Super Tribes = Super Fun

super-tribes-gameplay

Super Tribes is a short, stripped-down 4X title that plays with the feel of a well-crafted boardgame.  Select your tribe/units/tech, and spread your glory. But do it quickly, because you only have thirty turns.

If you’re only reading this review to convince yourself that Midjiwan AB‘s Super Tribes might be a title a worth investing zero dollars to try, go buy it right now. Take that risk. If you’re still on the fence, stick around and find out why this polished little game is an extremely worthy addition to your iPad gaming stable.

Players:
1
Multiplayer: No
AI: Yes – Up to 4 levels of difficulty
Universal App: Yes
Purchase for iPhone: See link below
Purchase for iPad:

Gameplay

The goal of Super Tribes is to build an empire that survives to the end of the game and accumulate a score. Points are awarded for actions such as harvesting resources, defeating enemies in battle, and founding new cities. Score-enhancing buildings and monuments are unlocked through decisions made in the game, much like a badge system. As far as 4X games go, Super Tribes does not break new ground, but it does manage to distill the epic feeling of the eXplore, eXploit, eXpand, and eXterminate genre without suffering common problems that occasionally hinder more expansive titles.

One common problem that civilization-building games suffer from is that they have steep learning curves. The time and attention required to become proficient is often quite substantial. This is true of legacy PC titles like Sid Meier’s Civilization series, but it holds equally true for many IOS 4X games as well, such as Shortbreak Studio’s recent release, Planar Conquest. Super Tribes avoids the slow introduction by simply throwing you into the game and letting occasional dialog boxes guide your decision-making. Although the lack of initial coaching may seem daunting to some, it is actually quite easy to learn. I was fully immersed in meaningful gameplay within minutes, and my six-year old was not far behind.

Another problem with larger 4X games is that the steady addition of cities, units, and technologies quickly turns the fun of eXploring and eXpanding into the time-intensive and sometimes dubious joy of micromanagement. Super Tribes circumvents this by giving you just thirty (30) turns to spread your glory. After thirty turns, the game is over. Kaput. Check your score, and start again.

If, like me, you are not particularly good at 4X games, then the brevity of Super Tribes has an additional upside. You will not spend eons surrounded by hostile enemies, watching your power erode like a Byzantine Emperor after the 4th Crusade. Whether or not you are good at Super Tribes, the pain will be swift and the glory, fleeting.

This is not to say that there is no depth to Super Tribes. Far from it. To begin with, there are four tribes to choose from in the free game, each of which subtly influences the visuals of the game by utilizing a unique sprite set and architecture. For my first game, I chose the Viking-like “Bardur” tribe because they have horned helmets. I think we can all agree that horned helmets are the best imaginable choice of headgear.  For people who prefer to wear scrub-brushes, there is also the Greco-Roman inspired “Imperius” tribe. The East-Asian “Xinxi” wear some sort of Samurai helmet, and the “Oumaji” horsemen keep their heads wrapped against blowing sand. Several more tribes are available for a $0.99 purchase, but four of the seven tribes are available in the free version.

Each tribe starts with a particular tech that gives it a slight advantage over its enemies in exploiting a certain type of resource such as fruit, fish, or animals. Consumption of these resources grows city populations, which increases the flow for next turn, and so on. From there, the game offers a modestly sized tech tree that enables you to customize your kingdom. Do you want to develop defensive units to avoid losing your land? Climb over mountains to find out what’s on the other side?  Sail across the sea and pound your neighbors into ashes? The tech tree expands in-game options. To buy techs and units you use “resources” culled from your surroundings.

Enemy tribes are not always hostile – but when they are, combat is quick. One unit bumps into the other and they both exchange damage. Archers can shoot from afar. As for units, there are only a handful to choose from — warriors, archers, horsemen, and a few specialty units. It is enough to provide strategic depth without being too detailed.

super-tribes-ipad-conquer

Implementation

Graphically, Super Tribes has an angular but stylized flare that is both attractive and functional without being too cartoony. The Euro art-design reminds me of the board game “Catacombs” and represents a refreshing alternative to the near-ubiquitous 8-bit retro graphics found on so many other iPad titles. There are also no “breathing” sprites or mindless animations to disrupt concentration.

Super Tribes has four difficulty settings, which allows players to ease their way into a progressively more challenging game. There is no multiplayer option at the moment, which actually keeps the game flowing. The AI is fairly predictable, but in a game where options are intentionally streamlined, this is not a major drawback. The computer enemies start small and friendly, but attack once they have built enough surplus units. This is most likely the same pattern players will adopt, unless they opt for a more peaceful game of developing temples and defensive units.  

super-tribes-unique-games

The old expression “geography is destiny” applies to Super Tribes just as much as it applies to the real-world. In the few games where my starting city was isolated on tiny, procedurally-generated peninsulas or islands, I struggled to build enough momentum to win. Occasionally, though, isolation on larger continents led to breathing room enough to build a game-winning empire. Random topography, plus the variability in attack damage, represent the only elements of luck in the game.

The UI contains just a few buttons, with limited options for customization. This keeps the game clean looking, but for 4X players who like to tweak every setting there isn’t much to be found here. I give the game a low score for “features” because of this, but I actually think it is a strength. Less really is more. 

Closing Thoughts

Each game takes about twenty minutes, so it is perfect for morning coffee or a train ride.

The brevity of the game makes it immersive and strategically satisfying, but for 4X players who love conquest victories, thirty turns isn’t quite long enough. A case could be made for adding an option for more turns, maybe 45 or so. Some people would also probably enjoy a larger tech-tree, but either of these changes risk breaking the game.

Due to the randomness of the board, Super Tribes has a reasonable degree of replayability.

Because it is fun, it will have a safe home on my iPad for a long time.

8

Good Things

  • Solid strategy, good UI
  • Well-balanced
  • Fast-paced for a 4X title

Bad Things

  • Limited tutorial
  • No multiplayer option
  • Might benefit from an option for a slightly longer game

The Breakdown


Gameplay
9
Interface
8
Artwork
9
Features
6