Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Tribal - First Thoughts

Some of you might remember me mentioning that I was toying with the idea of trying out Tribal and posting the little demo video the developers had shared.

Well, on Wednesday I took the plunge and coughed up my £6.90 ($10.00 US) over at the Wargame Vault.  Here are my first thoughts.


Tribal is a skirmish combat game set in a pre-gunpowder tribal/clan setting. The rules include info on (and are illustrated for with miniatures of) Maori, Vikings, Aztecs and Gladiators; there are extra rules for Stone-Age, Heian Japanese and Iroquois.  We're told that there are plans for future supplements that may cover Stone-Age cave wars, Modern-Day rioting/Gang warfare, and Polynesian Islanders.  I'm surprised there's not mention of other aspects of the medieval period or fantasy.

The driving force of the game is Honour.
Honour could determine why one would go to war, how battle was conducted, what sorts of tactics (honourable and dishonourable) were used and finally who was the victor at the end.
Players are rewarded in honour for the things that they do in the battle. Honour determines who wins Tribal rather than the normal determinants of wargames (killing enemy/taking ground). In turn, honour is a dynamic part of the game - it can be won and lost during combat, the deeds of combatants can win or lose honour, players can spend honour to do 'dirty tricks' to win combats etc.
Live or die, win or lose the battle, Honour always determines the true victor! 

What you get for your money

A 32-page watermarked pdf.

It's in full colour and nicely illustrated with line drawings and photographs mostly of Eureka Miniatures Maoris, but also their Aztecs and Wargames Foundry's Gladiators and Vikings.

Overall, the 'look of the thing' is good.  It's in a two-column layout, the background isn't too intrusive and the balance of text-to-illustration is a good one.  A particularly nice touch is that the back cover consists of the reference tables.

The contents are:-
Introduction and Requirements for Playing 3
Building a 4
The Cards 5
Set Up – Turn Order – Activation 6
Movement – Distances – 7
Combat 8
The Suits in 9
A Combat 10
Skills 11 12
Optional Rules 16
Historical Settings – 18 20 22 Gladiators........................................................... 24
Other periods – Iroquois – Heian Japan – Cave Wars 26
Reference Tables ....................................................................rear cover 

From this you'll see that about half of the book consists of rules and about a third historical background.

Some people might find this space devoted to Maori, Aztec or Viking culture superfluous, and many may just skip it, but that is being churlish.  Apart from the Viking or Gladiators perhaps, these backgrounds are likely to be new(ish) to the reader.  In addition, the emphasis in the game on Honour lends a narrative element to it, which is only deepened by (what is after all only a little!) knowledge of the period.  As the rules say
These backgrounds are, of course, entirely optional. The emphasis is to bring fun and flavour to the game by incorporating elements of real world Tribal culture and warfare from different historical eras.
Each of the historical section gives a very short context to the culture, some suggestions for further reading, details of where one might find miniatures and special rules.  Even if one isn't playing a particular culture, it's worth reading about if only for the special rules - the example given is that the rule for use of a Maori Haka could be transformed into a Viking Warcry.

The optional rules include missile fire, dirty tricks and honour pools.  Use of these would add to the complexity of the game and suit those who like more of a challenge!

There are four scenarios you can play in a variety of tribal settings.


It's important to note that these comments are from a quick read-through only.  I've yet to play the rules.

The game mechanisms seem simple enough and quick to learn - a big selling point for me.  The rules are clearly written and well explained.  A sample turn is gone through point-by-point just to make things even clearer.

The requirements for play are:-
  • A 3ft by 3ft playing area (with plenty of scenery)
  • Two standard decks of playing cards
  • A turn counter
  • Counters for recording honour points awarded
  • A Chief
  • 2-3 individual Heroes
  • 3-4 units of 5 Warriors each

Each Warband includes a Chief and then normally one Hero for each unit of five Warriors.  Chiefs and Heroes move and act individually, Warriors as a unit.  The scenarios give details of how these Warbands can are set up (purchased using a set number of Honour points).

Chiefs can take six wounds before being removed, Heroes five, and Warriors one each.  From this it can be seen that it is quite feasible (even encouraged from the Honour point of view!) for a Chief or Hero to take on a unit of five warriors.

Various skills (up to two for Chiefs, one for Heroes and one per group of five Warriors) can be purchased using Honour points - these skills vary from Tactician (one can re-position an enemy unit), to Throwing Weapons (an attack during a charge) to others which mitigate against the effects of cards played during combat.

Playing cards are used for everything from initiative, distance measurement, unit coherency, and resolving combat.  The use of the cards in combat is demonstrated in the video.

The straightforward play of cards can be varied by a number of skills that can be purchased by expending Honour points.


Again I have to stress that I haven't actually played the game yet.  This is based on spending an hour or so looking through the pdf.  

Having said that, I'm impressed.  Tribal looks as if it could be a simple-to-learn fun skirmish game.   It would also appeal to those who have a horror of bending over a table with a tape measure and rolling dice!  

The only quibble that occurs to me is that I would have liked to see a section on Solo Play - I'm going to have to play a few times to see how well a dummy hand works in the combat section.

Seven quid well spent I think!  Now to find some suitable figures...


  1. I loved the card suite combat mechanic, it certainly has got me intrigued.

  2. Interesting. Something to use for my cavemen, perhaps!

  3. I will be interested to read how it plays as a solo game.

    1. Me too!

      I had the following from the game developers on their FB page - "On the topic of solo-play, would love to hear your thoughts on it. We want to design some solo-play rules, but would like something better than just random-draw from the card-deck..."

  4. I'd also looked at this set of rules, though as part of my Gladiator project. Seeing the video has intrigued me though and I'm just wondering whether to try my hand at this game with normal tribal warriors. Definitely something to ponder.

    1. I didn't read the Gladiator section in detail - it of course needs the most modifying rules to fit 'real history'.

    2. Yeah, I wouldn't bother with the Gladiators as, as you say, I could see quite the bit of fiddling to sort them to purpose.

      I've been looking at the Aztecs and Incas from Foundry, the Hawaiians from Eureka and also their Tribal bits. But, possibly, I'd go for African tribal, maybe generic for one faction, or Matabele, and Casting Room Zulus for the other. But, I'd need to see if the rules would be suitable for African tribal warfare first, and if not, then the Foundry Mesoamerican or Eureka Hawaiian would be what I'd be looking at instead.

      I'd be playing solo, most of the time, so I'd be looking at what mechanisms could be spliced into the rules also.

  5. Thanks for the write up, Edwin! It does seem to be an interesting game with the card mechanics. I'd be even more intrigued with the inclusion of horses and further tribes. Some weapons are more than just tribal identifiers. Knives/warclubs influenced/ or were influenced by fighting styles; not every tribe had boomerangs! ;)

    1. The rules at they stand merely distinguish between long and short weapons (with the optional rule for thrown weapons/missiles).

  6. Oooh...that does certainly sound interesting!

  7. Another option for using the beautiful new Flint and Feather minis by Bob Murch

  8. Very interesting. Lots of miniatures in my collection would be perfect for this. cheers


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...