Reviewed by Herb Levy

RISE OF TRIBES (Breaking Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 30-60 minutes; $50)


We’ve come a long way since early man first appeared on this planet but questions still remain.  Just how did early man survive? Just how did civilization grow and develop? The latest game to tackle those age old questions comes from designer Brad Brooks as players find themselves as leaders of nomadic, prehistoric people in his new game Rise of Tribes.

This prehistoric world is created by laying out a bunch of hexagonal terrain tiles. In the basic game, terrain includes lakes, forests and mountains – and a volcano. A specified amount of tiles (depending on the number of players) is randomly drawn but placed in a specified configuration.

All players choose a two-sided tribe “board” which has the name of their tribe and, on the basic side, an outline of a turn which serves as a play aid. (The flip side is used when playing the “advanced” game.) There are 8 boards to choose from so, even with four players, you can expect a lot of variety from game to game. Players also receive a “tribe” of 20 members (meeples) in their chosen color, a matching score marker (which begins at 0 on the scoring track) and their own identical but individual set of Goal cards. The resources of the game (food, wood and stone) are placed near the play area.  Event tiles are shuffled and placed in their assigned spot by the Action board. Village tiles are shuffled and one dealt to all players. The player with the village displaying the number closest to “1” is the starting player and places 2 tribe members on any single hex. In clockwise order, the second player puts 3 tribe members in a different unoccupied hex, the third player places three tribe members in one unoccupied hex AND collects two resources of his/her choice while the fourth player places three tribe members across two adjacent unoccupied hexes AND collects two resources of his/her choice. Now, suitably prepared with the board seeded, play begins.

The Action board is primed by placing three special six sided dice above each Action so that its three different faces are showing: a sun, a moon and a blank (in that order). The two remaining dice of the game are rolled. A player may do any TWO DIFFERENT actions but how they are chosen is an interesting exercise in dice drafting; the active player “inserts” them into the leftmost slot of the chosen Action, “pushing” the die on the far right “out”.

The Action board offers a menu of four possible actions: Grow, Move, Gather and Lead. Grow allows the player to add tribe members to a hex where one already is. Move allows tribe members to travel to adjacent hexes. Gather is how resources produced by occupied hexes are added to a player’s supply. (Standard chits are used for resources and other things found in the game but there is a Deluxe Upgrade available which replaces them with 94 nice wooden pieces. $25) Depending on your tribe’s resource requirements (each tribe is different), you may be able to build Villages after taking actions. At the start of each turn after you build a Village, you will score 1 VP per Village under your control.

If there are no dual suns or moons seen once this is done, the player may do the “standard” version of the chosen Action (i.e. add 3 members or move 4 spaces or collect 2 resources from 2 different hexes or draw 2 cards.) But if there are two suns showing, all actions are enhanced (for example, adding 4 rather than 3 members etc.) On the other hand, two moons reduce the power of an action (such as being only able to move 2 spaces instead of the normal 4). Should a player roll doubles of any of the three faces, however, an Event occurs. 

Whenever a double is rolled, the top Event of the Event deck is revealed. These Events can be beneficial (more available resources for example) or not (the eruption of a volcano and placement of the volcano hex) or maybe a bit of both (as in the arrival of a sabertooth tiger or mammoth) and more.  Events add a bit of unpredictability.  But underlying it all is the race to get Victory Points – and that’s why Lead actions are so critical.

A Lead action allows players to draw a card (or more) from their Goal deck. The cards in those decks come in two varieties: blue (which require the expenditure of certain resources in return for developments that improve your tribal abilities and earn you VPs) and brown (specific goals that when met reward you with even more VPs). This is your major source for Victory Points. There is no limit to how many of these cards you can have in play but they only score when payment is made or requirements met. Although all players’ Goals card decks are identical, drawing from them is not. An advantageous draw can be very helpful in amassing Victory Points so luck can be a factor. But bad draws can be mitigated to a certain extent as players are allowed to return as many unwanted Goal cards as they have Villages to the bottom of the deck and draw replacements before using their Lead action. Goal cards shape your strategy as they give you conditions you need to work towards to capture valuable VPs. 

The first player to amass 15 (or more) Victory Points will win! Wins are IMMEDIATE! No “finish the round” or additional turns for other players.

Although not a wargame by any stretch, tribes do compete for territory and resources and will “bump” into each other. Each hex has a population limit of five tribe members in total and a hex can be “shared”, occupied by members of different tribes. However. if that number is exceeded, tribe members must be removed – and this means war!

Warfare is handled in a straightforward and stylized way. The current player is considered to be on “offense” and any other players in that hex are on “defense”. Simultaneously, tribe members are removed, one for one, until only one tribe remains in that hex. If a tribe controlling a Village is removed from that hex, that Village is also removed. 

Once the flow of the game is mastered, other elements can be added. In the basic game, all tribes have an individual board with no special powers. With advanced rules, that board is flipped and each tribe has special powers/abilities delineated with matching “tribe cards” but, although the rules show these powers/abilities printed on the board, the actual tribe boards don’t mention them at all! Maybe this is just a glitch in the edition we have but, in any case, it might have been a good idea to have a turn order outline (as the basic side has) and print the powers/abilities of the tribe right on that tribe board (as in the rules), forgoing the now superfluous tribe cards entirely. Additional elements that can be added (according to taste) include different terrain types (such as Wild Land, Tar Pit, Glacier and more) which modify abilities and generate additional possibilities and “Tribal Elders”, a special tribe member that may be placed on a newly built Village. The elder doesn’t impact the hex limit of five but has the power of being able to give a resource to another player and then use the ability of any single development THAT player has completed! The downside to this power is that if a Village with the elder is destroyed , the attacking player gains 1 VP. (In a game where 15 VPs is all you need to win, this does tend to put a target on your Tribal Elder!)

Rise of Tribes ably captures much of the essence of early civilization. Tribal growth ebbs and flows as tribes compete for resources and territory and respond to events. Such flux is not always clearly and completely covered in the rules. (For example, although not explicitly stated, the sabretooth tiger, once placed, WILL move to another mountain space, causing a bit of chaos, if an active player rolls doubles.)  So at some points in play, you have to use your own judgement. Although some dislike the use of dice in any game, abhorring the luck element that dice intrinsically introduce, the simple yet ingenious dice drafting system used here tends to mitigate the luck effect, creating a whole series of choices that placement of dice can trigger both for yourself and for the opponent that comes after you as he/she must deal with the display left behind. All the while, VP accumulation tends to accelerate – along with a sense of urgency – as players advance towards that 15 VP goal. And all of this happens at a rapid pace making that 60 minute playing time on the box surprisingly accurate

The quest to create a civilization game that plays in a reasonable amount of time and yet captures the essence of what life in past ages must have been like is one that has sparked the interest and creativity of designers for years. Designer Brad Brooks has offered a solid candidate for consideration as, in the quest for a game to capture the thrills and dangers of early civilization, Rise of Tribes rises to the challenge! – – – – Herb Levy

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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