What follows here is a combination session report and strategy guide. My aim was to not only recount the actions and what occurred during this game, but to also provide insight into why the players were making the moves they did, as well as add some discussion on overall strategy and tactics within Five Tribes. The game itself features a very high level of play as it was the final table from (as far as I am aware) the largest Five Tribes tournament in the world. For those who may (rightly) wonder why they would care to take any strategy advice from myself, I will point out that I was one agonizing point from playing in the final table myself, as well as mentioning that I have reached out the finalists for their own commentary which has been worked into this report.
Before I dive into the game itself, let me provide a few more details about the tournament itself:
The 2019 World Boardgaming Championships were held from July 20th-July 28th in Seven Springs, PA. Tournaments were held in over 160 various tabletop games, of which Five Tribes was one.
During the week, Five Tribes held three heats. 71 players participated in 29 total games to determine the top 16 players who would advance to the semifinals. The semifinals wound up advancing four double heat winners, eight players with a 1st and a 2nd, and four players with a single win. (Several other single winners showed up but had to be turned away. The ranking for the single winners was done as a percentage of 2nd place’s score, so larger wins were admitted over those who had a close win.)
The four double heat winners were seated at separate tables, and the rest of the qualifiers randomly assigned tables. The semifinals featured great gameplay, but in the end only four could advance to the final. Two of the double heat winners, AJ and Chris, managed to keep winning and advanced. The other double heat winners couldn't hold on, and Angela and Brandon advanced. I sadly fell short by the slimmest of margins--losing by a single point to Angela (and I would have had the tiebreaker to advance to the final). Alas I took 5th place overall and instead was able to take very detailed notes of the final which were instrumental in helping to assemble this report.
Now that I have set the scene, on to the game itself!
ROUND 1 START
The opening player order for making bids was randomly assigned as Brandon (blue), Angela (orange), AJ (pink), and Chris (black). The board was randomized, the merchandise and Djinns were shuffled and dealt, and the players were looking at this:
Note: The entire tournament used only the base game of Five Tribes without any changes to the rules (save for adding tiebreak procedures if needed for the semifinals and finals.) The finals was played on a copy of Five Tribes that had Fakirs, not slaves. I got my copy of the game long ago shortly after it was released, and so when recreating the game and taking pictures this copy has slaves. I will refer to these as Fakirs throughout this report in deference to what actually occurred in the final.
Market Note: The top of the image is the “front” of the market where cards are acquired from. New cards enter the market from the bottom and move up.
This is one of the more interesting Five Tribes opening set ups I have seen. This alone almost ensured a very interesting game was to be had going forward. Why is it so interesting? Simply because there are so many interesting actions at play here--there are many double color meeple spots which allow for stronger actions in general. The blue tiles are very heavily clustered here, with several spots offering up 7 per builder action, and even more at 5. The opening market is full of goods, with only one fakir present. The market also has a reasonably nice mix of goods to start working on a big set.
The djinns up for offer a bit underwhelming though. Both Hagis and Lamia are very limited in their usefulness, which is why they are the only 10 value djinns in the game, everything else is less. Echidna however is potentially one of the more powerful Djinn in the game--if your opponents allow you to build up a large collection of fakirs, one can achieve absolutely silly builder turns. This map makes that possibility all the more tantalizing, but in many ways actually kind of ruins Echidna’s usefulness here--builder actions are likely valuable enough on their own that opponents will be taking them pretty early, leaving an Echidna player not enough time to acquire the djinn and fakirs needed to set up the mega turn. This is particularly true in light of the dearth of fakirs on offer at the market and the simple fact this is a Five Tribes final and the competition isn’t about to allow a player to pull off anything too absurd.
All of that analysis also leaves out the obvious--there is a triple green meeple hex, which will set someone up for a very strong first turn. The issue there is just how valuable is it? Getting some early merchandise and a tile claimed is obviously good, but it’s not “I should bid 18” good, especially in light of how many other strong actions this board is presenting.
Strategy Note: This is probably obvious to many, but much of the difficulty in bidding in Five Tribes is because you are not only trying to figure out the value of the action you would be taking (relatively easy) but trying to compare that to the value of the action you will instead get if you go last (much harder to predict). While getting to use a 4 merchant tribe action, plus claim a tile, plus buy a good is quite a valuable action, and as such going first here is desirable, the board has many 12+ point actions available to those who would just bid 0. Hence the delightful tension in how much to bid here.
This situation does create some advantages in the opening bid order. Some rules changes are being considered for the tournament next year.
Rules Note: In several heats and now in the finals, these opening set ups with triple meeple spots can create very strong actions. In certain situations (most notably with triple yellow meeples, particularly on a village or oasis space) the first bidder obtains an unfair advantage by being able to just bid 18 and ensure a stronger move than even the subsequent 0 bids would have. In many other situations, like the one above, the last bidder has the extra advantage by being the last to act.
It is now my opinion that triple meeple spots should be banned in the starting setup. Many others on the GM team feel this way, and it is likely such a rule will be put into place for future Five Tribes tournaments at WBC.
As for the opening bidding, Brandon decides to bid 3, Angela then bids 5. AJ agonizes a bit over this decision--if he can take start for 8 he would want to, but absolutely fears Chris then spending 12 which would be a bad position for AJ. The other option would be to bid 12 to hopefully lock up that best action on the board, but then there still is some risk Chris would just bid 18 anyhow--while that doesn’t seem too likely given the move isn’t quite worth that, it is quite the risk as it would really hurt AJ’s chances. Bidding 18 here is out of the question for AJ as the move simply isn’t worth that much compared to the other options. After debating it a bit longer, AJ simply bids 0, and Chris quickly bids 8, thankful to have secured the best move for that price.
ROUND 1 TURN 1
Note: For all the images, the start card represents the tile the player grabbed the meeples from. The 1 represents the 1st meeple drop, the 2 is the 2nd meeple drop, and so on, until End is the tile of the last meeple drop. This end tile is where the tribe and tile action of that player is performed.
I didn’t always have a super defined system in place for showing what someone acquired during a turn or what was removed. I generally left all meeples in the picture, even the ones that would have been removed as part of the turn’s actions. I often moved the players pawn back to the turn order track, but didn’t always remember to do this. I generally put any newly acquired Djinn or merchandise below the game board by the player’s coins. I also generally would put down the camel marking tile control in the picture it was earned.
Chris takes the obvious move everyone was bidding on. He has several choices for how to get a green meeple there, but fairly quickly approximates this path seems safe enough.
Strategy Note: A key skill in progressing from an okay Five Tribes player to a great one is learning to be a bit defensive in one’s moves. Most beginning players in Five Tribes quickly figure out how to take valuable actions on their turns, but rarely think about the moves they are subsequently leaving for others. To improve, one must always keep in mind what new opportunities they are leaving behind with their moves, and try to limit what is on offer for their foes. A good first step, as seen in the example above, is to try to place a color of meeple on a tile that is not currently there--dispersing meeple colors limits the strength of tribe actions others can take on those spaces.
The four merchants Chris obtains gives him the first four items in the market--a wheat, cloth, fakir, and pots. He places a camel claiming the 6 point tile as his. Finally he chooses to spend the 3 coins to buy the gold, which was then one of the first 3 cards on offer.
ROUND 1 TURN 2
Angela decides to get a lead on the Vizier race, and takes one of the several options to acquire three of them at once. This tile allows for a resource purchase which is the best tile action available while still acquiring three Viziers. Angela buys the obvious choice--taking the uncommon cloth over the common wheat. (With two wheat at the start of the resource row, and Chris already having one, it seems quite likely she will be able to pick up a wheat later).
Defensive Note: Another consideration when dropping meeples is to always pay attention when creating a tile with 5+ meeples. These tiles allow for loops to be played off of them, which can often set up strong actions. I’ll cover what a loop is shortly when we see one performed. As is, Angela creates some five meeple tiles, one of which sets up a reasonably strong move. It may have been better here to achieve this move in a different way, but part of playing Five Tribes live is simply settling on a reasonable looking option as it is impossible to parse every option. This final was scheduled to be two hours (and it was roughly completed in 90 minutes). As such, players only had a few minutes to consider each move. It is only with the benefit of hindsight and unlimited time that I get to be as nitpicky about what meeples and actions are being left behind.
ROUND 1 TURN 3
Brandon decides to hit up one of the 14 point builder moves on the board. At this point he has to be a bit disappointed in his 3 bid--there are numerous actions on this board of similar value to this one, so winding up 3rd here for 3 stings a bit when it could have just been for 0 or 1.
There were quite a few options on how to achieve this move. Ending on the blue meeple on the 12 tile would also have achieved 14 coins, but it then would have set up someone else to take claim the greens and the 12 point tile, so I think it was wise not to end there. Starting on the 15 point tile is a bit bold, and is generally something I’d caution against--emptying that tile, especially early, tends to allow someone else the ability to drop a single meeple on it during a move, then end somewhere to assassinate and claim the 15 point tile. 15 points in a move is often strong, and if that person can do a useful tile action on top of it they are looking at a very nice move. As such, I’m usually wary of clearing the 15 tile...but here I think it’s fine. There are so many interesting moves still on this board, and Brandon is near the end of the round, so setting up strong moves is fine when everyone has to just go bid for the right to take them.
Strategy Note: This is one of the minor advantages of going last during a round--you can take and then leave whatever moves you’d like. You get to bid last during the next round, so leaving behind some very strong moves can actually be very advantageous--you force your opponents into difficult bidding decisions, and you ultimately get the last say on where to bid so you’re not risking a high bid that might just get outbid later. When I act last during a round I tend to purposefully inject some chaos into the game by setting up some strong moves.
ROUND 1 TURN 4
AJ takes advantage of the loop that was set up by Angela earlier. He grabs the five meeples, drops an elder on the 8 point tile, then loops around to end on that very space to claim the elders and the tile--placing a palm tree in the process. It’s not necessarily that much better than some of the other options still remaining on this board (in fact there are quite a few other ways for AJ to secure 15 points here), but the versatility of picking up 2 elders is nice. This sets up AJ for slightly stronger moves in the future--as now he can make better use of any moves that end on a Sacred Place tile since he can convert these elders to a Djinn.
Strategy Note on Loops: While it is not allowed to immediately backtrack while placing meeples in Five Tribes, it is legal to loop around and place multiple meeples on the same time during one move. To do this, one needs at least five meeples. Part of the power of loops is that they often allow one to claim a tile that was empty at the start of the turn--like AJ does above. In the example above, AJ is able to grab five meeples from a single tile. At least two of them must be the same color, and in this case there are two white meeples. He starts by placing one elder on the tile he’d like to claim, then loops the remaining meeples back around to end by placing a whilte elder on that same space. For this reason leaving five meeples on a single space is a bit risky as it can lead to stronger moves like this. (The exception is is all five meeples are different colors). Tiles with six or more meeples must have at least a pair that are the same color, and this allows you to reach even further tiles to pull off the loop on. Many beginning players tend to miss these moves and/or are prone to leaving behind looping opportunities during their turns. Learning to quickly spot these and leveraging them is key to improving in Five Tribes. One final note on loops--while infrequent, if a tile has 8 meeples on it, it is actually possible to pick them all up, loop around twice, and end the turn on the same tile you started upon.
ROUND 1 SCORES
While I am providing the scores for the end of each round, I will point out this analysis has major limitations on how useful it may be. While Angela currently appears to be in the lead, it is unlikely that she will actually score 33 from the Viziers. Either she will be overtaken, or will need to take another Vizier action to hold on to those points. As such, it is probably fairer to estimate those viziers as being worth quite a bit less. Another limitation here is in observing the merchandise scores. While Chris appears from this to be behind everyone, having a set of 4 goods is quite strong as it enables some later high value actions if he can obtain the right merchandise. If we instead view it that Chris will eventually get a set of 8 goods for 50 points, then perhaps treating his current 4 goods as worth 25 of those points would be more accurate, which would push him into the lead currently. All of this also ignores the value of that Fakir he has--which on this board in particular looks pretty good since it shouldn’t be too hard to convert it to 5 coins or more on a later builder action. If anything, Brandon is probably in the worst spot by a few points, and while he is only 4 points back on AJ, the flexibility of AJ’s elders is yet a further edge compared to Brandon’s coins.
Still this is just the standings after a single round of play. Most games of Five Tribes last about 7-8 rounds. Those that end quicker involve someone blitzing out camels, and the game cannot go much longer than 8 rounds--by that point the board is simply running very low on meeples. As such, there are plenty of rounds left for these players to differentiate themselves. I’d argue that Chris is actually has a bit of a lead right now, with Angela and AJ in a roughly equal standing, and Brandon being a few points behind them.
ROUND 2 START
The market has some nice ivory and gems, but they are a bit down there so they are a bit tricky to access. Still if someone was able to, securing two rare goods makes for a fine start to a good merchandise set. The board still has plenty of very interesting moves right now--including some solid builder spots, triple vizier options, solid merchandise, plus a few ways to claim 15 point tiles.
Chris decides to bid 1, Angela goes for 0, Brandon bids 3, and AJ decides he prefers 3rd for 0 over taking the 1st move for 5.
ROUND 2 TURN 1
So what move did Brandon want to pay for to go first here? A very savvy play to get into the merchandise game. He takes three merchants, earning a wheat, wheat, and fish. But the real prize is then getting to spend 6 coins to get the gems and ivory. This is a really smart move for Brandon--one of the best ways to try to mount a bit of a comeback is by giving yourself the chance to have strong moves at the end when others are staring at a dry board. By setting up the basis for a strong set, he is hoping that the latter merchandise flips will set up for some moves where he can add items to his set for 10 each (the 7th, 8th, and 9th items each add 10 points to a set). Once again the scoresheet isn’t going to love this move since it looks like Brandon just spent 9 coins (points) to get 14 points in resources, but if Brandon can later push this set to 50 or even 60, these goods are truly worth quite a bit more than that.
This move also exhibits some very strong defensive play--AJ currently has no resources, so leaving the green meeple there is very smart. One has to be careful about setting up decent moves for opponents who may want to take actions on their own oasis or villages. The rest of the meeple placements are also quite careful--leaving the blue further away from the blue tiles is sensible.
Brandon's Comment: I knew that someone had to jump into the goods game against Chris or he would win hands down. And I felt that paying 3 would let me get goods and challenge and help the table. It also game me good value for the bid. If AJ bid 5 and took my idea to help the table then I would settle for what came next.
ROUND 2 TURN 2
Chris decides to go create and claim a 15 point tile. He ends his turn on the village, utilizing the assassins to kill the elder on the same tile, thus claiming it. He must (and wants to) take the tile action of adding a palace to the tile.
This move has another level of clever to it, in that Chris is also setting up his own future moves. He still has that Fakir that he’d like to use during a build action. He leaves another blue in a spot that sets up a strong builder play. Beyond that, by adding another color meeple to the 12 tile, he also opens up that spot for a strong builder play. Prior to this move, utilizing the builder on that space was a bit unsavory, as it would leave only green meeples there and allow a strong move to his opponents going after him.
ROUND 2 TURN 3
AJ has quite a few routes here to take 15ish point moves, but decides on this looping builder move. I suspect this is partially defensive in nature--AJ knows some of his opponents have been picking up fakirs, and the market is also showing several more that may soon enter the game. As such, removing the strong builder moves before someone is taking them for very high amounts is a solid play.
We also see some clever setting up for the future on AJ’s part--placing a yellow meeple on his own oasis. If/when someone in the future goes there to collect that meeple, AJ will gain another 3 point palm tree.
Note: Ending on the village forces a palace to be added to this space. During the finals the players missed this and I had to point it out. Sadly I made the same error though in recreating the game--it is not until quite a bit later that I realized my error. Rather than set up everything to retake all the pictures, I simply added the palace eventually and continued from there. So the next several images are missing a palace that should be on that tile, and it will suddenly appear in a later photo. Apologies for the mistake.
ROUND 2 TURN 4
Angela decides to take an assassin action to kill the remaining elder on the tile, thus claiming the tile and placing a palace upon it.
This move was likely a bit of a weak spot for Angela--it is worth 10 points on a board with several stronger options. There is a 14 point builder move available on the 12 point tile, and right below that there is a 15 point builder move. There also is a way to utilize assassins to claim the 15 point tile.
ROUND 2 SCORES
Once again, those assembling merchandise sets look far further back than they should be. Brandon appears farthest back, but he has the best set of merchandise currently having already obtained two rare items. While he does have work to do to catch up to the leaders, he has positioned himself in a way to be able to do so. Chris likely is still actually in the lead here. Angela’s points are still deceptively high given those three viziers will not be pulling down that many points by the end. Overall the players are still fairly close to each other.
ROUND 3 START
The merchandise on offer has filled up with fakirs, but the rest of the items are quite attractive to those collecting sets. The issue is that it's hard to see a way to easily get at them, so they aren’t currently much use to anyone. There are several strong moves on this board, particularly for those who have some elders or fakirs already in their hands….and indeed those players are about to leverage that flexibility to take advantage of stronger moves than their opponents can make. Brandon bids 1, Chris bids 3, AJ decides going 1st is worth 5 here, and Angela takes last for 0.
ROUND 3 TURN 1
AJ takes a nice assassin move to claim the 15 point tile, as well as convert his elders into a 10 point djinn--there’s not much hope in setting up Echidna anymore, and as such settling for some points is a fine alternative. He also makes sure to drop and kill the blue meeple which makes sense given the potential strength of builder actions here (especially if someone was to get their hands on many of those fakirs on offer).
While this move makes plenty of sense, one does have to wonder if this highlights an error made by AJ in round 2--this exact move was available for him when he was last playing on turn 3 of Round 2. Would he be better off right now if he instead had taken this move then, and just bid 0 for this round instead of having to spend 5 to go first here?
AJ's Comment: Ooh, I think you're right! Didn't think of that! Although a big part of my bid and action here was because I was trying to limit Chris's options. I suppose that given Chris's next move, I didn't do quite well enough in that department, and my 2-turn sequence was indeed a mistake.
ROUND 3 TURN 2
Chris takes advantage of the move he set himself up for--as discussed previously this builder move was a strong option for him, but previously he risked leaving the 12 point hex wide open for the taking. That was no longer the case thanks to the extra meeple there, and so he could now take this move. He spends his fakir to bolster the payout to 21 coins.
Chris continues the trend of trying to set up his future moves here--placing the yellow meeple on his own village tile potentially sets him up for a nice move down the line of claiming some viziers and adding a palace to his tile. These sorts of plays are what separate the good from the great, and Chris is showing off his skills thus far in this final.
ROUND 3 TURN 3
Brandon decides it is time to get in on the Vizier game and secures three of them. There are two spots to achieve this move, but one of them drops a palm tree and opens up the tile to be claimed by someone else so that’s not a good outcome. The other, and the one Brandon picks, allows him to purchase a Fakir. With that said there were other ways Brandon could have reached this tile and this move, and they potentially may have been better. Moving the meeples like he has has opened up a fairly strong move, one we are about to see. Fortunately, it is more of a minor error as it is only handing a few extra points to the player after him. On some level it may not be an error at all either--as it incentives Angela to take the newly opened up move. If Brandon hadn’t done this, it’s plausible that Angela’s best move would be to react to Brandon’s taking of the Viziers by grabbing the last remaining spot to secure three in one action. This isn’t a problem in Angela’s current position--as she is going last, she can afford to open up that tile for the next round as everyone needs to bid on it.
It’s hard to know if Brandon was thinking about all that when he made this move or not. Ultimately securing 3 Viziers here seems like a good move--it is likely worth at least 13 points by the end of the game, but it also positions Brandon to potentially take the other triple Vizier move himself, and likely earn 36 points, making each move worth 18. As that’s better than the other options on the board, this is a nice move from Brandon.
ROUND 3 TURN 4
Angela takes advantage of the move opened up by Brandon. She scoops up the five meeples and performs a loop, finishing with some assassins that are able to kill the now lone meeple on the 12 tile, claiming both the 12 and the 6 tiles. She also gets to purchase some pottery, slowly adding to her burgeoning set.
ROUND 3 SCORES
AJ has continued to take strong moves each round and appears in the lead, but it should be noted he has almost no flexibility beyond what the board itself offers him each round. All three of the other opponents have some merchandise sets going on, and Brandon also has a Fakir. These provide these players with potential ways to still take strong moves. Adding 2-3 items to their sets could provide them more points than any move available on the board, potentially allowing them to take stronger moves than AJ will be able to. So while it appears he is in the lead, this is still a very close game--Brandon’s set is the best given he already locked up 2 rare items and quite a few uncommon goods are currently showing at the bottom of the market for him. Chris also has a nice set forming and has a few more points. Angela may be in the weakest spot actually, but this is still very much anyone’s game.
ROUND 4 START
The board is no longer offering any dramatic difference between the moves. The market is still clogged with fakirs currently, making it hard to get at some of the more interesting goods near the back.The new djinn on offer is more exciting than what we have seen. Nekir is quite strong if earned early, since most games will have roughly 7 assassinations, making him actually worth potentially 20+ points. While there has already been quite a bit of assination, there are likely at least 3 assassinations remaining in this game, making Nekir a fairly valuable pick up. AJ decides it is likely worth bidding 1 here to avoid being pushed to last, but the rest of the players all decide they’d rather just bid 0 than pay 3. This may have been an error as the difference between the best and worst moves this round still may be more than 3 points.
AJ's Comment: IMO, I absolutely got a steal going first for $1. In hindsight, this was the break that got me 2nd place despite a couple of questionable other calls during the game for me.
ROUND 4 TURN 1
Aj does decide to make a nice looping move to secure Nekir. He is able to secure a 6 point Djinn, a 6 point tile, grab an extra elder, and will likely get some payouts from Nekir making this a very nice turn--potentially one someone should have bid 3 for given how many of the remaining options are no longer offering paths to 15+ points. This move also showcases many of the more defensive traits we’ve discussed before--putting a 5th color of meeple on a space tends to be better than creating stronger actions for others. It also makes sense to put the elder on the market tile and the merchant on the sacred place--there obviously would be more synergy if it was done in the reverse order, but why set up such moves for others?
ROUND 4 TURN 2
Angela immediately takes advantage of the move opened up by AJ, and uses the assassins to claim two more tiles, one worth 4 and the other 8. AJ’s purchase of Nekir is already getting him a very quick 2 coins. Angela finishes on the large market allowing her to buy two goods. Unfortunately the market is currently positioned poorly for her--she already has gems, and the only good for offer is a cloth. She decides to take that and a Fakir, continuing this very slow accumulation of a set. If she is able to grow this into a large set by the end of the game, all this may well be worth it. As is currently, Angela has put more points into cards than she will currently earn from her set.
ROUND 4 TURN 3
Brandon decides to continue to his acquisition of Viziers by taking the only other spot on the board that offers three of them. With the vizier split after this move at 6-3-0-0 and with only 6 remaining on the board, it seems quite likely Brandon has secured 36 points for himself over the past two moves. Nobody is incentivized to try and surpass Brandon because it would just take too many actions to do so. The one main downside of this move is that he not only has to leave a palm tree on at ile, but does so in a spot that is now trivially easy to claim. Still this is an important move for Brandon to secure before someone else took it.
Note: For whatever reason a game of Five Tribes has only 16 viziers at the start. There are 18 builders, merchants, and assassins, and then 20 elders. This tends to make it slightly harder to acquire viziers, particularly three at once. This board was quite unusual in a variety of ways, including how many spots were open for claiming three viziers at once.
ROUND 4 TURN 4
Chris is very thankful for the move that fell to him here. While he had other reasonable moves, there was nothing quite as strong as this one--he gets to claim two tiles worth a combined 20 points. (14 base plus 6 for the now two palm trees on the oasis). AJ once again gets a further quick payoff from Nekir, already driving his total to 4 coins for the Djinn.
ROUND 4 SCORES
AJ has taken the lead, but once again not all is how it appears. While AJ does have the extra elder, and Nekir is potentially still set to provide him a bit more of a payout, he is still relying on strong moves from the board that are increasingly drying up. Chris is very much in control of this game right now--despite being just 3 points back he still has a nice edge with the start of a set that could quickly grow in value from acquiring a few key resources. If he can find a way to efficiently gather the remaining goods he needs, he should win this. Brandon’s acquisitions of viziers has kept him close to the leaders though, and he still has the best set currently in terms of the number of rare items he already has. If he can beat Chris to some timely market plays he could yet get back in this. Angela is likely in the worst spot here, although she has some hopes yet for getting a nice set. If she can manage to get a very strong market move, and potentially rush the game end with her only 3 camels remaining, it may yet be enough to get the win.
ROUND 5 START
The market fills in with a few more good bits of merchandise several players want. The big issue remains the clog of fakirs at the front of the market nobody has shown much interest in. The new Djinn is pretty bad--players rarely have much incentive to assassinate meeples in front of opponents, given many more points can usually be gained by claiming a tile through assisination. There are still quite a few meeples on this board though, enough for several more rounds. Angela is the only one close to ending the game on camels, but with three remaining and the relative lack of assassins remaining, it will be hard to end things quickly. AJ sees nothing worth bidding on here, Angela decides to pay 1, Brandon considers things for a bit and decides he should bid 3 here, and Chris goes to 0, pushing AJ to last this round.
ROUND 5 TURN 1
Brandon continues making strong plays here to try and come back from being a bit down. He takes two Fakirs, setting up for a future move, and then purchases two more items from the market that he needs--the cloth and spices. He sadly already has the ivory, so someone else will have an easier time now in acquiring that rare good. One does wonder if he really needed to pay 3 to be first here though--while having the tempo to grab these goods before his opponents is nice, it turns out none of his opponents were likely fighting him for these. Angela and Chris both already have a cloth, and there are two spices visible in the market. Admittedly it’s very tough in live play to perfectly track what items all opponents have, and as such it’s easy to understand how one might think there was value in securing the goods before the other merchandise collectors could gather things up.
ROUND 5 TURN 2
Angela continues to get her camels on the board. This time she utilizes a looping move to claim a 6 point tile, and in the same turn as acquiring the elders, spends one of them and a fakir for a 10 point Djinn. This move totals a nice 17 points which is better than whatever is left on the board now. One does have to wonder though if Angela just gave up her best chance to actually make a nice set--that ivory and spices would have been very good for her here.
ROUND 5 TURN 3
Chris continues to make strong moves, partially taking advantage of what his opponents are leaving for him. Brandon cleared out some of the market, and Angela passed on taking goods, allowing Chris to make this seemingly boring move of just scooping up 2 elders for 4 points. But buying a rare ivory and uncommon spices is a massive boost to Chris’s set. He spends 6 coins to take his set from a value of 13 to 30, netting 13 points there, plus the 4 points from the elders. This type of move truly shows off the power of set collection strategies--even as the board is drying up in terms of offering strong actions, Chris is still able to have a 17 point turn.
ROUND 5 TURN 4
AJ is left with very little to do. The market has been ransacked this round, but he has no goods and it's far too late to get involved with them anyhow. He settles for claiming a 6 point tile and taking 2 elders for a disappointing 10 point turn. He passes on purchasing anything--again it’s far too late to try to work on a merchandise set. In a game with more interesting Djinns, buying a fakir may make a lot of sense, as activating some of the more powerful djinns tends to require elders and/or fakirs. But this game has featured some very unexciting djinn, leading AJ to conclude that even purchasing the fakir here was likely the wrong move.
AJ's Comment: The even more disappointing part of this move was that I set up something that Chris eventually took. This was a bad situation and I think I made things worse for myself. I needed a gift like Chris got in the previous round!
ROUND 5 SCORES
Having no good moves at the end of this round really hurt AJ, as all his opponents gained on him here, and Chris “finally” takes the lead. For several round snow we’ve been saying that his nice basis of a set likely would give him stronger moves at the end than his opponents could take, and he’s just proved that true during this round to get into the lead. He still has further work he can do on his set if good items show up, as does Brandon. The big issue for Brandon is that he is 19 points behind Chris. His 3 fakirs give him some options though, but it’s a bit hard to foresee how it’s enough to make up that gap. Angela is only a few points back from the leaders and may still be able to leverage the start of that merchandise set into something.
ROUND 6 START
The first six cards in the market are pretty unexciting. Brandon would still like the pottery, but as both Angela and Chris have one (and AJ showing no interest in sets) it likely will be there for him whenever he next wants to take goods. The wheat is useless to Chris and Brandon. Everyone however would like to get some of that papyrus, but it’s far down the line. The djinn market reveals another relatively good djinn, but much like Nekir, it’s much better the earlier one obtains it. At this point in the game the number of djinn being acquired is not likely to be many more, and so Ba’al is likely to be worth just about 6 points.Brandon decides to bid 1, Angela follows that up with bidding for 3, and then Chris and AJ pay 0.
ROUND 6 TURN 1
Angela continues to utilize the assassins guild to put out camels, this time securing the 10 point tile. AJ gets another payout of 2 coins from Nekir brining that total to 6. Angela also spends 6 to continue adding to her very slowly growing set. She gets a wheat and a fakir. At this point in the game Angela has spent 18 coins to acquire four goods worth 13 points, along with two fakirs. This highlights the kind of all or nothing nature of merchandise collecting--buying a little here and there and getting just a moderate amount tends to be point neutral or actually negative.
ROUND 6 TURN 2
Brandon sees a route to continue setting up for his big push to get back in this game. He gets two goods from the merchant meeples, acquiring a fourth fakir and then the pottery. He then is able to purchase some of the papyrus, bringing his set to 8 goods for 50 points. This alone is quite strong, but this move is even better for Brandon--he has got some of the blue meeples positioned such that some reasonable builder action should be left on the board for him next round. Brandon has to find a way to turn those all into points, and making a strong builder play is probably the only path to doing it.
ROUND 6 TURN 3
AJ finally takes advantage of a move he set up for himself long ago--he goes to his own oasis to add another palm tree, while collecting the vizier there. Even better, it was likely going to be Chris’s best move to do the exact thing on his palace space...but AJ ruined that by picking up the yellow meeple on Chris’s tile to start his turn.
ROUND 6 TURN 4
While Chris does want the Papyrus from the market, there is no great way to get at that right now, and Chris can hope the market refresh in round 7 gives him even more options. Instead Chris just finds a nice move on the board that claims an 8 point tile, adds a palm tree there, and collects just 2 coins from the builders. While the meeple part of that action isn’t too exciting, finding a 13 point move is still pretty good given most of the other options left on this board.
ROUND 6 SCORES
AJ’s clever round gave him the lead back over Chris, partially because of directly messing up Chris’s best move. The payout from Nekir also helped out AJ. Angela and Brandon are trailing. It’s hard to see at this point how Angela can come back, unless she gets some very strong market action to rocket to a much larger set. Brandon completing his large set has helped pull him a bit closer to the leaders, but he’s quite behind. His only hope is that he can leverage his 4 fakirs to make up the difference. With Angela having only one camel remaining, this could well be the last round. The meeples are starting to run a bit low too, so even if Angela doesn’t end the game, it seems unlikely things could continue past a round 8. We’re well into the endgame now with players having just an action or two left to finish off their strategies and make the strongest bid for the sultanate.
ROUND 7 START
The merchandise row gets updated. Not much new here, except Chris still is looking for a fish so that appearing was good for him. The players know the game is nearly over and this may be the final turn. Angela bids 1 to go first, Brandon chooses to pay 3. AJ decides to bid 0 here. Chris ponders his decision for awhile, but decides to bid 5. He likely knows Angela and Brandon have been collecting sets, and without knowing exactly what they require he probably wishes to secure the goods he needs.
ROUND 7 TURN 1
Indeed, Chris takes the best move that allows him to still purchase the goods he needs. The two builders provide a scant two dollars, and claiming the tile is only 4 points. But the big benefit is getting to spend 6 coins to secure two more goods, rocketing the set value from 30 to 50. Chris may have had to spend 5 coins to go first and 6 coins to buy goods, but this total sequence still nets him 15 points.
ROUND 7 TURN 2
Brandon set himself up for this move and executes upon it. He has plenty of fakirs that need to be converted to points, and most of the builders are gone from the board. As such he takes the best option he can find which is to collect 2 builders, bolster that with his 4 fakirs, and collect a total of 18 coins. He does not benefit from buying a good and so declines to do so, but he does get to place a camel and claim the 6 point tile. (Interestingly enough, this is his first camel on the board of the game!) As he had to pay 3 for this move, he nets 21 points for this turn. That’s a nice edge over what his opponents will be getting this round.
ROUND 7 TURN 3
Angela decides to end the game by using the assassins to drop her final camel, claiming a 5 point tile that comes with a palace. AJ gets another payout from Nekir, proving the strength of that Djinn even when taken during the midgame. Angela finishes her move on a sacred place and is able to convert her elder and fakir into some better points by acquiring a djinn.
While this is likely the best move Angela could have made, one does wonder if she was perhaps better off attempting to get a few more market goods and delay the game for one more turn, hoping the market revealed some further good things for her. At this point she is trailing the other players and so doesn’t necessarily benefit much from ending the game. Once again though, it can be very difficult to assess who is winning a close game of Five Tribes like this in real time, and Angela may well have concluded her best chance to win was taking this move and ending the game now.
ROUND 7 TURN 4
AJ gets to take the last move of the game, and there is not much on offer for him. He would like to take 2 viziers here which would be worth 12 points, but there is no possible move that allows him to do so. The djinns on offer are not helpful here. His best option is to simply scoop up 2 elders and add another palm tree to his oasis, scoring only 7 points.
In the end, our finalists took some pretty divergent routes. Angela heavily utilized the Assasins to claim many tiles. She took some viziers and elders, converting the latter to a few djinn solely for their points. She spent some time working on a set, but unfortunately she spent more money assembling those cards than the set is worth. This is the danger of investing into a set--in order for it to pay off you tend to have to secure a big one by the end or you are likely to lose. Either go big or not at all.
Which is admittedly what the other players did here. Both Brandon and Chris got a large set that is going to provide them with a lot of points. Brandon spent some turns assembling a nice number of viziers as well as utilized builders to get his money back up after spending much of it on sets. Chris also utilized some builder moves to keep his coin count up, but earned the rest of his points by getting out six of his camels as well as having some palaces and palm trees.
Finally AJ stayed out of the resource game, and instead dabbled a bit in most categories. He got some djinns. He utilized builders and Nekir to gather a lot of coins. He put out a few camels to claim some high value tiles, and managed to stack some palm trees on one of them. He also ended with a few viziers and elders.
In the end, it was a close game. Angela is a bit back from the leaders, and I believe this mostly comes down to the fact that she never was able to develop her set further. If she could have managed to get three more goods that would bring her set to 40 points. Even if that costs her a few points in not getting to take the actions she actually did, it would put her quite close to the winners.
Brandon scored in only four categories yet was nearly there. His set collection was strong and grabbing two triple vizier actions during the midgame was very savvy. His fakir gamble didn't pay off as well as he had hoped but it represented strong play to even execute it as well as it turned out.
AJ played the opportunistic game and simply took what became available to him each turn. The best move of the game for him was probably on round 4. Grabbing Nekir when he did turned out to be worth 14 points for the djinn alone, plus he got some other benefits from that turn.
Chris wins a close game. If AJ had been able to take 2 viziers for his final action, he would be the champion instead. It’s also interesting to wonder if that fish good doesn’t flop for Chris if he had the ability to take a strong enough move to still win the game or not. Overall he played very well though and got the breaks as well to be the 2019 Five Tribes champion. His opening move helped put him into the lead, and being able to leverage those goods right at the end to take strong actions while the board was drying up did prove to the difference--being able to take a 15 point turn during round 7 while AJ could only get 7 points.
Ultimately the finalists all displayed a great level of skill in Five Tribes. It was interesting to see how close all the various approaches were at the end of the game. I believe this helps reinforce that there is no overarching winning strategy in Five Tribes, and instead victory goes to those players who are best able to remain flexible and determine what moves will return the most value in an ever shifting game. As we saw here, great play also comes down to being defensive with the meeple placements, trying to deny opponents future good moves. It also comes down to setting oneself up for future opportunities--such as Brandon setting up for the late builder move, or AJ setting a vizier on his oasis in round 2 that he was able to take advantage of in round 6.
Thanks all for reading along. If you found this enjoyable and/or helpful, consider scrolling back up to the top to give the thread a thumb to help others in finding this. Please put comments below, I'd love to further discuss strategy overall in Five Tribes, or talk about specifics of this game. Finally if anyone has feedback on this session report format I'm open to shifting things around to make it easier to follow along.
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- The is the most thorough session report I have ever read. I'm not a huge fan of Five Tribes so I skimmed through the mid-game turns but I just had to acknowledge the level of effort you put into this from the detailed strategic commentary to the recreated board-state pictures. Very impressive!
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- I loved this. I am a huge Five Tribes fan and found this extremely interesting.
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- It was very rewarding for me to follow the final game move by move. I learned a lot and really enjoyed reading your insight. Thanks so much for taking the time to make it easy to follow.
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This is great. Fun game, too.
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- Ronaldo Fatecha(Legonian)
- As a fan and a player: Thank you! this post got me thinking about game strategies and I can´t wait to get it back in the table.
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Thank you for taking the time to break that down so well. It ruined the productivity of my afternoon, but, having only played the game once, I had to read it carefully and study it against the rules. Fascinating to see.
Now I obviously need to get a copy of the game.
...It never ends...
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- Amazing report and analysis, thanks!
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TwoAMArts wrote:I consider myself a pretty hard-core gamer, and Five Tribes to me is an underrated classic. I think it should stay for the long haul. It's one of my top favorites. I'm always up for a game. But it seems like among gamers this one is becoming a tougher sell. Kudos to Ryan for keeping high level strategy discussions alive.
Now I obviously need to get a copy of the game.
...It never ends...
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At the WBC, I finished with three close-seconds and did not advance. I've never had such an odd bounce of how the game finished up, three straight times -- I had high scores and close seconds, but all three bounced away at the end.
(Although one of them, I think I blundered by underbidding the last turn, and another I compensated by over-bidding the last turn).
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Race Bannon wrote:At the WBC, I finished with three close-seconds and did not advance. I've never had such an odd bounce of how the game finished up, three straight times -- I had high scores and close seconds, but all three bounced away at the end.Eh, I know the feeling. I lost a close game H1 to Jefferson who is a strong Five Tribes player. In my 2nd game I was in the lead and doing well, but the 4th place opponent had no better move than to take a late assassin action and had nothing worth killing from anyone besides one of my viziers, costing me 11 points and taking me from 1st to 3rd right at the end. My final heat I barely manged to sneak into the semifinals by getting a tied win in the closest game of the tournament top to bottom (150-150-141-141). But then I went on to take 5th overall and was one agonizing point from the finals...
(Although one of them, I think I blundered by underbidding the last turn, and another I compensated by over-bidding the last turn).
Close breaks can certainly happen in many games, and this one in particular has a little bit more of those kind of fluttery effects. Especially depending on what moves are being left for whom. There is an argument to be made that Chris partially won the finals because at least on one or two occasions his opponent needed/wanted to take a move that left him something pretty good while AJ didn't really get offered any gifts. In my experience at WBC, the heats are even more littered with a few strong gifts being offered here and there that can help determine who wins.
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