REVIEW: Rise of Tribes

Designer: Brad Brooks, 2018
Publisher: Breaking Games
2-4 players, 45-75mins
Price: £40-45 (approx)

I am always filled with a hint of trepidation when I back something on Kickstarter, mainly because it’s proven to be a source of both joy and misery for me in the past, although thankfully more of the former than the latter thus far…

I’m pleased to place Rise of Tribes firmly into that first category — this remains a popular choice at the moment with my gaming group, because not only is it relatively fast (and ridiculously simple to play), it’s also just so much fun, with a pleasant variety of routes to victory.

In Rise of Tribes, you get to play the chieftain of a great tribe, and your job is simply to grow your tribe, spread them across the board, keep them alive, gather resources, and eventually… get 15 Victory Points before the other tribal leaders.

Sounds easy, huh?

Well, funny you should say that, because this game is so easy to set up and explain to newcomers that you’ll be up and running within 5-10 minutes, and it’s all down to the beautifully simple design and the elegant dice action system (which I’ll get to in due course).

So here goes… you set up the Action Board with preset dice above each Action, you set up the Main Board by placing hex-shaped terrain tiles randomly in a particular shape (depending on the number of players), you give each player 20 Tribe Meeples to start, a deck of 15 Goal Cards, and a random Chieftain/Leader card from the eight available (or you can let players select whichever one they like the look of: in the basic game the only difference is the type of resources req’d to build a Village), then all players place their starting meeples onto the board, and the first player starts rolling those dice…

The main Action Board consists of just four possible actions and drives the entire game engine, with each action having three dice spaces above it (which always have dice on them by the way). The available actions are: Grow, Move, Gather, and Lead,

Grow allows you to add 2-4 meeples onto the board by placing them on hexes you already have tribe members on.

Move allows you to move between 2 and 6 tribe members into adjacent hexes (a max. of just 1 hex each initially).

Gather allows you to obtain between 2 and 6 resources from the hexes your tribal members currently occupy, depending on whether they’re occupying Lake (Food), Forest (Wood), or Mountain (Stone) hexes.

And finally, Lead allows you to draw 1-3 Goal Cards from your deck of 15 – these are always placed face up, so your opponents can see what they are (everybody has the same set of 15 at the start of the game), and they can be achieved in the same turn if you’re fortunate.

So how does the dice action system work?  Well, each die has two each of three possible faces: a moon, a sun, or a blank, and above each Action are three dice depicting some combination of moons, suns, and blanks. Actions are chosen by rolling a pair of dice and deciding which two actions you wish to take: the dice are then moved along to the right for the chosen actions, and the two dice that ‘fall off’ the right-hand sides are placed below the action to indicate what you’re doing this turn. These two dice will then be passed to the next player at the end of your turn and play continues thus. The combination of three dice above each Action determines what you can do with each one: two moons are ‘bad’, two suns are ‘good’ and a mixture of the three are ‘average’ – thus it pays to try and maximise your actions by plumping for those that’ll give you two suns above each Action, but of course, players have a chance to influence what state those dice above the Actions are with their choices…

Also, if you roll a double (two suns, two moons, etc), this’ll trigger one of the Events, which add a nice bit of variety and randomness to the gameplay. Most of them are positive, too, which makes a pleasant change!

There are many things to like about Rise of Tribes, but one of the most important for me is how easy the whole thing is, not only to explain, but also to play. There’s an elegance and simplicity to the dice action system which is innovative, and the strategic possibilities presented by the maps are many and varied.

The order of play is also simple: Score Villages, Roll Dice, Take Actions, Resolve Conflicts, then Build Villages and/or Complete Goals. Rinse and repeat.

Villages score just 1 point each, but it should be readily apparent that getting a few Villages on the board early on can help you score consistently at the start of each turn, and of course with only 15 VPs needed to win, your fellow players will jump on you soon enough when they see what’s happening. Vice versa for anyone who dares to place their nose out front.

Which brings us nicely onto Conflicts because these are also simple: any time there are more than 5 meeples on a single hex (even if all of them are your own), a conflict takes place. If they’re all your own meeples, you reduce them down to 5 and stop. If there are a mix of meeples from different tribes, each tribe simultaneously loses tribe members until only a single tribe’s meeples remain. If there was a Village on that hex and the player who owned it has lost control of that hex, that Village is removed from the game. Simples.

As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed already, it’s not all quite such plain sailing… Those aforementioned Goal Cards can be ‘Developments’ that cost resources but also give you benefits like greater attacking power, stronger defences, better gathering abilities, or increased movement… or they can be ‘Achievements’ that give you extra VPs for controlling certain types of hexes, spreading your population across the board, etc.

More importantly, every single Goal Card gives you at least 1 VP when it’s achieved and/or satisfied, so the game is always moving forward, and your tribe needs to do so too if you’re to stay in the running for the win… And that’s one of the reasons why this game has so much appeal: it never stands still. There’s never a stalemate situation, there’s never room for dilly-dallying, and there’s never a point where any player can rest on their laurels, and quite frankly, it’s marvellously refreshing (and über-competitive, especially towards the end).

I should probably add that the production of this game is also very impressive: the artwork by Sergio Chaves is gorgeous throughout, the box design is smart (I’ve written more about this elsewhere), and there are a host of Advanced Play options available out-of-the-box, which means you can suit the game to your needs: we used the advanced Tribal Leaders and Leader Powers in most of our games, but the Special Terrain tiles can also add a few interesting twists to the base game (with or without the other advanced options)…

I genuinely have no hesitation at all in recommending this to anyone interested in a fast, involved, and enjoyable experience, and will almost certainly have a copy with me at every gaming session/convention I attend within the next six months or so…

[This review originally appeared in The SPIRIT #2,
a free PDF copy of which can be downloaded by clicking this link]

Rise of Tribes at Amazon.co.uk

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