Dale Yu: Review of Five Tribes (Days of Wonder)

  • Designer: Bruno Cathala
  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 40-80 min*
  • Ages: 13+
  • * recommended time is what is printed on the box, our games proved to be closer to 120 min for a 4p game
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by DoW


Five Tribes is the new Gen Con/Essen 2014 release from the newly-acquired-by-Asmodee-publishing-house Days of Wonder.  This game has been making its way around the convention circuit over the past 12-18 months, and it has certainly been given a lot of attention from veteran gamers in that time.  I first saw the prototype last year at Essen in my meeting with Adrien.  Five Tribes is a distinct departure from previous DoW releases – this is a “gamers game”, not the usual family-oriented game that you have come to expect from the company.   Five Tribes is a game for the serious strategy gamer.

Gameplay abstract

The city is made up for 30 tiles, randomly setup in a 5×6 array.  3 meeples (of 5 different possible colors) are randomly seeded on each tile.  9 Resource cards are laid out in a line on the side – there are 9 different possible resources as well as “slave cards”.  There is also a display for Djinn cards – 3 face up out of a deck of 20+, each of these has a special ability that can be used if you acquire that card.  Each player starts with 50 gold (each worth a VP).


The game is played in a series of rounds until one of the two game-end criteria are met.  The first thing to do each round is determine turn order for that round. Using player order from last round, players choose the spot they want to occupy on the current round’s turn order track.  The spaces cost: 18, 12, 8, 5, 3, 1, 0, 0, 0.  Turn order will start from the 18 spot and move downwards through the track. Only one player can occupy a particular spot – you pay the cost of your spot to the bank once you choose.  If you take one of the free spots, you take the first one (next to the 1).  If someone else takes a free spot later, they take the first one (next to the 1), and you are pushed further back in the turn order onto the next 0 space.

After all players have chosen a spot, each player takes their turn:


1) Moving turn marker

You take your turn order marker and place it on the first available space on the bidding for turn order track. Thus, if you go first this turn, you are the first to choose where on the track you are next turn.

2) Moving meeples

Starting in any tile on the board, you pick up all the meeples on that tile and redistribute them.  They are placed on an orthogonal-only path (no diagonals), one meeple placed per tile with no immediate backtracking allowed.  At the end of your path, in order for your move to be legal, there must be at least one meeple of the same color as the meeple you are dropping off on that tile.  Finally, you then collect all the meeples of the color you just dropped off at that tile (there must be at least two as you just put one there and there must have been one already there!).

3) Take control of a tile

Once you remove all the meeples of the placed color, if there are no other meeples on the tile, you can take control of it (assuming no one else owns it yet).  To show ownership, place a camel in your color in the corner of the tile.  Ownership can never be taken away.

4) Take your “meeple action”

Each of the different meeple colors has a specific action associated with it – you take whichever action goes with the meeples still in your hand

  • Green – take a number of resource/slave cards from the start of the market equal to the number of meeples in your hand (note- you do not get to choose cards, you simply take X cards from the start of the line)
  • Blue – count the number of tiles with Blue value that surround the tile you ended on (and include the tile you ended on) and multiply it by the number of meeples in your hand.  You may discard any number of slave cards here and add one to your meeple count for each card.  Take gold from the bank equal the product of the tiles x (meeples+slaves).
  • Yellow – take the yellow meeples and place them in front of you. They score at the end
  • White – take the white meeples and place them in front of you. They do neat stuff elsewhere in the game
  • Red – you may assassinate any meeple sitting in front of another player or a meeple on the board that is no further away tile-wise than the number of meeples in your hand.  The range on the board can be increased one tile per slave card discarded.  If you take out a meeple on the board, and this empties out that tile of meeples, you would then take control of that tile as well (put your camel on it).

5) Take the “tile action”

Once you have done the meeple action, you then look at the tile you ended on and take the tile action depicted on the corner of that tile.

  • Palm tree – place a palm tree on that tile. The owner of this tile will score 3vp per tree on tile
  • Village – place a village marker on that tile. The owner of this tile will score 5vp per village on the tile
  • Small Market (1/3) – pay 3 gold to choose any one of the first 3 cards available in the market
  • Large Market (2/6) – pay 6 gold to choose any two of the first 6 cards available in the market
  • Djinn – pay either 2 white meeples or (1 white meeple+1 slave card) to take any of the 3 face up Djinn cards in the display.  You score VP for the card, and now may take advantage of the special ability of the Djinn – though this may cost you additional white meeples to use it
djinn cards

djinn cards

6) Sell commodities

To end your turn, you MAY sell commodities.  You can sell as many cards as you like.  You are paid for sets of cards, with each card in the set being a different commodity: 1-3-7-13-21-30-40-50-60 for one to nine different cards. The rules actually say that you should wait as long as possible to sell cards in order to maximize your profits.  However, you may not have a choice on selling if you need money now for turn order bidding.

commodity cards

commodity cards

7) Clean up

Only after ALL players have taken their turn, you reset the commodity market by sliding the cards down and refreshing to 9 and reset the Djinn display by flipping up cards until you have 3 visible.  Then, you move back into bidding for turn order for the next round.

Game End

The game continues in this manner until one of the two game end conditions is met: A) there are no legal meeple moves left anywhere on the board OR B) a player places his last camel down on the board.  The game ends at the end of the round – thus, it is possible that players will have paid for turn order in the last round and end up not getting a meaningful turn (the only option left for them would be to sell any remaining resource cards and/or take a Djinn action).


OK, this is the confusing part – but they at least give you a scoresheet to track the points

  • 1 VP per gold left
  • 1 VP per yellow meeple in front of you
  • 10 VP for each player who has fewer yellow meeples than you
  • 2 VP per white meeple in front of you
  • VP added from your Djinn cards
  • VP added from your owned tiles
  • 3VP per palm tree on tile that you own
  • 5VP per village on tile that you own
  • VP based on sale of commodity cards left at end of game

My thoughts on the game

Well, this is a big change from previous DoW games.  This is one seriously meaty game.  After three plays, I’d be interested to play a game with Bruno to see how they’re able to get this game in at the box cover “80 minute” limit.  I am definitely not complaining about the game length, but this one takes us a long time to get through.

There are two big chokepoints each turn.  First, when bidding for turn order, there is a bit of thinking that needs to go on.  Since you are spending your own VPs to bid on turn order, ideally, you’d like to not spend more points than you can earn on your turn.  But, to do this, you must study the board and look at as many possible moves as you can to figure out how much they will score.  An even better goal for your turn is to min-max the situation to figure out how to get the best delta score for the turn.  You may be willing to settle for less than the maximum move if you can spend significantly less to get that turn.  You might end up with a better overall score with a mediocre move but no cost for turn order than taking your maximal move but having to spend 12 or 18 VP to take it.  This min-max decision also takes a bit of time as you have to choose how much you spend or how much you’re willing to risk getting what you want at a particular price point.

In my experience, this takes a couple of minutes for everyone to ponder the board situation.  Once the first player takes his turn, the next player in order still needs a little bit of time to then reconsider the situation as the amount the first person was willing to bid might give more information to the next player in order.  This delay continues to cascade down the turn order as each player has to decide what they are willing to spend.

Usually, the first player each round is able to take their turn quickly because they have already done the math in their head for their turn, and nothing would have changed on the board since they made their bid.  However, after the first player takes their turn, there is likely a little delay for all the other players in turn order because the previous turns that round may have altered the board and opened up a new move that could score more points, or previous turns that have altered the display of resources or djinn cards may re-value the previously calculated move. I’d estimate that each round takes 10 to 15 minutes in our group, and we tend to be fast players.

There are a lot of decisions to be made, and many of them can only be made when it is your turn.  We passed the time by chatting amongst ourselves while the active player stared at the board.  This sort of thing works well in our group as we’re always jabbering about something, but otherwise, be prepared for some downtime between your turns.  I’d also likely personally avoid this with anyone already known to be an AP kinda player.

The majority of the actions/moves are very straightforward, and there isn’t much analysis (IMHO) for any particular one.  As I mentioned earlier, the bigger thing is just being able to look at the immense number of options available to you on any given turn and trying to figure out which possible move scores you the most points.  The catch is that there could be over 100 different viable moves on a given turn (this is a complete WAG – but considering that you might be able to start from any of the 30 tiles with many possible different paths from each tiles plus differing permutations on Djinn/resource card acquisitions, etc – 100 seems not unlikely)

The only thing I can say after playing three games is to not underestimate the power of the Djinn cards.  I do not think that the are necessarily balanced against each other – though I will make it clear that they do not AND should not have to be balanced.  Bidding on turn order is a huge part of the game, and having a valuable Djinn card available is simply one of the varied criteria that you have to take into account when planning your move.

As an example, one Djinn card allows you to take control of any empty non-owned tile.  This could potentially score you between 4 and 15 points each turn depending on the board setup on your turn.  This is clearly a card which can score a lot of points, and I have found it to be one of the most lucrative of the Djinn cards.  Is it fair that only one person will get this card? Sure – after all, everyone had a chance to bid on turn order for it.  Admittedly, the person who went first in the previous turn gets the first shot, and he could lock it up by simply bidding 18 with the first bid – but then that’s more incentive to you to be first in prior rounds if you want that chance.

I have also heard some complaints about player binding – but I do not think that this is an issue.  Snice turn order does not occur in a fixed repeating pattern, if a player continually plays poorly and leaves great opportunities for the next player in order, that lucky recipient will likely change each turn.  The only one who consistently loses is the player who makes the bad plays.  Heck, this might even open up a different Five Tribes meta-gamelet where other players start vying to be the next person in turn order immediately after the “bad” player!

The components are gorgeous as you would expect from DoW. The graphics are crisp and thematic, and the icons are easy to understand.  Each player gets a placemat sized, double sided player reference that succinctly and clearly outlines the turn order and possible actions.  The back side has the descriptions of the 22 different Djinn cards (and, in fact, this is the only place in the game that this information is listed – you will not find this anywhere in the rulebook).  I do have a minor complaint that the convoluted scoring rubric is not listed anywhere on the player aid, though this is easily solved by giving people a sheet from the scoring pad.  We are keeping our previously used sheets in the box so they can be re-used as player aids.


The scoring is pretty easy to follow with the scoring sheet, but I will say that it is very hard to track how you are doing in the game.  It takes a fair amount of effort to count up your points in the midst of the game, and while I suppose that you could stop the game for 10 minutes and count everyone’s points up, it’s cumbersome enough that you pretty much have to go on feel.  (You’d also have to be writing down which resource cards each player took).  In our first game, we were all surprised to discover that the player we thought was in the lead throughout the whole game actually ended up third or fourth!

Overall, I have enjoyed my first three games of Five Tribes, and I am still looking forward to playing it some more in the coming months.  I would ideally like the game length to be a little shorter, and it remains to be seen if experience with the game will shorten the length down.  I honestly do not see us getting to 20 min/player/game, but maybe I’ll be surprised!  But, even with the game length, I find myself engaged for most of it trying to plan my next move and to continually be scanning the board looking for scoring opportunities that I might have missed.

Opinions for other Opinionated Gamers

Jonathan Franklin: Five Tribes is an extremely well designed game that brings out all my AP tendencies in spades.  Every play has implications and there is no planning ahead, so even if you plan a move and no one messes up that move, they might have opened up something more promising on the other side of the board.  I really hope there is an asynchronous version some day where I can sit on the bus and think about a move without three other people drumming their fingers.


Luke Hedgren: I can agree with the designer’s response to those that say that addressing so many options on your turn is overwhelming: you can quickly narrow these down to reasonable ones. And in reality, that is exactly what happened in my one play. Especially in multiplayer games, where your plays are super tactical. Take the best one you see, and move on. But, there is a secondary concern as well. Where you leave meeples along the path in taking your best move opens up options for you and others later in the round. How much time are you willing to devote to making sure you don’t set someone up? It could determine the winner. But, as I mentioned,spending an inordinate amount of time on this secondary concern did not happen in reality. I guess, as long as I am playing this game in reality, and not in theoretical land (or, apparently with Jonathan) I am happy to play. The rest of the game, from production, art, mechanisms, and experience, is top notch.

Lorna: Only one play but I liked it. Looking forward to another try. I believe in keeping rulebooks and player aids short, but not providing a scoring summary was a bother. We played with open information and I don’t think it hurt the game at all. The only drawbacks I see are kind of the Puerto Rico effect with a weaker player setting up the next person for a nice score and inherent AP.


Larry:  You may remember that I had some concerns about this one after playing the prototype at the Gathering, but I’m happy to say that my one play of the published version satisfied all of my reservations (well, almost all of them–I still hate the name!).  I’m pleased that DoW went with colored meeples, rather than elaborate sculpts, for the workers; as a result, it’s quite easy to identify the contents of each of the spaces.  It was also nice to see that there were interesting decisions to be made up to the very end; I had been concerned that the game would peter out with each succeeding turn.


I understand the potential for AP exists, but we saw very little of that in my game.  I think players just have to accept finding a good move, rather than the absolute optimal one, since there’s just too many possibilities for exhaustive analysis.  Similarly, you could fret about which meeple should be sown where, but if you just try to avoid pairing up colors, you’ll probably do fine.  I thought this was a nice thinky game, but it also moved along fairly briskly and I don’t see why it shouldn’t always be that way.  I guess it’s not for everyone (Jonathan’s reaction proves that), but I think most players will enjoy this one.  It’s great to see DoW come out with a gamer’s game, but as it’s still pretty accessible (honestly, Dale, the scoring isn’t that complicated!), I think they’ll do very well with this title.


Greg Schloesser:  Two plays so far and I’m well pleased.  I have not been fond of the last few Days of Wonder releases, but this one is far more interesting, with more to offer for gamers.  There is a concern with the amount of thinking required, as the options do seem overwhelming.  In practice, though, most folks spot a move that seems decent and take it.  I can see where playing with folks who tend to analyze every possibility and option would cause the game to drag interminably.  Fortunately, that has not yet happened for us.


Tom Rosen:  Wow that’s a lot of Five Tribes fans!  I really did not like this game.  I only played the prototype once back in April, so you can take my opinion with lots of salt.  I found the kind of analysis required to play the game intelligently to be very unpleasant.  The auction each round is where the game really broke down for me.  With a once-around auction where you’re bidding victory points and everyone pays, you really need to figure out how much it makes sense to bid, how much everyone else might bid, the value of all possible moves, and all possible back-up moves (including moves that might be created by other people’s actions).  The board is a morass of colored meeples that can all move in many different ways.  I’m not going to bother calculating the number of possible moves, but I’m confident it’s absolutely enormous.  That would be one thing if you just took turns going since you’d simply be finding the best possible move and doing it, considering the ramifications for opportunities you might be creating.  But on top of all that, you need to bid ahead of time for the absolutely crucial turn order.  It sort of takes what is good about Santiago and layers on top an intricate puzzle that makes the bidding incredibly not fun.  There is of course the possibility of getting outbid slightly by someone willing to take even slimmer margins, knocking you down to a nearly worthless move, while you’re stuck paying full price for your bid.  If you thought Age of Steam was harsh, Five Tribes is something else.  All in all, I obviously did not enjoy this game.


Joe Huber (2 plays): I’ve not generally been enamoured by Bruno Cathala’s designs in the past, so I did not have high expectations for Five Tribes.  But in practice, I’ve found it an enjoyable game; not one I’m rushing out to buy, but I like it enough that I expect to play it again, and it may grow on me enough to pick up.  For me, the issue Tom mentions with the auction isn’t an issue; it’s not that hard to find reasonable alternatives, and bid based upon the relative value.  The fact that everyone pays – a big issue in blind auctions – is nicely mitigated here; I’ve found that a moderate bid ealy can eat up more of my opponent’s points when they care, and give me a nice gain when they don’t.


One thing I did notice when playing is that some players don’t check the parity of their possible moves, a quick check that cuts the possibilities to consider in half.  If the space you are aiming to end in is an even number of spaces away, there need to be an even number of pieces in the space you’re vacating; likewise, if an odd number, and odd number of pieces.  This creates a checkerboard-pattern; it’s not too difficult to check the odd and even portions of the checkerboard sequentially, particularly when one only needs to focus on the area near the intended destination.


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! W. Eric Martin
  • I like it.  Dale, Craig Vollmar, Luke Hedgren, Lorna, Larry, Craig Massey, Greg Schloesser, Joe Huber
  • Netural.
  • Not for me… Jonathan Franklin (as explained above, the decision space is so large that my brain locks up – no reflection on the game itself), Tom Rosen

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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6 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Five Tribes (Days of Wonder)

  1. juanma99 says:

    From what I take, this game could be a nightmare for folks who like to min-max each and every move. Are gamers that find the most AP-related issues with this game more likely to have min-maxer tendencies? Is this a fair assumption? People that just guesstimate their moves seem to have a lot more fun with it.

  2. gamekahuna says:

    juanma99. That is a fair comment. I think that you will have fun with it as an APer if you can leave it at the door for this game and not care if you win or lose as much. If you are AP + hypercompetitive, then you have problems. I am not hypercompetitive, so I would play it, making faster non-optimal moves, possibly setting up others, and therefore being slightly less invested in the end result. You will have more problems if you play to win.

  3. juanma99 says:

    Thanks gamekahuna! That’s just what I thought. Very looking forward to get my copy!

  4. Wow. I guess I haven’t been playing it the right way, because every game has fallen comfortably in the 40 – 80 minute time range. However, we’ve played it as a Gateway+ game, making decisions by gut-feel rather than min-max. I like it as a 60ish minute game, but as a 2+ hour game, I think I would go nuts. It’s not worth it.

    To me, the Djinns and market card makes the game because they generally take-away the min-max calculation. How much is a particular market card worth? It depends on what comes out later? What about a Djinn card? Are there better ones coming? For me, that keeps it from being a game of exact calculations and more of a tactical do-your-best but don’t-take-too-long game. Personally, it feels similar to Kingdom Builder — turning a 30ish-minute game into a 60ish-minute game but giving players more control.

    Also, Dale, that Djinn you referred to that lets you drop camels on empty squares. Don’t forget it costs you either an elder + slave or two elders. That means the cost for each tile is 2 – 4 points less. So, yeah, if people are careless, that Djinn can be worth lots of points, but if they’re not, it’s not worth many at all. It’s real value is letting you speed up the pace of the game. And that’s what I like about the Djinns. Most are situational. My take on them is to take one early and plan a strategy around it or opportunistically take one middle/late if it works for the strategy you have.

  5. Dale Yu says:

    Jimmy – sure, your points all make sense. And, of course, we’re still just getting used to the game. I figure with a few more plays, it’ll become easier for us to find the high valued plays and that will cut down playtime.

  6. Ben (chally) says:

    Darn it. Once again, I am late to the party. I played the prototype of Five Tribes at the Gathering of Friends (four times, in fact), but I have yet to play the published version. It was probably my second-favorite game of the event, and remains the game I am most eager to acquire. I expect it will get quite a bit of play with my co-workers, whose tastes are very mainstream (7 Wonders, Puerto Rico, Pandemic, Small World, etc.). I’ve never been particularly prone to AP, so the complaints about min-maxing are overblown to me (and I agree with Jimmy that the uncertain or incalculable elements means that the game involves more than simply finding the highest-points-generating move each and every turn).

    I should probably stay in the “I like it” column until I get a chance to play the published version a few more times, but Five Tribes could easily be an “I love it” game for me.

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