PLAYlist 49: Tribes: Dawn of Humanity | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020  

PLAYlist 49: Tribes: Dawn of Humanity

Jan 09, 2020 By Austin Trunick
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Archeologists and scientists are continuously making new discovering and coming up with varying theories about ancient man. As much as we already know, though, there’s still so much we can only guess at when it comes to the earliest days of human civilization. What did they eat? How did they communicate? What were their values, and how did they learn to survive? It’s fascinating to think about our earliest origins, and that's probably the main reason why it's become the subject of so much speculative entertainment – from The Flintstones to dozens of board games.

Yabba dabba doo! 

Tribes: Dawn of Humanity is a recent release from Kosmos Games by designer Rustan Hakansson. Unlike his more famous Nations, a wonderful but lengthy and highly complex civ-style game, Tribes sits two to four players and takes under an hour to play. Tribes offers players the chance to “experience 30,000 years of civilization in 45 minutes.” Let's dive in!

A game of Tribes largely plays out across two areas. The main board is shared by everyone, and houses three tiers of “achievements,” and in a way serves as the game’s tech tree. Each time players claim an achievement, it increases the power of a specific action, such as letting their meeples move more spaces. A player can’t claim an achievement in a higher tier unless they’ve built their way up to it from the bottom, so you’ll need to plan ahead for the late game to do well. Because this board has a randomized setup, you won’t be able to gun for the same strategy every time you play.  

The second area you’ll be concerning yourself over is your personal territory, made up of various hex tiles. You start with three of these tiles and only one tribesman meeple, but this area will expand as you explore and your number of meeples increases by taking the procreation action. (I can't tell you how many giggles we heard each time someone announced, "I'll take the 'make a baby' action.") Each tile has a designated type, and having meeples occupy specified types is how you’ll be able to claim achievements later. Thus, your play in one area feeds into the other.

You move meeples, make baby meeples, gain new tiles, and claim achievements through the game’s action selection track.

The action selection mechanism in Tribes is a lot of fun. Printed on individual tiles, the available actions are spread across the top of the board – they’re meant to be parsed from left to right. When a player selects one, he or she then removes it from its spot and places it at the end (right side) of the line. This positioning matters, because for each spot further from the leftmost tile the selected action is, the player will have to pay one of the game’s currency. (That's represented by shell tokens here.) Thus, desirable actions can wind up being more expensive than a player can afford. Spent shell tokens are placed on each of the unused tiles, and players regain them by selecting a tile with shells already on it. Thus, it’s often attractive to grab a tile you’re not necessarily falling over yourself to use, but because it gives you more shells to play with, and thus makes you more flexible on later turns.

This leads to a cool dynamic. The number of shells in the game never changes, and they’re so frequently changing hands that every player will have turns where they’re either lean on options, or sitting on a fat stack of them. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to horde all of the chips, so to say, which makes the game’s power pendulum feel like it’s constantly swinging between you and your opponents. That’s quite fun.

It also turns out the shells not only help you skip less desirable actions, but can save your butt at some points throughout the game. When players claim certain achievements, they draw a random tile from that tech tier’s “events” pile. That event goes to the end of the action track, and remains there – moving ever-closer to the first spot – until someone selects it in the action phase. Some of these are good and actually worth paying dearly for to grab early, while others have really bad negative effects. If you’re shell-broke and one of those nasty events is in the first spot, you'll have no choice but to take it. (On that front, sitting on a pile of shells while your opponent is forced to pick up a bad event is pretty satisfying.)

Tribes: Dawn of Humanity isn’t a game about resource management or civilization building like it may appear from afar, but one that’s all about timing. There’s timing in not overpaying for actions, and in snatching up actions when they’re stacked tall with shells. There’s timing in grabbing achievements, which decrease in value as opponents grab them before you. There’s also very, very important timing in avoiding those disastrous event cards. The game ends once you’ve played a number of third-tier event tiles equal to the player count – meaning, there’s timing to be considered even when it comes to who ends the game, and when!

For all of its moving parts, Tribes is a very tight design, and surprisingly straight-forward to teach. This is one of those games with mechanics that new players can glom onto pretty easily, even when they’re not dedicated gamers. (We played this a lot over the holidays, in mixed company, and no one had much trouble understanding what was going on.) That makes it a good lightweight strategy game, especially for introducing newcomers to some of its mechanics. It may not have players used to heavier, Euro-style fare jumping in excitement, but it’s quick and there’s enough crunch to the timing puzzles that even a hardcore strategist would have a hard time saying no to a game.

Speaking of the components, they’re very nice here – the wooden meeples use the same attractive, muted color palette as Kosmos’ Imhotep, which feels very appropriate for a game set during the stone age. There are a lot of thick, cardboard pieces, a soft bag to draw the tiles from, and easy-to-read iconography. All around, it’s very good quality.

Tribes: Dawn of Humanity is available from Kosmos Games at an SRP of $49.95.

For our music this week, we’ve decided to run with the “primitive” theme found in this game and serve up an hours’ worth of vintage, Sixties garage rock. Borne from the British invasion inspiring thousands of North American teens to pick up guitars, keyboards, and drum sets and start their own bands, garage rock is usually defined by simple musical structures and unbridled enthusiasm. Fortunately “basic” doesn’t mean “bad” when it comes to rock and roll – there are countless, incredible songs that only use a handful of chords. (The simplicity, on the other hand, bore lots of one-hit-wonders, as you’ll see from the playlist above – it does seem that songwriting and instrumental proficiency are a big boost to a group’s musical longevity.) The spirit of garage rock would be seen again in the punk rock acts that flourished in the next decade, and the style would be a big inspiration for many grunge bands in the late Eighties and Nineties. Enjoy!


Previous PLAYlist columns: Gates of DeliriumTerror BelowThe Estates, NobjectsMemoir '44 & New Flight Plan, Bubble TeaUndoGizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.


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