Review – Tribes of the Wind
|Publisher||La Boite de Jeu (Hachette Boardgames USA)|
|Category||Card Game, Strategy Game|
|Release Date||Summer 2023|
Quite often, a new board game has inherent hype to go with it because of the designer. Bruno Cathala, Reiner Knizia, or Stefan Feld? You know we’re paying attention. But other times, the artist is enough to draw eyeballs. And while Vincent Dutrait illustrations are fairly common these days, one look at the art in Tribes of the Wind is enough for any board gamer to give it serious consideration. Additionally, designer Joachim Thôme brings a unique gameplay aspect here: the backs of your opponents’ cards (somewhat) dictate what you can do on a turn. Do their powers combine for the ultimate gaming experience? Let’s take a look!
Let’s start with the components, since for many, that’s the big draw of this game. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and worth all the buzz that it has received. It’s clearly inspired by Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and playing this game actually inspired me to actually go back and watch that movie. (It’s quite good!) The player boards and tiles are a good thickness, and the few cardboard tokens are good quality. I appreciate the inclusion of card holders, but they have to rest diagonally in the box, which makes any kind of organization a chore. But really, there’s one big problem with the components, and that’s the complete lack of player aids. There’s not even a nice organized summary on the back of the rulebook.
The first time we played, we spent a LOT of time looking up symbols in the rulebook. A frustrating amount of time. Combined with the fact that we didn’t really “race” to finish the game as is likely the best strategy, and our game took far longer than it should have. After that, I printed the official player aids from the publisher website (which is fine, although BGG has better fanmade aids) and tried again. After internalizing the game rules and having player aids ready, the next two-player game (against a brand new player) only took about 45 minutes. The box says 20 minutes per player, and I think that’s accurate if everyone knows what they’re doing. I want to say “once you know the symbols, they’re not so bad,” but that’s true of any symbols. I do think they’re more intuitive than they first appear, but there’s just a ton of them, and with cards in hand being private, it’s a lot.
It’s unfortunate that the lack of player aids and the iconography act as a bit of a barrier to entry, because this game is actually great. The “backs of cards” thing is actually quite fun, and forces some interesting decisions about what card to play when, and which cards to take. There are some complaints about this system that are completely unfounded, and some that are justified. I reject the complaint that this game is “too tactical,” because sometimes you can’t play a card in your hand. Innovation, Race for the Galaxy, and just about every good tableau builder has you looking through lots of cards, and mentally disregarding most of them as junk. Tribes of the Wind has a similar mechanism; up to four times in the game, you can take a Temple action (usually a fairly priced or discounted version of a normal card action) by discarding 3 cards and drawing 3 new ones. The Temples are often also used for Goal cards or to activate Guide cards (special powers).
Wait, Goal cards? Guide cards? Temples? Tiles? Tribes of the Wind actually has a lot going on. There are unique player powers that players can earn, cards that can work as bonus goals or as boosts to your local economy, and plenty more. Fortunately, the game centers around four main actions tied to each element (collect water, burn corruption, move wind riders, build a forest tile) and the theme actually helps these make sense. Another complaint about Tribes of the Wind is the lack of thematic integration, but I’m not sure what these players want. This game doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a Euro-leaning card game, not a game of dice chucking and miniatures moving through a dungeon and resolving encounter cards and whatnot. Within that system, though, the theme is actually quite helpful for understanding in what order things should happen and why. Personally, I just need a theme to be evocative and pretty; bonus points when it helps the gameplay make sense. I love everything about Tribes of the Wind’s thematic integration: the color palette, the gameplay connections, all of it. Like I said, it even convinced me to watch the movie it’s loosely based upon. As long as you know what style of game it is, the theme here is all positive for me.
So are there any justified complaints (beyond the player aids)? Yes; player count. The game includes material for up to five players, which is insane. Some cards will ask you to compare cards with the players around you, but this is never more than your two neighbors. Other than maybe taking a tile or card you were hoping would come back to you, you never interact with a fourth or fifth player. I would never play this game with more than three players. Ironically, most games like this with variants for two players are usually half-baked, bad attempts to extend player count, but this game is actually best with just two players. The other “neighbor” is the display of cards in the middle, meaning that players can manipulate one hand to be what they need, without ever actually having an awkward “dummy player”. It’s brilliant! The game is also great with three players, but with four or five, I would play something like Furnace where the other players are actually relevant.
Despite the narrow player count and the lack of player aids, this is an amazing game that I think is being somewhat overlooked. Once I got the rules and icons down, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every play of this game and look forward to bringing it back to the table as soon as I can.
The Bottom Line
Tribes of the Wind is a gorgeous, fun, exciting card game - but print off some player aids.