Mancala and its many variants/spinoff games have been around for over a thousand years. While the game is still pretty popular to this day, Mancala is not something that you see often in modern board games. As a matter of fact I don’t think I have ever played Mancala, but I am familiar with the game’s concept. I bring this up because the game I am looking at today Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala actually takes the main mechanic behind Mancala and adds it to a more modern designer game. While I had no prior experience with Mancala I was excited to try out Five Tribes for a couple reasons. First the game was published by Days of Wonder and I have enjoyed every game made by the company that I have played. More importantly the game was designed by Bruno Cathala a legend in the board game industry who has created many beloved board games including Kingdomino. With all of these things in Five Tribes favor along with a unique concept I was really excited to try out the game. Five Tribes is a truly original game combining a bunch of interesting mechanics into a fun game that can sometimes suffer from analysis paralysis.
How to Play Five Tribes
- Players will take a set of camels and a turn marker of the same color. The number of camels that they will take depends on the number of players:
- 3-4 players: Each player will take eight camels and one turn marker of the same color. The extra pink and blue camels and turn markers are returned to the box.
- 2 players: Each player will choose blue or pink and will take all of the corresponding camels and turn markers.
- Each player will take 50 gold coins (9-5 coins, 5-1 coin). Players should place their coins face down so the other players don’t know exactly how much money each player has.
- Mix up the 30 tiles and randomly place them to form a 5 x 6 grid.
- Place all of the wooden Meeples into the bag. Randomly draw and place three Meeples on each space on the gameboard.
- Place the bid order and turn order boards next to the gameboard.
- Mix up the turn markers for all of the players and randomly place them on the bid order track.
- Shuffle all of the resource cards and place them face down to form a draw pile. Take the top nine cards from the deck and place them in a line face up to form the draw pile.
- Shuffle the Djinn cards and place them face down to form a draw pile. Take the top three cards from the pile and place them face up next to the draw pile.
- Place the palm trees, palaces, and all of the remaining gold to the sides of the gameboard to form the bank.
Playing the Game
Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala is played over a number of rounds. Each round consists of a number of phases:
- Bid for Turn Order
- Individual Player Actions (each player will complete all of these actions before the next player takes their turn)
- Place Meeples
- Take Meeples
- Meeple Action
- Tile Action
- Merchandise Sale
- Clean Up
Bid For Turn Order
In this phase all of the players will bid for the turn order for the rest of the round.
Starting with the player whose turn marker is on the first position (indicated by a 1) each player will determine where they would like to place their turn order marker on the turn order track.
Each space on the track has a number printed on it. For a player to place their marker on a space they will have to pay the bank the corresponding number of coins. Once the player has paid the bank they will place their marker on the chosen space.
When placing your turn order markers on the track you cannot choose a space already occupied by another player’s marker. The one exception is for players who choose one of the zero spaces. If a player bids zero they will place their marker on the bottom zero space. Any other markers already on zero spaces will be moved up one space. If all of the zero spaces are filled up, the fourth player has to bid at least one coin.
Once all of the turn markers have been placed the players will take turns in the next phase starting with the player whose token is on the most valuable space (furthest right on the turn order track).
Starting with the player in the highest position on the turn order track, each player will take their entire turn before play passes to the player on the next highest space on the turn order track.
A player begins their turn by taking their turn marker off the turn order track and placing it on the first empty space on the bid order track.
A player begins their turn by choosing one of the tiles that still has Meeples on it. They can choose any of the tiles as long as it has at least one Meeple on it. The player will take all of the Meeples on their chosen tile into their hand. The player will then choose one of the Meeples from their hand and place it on one of the tiles adjacent (not diagonally) to the tile that they were taken from. Then the player will place the next Meeple from their hand onto an adjacent tile to the tile they played the first Meeple on. The player will continue placing Meeples in this way until they have placed all of the Meeples from their hand. The tile you place the last Meeple on will be important for the rest of your turn. This tile will be referred to as the “last tile” for the rest of this rules explanation. It is recommended when you first play the game to lay the Meeples you play down so you can know which Meeples you played in case you make a mistake.
When placing Meeples three rules must be followed.
The first rule that must be followed is that the last Meeple you place must be placed on a tile that has at least one other Meeple of the same color on it. Due to this rule you can never place your last Meeple on a tile that has no other Meeples on it. While you can’t place your last Meeple on a tile without any Meeples, you can place the other Meeples from your hand onto an unoccupied space.
The second rule that must be followed is that you can’t place a Meeple on a tile that is diagonal to the previous tile. When placing Meeples on adjacent tiles you can only place them on tiles that are adjacent vertically or horizontally.
The final rule is that you may never backtrack and place a Meeple on a tile that you just placed a Meeple on. In order to place two Meeples on the same space you must make a complete loop.
Once a player has placed all of the Meeples they will take the Meeple they placed on the last tile into their hand along with all of the other Meeples on the tile of the same color. If you placed Meeples correctly you should be able to pick up at least two Meeples.
If there are no more Meeples left on the tile you will take control over that tile. You will place one of your camels on the space to indicate that you control it. If another player already has one of their camels on the tile, you cannot place your camel on the space as the tile is already controlled.
The action you will be able to perform with your Meeples depends on the color of Meeples you took.
Yellow (Viziers): Viziers will be placed in front of a player. They will be worth victory points at the end of the game.
White (Elders): Elders are placed in front of the player who collects them. At the end of the game they will count as victory points. You may also choose to spend some of your elders to buy Djinn cards or use their abilities.
Green (Merchants): Merchants are immediately returned to the bag after they are collected. The player will take a number of face up resource cards equal to the number of merchants collected in the round. The player will take their cards from the beginning of the line.
Blue (Builders): When builders are collected they are immediately returned to the bag. You will then count up how many blue tiles surround the last tile (this includes the last tile as well). The number of blue tiles is multiplied by the number of builders you returned to the bag to get the total number of coins that you will collect from the bank. If you want to discard Fakir cards from your hand you will add one to the number of blue tiles for each card you discard.
Red (Assassins): The assassins that are collected are immediately returned to the bag. By discarding the assassins you will get to kill another Meeple. You have two options for which Meeple you want to kill.
- You may kill one yellow or white Meeple held by one of the other players.
- You may kill one Meeple still on the gameboard. You can choose a Meeple of any color. You will kill a Meeple from a tile located up to the number of assassins discarded away from the last tile. When counting spaces you can only move vertically or horizontally (never diagonally). You can also discard Fakir cards to increase the range of where you can kill a Meeple. Each card discarded adds one to the range.
If you kill the last Meeple on a tile you will gain control over the tile (as long as it isn’t already controlled). Place one of your camels on the space. If this allows you to take control of two tiles on the same turn, you will take control of the last tile before this tile in case you run out of camels.
After taking any actions with the Meeples they collected, the player will take an action based on the last tile. What action you will perform depends on the symbol on the tile. If the tile has a red arrow on it the player has to take the action. All other actions are optional.
Oasis: Place a palm tree token on the tile. There is no limit to the number of palm trees that can be placed on a tile. If there are no more palm trees available, this action is ignored.
Village: Place a palace token on the tile. There is no limit on the number of palaces that can be placed on a tile. If there are no palaces remaining, this action is ignored.
Small Market: For this action the player can choose to pay three coins in order to take one of the first three face up resource cards.
Large Market: The player can choose to pay six coins to pick two resource cards from the first six face up cards.
Sacred Places: When you land on this space you can either pay two elders or an elder and a Fakir card to take one of the face of Djinn cards. The elder(s) that are used are returned to the bag. The player will place the Djinn card face up in front of them. The Djinn cards are worth victory points at the end of the game and can also provide you with benefits during the game.
To use some of these abilities you must pay a cost shown on the card and the powers can only be used once per turn. You can use a Djinn’s power right after you purchase it (if you pay the associated cost).
Before a player ends their turn they have the option to sell some of their merchandise cards. If you want to sell cards you create a set of cards that you want to sell (the cards must be of different types and can’t include Fakir cards). Depending on how many cards are in the set, you will receive coins from the bank. The number of coins you will receive are as follows:
- One card: 1 coin
- Two cards: 3 coins
- Three cards: 7 coins
- Four cards: 13 coins
- Five cards: 21 coins
- Six cards: 30 coins
- Seven cards: 40 coins
- Eight cards: 50 coins
- Nine cards: 60 coins
Players will have an opportunity to sell all of their merchandise cards at the end of the game if they don’t sell them on an earlier turn.
Once all of the players have taken their actions, there is some clean up before the next round begins.
First you will shift all of the remaining resource cards to fill in the spaces left by cards that were taken during the round. You will then draw cards from the draw pile until there are nine face up cards. If you run out of resource cards, shuffle the discard pile and use those cards as the new draw pile.
Next you will shift over all of the Djinn cards to fill in any spaces from cards that were taken during the round. Turn over new Djinn cards until there are three face up on the table. If you run out of Djinn cards shuffle the discard pile and turn it into a new draw pile.
The game then moves onto the next round.
End of Game
Rounds will continue to be played until one of the following conditions are met.
When a player places their last camel on a tile it will indicate the final round. All of the players who haven’t taken their turn yet this round will still have a chance to take their turn. After all of the players have taken their turn the game will end.
Otherwise the game ends when there are no legal moves left for the remaining Meeples. When this happens players will no longer be able to move Meeples, but they may take the other actions that don’t involve moving Meeples. Once all of the players have taken their turn this round, the game ends.
Players will then tally their scores as follows:
- 1 victory point for each coin (five coins are worth five points)
- 1 victory point for each vizier (yellow Meeple) you have in front of you. You will also score ten points for each opponent who has less viziers than you.
- 2 victory points for each elder (white Meeple) that you own.
- The value of each Djinn card you own.
- 3 victory points for each palm tree on a tile that you control.
- 5 victory points for each palace on a tile that you control.
- The values of each tile that you control.
- You will sell off your remaining merchandise cards as detailed above.
The player who scores the most points will win the game. If there is a tie, the tied players will share the victory.
My Thoughts on Five Tribes
Having played so many different board games, I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever played a board game quite like Five Tribes before. I have never played Mancala before and I have never really seen the mechanic used in other games before. Basically Five Tribes is what you would get if you combined a Mancala mechanic with more traditional mechanics found in modern board games. I was kind of curious about how this combination would work. It turns out that it actually works quite a bit better than I was expecting.
Lets begin with the Mancala mechanics. The Mancala mechanics are used at the beginning of each player’s turn and basically sets up what other actions that a player can take on their turn. You choose one of the tiles from the gameboard and take all of the Meeples on it. You will then move from tile to tile placing Meeples until you have placed all of the Meeples you picked up. The last space you place a Meeple on determines which Meeples you will get to collect and take an action for as well as what tile action you can take.
While I have never played Mancala before this mechanic was actually quite fun. I will say that it takes a little time to get used to if you aren’t familiar with Mancala, but the mechanic is not particularly difficult to understand. At least early in the game the mechanic gives you many different options. With there being 30 different tiles and many different ways to move from every tile on the board, you have many different movement options depending on what Meeple and tile action you want to take. This mechanic adds a lot of strategy to the game as how you choose to move the Meeples will make a big difference on how many points you and the other players will score.
After you have moved the Meeples you get to take an action based on the Meeples you take from the last tile as well as the action corresponding to the tile itself. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how many different actions this adds to the game. Each of these actions give you different ways to score points in the game. Some of these actions are straight forward points like the Viziers. Others like the oasis and villages reward you for capturing their tile and then ending as many turns as possible on their space in order to place more palm trees or palaces on the space. Then there are the market and merchant actions that let you acquire merchandise cards. For each different merchandise card you acquire you will score progressively more points. This is a longer term strategy but if you can collect all of the different cards you can score a lot of points.
What I liked about all of these different actions is that it allows players to form their own strategies as well as change them up at any time. I haven’t played the game enough to know if one strategy is better than another, but it seems like there is value in all of the different ways of scoring points. I am not sure if it is better to mostly focus on just a couple different types of scoring or if you are better off diversifying to take whatever action is going to score you the most points on any given turn. The main reason that I like having so many different ways to score though is that no turn feels wasted. You will obviously score more points on some moves, but every move you make in the game will help you in some way.
The final mechanic in Five Tribes might be the most interesting decision in the game. The turn order for each turn is determined by how much a player wants to pay for an earlier turn. Players take turns paying coins to the bank to reserve their position for the next round. The player who pays the most will get to take the first turn. This is a really interesting mechanic as a lot of thought has to go into deciding how much you want to bid. If you see a move that you really want to make you will want to have the first turn in the round to make sure you can make it before another player does or messes it up with their own move. Therefore you will want to bid high to guarantee you get the first turn. The money you are bidding for turn order counts as victory points though. Therefore each coin you bid for turn order ends up losing you points.
This creates a really interesting dilemma. If you don’t have a move that you really want to make in mind, you might as well bid low or bid zero and save your money. If there is a move that you want to make though things become much more interesting. You will want to take your turn first in the round to guarantee that you can make the move, but you also don’t want to bid too high. This adds a risk reward element to the game. The best thing would be to not have to bid any coins and still get to make the move you want. If you don’t bid anything though there is no guarantee that you will get to make your move. At the same time you don’t want to spend any more coins than you have to as you are just giving away victory points. This leads you to try and read the other players to figure out what is the least amount you can bid and still get the spot in the turn order that you want. The bidding mechanic might not seem like much at first, but it is critical to the game and is a clever mechanic.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I have been a fan of Days of Wonder as they are a great publisher. They make great games that are also surprisingly easy to play. With that said I think Five Tribes is quite a bit more difficult than your typical Days of Wonder game. None of the mechanics in the game are particularly difficult. I think most of the difficulty in the game comes from the fact that there are so many different mechanics in the game though. With so many mechanics it will probably take at least 10-15 minutes to explain the game to new players. The game has a recommended age of 13+ which seems about right as I think younger children would probably have some issues with the game. After you play the game for a while you pick it up pretty quickly, but with all of the different mechanics it might scare off some people that don’t play a lot of board games.
Generally for a game like Five Tribes I would play the game with three or four players. In the case of Five Tribes though I checked out the two player game. I mostly did this because a lot of people actually think it is better as a two player game. While I don’t know how the three/four player game plays, I can see why a lot of people recommend playing Five Tribes with only two players. For the most part the two player game is the same as the four player game. The only real difference is that each player gets two turns in a round instead of just one turn like the three and four player games. It might not seem like a lot but getting two turns in a round actually can have a pretty big impact during the bidding phase. By bidding for two different turns some players may want to take one early turn and one late turn or they may want to take two turns in a row. Taking two turns in a row opens up additional strategic options as you can use your first turn to set up a bigger move for your second turn.
The two player game also leads to really high scores. In two player games you can pretty easily score over 200 points as the other player is limited in how much they can prevent you from scoring. While it is a pain to count up so many points, it is actually quite interesting as players are able to rack up points in a lot of different ways. I don’t know if this is the same for three and four player games but the games can also be quite close. In one game where both players scored over 200 points each, the game was decided by only three points. As this illustrates every move in the game could be the difference between winning and losing the game.
There are a lot of things that I liked about Five Tribes but there are a couple issues as well. These problems with Five Tribes mostly deal with the game suffering significantly from analysis paralysis. If you or someone you play board games with needs to always find the best play for each turn, you are probably going to have some serious issues with the game. When you think about it it is not all that surprising that Five Tribes can have quite a bit of analysis paralysis. The game requires quite a bit of thinking for several reasons. The biggest culprit is the fact that players have a lot of potential actions on any given turn. Players can choose to move from anywhere on the board which leads to players having to analyze the entire board to find their best option. There are 30 different tiles to analyze and as you can move Meeples in several different directions from each tile, there are hundreds of moves that you could potentially analyze to see if they are valid and determine how many points they can score for you.
If this wasn’t bad enough the game doesn’t lend itself to you being able to strategize before your turn. The only things you could do before your turn is analyze potential moves that you could take on a future turn. One of the other players could quickly throw a wrench into these plans though. Whenever a player makes a move it will have an impact on the board. It generally will only impact a portion of the board, but it will impact both the space that they took Meeples from as well as each space they played Meeples to. After each move players will have to analyze whether other player(s) moves have impacted their intended move as well as see if their move(s) has created a better option. This leads to quite a bit of analysis especially before bidding as players don’t want to bid a lot unless they have a move that they want to really make. All of this time spent figuring out your first move for a round needs to then be reanalyzed if the player doesn’t get to take the first turn.
Being a fan of games giving players lots of options, I can’t believe that I am saying this but I think Five Tribes might give players too many potential actions/mechanics. The amount of different ways to score points combined with how many different moves you can make on a turn can feel a little overwhelming at times. On every turn you have a lot of things to consider. From what color Meeples you want to target, to which tile ability you want to use, to how you want to place the Meeples; there is a lot you need to analyze before you can make any move. That is a lot to think about and leads to players having to take quite a bit of time to think over their choices.
For players that don’t care if they always make the best moves, this isn’t much of an issue. Players like this can spend a couple minutes analyzing options and just pick the one that looks the best. For the players that need to analyze every potential option though this is going to be a problem. First the other players will be stuck waiting a long time for a player to take their turn. In addition this can be kind of stressful for the player suffering from analysis paralysis since they will keep second guessing whether they are making the best choice. For this reason to fully enjoy Five Tribes you need to be willing to make a non-optimal move. You don’t have to just make random moves, but you need to analyze the board quickly and find the areas that look the most promising and then just focus on those areas. To help with this I would suggest maybe adding a soft time limit to the game. Maybe give each player a couple minutes to figure out what they want to do on their turn and at the end of that time make the player choose one of the options they came up with. Otherwise I would recommend playing the game two player as that should cut down on the analysis paralysis quite a bit. I honestly can’t imagine how bad the analysis paralysis could get in a four player game.
Due to the analysis paralysis issues as well as having so many things to consider on every turn, I can see Five Tribes being a game that will take at least a couple games to fully grasp the game’s strategy. This is because it will take time to figure out how to combine the different scoring mechanics to maximize your score in a game. None of the mechanics in the game are particularly difficult, but it requires some experience to be able to maximize your turns. The more you play Five Tribes the better you will be at finding the best way to move the Meeples as well as choosing which move will score you the most points.
Outside of publishing great games, one of the reasons that I have always like Days of Wonder games is that the company does a great job with the components. That holds true for Five Tribes as well. I will preface this by saying that Five Tribes has had two different versions. The reason that there are two versions is that the first version of the game included “slave” cards. As this was a terrible decision and offended a lot of people the slave cards were replaced by Fakir cards in the second edition of the game. Outside of the name and artwork on the cards, these two cards perform the same role in the game. Other than that terrible decision for the first edition of the game there isn’t really anything to complain about with regards to the components. The game includes several different types of wood pieces which I am always in favor of. The cardboard pieces are quite thick and are made well. To top off all of this the game’s artwork is quite good. Like the other games in the Days of Wonder lineup, Five Tribes does a great job with the component quality.
Should You Buy Five Tribes?
Being a fan of Days of Wonder games as well as games designed by Bruno Cathala I was really interested in checking out Five Tribes. While Five Tribes shares a lot of mechanics with other more modern board games, what I found really interesting about the game is that it found a way to add in a Mancala mechanic which is something I had never seen before. While I had never played Mancala before, I was actually surprised by how well it works with the other mechanics in the game. The mechanic is mostly used to determine what other actions you will take on your turn and it opens up a lot of different actions. Five Tribes in general has a lot of different ways to score points which gives players quite a few different strategic options as well as making every turn in the game worthwhile. On top of this the game has an interesting mechanic where you bid for turn order. You want to take a turn earlier in the round but each coin you bid for the privilege are victory points you lose for the end of the game. All of these mechanics combine to create a really interesting game with a lot of strategy. The problem is that all of these mechanics lead to a lot of analysis paralysis. The number of choices can feel overwhelming at times and unless you implement a time limit, players could end up wasting a lot of time waiting for the other players to finish their turns.
I enjoyed playing Five Tribes and I think it is a good/great game. If the premise doesn’t really interest you or you are not a fan of analysis paralysis or being overwhelmed with choices, Five Tribes might not be for you. If Five Tribes sounds interesting though I think you will like it and I would recommend that you look into picking it up.