“Five Tribes” is a different experience as a 2-player game, though.

See, when playing with two players, each person gets two turns per round. This means they have to bid for two turns a piece. This small change suddenly transforms the experience into something really thoughtful and tense. Letting someone snag two turns in a row, while you go first and last is brutal. And since there is only one other player, you’re much more engaged in what they’re doing, because it is going to directly affect what you do on your turn.

It also may be a really good game for couples, seeing as the pieces for a two player game are the exact same colors as those bubblegum cigars new dads excitedly shove into unaccepting mouths when their child is born. Hell, maybe the game is meant to be an aphrodisiac to get couples in the mood. Have you seen the shape of these pieces? They’re not subtle.

Be sure you account for all pieces and disinfect them after game night.

Be sure you account for all pieces and disinfect them after game night.

Sexy djinns and sexy pieces. Mmm… let’s have a baby, honey.

“Yes! We’ll call our firstborn Bruno!”

Lastly, we have to deal with this game’s messy theme. It doesn’t work, at all.

…or does it?

On the surface, the game seems like the theme was tacked on somewhere in the middle of the design process. One that was specifically chosen because it’s fairly unique in the realm of board games. And the theme of Arabia and djinns and deserts doesn’t really matter. There were no mechanics that were informed from the theme.

I mean, the game is called “Five Tribes” to signify the five different types of meeples. But, really, were there ever tribes of builders or merchants? No, it’s just a more evocative sounding word than calling the game “Union Workers” or “Day Laborers”.

Except, there is a different theme here. One that lies outside of the game’s aesthetics. One that’s actually brilliant.

In reality, this is a game where you’re all playing cutthroat entrepreneurs. You’re bidding for turn order to be the first to grab at important business opportunities. You’re making  deals with various merchants in the region. You’re hiring builders to expand your empire. You’re encountering small villages and gathering information on ancient deities to befriend. You’re hiring unscrupulous types to take out people of influence that are willing to help your rivals. You’re gaining trust with people in power. You’re haggling for goods and selling them for a massive profit.

Then, once these meeples have served their purpose, you throw them into a black bag, never to be seen or heard from again.

Thus said the Lord God of the game board: Let my meeples go, so that I may win the game.

Thus said the Lord God of the game board: Let my meeples go, so that I may win the game.

There are even slaves you can purchase, which you can use and dispose like currency because there is nothing that will stop you from getting what you want. That’s awful! But it works here.

You have to constantly juggle how much to invest in something with how much return you’re going to see. That’s the secret genius here.

It works if you buy into this idea. The idea that this game’s theme, the unintended one, is one where you’re all playing greedy, power hungry jerks. Dirtbags who are unabashedly selfish, unmitigatingly cruel, and borderline psychotic. You know, like real CEOs. This game asks the players, “How good are you at being awful people?”

To this, the game is actually kind of brilliant.

But, I can’t review a game based on things I’ve made up.

Look, “Five Tribes” is a good game, even a little better than good when playing with two players. I like its simplicity, I like its design, and I like the visual puzzle it puts in front of you. Carving paths of meeples and shutting off paths for your opponent is satisfying.

But I still stand by my assessment that this is a good game to get people into the world of board games. It’s certainly works better as that than it does as a gamer’s game.

It’s generous with its components, it looks great on your table, and the manual is extremely slim and easy to understand. It’s a very good product. Not great, but very good. Certainly worth it if you’re looking for something with more crunch than other entry-point games, like “Ticket to Ride” or “Carcassone”.

My version of the game, though… fuck, that would light the industry ablaze.