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Subject: Phenomenal Cosmic Power, Itty Bitty Living Space - Five Tribes Review rss

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Luke Hector
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Hype is something to be careful of when buying a board game, or really anything for that matter. Many a time a product will fail to live up to its hype. Take Destiny for example, the recent game just released for consoles. It had movie trailers, previews, BETA's the works and everyone has been so hyped for that game it's unbelievable. And now it's out, what exactly is it? Just Halo 2.0? Wow, what a disappointment. So much for innovation.

Board games have done this too, but where as something like a movie or computer game tends to affect the majority of customers, a board game tends to be more subjective among players. Dead of Winter got a ton of hype over its theme and semi-cooperative experience, but when I played it, I thought it was "ok" at best. Prefer it to BSG, but some issues I had with the design/theme would stop me rating it above a 7.

Of course this is all just opinion, but nowadays as a result I've learned to not get sucked into the hype whenever possible. It's not always an easy thing to do (looking at you Alien Isolation), but at least it allows you to keep an open mind when playing the game.

Now here we have Five Tribes, another game that also gained a lot of hype as it was made by Days of Wonder who always bling their games with stellar components, yet was a game that boasted about being very tactical for the "gamer" without being too complicated. Sounds like a good combination as Spyrium had that quality though obviously Days of Wonder take the component trophy in a fight. So how does it hold up in the world of Euro games?


"Just call it Five Tribes, life is much easier that way"

Designer: Bruno Cathala (2014)
Publisher: Days of Wonder
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 13+
Play Time: 60 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1356 / 8.02
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Area Control/Influence

A Meeple Horde

All of the tiles are laid out in a 6 x 5 grid in a random order and 3 meeples are placed on each one again at random from the bag. All players receive 50 gold which is also worth victory points at the end. At the start of each round players will bid gold depending on whether they want to go first.

Once the player order has been chosen, each player in turn chooses one of the tiles on the board and collects all of the meeples standing on it. He then places one meeple on an adjacent tile and continues in this fashion without back-tracking until he eventually places his last meeple on a tile that shares the same colour as that meeple. He then takes all of the meeples of that colour only into his hand and resolves the special action for that tribe colour.

There are five colours in total each with their own special ability from end-game/immediate scoring to collecting resource cards, to summoning powerful Djinns and assassinating other meeples. After the tribe has been used, if there are no remaining meeples on the tile, the player places a camel piece on the tile to show that he controls it for end-game purposes.


"It's a very colourful layout when it's all set up"

Players then perform the action on the tile including placing palm trees/palaces down for end-game scoring, buying more resources and summoning Djinns. The Djinns are powerful cards that not only grant points but have unique special abilities that can aid the player throughout the game. Only three are on show however at a time.

At the end of each turn the players have the option of selling resources collected for further gold. Doing so increases their ability to bid on turn order, but should they choose not to, they can simply hold them until the end of the game for scoring.

Once the last camel has been placed or no more legal moves exist, the round plays through and then the game ends. Gold and points are tallied together to give the victor.

The Land of Giants

Components in this game are nothing short of wood-lust without going into Uwe Rosenberg territory. The palm trees and palaces that are only used for end-game scoring are giant wooden pieces, all the meeples are large wooden pieces, the camels are giant wooden pieces, the tiles are huge, it just all looks really colourful and beautiful when it's laid out.

The insert is reasonable but there are some questionable design issues. The resource cards will not fit and stay if you sleeve them, the Djinn cards are of a size that I don't think a sleeve exists for and the rows for the money coins is quite fiddly. That being said, everything will at least fit in the box regardless of what method you use. Also for whatever reason the back of the coins is the same colour for both the 1's and 5's denominations and when you're supposed to keep your money hidden 'ala Small World style, that's a big pain!


"Could be better, but still fairly solid and beats any insert that FFG make!"

The Djinn cards though........WOW........seriously, I want Days of Wonder to design a spin-off game where they base it solely on those Djinn cards. The artwork on them is spectacular, end of. So many unique designs, an intuitive layout and of a good quality I just love summoning these things for the art! It brings my memories back to Tash Kalar by Z-Man Games where you had that really cool artwork on the creature cards, particularly the epic ones, it's that level of greatness.


"LOOK AT THESE THINGS!! MAKE A SPIN-OFF GAME NOW!"

Dwindling Tactics

But enough about the components, how does the game play? Well certainly at the start of the game and mid-way there's no shortage of tactical decisions as you have an army of meeples to manipulate and many differing paths to victory. Do you stock up on yellow Viziers for the end-game points, do you collect some white Elders for summoning a particular Djinn you like the look of, or are you going to ignore the colours entirely and just seek to grab control of as many land tiles as possible as once you've got control, no-one can take it from you? You really do have a lot of options available, but be warned. At the start you'll be looking at collecting big tribes and scoring big combos, but by the end of the game, there will be a lot fewer meeples to mess with and as such fewer legal moves that can be played so you find yourself scraping for every last point you can get, but this at least makes the turns go quicker as the game goes on . . . . well in theory.

Downtime is fairly minimal in this game despite the potential for analysis paralysis to set in. If you want to stand a chance to win, you need to have considered your next turn while the other players are performing theirs. Yes your initial plan could get messed up by meeples moving around, but have a backup in place. It's like playing Chess with multi-coloured meeples, you can't just have one plan, you need several.

Feeling The Pain With Every Bid

I usually hate auction mechanics in games. Bidding I don't mind, but a lot of the time it feels stapled on and doesn't provide much in the way of interesting decisions. But Five Tribes does it right, no kidding. You have several prices of gold you can bid in order to grab the first turn, which in this game can be significant if you've spotted a combo on the board. But what's cool here is that you are bidding gold on this, which is also victory points. So you're actually hurting yourself to go first especially if you're forced to bid high to do so.

This creates a great decision moment where you have to evaluate whether the points/cards you hope to gain on the turn are justified by your bid. You might bid higher just to deny an opponent an obscene combo or feel that you can take a breather and settle for last place. But the "zero" spots aren't as simple as that. If you bid zero and then another player also bids zero, he pushes you down the order, meaning that the first player to bid nothing is going last, always.

And throughout the game you have to consider if you've gone overboard on the bids. By the last few turns, every point is scarce and sacred and if you've spent the whole game going first, it's probably cost you a packet to do so. And it really does affect the points at the end. My first game had two of us tie on 154 points and it all came down to our final turn bid to make that happen. One mistake can cost you dearly. But bizarrely there's no tiebreaker in the game - why? Would it have been difficult to add in "coins break ties" or something - it's a house rule for me now!

Short And Sweet

Euro's aren't commonly short games so it's always good when one appears that doesn't take up your whole gaming night, particularly when we only have four hours tops to fit all our games in. But the box claims that a game can be finished within 40-80 minutes. And it's surprisingly accurate! The first game I played of this had 3 players and including teaching, we wrapped it up in 60 minutes. A four player game took about 90 minutes but I was subject to some crazy AP from certain players at times. You really can get this game done and dusted nice and quick almost to the point where the setup time doesn't quite justify the length of the game (it's a lot of meeples to put out!) Teaching the game is also very quick though I've yet to find the easiest way to phrase how the movement is done and the blue tribe (builders) explanation is very fiddly - thankfully Days of Wonder provide some fantastic rule reference cards for 5 players. . . . . . yes I got five in mine - printing error or fore-shadowing?




"The reference cards are two sided and maybe a bit too big, but very clear and helpful"

Interactivity is pretty much as you would expect from a Euro game - not a great deal of it aside from occasionally killing off player meeples, foiling plans and having Djinn powers that relate to what the opponents do. So it's not a solitaire game by any means as you have to adapt a lot to what meeples get moved about and how the bids play out, but it's a Euro game at the end of the day.

And with the game bring fairly short you can get plenty of games out often. Will it last for those games, I don't see why not, the whole tile board and meeple setup is completely random and so are the resource and Djinn cards. So no game every plays out the same. That bring said, the tiles themselves aren't particularly varied, pretty much sticking to essentially three kinds of simplistic abilities - maybe it's setting itself up for expansion. . . . .

Verdict


"Lots of chunky, wooden goodness"

Does it deserve all the hype it is getting? Well in many respects yes. It meets the requirements of what it was trying to portray. It is a Euro game that's not only easy to learn and explain to new players, but also racks the brain cells from beginning to end. The components are great if a little over-sized in places and the game has a lot of replay value out of the box.

That being said, there are some minor niggles. The insert could have been slightly better designed, more ways of summoning those awesome Djinn cards would have been nice and maybe just a little more variety in the tiles couldn't have hurt. But any issues with the game I can think of are as I said, fairly minor in nature and don't impact the game to a great degree. Just be wary of AP players however - I'm very tempted to impose a 60 second timer in the future.

This is a solid Euro game and worth a play if you're even remotely interested in it. You probably won't want to play it all the time, but at 60 minutes a game, you can fit this into your busy schedule easily


You Will Like This Game If:

You want a very tactical game with unique mechanisms
You're after a game that's simple to teach, yet offers a lot of depth.
You like your Euro games short - 40-80 minutes is not a long time for a game.


You Will Not Like This Game If:

You're after a meaty brain burner - plenty of tactics here, but this is no Power Grid
Analysis paralysis is commonplace in your gaming group
You want a game that offers more player interaction

Images c/o BGG.com
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Juan Crespo
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Very nice review, Luke. Are you also going to review it in your Broken Meeple podcast ?
 
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Luke Hector
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Normally I only give "first impression" reviews in the podcast (much like the quick reviews that Tom/Eric do on their podcast), which are games I've only played once/twice at gaming nights. Five Tribes I actually own hence it's getting a full review. Sadly review copies are a luxury I'm not partial to! soblue

Despite issues with trying to get a decent audio setup, I should be working on the next episode at some stage this weekend. I'm intending to at least give first impressions on the following games:

Sons of Anarchy
Dead of Winter
The Manhattan Project

Thanks for the kind feedback!

P.S As a little extra I'll give a little shout-out to Spyrium as well. It's a Euro game I reviewed back in 2013 which does the same job of providing a tactical, in-depth experience, yet with simple rules and a short playing time.
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Manuel Gracia
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Great review!

When I play I've decided to use a small box or something to hide my money. I think if the back of the money was printed a different color (one color for $1 and one color for $5) it would be hard to keep it as hidden information.

I think of this game as Trajan, but everyone shares the same board.
 
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Luke Hector
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Hmm, interesting point about the backs of the money - that makes sense actually. Though I think having the money is hidden isn't that important anyway given that there are so many points in the game by other means.

Maybe the reference cards should have actually being stand-up screens that you can hide all of your cards and money behind! IDEA!!!
 
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Tyler Durden
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never finished it in 60-80 minutes
you have to plan everytime you do something

bidding? what place is worth how much points? you have to think about every possible action and find the one that will get you the most points since you don't want to waste any.

you can only start planing your turn when it's your turn since many things will happen before it's your turn
on your turn you have to think about what tile you can get to and how to get there. what meeples drop where on the map. you don't want to give your opponents easy points so after you have to look what meeple you drop on a tile and than overlook all possible actions for the other players - for every single meeple you drop.

well for me this is too much - i don't like it very much.
the game could be so nice. elegant mechanisms, easy to teach, looking, good - but downtime IS an issue. Even if you are not AP-prone - in this game you have to or you don't play it and let the one win wo does a AP.

it's a pitty ..
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Marcus Lau
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Hi Luke,
I was just wondering in regards to your first paragraph post on Destiny. How far have you gotten on it? The game is completely different once you maxed out at level 20.

I have recently just leveled to 'Light' 21 recently. And it's a completely different beast once you do. A lot more options open up once you hit 20. In order to get to level 21+, you will need to collect or buy gears with +? light. Light gears can only be purchased with strange coins, motes of light, crucible marks, vanguard marks or any of the vendor specific marks. They can also be dropped in raids, strikes or any of the weekly/daily challenges.

The real end game starts when you can do a strike playlist (unlocks at level 18). The difficulty starts at level 18 and hits level 26.

At level 24, you will unlock 6 player raids (3-8 hour long sessions). This is the end game to end all games.

To get from level 1 to 20, it will take roughly 15-20 hours of game time. But to get from 20 to 21, it might take up to 6 hours.

The 2nd subclasses for each class unlocks at level 15. But I would suggest concentrating on your main subclass in order to be properly leveled to do raids or high level strikes (level 22+).

My suggestion to you is to play till you hit level 20 before you pass a judgement whether a game is overhyped or not. My two cents.
 
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John Garrett
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I agree with Tyler - if you want to play accurately there is a lot of thinking time required - even in the last turn of our last game there was a lot to consider - relative values of first move for each player (which varied), then WHICH way to take the first move (as one way left only one other scoring move but scored fewer points) and being careful about the order of the meeple trail.

As for planning and back up moves in the mid-game the whole board 'polarity' can change in just a couple of moves so going third/fourth may need a total rethink as your Plan A,B and C have all been stopped.

I don't know where to place this game - if we play it in a 'fluffy' manner it is frustrating as you won't play it accurately and if you over-think you have too much down time but will get more satisfaction as you play it better!

Maybe more plays will help but as our group like change it may be that we never play this enough to get to playing accurately enough with a speed that makes the game short enough for what it is... time will tell
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Richard Dewsbery
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farmergiles wrote:

You Will Like This Game If:

You like your Euro games short - 40-80 minutes is not a long time for a game.


Really. Our game took over 2.5 hours with 4 players, and I was about ready to slit my own wrists after little more than half that. Yes, we had a couple of AP-prone players. But even they don't normally make a game run more than 30% longer than advertised. Five Tribes not only seems to bring out the AP in many players, it causes the worst sort of AP.

You're right about the quick-reference sheet. One of the best I've seen.
 
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Luke Hector
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I get a feeling that some players may over think this game. If you are the sort who painfully analyses every move for relative point value then chances are you are better off playing some thing like Power Grid which I can't stand because you have to nickel dime to the max.

If you don't take the game too seriously, it's easy to do the game in 90 minutes. How you managed two and half hours I've no idea.

That being said I may impose a 60 second timer in the future. 60 seconds is plenty.
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Juan Crespo
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Yep, it should come with a warning label for min-maxers.
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Tyler Durden
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this has nothing to do with takeing the game seriously ... if you play it simply the way it is intended to be played, you have to think about your turns. and due to the possbiliites there is a lot to consider, since there is little to no luck in the main parts of the game.

you can just do something to do something. But if it happens one time after your turn that a players say ""thank you lord that you haven't seen THIS big point possiblity" and does it himself, then you think about your next turns a lot more
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Robert Hahn
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A Parable

A tabletop gamer decides to pick up a new game to play. He spots one with a cool medieval theme for two players, takes it home, reads the rules in 5 minutes, and invites his buddy to come play.

The first game takes 10-20m - both players are developing a feel for the rules, and they're noticing the mistakes they made along the way - tactical/strategy errors, not errors in the rules. "That's fine, this is just a learning game."

With the rules clearly understood they begin another game. A serious game. They're going to focus on making the best moves possible. The game drags on for 4 hours, and both were ready to quit half way in.

Both players are smart, and generally not prone to AP. But this game was really tough - lots of tough decisions, lots of risk of making tactical blunders. And despite their best efforts, they still made blunders their opponents were able to exploit (if they spotted them).

Were these players expectations realistic?

This parable is completely relevant to concerns about how hard it is to play Five Tribes well. Perhaps excellent play will only come after 50 games instead of 5 games.
 
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Luke Hector
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I would just never think too hard about each path. It's usually easy to spot about 3-4 different moves you can do on your turn and then rank them in preference of what you would like to do. Hopefully by your turn at least one of them is still available to do. As for the board changing between players, I would stick to my "theme" or strategy. Like for example if I was hunting down Elder's to summon Genies and I had one move that was going to help with that, I'll only quickly double check to see if a "better" move for that opened up with other players.

But then such moves rely on a tile appearing that has more of that colour meeple on it which isn't hard to quickly spot.

I don't know, maybe I'm quick at spotting paths or maybe I don't consider all the possibilities hard enough! I certainly hate to min-max though, which was something that games like Power Grid and Kingdom Builder forced me to do. I'd rather play a game fast 20 times to learn it through then play it 5 times very slowly.

Quote:
Yep, it should come with a warning label for min-maxers.


Ha ha, could think of a few other labels for other games. Cosmic Encounter - Warning: Not for people who don't like to talk in games!
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Daniel Angeles
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RDewsbery wrote:
farmergiles wrote:

You Will Like This Game If:

You like your Euro games short - 40-80 minutes is not a long time for a game.


Really. Our game took over 2.5 hours with 4 players, and I was about ready to slit my own wrists after little more than half that. Yes, we had a couple of AP-prone players. But even they don't normally make a game run more than 30% longer than advertised. Five Tribes not only seems to bring out the AP in many players, it causes the worst sort of AP.

You're right about the quick-reference sheet. One of the best I've seen.


I have played it two times. First time it took 1:30 hrs, as one player was having analysis paralysis often xD ; and the second time it took 50 minutes. Just get a timer
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Richard Dewsbery
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hanagata wrote:
Just get a timer


My preferred solution is to play a different game.
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David Tolin
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RDewsbery wrote:
farmergiles wrote:

You Will Like This Game If:

You like your Euro games short - 40-80 minutes is not a long time for a game.


Really. Our game took over 2.5 hours with 4 players, and I was about ready to slit my own wrists after little more than half that. Yes, we had a couple of AP-prone players. But even they don't normally make a game run more than 30% longer than advertised. Five Tribes not only seems to bring out the AP in many players, it causes the worst sort of AP.

You're right about the quick-reference sheet. One of the best I've seen.


You need this:


I used to scoff at timers, but the DGT Cube is a marvel. Since it separately tracks time for each player, you can use it in such a way that it feels almost like another game mechanic. Rather than a sand timer, which just puts a hard cap on each turn (and feels limiting as a result), the DGT Cube can be set up to track total game time. This means players can take more time when they feel it's necessary, but every player still gets the same total time over the course of the game.

Is this how a chess clock works? Probably so, I bet--but it was new to me. We generally choose how long we want to play a game and divide that total by the # of players, then give each player that amount of time. Take as much time on your turn as you want, but if you drag too much, you'll run out of time before the game is over. We agree on an appropriate penalty ahead of time for those who go over--e.g., lose one point per minute of game time exceeded. In this way, you can shorten games (and it works, really!), but you can also turn AP into a sort of game mechanic. Players are free to take super long turns and blow the time limit, but they better be sure all their thinking and analysis is going to net enough points to overcome the penalty.

In my experience, players speed up a lot, generally, but don't feel constrained by the timer.
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Richard Dewsbery
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There would still be to much dead time for me. There is very little that you can do in anyone else's turn - the board (ad scoring opoprtunities) is likely to be quite different when your turn next rolls around. For my money, I much prefer a game like Glass Road - where players can take a lot of time thinking about their moves, but as almost all of that thinking time is done at the same time as everyone else, the game manages to feel *really* quick for the amount of time spent playing it. As an example, if I spend 45 minutes - or 75% of the game - thinking, a 4-player game of Glass Road will still take only an hour. If I - and the other three players - spend the same amount of time thinking in Five Tribes, we're heading for a three-hour game!

The alternative - to spend less time thinking about moves - might appeal to some, but not to me. Why does the game present so many options, so many ways to score or change the game-state if I'm *not* supposed to think about them? And if by thinking I can eke out just 1 or 2 extra points more than the other players every couple of turns by "min-maxing", surely that's *precisely* the way to play if you want to win?
 
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Juan Crespo
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Quote:
Why does the game present so many options, so many ways to score or change the game-state if I'm *not* supposed to think about them? And if by thinking I can eke out just 1 or 2 extra points more than the other players every couple of turns by "min-maxing", surely that's *precisely* the way to play if you want to win?

Interesting take.
This is the mirror image question to the "why thinking too much about your moves" question. Theres no right answer, just different games and gamers. Some games solve this by having imperfect or hidden information, or having just a few available choices. At least it seems like the others in the group are the same type of players. If only one player was like that, it could be really frustrating for the others.
 
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Luke Hector
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Wow the last time I played Glass Road, it did not take an hour! Much longer from AP issues. Won't even go into the frustratingly random, unforgiving outcomes from the character card selection phase.

I've easily played Five Tribes in less time than that game of Glass Road and enjoyed it more!
 
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Moose Detective
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RDewsbery wrote:
Why does the game present so many options, so many ways to score or change the game-state if I'm *not* supposed to think about them? And if by thinking I can eke out just 1 or 2 extra points more than the other players every couple of turns by "min-maxing", surely that's *precisely* the way to play if you want to win?


Have you ever played Chess or any other abstract game? A few moves into a chess game you might be able to move all 16 of your pieces to multiple spots each. Any move will open options for your opponent, which will then open options for you. The more you play an abstract game, the easier it is to see the possible moves and repercussions. If you could take an infinite amount of time or write down your best options and revisit only those, you would be at an advantage. There is a reason why a commonly accepted house rule during games is no note-taking unless the game specifically permits it. Same thing with time. "Taking forever" is bad and rude and the same way someone who starts writing notes at the table would be told "no", the person who is taking an inordinate amount of time thinking should be told "no" or a timer needs to be used.

Reading the board and doing it quickly are skills of the game the same way maximizing points and blocking your opponent are.

In a game with 5 options you can puzzle out all of them and which is best. In a game with dozens(hundreds?) of choices, you have to rely on instinct, and your instincts will improve the more you play the game.
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Luke Hector
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Used to play Chess a lot for school and home town - haven't picked up a chess piece in over a decade now though but maybe that explains my ability to learn fast and evaluate options quickly.
 
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ozzy perez
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DavidT wrote:
RDewsbery wrote:
farmergiles wrote:

You Will Like This Game If:

You like your Euro games short - 40-80 minutes is not a long time for a game.


Really. Our game took over 2.5 hours with 4 players, and I was about ready to slit my own wrists after little more than half that. Yes, we had a couple of AP-prone players. But even they don't normally make a game run more than 30% longer than advertised. Five Tribes not only seems to bring out the AP in many players, it causes the worst sort of AP.

You're right about the quick-reference sheet. One of the best I've seen.


You need this:


I used to scoff at timers, but the DGT Cube is a marvel. Since it separately tracks time for each player, you can use it in such a way that it feels almost like another game mechanic. Rather than a sand timer, which just puts a hard cap on each turn (and feels limiting as a result), the DGT Cube can be set up to track total game time. This means players can take more time when they feel it's necessary, but every player still gets the same total time over the course of the game.

Is this how a chess clock works? Probably so, I bet--but it was new to me. We generally choose how long we want to play a game and divide that total by the # of players, then give each player that amount of time. Take as much time on your turn as you want, but if you drag too much, you'll run out of time before the game is over. We agree on an appropriate penalty ahead of time for those who go over--e.g., lose one point per minute of game time exceeded. In this way, you can shorten games (and it works, really!), but you can also turn AP into a sort of game mechanic. Players are free to take super long turns and blow the time limit, but they better be sure all their thinking and analysis is going to net enough points to overcome the penalty.

In my experience, players speed up a lot, generally, but don't feel constrained by the timer.


That's awesome.. will def check into it. Thanks for the info. Question.. do you set it to match the game's designed time-frame?
 
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David Tolin
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Not specifically, no. But, if I'm unfamiliar with a game or how long it should take to play, I certainly use the printed play-time as a guide. Recently, more and more games have started advertising game length in a "time per player" fashion, and BGG users are also really good at those kinds of estimates. If you have that sort of information, it's even easier!
 
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