tile. The main mechanic is a riff on worker placement: it’s worker displacement, where you move a group of meeples from tile to tile, and remove meeples of the same color in the final tile you land on. Based on the color of meeple you remove, you can either gain money, buy some goods, gain victory points, get some guys that will help you buy djinns (which do an even wider variety of things), or kill some other meeples! Also, depending on the tile on which you land, you may be able to perform another tile-specific action. And if you clear the last remaining meeples from a tile, you put a cameeple on it which entitles you to additional victory points. You can also get victory points from money, goods, djinns, meeples, palmeeples, and archweeples. Oh and did I mention that at the start of each round, players bid money to determine turn order? Which is important because if you don’t go first, your move could get taken by someone else, and/or the board could be totally different as meeples move from tile to tile!
Zzz…no, there’s too many of them! The meeples are overtaking us and… Wait, what?
Okay, wake up, I’m done with the rules overview! Look, there’s no way around it: this is not as light of a game as many of Days of Wonder’s other titles, such as Ticket to Ride or Small World. That will automatically deter some people. However, complex games can be fun too.
Is this complex game fun though? My answer is no, and let me explain why: there’s too much downtime caused by analysis paralysis.
Analysis paralysis (n.) – A player’s inability to make a timely decision due to the amount of information being processed, leading to excessive downtime between players’ turns and sucking the fun out of a game.
Complex games can be a really fun experience — your brain gets a great workout, and when you do something right, you feel a great sense of accomplishment. There’s often a greater level of replayability as well, as multiple plays can allow players to become more familiar with the mechanics and try out various strategies. Complex games face a key obstacle though, and that’s mitigating the effects of analysis paralysis. Some games address this with a turn timer, although this is just a band-aid rather than a cure. Even better are the games that allow players to make decisions concurrently or to at least plan ahead, so that you’re not sitting idle while you wait for your opponents to take their turns.
Five Tribes fails in this regard. Because of the constant dramatic changes to the board state, players rarely are able to plan ahead effectively. Instead, you’re forced to just sit back and wait, as the multicolored meeples look back at you mockingly.
Five Tribes is a challenging puzzle, and if you play with a group that is not at all prone to analysis paralysis, you may well enjoy it. I did also find that the two player version was much less painful than the full complement of four players. Regardless, I’d much rather play Carcassonne, or Chess, or Camel Up.
In summary, is Five Tribes a terrible game? No, not by any stretch. But like the many different types of meeples contained in its box, Five Tribes tries to do too much without doing any particular thing exceptionally well. It’s not a good ambassador for complex games, and I can’t recommend it.
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