Review: Five Tribes – The Djinns of Naqala

One of my favourite Disney movies was Aladdin. Okay, I know it’s a bit cheesy. But the animation was amazing for its time, the voice characters were pretty awesome (Robin Williams, God bless him) and the music was pretty cool too. In fact, Phuong plays that “Arabian Nights” song once in a while on her phone and I start singing along to it….that`s another story… When you watch the movie you can see the wonderfully drawn scenes of the rugged marketplace in Baghdad, the chic palaces, and even the Cave of Wonders (remember that giant tiger lion thing in the sand?)

Why am I saying all of this? The latest game I bought, Five Tribes, reminds me of this movie. And when you play Five Tribes, you’re going to realize that the Aladdin story, was just one microcosm in this tactical and strategic game.

Five Tribes 1Five Tribes – The Djinns of Naqala is a resource management/worker placement game created by Bruno Cathala with illustrations by Clement Masson. The story goes like this: the Sultan just died and control of this Sultanate is up for grabs. You use the influence of five different tribes and the aid of many Djinns (or genies) to take control of different sections of land, and develop these lands so that they are thriving and prosperous.

The object of the game is to get the most points and there are numerous routes to do so. You can get them by being rich and having the most gold coins or sets of merchandise, or by seeking alliances with viziers  and elders, or by summoning genies, or by taking control of the land tiles. Honestly, there are so many outs in the game that the only way to win is to take multiple paths.

Another unique feature of the game is how turn order is determined. You bid your coins to resolve turn order. There may be moments where you want to pay a lot of money to go first in order to take advantage of the board and gain a lot of victory points, or you may want to go last to see how your opponents will mess the board up before you strike. This particular mechanic naturally allows for bluffing to occur in the game; if a player bids somewhat high, it could mean that they have found a juicy move on the board and they want to get to it first, or this person could be lying to you and is forcing you to bid higher.

Bidding for Turn Order
Bidding for Turn Order

Generally speaking, the game can be described as a more advanced version of mancala. If you’ve never played mancala, it’s a classic board game where you are moving beads, or seeds that are in holes carved in wood. The game mechanic is the same; on your turn you pick up the meeples from one tile and drop off one at each adjacent tile, making sure you don’t move diagonally, perform an immediate backtrack, and ensuring that one of the meeples in the tile you land on has the same colour as the last meeple you play. If you are able to clear all the meeples off a single tile, you claim ownership of that piece of land.

The Meeples
The Meeples

Then you perform the actions of one of the five tribes depending on the last meeple token you placed. If you placed a yellow vizier or a white elder last, you get their influence and keep them in your resource stash. Yellow viziers can give you a ton of points at the end of the game. White elders don’t have a high point value, but can be used when summoning a Djinn. Blue builders help gain coins based on their final location. Green merchants help get items from the market for free. And red assassins (personally my favourite power), allow you to assassinate a meeple that is on the board already, or kill an elder or vizier that someone already owns.

You can also call upon the power of Djinns using your elders. These Djinns are game changers, but they can only be summoned by landing on a sacred space and having elders (or fakirs, which are slaves in the game). Think of the Djinns as the allowable exceptions to the rules. They can let players place tokens on tiles that they are not supposed to, kill more than one person using assassins, the possibilities are..well…limited to the 20 or so Djinns, but you get the idea.

One of the great things about this game, as I mentioned before, is the multiple ways of getting points . If you have ever played Seven Wonders, you win that game by focusing on one particular area such as war, or the sciences, or commerce etc. and then diversifying into other institutions as an insurance. Five Tribes has a similar strategy in winning. You will take one or more of the routes in obtaining victory points, while branching out in others. Dividing your focus too much will result in a lack of points. Thus, Five Tribes becomes very tactical, and in the crucial moments at the end, it`s like playing a word search game with the tiles, trying to find the most effective path in getting the most points.IMG_7205

Unlike Seven Wonders, often the routes in attaining points in Five Tribes rarely interfere with other players. When playing Seven Wonders, you have a tendency to look at the players adjacent to you and become reactive to their actions depending on what cards they have placed in front of them. For example, if you notice that your buddy is starting to stockpile on war cards, you will react to that action by taking some of those red cards for yourself, and even discarding them so that your friend doesn’t get any of those cards, which then sparks a chain of intense glares, stare downs, and the occasional rude comment. One could argue that if you had lost a game of Seven Wonders, it was not because you had a bad strategy, it was because your opponent took away the cards you desperately needed. Yeah…blame your neighbors instead of yourself…typical…

With Five Tribes, this doesn’t happen as much because there are many different ways you can obtain points. There will be moments in which you will be sharing the same victory point pool as one of your opponents, but the bidding element allows you to take these actions first before your opponent does. Eventually one player will back down, and try a different route to get their points. This game becomes more relaxed then during play. Don’t get me wrong though, you will feel some anxiety too when players start to kill off your own viziers and elders in order to prevent you from getting points, or when they may challenge you in the same route and it becomes a mental game of chicken. But the actions in which players acquire their own points outweigh the malicious actions that players can take against each other. And if a malicious action was taken against you, honestly, you only have yourself to blame because you could’ve paid more money to go first, and prevent yourself from being the target, heck, you could’ve been the hunter instead of being the hunted.

There is one issue with the game and it’s…well… the multiple ways in which you earn points. Although the game provides a worry-free way for players to obtain victory points, it becomes overwhelming in the early stages of the game to pick a discipline. Do I get a Djinn to start? Do I try to get merchandise from the market? Do I get an early start on viziers? Since there are many choices on how to begin, the early game becomes lengthy in studying the board and determining what the best first moves should be . As the game progresses, there are less choices to make, and your moves and actions become more calculated and deliberate.

This is honestly, only one blemish in this near perfect game. This is a great game for any type of gamer. Beginners can get into it quickly because of its simple game play and setup. Avid gamers will love the subtle strategies in the game, with just a hint of maliciousness.  Players are challenged to juggle between bidding for power and saving their money in order to get the most points.And in a few months, this game will have another expansion called The Artisans of Naqala, in which new tiles and a new purple artisan tribe are added into the game, creating even more replayability. This is definitely a must have in your board game collection and I highly recommend purchasing this if you have the chance.


  • Easy and relaxed way to obtain points; the number of actions in gaining points outweigh the number of actions in taking points away from other players.
  • Players decide the turn order each turn and thus the element of bluffing is incorporated.
  • Different tile arrangements and starting cards give the game high replayability.


  • The early game has so many different ways to earn points that it becomes a bit overwhelming.

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