Tribal is a skirmish game that depicts battles between Maori tribes, but the basic manual is already extended to Vikings, Aztecs, gladiators…
The game places the emphasis on honor: honor is both the “score” that determines victory and the “currency” with which players buy their warriors.
For example, the scenario played yesterday assigned 15 honor points, of which players could spend 5 to 8 to buy their units. The rest is saved in their respective pools.
There are three types of units: a chief, heroes, and groups of 5 warriors. The chief is free, heroes and groups of warriors cost 1 honor point, skills can cost 1 or 2 honor points, some can be assigned to ertain types of units only.
The game uses standard decks of cards both in place of the dice and the ruler.
At the start of each turn, players will draw from their decks a number of cards equal to the number of their units on the battlefield, and assign one to each of them, face down.
After that, players alternate to activate their units. Assigned card value is not relevant unless the units will fight that turn.
Movement is done by card lengths. One for normal movement, two for the “sprint”. If the unit crosses difficult terrain, it can only move by one card short side.
If you want to fight, you have to charge the opponent: the card assigned to the unit becomes the first one of a hand of cards equal to the number of models or wounds remaining to the unit. As already mentioned, warriors are grouped into five units, heroes and chief act individually and begin with 5 and 6 wounds respectively. The combat takes place in 5 or less “exchanges”, depending on the number of cards in the hand of the player who has the most. Of course, the highest card wins. Black suits are offensive and cause wounds, red suits are defensive and allow to change the suit of the next card played.
At the end of the combat round, th side with more “exchanges” won is the winner and will gain honor.
This is, very broadly, the game. And it is a fun game. The only criticism I can make is that honor is actually a tad too tied to killing and scoring scenario objectives, for the claim "Honour determines who wins Tribal rather than the normal determinants of wargames (killing enemy/taking ground)". But it's a trivial one, as the game is genuinely fun. The ruleset works great as is. It features interesting mechanics, original and innovative to some extent. Card driven combat resolution is extremely engaging and always very tense. Luck has its weight, of course, but poker face and playing mind games with your opponent help a lot. Really a nice system, as you actively participate to the combat phase, more than simply throwing dice. Almost a game in the game. Really, I see no reason to not recommend Tribal. Even if you’re not very versed on “historical” gaming: this ruleset is generic enough to be easily applied to other settings. In fact, yesterday we played Vikings (with heroes taken from Warhammer Chaos) against Orcs and Goblin, and nothing felt out of place.
Disclaimer: the above are my first impressions after just a couple of games.