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Sibling Games: Five Tribes Vs Abyss

Five Tribes Abyss Boxes

A few weeks ago I brought you my first instalment of sibling games. I looked at Red Rising and Viticulture, both by Jamey Stegmaier and published by Stonemaier Games. You can read the previous blog here. For my second option, I decided to go with the absolute powerhouse that is Bruno Cathala. This is the designer I have the most games by in my collection. With Kingdomino, Dragomino, Five Tribes, Abyss, Kanagawa, and 7 Wonders Duel. Picking only two of these for sibling games was hard though! There is such a breadth of themes, weights and mechanics in this collection. Eventually, I decided to go for two of the bigger box games, Five Tribes and Abyss.

Vibing And Five Tribing

If you read any of my previous gaming journey features, then you will know that I have loved Mancala for years. I love the aspect of picking up the beans and moving, dropping one off in each pot until you run out of pieces. Five Tribes features different coloured meeples, each of which has a different special ability. Luckily for me, these are all explained in the player aids for quick reference. In Five Tribes you move all the meeples from one tile around, dropping one off at a time at adjacent tiles. The last meeple you drop must land on a tile where there is already a matching coloured meeple. You then collect all meeples of that colour and can carry out the action of that colour.

Each action is different. The more meeples you collect that turn, the more powerful your action becomes. Some of the meeples are simply worth points, while others allow you to assassinate a meeple from the board - or from another player’s collection. Other colours of meeple let you buy from the market. This section is a game of set collection. Sets of different goods from the market are worth points, so using the market when the right goods are available can be worth valuable points.

The Introduction

I pulled Five Tribes off a shelf in my local gaming cafe because I had heard it referred to as having a Mancala-style movement. When I lifted the lid I was presented with a LOT. There are loads of components and set-up does take a little time. You need to set out the tiles to make the board and then place three meeples onto each tile. Not too intensive a setup, but it was a little more than I was used to so a touch intimidating. Once the first play was done though, I was already online hunting out a copy for home. It was amazing. I loved the thinky nature of it, the bidding mechanism of paying for your turn position as well. Something I really enjoy is the variable player turn order from Viticulture and Kingdomino. At 2 players, there is a lot of power to be gained by being able to take two turns back to back.

I am seriously into high-quality components. Something that looks and feels good to play is instantly a hit in my book. The tiles in this game are of thick quality with a clear graphic design. Being set in the desert, the colour palette is pretty muted. But luckily the wooden components bring pops of colour.

Down Once More Into the Abyss

Abyss is a card drafting engine-building game that is based on the swaying and corruption of underwater politicians. You build up points by swaying lords to be under your control. Each lord has a different special ability. You can use this until you collect three keys and are able to bring a location under your control. The scoring part of this game is the most complex, as there are so many ways to score points, every little will help.

During your turn you have three options; explore the deep, seek support from the counsel, or sway a lord. Turns tend to pass quickly in this game, so there is not a lot of downtime. You need to collect ally cards by exploring the deep. The ally cards come in five factions; seahorses, shellfish, crab, squid, and jellyfish. Each is valued 1 to 5, which becomes important for persuading lords with them later.

Exploring the deep involves flipping over cards from the ally deck. First offering them to your opponents to buy from you, before deciding whether you take it yourself. This has an element of push-your-luck as you decide when you stop, but whatever the fifth card is, you’re taking it. Plus a pearly reward for your bravery. Any unclaimed cards from your exploration are sorted into the factions and placed face down in the counsel area of the board. On your turn, you may elect to take all the cards of one faction from the counsel into your hand instead of exploring. This can be lucrative, especially if you remember seeing a couple of tasty cards on someone else’s turn.

Diving For Comparisons

What similarities could these games with totally different art styles and themes have? Games that have none of the same main mechanics featured either. Both of them feature card set-collection. In Abyss you are collecting ally cards, and in Five Tribes you are collecting sets of goods from the market. Both have cards you can gain that will give you a special ability or one time bonus when you gain them.

In both these games, there is a whole boatload of player interaction. Not necessarily by “take that” or hate drafting and playing, although in both games there is room for that. More from the fact that the board changes after each turn, so your strategy has to be nimble. Nimble strategy is for me key to both of these games. From the off, you simply won’t know how your game is going to pan out.

Both of these games have a huge amount of player interaction. The board changes as a result of each person’s turn, and you always want to keep your eyes up to ensure that your opponents are kept in check throughout. There are also ways to directly mess with your opponents. In Five Tribes, you can use the red assassins to alter the board and to kill off meeples to deny an opponent points. In Abyss, the red military faction influences other players, forcing them to discard cards or hard-earned pearls.

Both games use a single currency. In Abyss it is pearls, and in Five Tribes it is coins. Again, in both games, these are multi-use across different parts of the game. In Abyss the pearls are used to make up the shortfall when paying for lords, buy cards, and refilling the lord row. In Five Tribes, the coins are your points at the end of the game, but you use them to bid for turn order too. You may need to secure your position in the pecking order, but it could cost you dearly in point coins.

Visually, I would put these two games at odds with each other. Abyss is artistically a heavyweight champion, whereas the Five Tribes artwork is not overly strong. The djinns are pretty to look at but the rest of the game is just nice really, not groundbreaking. However, across both games, both Bombyx and Days of Wonder have come up trumps with some high-quality components.

Hit Me With The Differences!

In Five Tribes, there is serious space for analysis paralysis. In fact, there are so many options to take in initially, that it makes the first few turns difficult. As such, I think there are a few people I wouldn’t enjoy playing it with. It can be a bit of a drag waiting for someone to agonise over every possible move. I very much take the idea of just shooting from the hip and let’s see what happens. Not saying the gut reaction is always the optimum move, but it is a fun way to play. I learnt to play like this whilst I was playing my whole collection in a month. You can read more about this here.

I also think this game is best at two players, unlike Abyss which I find scales well from 2 to 5 players. Playing at higher player counts feels like a slightly different game. You will have to switch up your strategy as such, but it is super enjoyable at all player counts. This is because you often get the option to play a part in other players' turns by buying cards from them. Either as a hate-drafting tactic or to help maximise your turn.

Round-Up

On the face of it, these games are really different, showing of course Bruno Cathala’s diverse range. Unlike in my previous comparison, these two games are by different publishers. They are visually contrasting. They share very few of the same mechanics, and one is a real-life theme while the other is a fantastical escape. There are some design features that they both include, like the single currency and set collection aspects. But there is one huge thing that, for me, ties these two together. I love both. I am unlikely to ever refuse a game of either (providing table space and player counts are satisfactory).