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Rise of Tribes (Saturday Review)
Posted On 15 December 2018
Release Date: 2018
Designer: Brad Brooks
Length: 30-60 minutes
Artist: Sergio Chaves
Publisher: Breaking Games
Complexity: 2.0 / 5
Rise of Tribes by Breaking Games looks like your normal area control game with the usual random terrain made out of hexagonal tiles. The game is set in ancient, prehistoric times, and you move your tribe members around the terrain, collect resources, craft tools to upgrade your tribe’s abilities and generally do things that you will have seen before in other games. However, look closer and you will see that there are at least two interesting mechanisms in this game, which make it stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Let’s start with the most obvious mechanism, which are the way the dice work in this game. On your turn you roll two six sided dice, showing a mix of moons, suns and blank faces. At first glance it sounds like this game is heavily influenced by chance – after all, you’re rolling dice. However, chance is heavily mitigated, because you place your dice into one of four action slots, each of which already has three of these types of dice in them. As you place a dice, you knock the “oldest” dice in the relevant action slot out, leaving you with a combination of moons, suns and blanks on the three remaining dice. Having two or more suns is a good thing, making that action more powerful, while having two or more moons makes it less effective, and all other dice combinations mean the action has its standard efficiency.
That means that even if you roll two moons, which aren’t powerful dice results, you can benefit from the existing dice to at least get the standard ability of an action. So a really bad roll won’t necessarily mean you have a bad turn. In fact, the opposite is true too. If you roll two suns, which is a good symbol, you won’t necessarily benefit from stronger actions, if none of three dice in an action space shows a sun. On top of this, you want to avoid leaving a good dice combination in an action space that the next player can benefit from.
Suddenly what seems to be a relatively simple dice placement mechanism turns into a real puzzle in itself. You might really need to carry out a certain action now, but you don’t have the dice to get the better version of that action. Alternatively, maybe you have two suns, but you don’t want to leave the next player the option of getting a more powerful action, which will benefit them more than it would you taking the same action on your turn. You really have to pay attention to what other players are up to and take that into consideration when you decide where to place your two dice.
Now there is another very interesting mechanism in this game. Unlike in many other area control games, in Rise of Tribes you can happily occupy a hex that another player already has tribe members in. In fact, it is not uncommon to have hexes containing three or more different tribes all at the same time. There is a population limit though, and when a hex has reached or exceeded that limit at the end of a player’s turn, combat commences. Now don’t expect to roll more dice to decide the outcome. The process is quite simple. You basically keep removing a single tribe member from every player on the contested hex until only a single player’s tokens are left. So if player A has two tribes members, player B one and player C three, then by the end of the battle only player C will be left with a single tribes member.
However, that isn’t the interesting mechanism I was thinking of, even though the idea of being able to share hexes is quite unsual in area control games. What is interesting though is the idea that you can have a single tribes member on a hex and on your turn take the so-called Grow action, which allows you to add anything between two and four tribe members onto any hex where you already have a presence. You can find that two tribes happily co-exist on a hex, with player A having two tribe members present while player B has a single, unassuming meeple on the same hex. Then, suddenly, player B takes the Grow action with two suns, allowing them to place four new tokens. They decide to place all four on the shared hex and at the end of their turn they trigger combat, which results in player A losing both of their paltry two tribe members, while player B is victorious with two of their members remaining on the hex. Imagine that – a single meeple takes over a hex in one swoop.
So both mechanisms create a really interesting game, quite different from all other area control games I have come across. There is plenty for players to think about on every turn, without making the game feel too taxing. In fact, I don’t think the game will cause analysis paralysis in players, because choices on your turn are limited – you have to place two dice, that’s it. Yet you do have to plan ahead and hope that the Gods are in your face and give you the dice rolls you need.
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