Human memory is terrifying. Once, at random, I completely lost the previous few minutes. I knew where I was, I knew where I was walking, and I knew what I was going to do, but how I got there or what I had done five minutes before were completely erased. This happened about a dozen years ago, and I can still remember the confusion and panic that set in as I tried to figure out where that part of me went. Locke argued that consciousness and memory were the key to personal identity. It’s an interesting idea, but Locke was probably not aware how fragile and unreliable our memory is.
Our minds like to cheat, filling in our memories with what’s convenient and practical rather than what’s true. Collectively, we maintain a societal memory we call “history”, and that’s often more fraught with forgetfulness and half truths than our individual memories. Tribes: Dawn of Humanity, from Kosmos, is set in a time before we started writing things down. If the game is any indication, this was a mercy. My subconscious has so thoroughly rejected this snooze-fest that I almost forgot to write this review, or even remember that the game existed.
Tribes contains one good idea, though it’s an idea we’ve seen in much better games. Action possibilities are lined up in a row, and if you take the first one–great! You get to perform that action. If you want to take something further down the line, you must pay all of the other scorned actions before it, dropping some money on them as you pass by. Of course, the action you do take goes to the back of the line, waiting for its turn to be chosen again.
Many games have used some variation of this action selection system, from Puerto Rico to Pax Pamir 2nd Edition. Tribes adds a twist by having events insert themselves into the action selection track. These events are typically negative effects, so they’ll get neglected until the monetary compensation is worth it or, more commonly, when someone is left with no choice. I quite enjoy this bit of the game, though often I’d find that the person biting the bullet really had no choice in the matter. They were doomed from the time the event was revealed.
Compared to the rest of the game, this twist on action selection is a Chvatilean stroke of genius. There are three things you can do in Tribes, and they all feel like those conciliatory actions better games give you for when you’re really stuck and can’t do anything else. First, you can move. You’ve got some dudes on some hexagons and you can move them. Next, you can explore, which involves getting some tiles from a bag and placing them down. Finally, you can procreate. I mean in the game. If there are two dudes in the same place you can plop down a third.
So you go around, doing these things until your people are on specific groupings of land types, and then you can score. Each scoring tile requires different land for your people to stand on, and scoring it lets you unlock the next higher tile in that column. It could also introduce an event or let you get better at your three actions.
Yawn. I’m bored writing this. Where’s the fun in Tribes? It’s like someone pieced together a number of perfectly fine elements they saw in other games without thinking about the experience as a whole. There are no moments of surprise or excitement in Tribes. Rarely any situations where your decision feels like it matters. It’s got all of the words, but none of the poetry.
Early on I thought perhaps there could an abstract game-like level of subtle maneuvering in Tribes. Trying to determine where people were trying to score, pivoting your strategies in response, using the event tiles strategically force your opponents into unwinnable situations. After more time with the game I realized I was grasping at air. This isn’t a game of abstract strategy, just one that moves too slowly.
My negativity regarding Tribes isn’t because it’s offensive, but because it doesn’t elicit any emotion at all. It doesn’t commit any design sins, though I almost wish it did. I had almost forgotten about Tribes before sitting down to write this review. Now that the review is over, I hope it’ll mercifully slip away from my mind once again.
Review copy provided by the publisher.