Saturday, January 19, 2019

GJJ Games Reivew - Rise of Tribes - By Breaking Games

Rise of Tribes
Designed By: Brad Brooks
Published By: Breaking Games
2-4p | 30-60m | 10+
GJJ Games Reivew - Rise of Tribes - By Breaking Games
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Game Overview:
Ever since I was introduced to the old Avalon Hill Civilization game back in high school I've had a love of civilization style games.  I spent hours and hours playing various versions of Sid Meier's Civilization throughout high school and college and still enjoy any games that have a tech tree and the ability to develop a nation.  Many of these games are 4x style games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) and take quite a while to play, so they don't hit the table very often.  So when a 4x style game that plays in under an hour comes along I'm usually pretty excited.

Rise of Tribes is more of a pre-civilization building, light 4x style game that plays in about an hour for 2-4 players.  It doesn't have a tech tree, but you can complete developments that give your tribe new technology and abilities.  In Rise of Tribes each player manages a tribe during the dawn of civilization in a race to be the first tribe to collect 15 points.  The game features gorgeous artwork, simple rules, fast play time, and a super interesting dice allocation mechanic.  Does it scratch the itch for a 4x civilization building game in just an hour though?  Or does it fall flat?  Let's find out.

Components & Packaging:
The first thing you'll notice when you open Rise of Tribes is the gorgeous insert and beautiful components.  The artwork in the game is absolutely fantastic.  The tiles are nice and thick, cards are good quality, and the wood tokens are good quality.  Each player's meeples are a unique shape, so you get a sense of individuality with your tribe.  I think the only thing I'm not wild about are the resource tokens.  They're very small cardboard bits that I may replace with nicer bits someday.  But overall the components are excellent.  There is a deluxe upgrade kit available for about $20 that will upgrade your resource tokens to wooden bits and add wooden tokens for the villages, mammoth, sabertooth tiger, and more.  These look great and are currently in my wishlist.
The artwork throughout Rise of Tribes is absolutely gorgeous!

Every tribe has its own meeple shape.  The component quality is outstanding.
The insert for the game is one of the nicest I've seen recently.  There's a spot for everything!  There's even a nice full color cardboard inlay with more of the gorgeous artwork that separates the smaller bits from the larger bits and a removable tray that stores the dice and advanced game components underneath.
Rise of Tribes has one of the best inserts I've seen in a game. 
Everything has its own spot in this multi-layered insert.
Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup for Rise of Tribes is quick and easy.  First set up the map by placing the hex tiles in a pre-determined arrangement.  There are a few different map layouts depending on the player count.  Then give each player a set of components in their chosen color (including cards, meeples, and a score tracker).  Next, each player chooses a tribe for their player board.  In the base game these tribes are identical except for the specific combination of resources needed to build a village.  In the advanced game each tribe has special abilities that may be used during the game.
Depending on the number of players you'll use a different number of water, forest, and mountain tiles to build your map.
Then you set out the game board with three dice in each action area, showing a Sun, Moon, and Blank.  The remaining two dice will go to the first player.  Shuffle all the event tiles (except for Chieftain and Abandoned Village) and place them in a stack.Place all the resources near the playing area and all the village tokens in a pile with the numbered side down.  All players then take a village token and the player with the lowest number is the first player.  Then, each player places starting tribe members on the map.  Depending on your place in the turn order you may get more members to place or some starting resources.
The action board is the strategic core of the game and setup is a cinch!
Playing Rise of Tribes is very straight forward.  There are five simple steps in each turn and you won't take most of them every turn.  First you'll score a point for every village you have on the board.  You'll skip this for the first couple of rounds (or maybe the whole game) since you won't have a village immediately.  Next you'll roll two dice.  Third you'll assign the dice to one each of four actions and then take that action.  Then you'll resolve any conflicts that are created, and finally you'll have the opportunity to build villages and complete any goals you have in progress.  The meat of the game is the actions that you'll take, but they're all pretty simple.
Each tribe board has a rundown of your turn, prompts for where to keep your goal cards, the cost of a village for your tribe, and beautiful artwork.
Before you take any actions though, you must roll the two dice that were displaced on the previous player's turn.  If you happen to roll doubles you'll trigger an event.  Events result in a variety of things happening.  Most are ongoing events that remain active until something happens to clear them out.  A few are one-time, immediate events.  There can only be two active events at a time, so if doubles are rolled and there are already two events active you won't gain a third event.  However, many of the ongoing events do something when doubles are rolled.  The events have a wide range of effects, from giving tribes additional resources when the take certain actions, to giving special abilities (like giving your villages Walls, or using a Dugout Canoe), and more.  There are even mammoths, saber tooth tigers, and volcanoes you may need to deal with.
Events are explained on nice, thick tiles.
The four actions that you can take are Grow (increase your population), Move (move tribe members around the map), Gather (gain resources), and Lead (gain Goal cards that you can work toward).  Each action has a standard, strong, and weak ability depending on what dice symbols are shown on that action's area on the gameboard.  Each action has space for three dice.  After you roll the two dice you have you'll assign one to the left side of each action you wish to take, pushing the rightmost die off of the action.  If there are at least two Sun symbols in the three remaining dice you'll get the strong ability.  If there are at least two Moon symbols you'll get the weak ability.  For anything else you'll get the standard ability.
Choose your actions carefully.  The dice you place will also be used by the players after you.
With Grow you'll be able to add 2, 3, or 4 tribe members to the board into areas that you occupy.  You don't need to control the areas, and you can peacefully coexist with other tribes, as long as the total population on a space doesn't exceed five units total.  With Move you'll be able to move up to 2, 4, or 6 units one space each.  You can't move a single unit more than one space (unless you have certain developments), but you can move multiple units into a space, even to exceed the 5 unit limit (that'll result in conflict in step 4 of your turn).  For the Gather action you'll be able to collect resources from spaces that you occupy.  You'll be able to gather either 1 or 2 resources from either 2 or 3 spaces depending on the symbol combinations.  Each space is a type of terrain and produces a different resource: lakes produce food (fish), forests produce wood, and mountains produce stone.
Each action has a standard, strong, and weak ability that you'll get to use based on the combination of dice.
Lead will get you 1, 2, or 3 goal cards from your deck.  There are two types of goal cards: Achievements and Developments.  Each will help you gain points.  Achievements give you more points, but require you to fulfill certain objectives, like controlling three spaces of a particular terrain, gathering a certain number of resources in a turn, or having your entire tribe (20 units) out on the board.  Developments are completed by spending resources.  They only give you one point, but give you special abilities.  Many of them make the actions stronger (for example, Pottery lets you grow by an additional two tribe members any time you grow, Basket lets you gather additional resources, and the Horse lets your units move two spaces instead of one).  Some give you other advantages (Bow gives you an advantage when you initiate a conflict).
Developments cost resources and give you game changing abilities.  Achievements reward your tribe for milestones.
After you've taken all your actions it's time to resolve conflict.  Conflict occurs in any space that has more than five units.  It doesn't matter what tribe they are from, so even if a space contains six units from one tribe there will still be combat.  Conflict is very simple to resolve.  Simultaneously every tribe with units on the contested space will remove one unit.  This repeats until only one tribe has units on the space (even if the total units falls below the five unit threshold).  If no tribe has more units than any other tribe it is possible for conflict to completely wipe out all units on a hex.  If a tribe had a village on a hex and that tribe is removed from the hex they'll lose their village (it doesn't get conquered).  There are two ways that conflict can be modified.  If you have the Bow development and you initiate the conflict (i.e. you are the active player), you'll get to remove one opponent unit before resolving conflict.  If you have both a village on the space and have the Walls event ability, then you'll also get to remove an opponent unit, but only when defending (i.e. you're not the active player).
With more than five units, this mountain will end up in conflict.
Everyone removes units simultaneously until there is only one tribe's units left.
After conflict is resolved, if you have the necessary resources or achievement you can build a village and complete goal cards.  Villages cost six resources, but which specific resources varies depending on the tribe.  Once you've finished building villages and completing goals it's the next player's turn.
Time to move on to the next player's turn!
The game ends immediately when someone gets at least 15 points.  You don't complete the round (which is why each player starts with a different number of units and resources), so it's important to really watch what others are capable of doing.  This is a light 4x style game, but it's also a racing game.  You must advance your tribe as fast as you can of you'll be left in the dust.
A balanced strategy is important.  You must complete Developments and Achievements to score points.
Once you've played the base game a few times there are several advanced features you can add to the game, either separately or together.  There are a number of special terrain tiles that have various effects and give certain abilities.  One or more of these can replace some of the standard tiles used in the game.  There are also unique tribal abilities that can be used to make the game a bit more asymmetrical.  Each tribe has two possible special abilities and you'll choose one of them to use during the game.  Tribal elders can be used to trade resources to opponents for use of their developments.  Each of these modules adds some additional complexity, but not a whole lot.  It's enough to keep the game fresh and add quite a bit of variety to the gameplay.
One of the advanced modules is new terrain pieces, each with its own beautiful artwork.
There are a few events that are a tiny bit ambiguous, however there is a section at the back that describes the events in a bit more detail than just the tiles.  This covers pretty much every scenario we cam across.
Even with just two players the game is great!
Score: 9/10 x2

Rise of Tribes plays very smoothly and quickly.  It's simple enough to teach and players pick it up very quickly.  I love the theme and the artwork gives it a great table presence.

Because there are dice in the game there is a fair amount of luck.  However, since you are only adding your dice to two dice that are already at each action location, you are able to mitigate some bad rolls.  In fact, sometimes it's good to get some bad rolls because the dice you place can affect your opponents as much as yourself.  If you have an action that already has Sun-Sun-Blank you may want to add a Moon die to that action.  You'll bump off the Blank, leaving you with two Suns so you get the strong version of the action, however you'll leave the next player with at least one Moon (and that second Sun will get pushed off the next time the action is used).  This adds a layer of strategy that really takes a playthrough, or at least a few turns, before it sinks in.  A lot of bad rolls can hurt your game a bit (I played a game where I only rolled two Suns in the entire game and felt like I was playing catch-up most of the game - I only lost by 3 points in the end though), but it's almost self balancing because your poor rolls affect the other players and their good rolls can help you out.
The game looks gorgeous on the table.
Another feature of the game to be aware of is that it can be pretty swingy.  Often someone will be able to have a pretty big turn and gain six or seven points in one turn.  Since the game is really a race to 15 points, a seven point jump is huge and often ends up in a win, however it is possible to catch up to someone who jumps ahead if it happens with a few turns remaining in the game (e.g. a jump from three to ten points).  If you're not careful, and not expecting that, it can feel a bit deflating though.
This is a racing game as much as it is a 4x or civilization game.  Sometimes someone is able to race ahead.
In our first game someone managed a seven point jump from 7 to 14 in one turn and then ended the game on his next turn, with second place a distant 11.  It kind of left a bad feeling around the table, however we recognized that we did have opportunities to prevent the big jump if we had been paying closer attention.  Sometimes, however, a big turn can happen from Goal cards that were just drawn.  This can feel a bit more driven by luck, but if you are aware of the possible swinginess, and accept it as just part of the game, I don't think it's a problem.  As I've played more I've grown more accustomed to it and actually try to make planning a big play like that part of my strategy.  Sometimes it comes down to whoever can secure that big play first.  It helps keep the game tight and really enhances the race aspect of the game.
The game moves quickly and if you take your time you'll get left behind.
This isn't a 4x, civ building game that you can bide your time with.  Often times there is a player that jumps out in the lead, and it's often hard to catch a runaway leader (though not impossible).  You need to act quickly and be flexible, and sometimes collaborate with opponents to prevent someone from pulling too far ahead (it's not quite a bash-the-leader game, but you can team up to slow a leader down a bit), and I love that in this game.

Score: 8/10 x3

I originally had the Replayability score a bit lower because I wasn't sure I'd stay interested, especially with the swinginess of the game.  However, as I've played more I've really grown to love the game.  With experienced players you can knock out a game in under an hour and it gets tense pretty quickly. It's great to scratch that 4x itch without dragging out a 4+ hour behemoth.
I love that I can play a game in about 45 minutes.
I've played the game at all player counts and it plays well at two, three, and four players.  I think I like it best at four, but I quite enjoyed the game every time I played.

With the advanced modules that you can add and mix-n-match, there's a lot of opportunity for changing up the feel of the game.  I've even found some alternative map layouts online that look like they could be very interesting to play.
Tribe abilities just adds to the replayability.
Score: 9/10 x1

General Fun:
I have really enjoyed every game of Rise of Tribes I played, even the swingy games (not all have been swingy; some of the games have been very close).    It has just enough depth to remain interesting, yet is simple enough to remain on the casual side of gaming.  I really enjoy a number of aspects of the game, from the obviously great theme and artwork, to the more subtle aspects of the game, like the interplay between placing dice to help you now vs placing dice to hinder your opponents on their turns.  The game initially feels like an area control game, but once it clicks that players can share spaces on the map the game becomes much more about developing your tribe while preventing your opponent from running too far ahead.  There are wonderful interactions that at first seem unrelated.  All aspects of the game are critical and important, which makes the decisions very fun and sometimes pretty challenging.
The game moves at a brisk pace, keeping things exciting right from the first round all the way to the end.
Score: 9/10 x2

Overall Value:
You get a lot in this game for $50.  The components are excellent and the wide range of gamer types that this will appeal to means you'll probably be able to get this to the table pretty regularly.  It's simple enough for newer gamers, but plenty deep enough for experienced gamers.  Plus, it'll scratch that 4x itch in 45-60 minutes instead of 4-6 hours!
There is a TON of game, both components wise and gameplay wise, packed into this box.
Score: 8/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Rise of Tribes was one of my favorite games of 2018.  I think the only thing that I'm not sure how I feel about it is the swinginess.  For newer players it can feel like a big defeat when someone jumps seven points in one turn, leaving everyone else in the dust.  That's a feature of the game that can be mitigated though, and it doesn't turn up in every game.  Once you're familiar with the game, those jumps are something that you can strategically plan for, and they're quite fun when you achieve them, so I guess in the end I like how they affect the game.  They definitely help the game move quickly to its conclusion though.
I can't imagine anyone not enjoying Rise of Tribes.  Everything about the game works really well. 
You'll love having it in your collection!
If you enjoy 4x style games but don't have the time to invest in a four hour game there are only a few really good options that play in an hour or so, and even less that play even faster.  Rise of Tribes is a very strong contender in this niche and will be hitting my table as often as I can.  I can play two games of Rise of Tribes in an evening and still have time for other games, instead of spending four hours playing a single game.  That's a winner any day in my book!

Overall Score: 86/100

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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