Of the innumerable simulations in the world, most can be easily classified. There are wargames, there are diplomatic games, and there are games of civilization. And among these games there are obvious trade-offs. The wargame has the war already going while the civilization game treats war as an abstraction. Very few games have managed to merge the three types and still kept the flavour of each fully intact. Tribe Net blends the best and essential features of these three genres.
In Tribe Net a player assigns people to feed the Tribe, make weapons, make tools, and scout the land. He has no information other than what he can gather himself. He is limited in his knowledge of terrain. He is limited in his knowledge of the reality of other Tribes. The fog of war can be truly of Pea Soup proportions. Decisions have far reaching consequences. Assign too few people to hunt or farm or fish and your people start starving. Fail to arm and they are vulnerable to bandits and outsiders. Fail to improve their ability to perform tasks and they remain primitive and inconsequential.
The Tribe’s abilities are categorised by certain tasks, make armour, make weapons, farm, hunt, herd, etc. And to allow these task abilities to be simulated they are graded on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the most basic. The higher the skill the more difficult to attain it, and skills are obtained sequentially. You must have Farming-5 to go to Farming-6.
Tribes contain animals, goods, and people. All are precious and useful. You must have horses for your cavalry and your scouts; you must have elephants for transport. Cattle and goats are food on the hoof. You need traps and spears and bows for hunting. You need hoes or plows for farming. And all this stuff has to be made. Furthermore you have to locate the materials to make the stuff. The drive is always on to find minerals and coal, and to protect your supplies once you find them. And you must balance the work of your people. You have warriors, who can fight and work, Actives who can work. And Inactives (women and children) who do no work but are essential for reproduction. And all of them eat.
Operating a Tribe, getting it to grow and to become more powerful, may seem to be a worthy end in itself. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Where Tribe Net makes its greatest deviation from the run-of-the-mill civilisation game is that the player determines what his Tribe is actually like, and interacts freely with the rest of the continent over E-mail. This is diplomacy in its purest form. Your knowledge of your colleagues is extremely limited, and the power that you can project can be real or illusory. You can chart your course as a lone wolf and speak to no one, or become a major player and be involved heavily in the discourse of the game. The diplomatic traffic is intense, and the impact is great. Through this a player can inject as much or as little colour into the game as he wishes. The only limitation being those that the player imposes on himself. There are evil Tribes and peaceful Tribes, slavers and freemen, religious blocs and xenophobic loners. Those Tribes who make the effort to speak up and involve themselves in the game find it rich and complex.
In the days before nationalism (and indeed in many places in the world today) it is the means by which the person identifies him or herself. Getting this to be realistically simulated can be almost impossible, but Tribe Net has managed to do it.
When first entering the game a player will get a mentor if requested. This is an experienced player who volunteered for the job and takes the time to work the player through the initial set-up and moves. The Mandate rulebook is freely available for players, but the Mentor is the one who makes clear the statements in the book and instructs the player how to translate the often bare descriptions into meaningful gameplay. The mentor can also instruct the player in what skills they should need right off since the mentor has learned that already, often the hard way.
The turn cycle is 1-month game time every 2 weeks. A player sends in his move, which details the activities of the Tribe and their skill attempts for that turn, and within a few days the gamemaster sends back the Return via E-mail. The return is the record of the consequences of that turns and its decisions, and the full status of the Tribe entering into the next turn with a full inventory of people, goods, and animals. The deadline for the turn is on a Tuesday, and the returns arrive on Saturday. The player then has a maximum of 1 week and 3 days to send in his move for the next turn. The cycle is as dependable as the sunrise in Tribe Net, and Peter is remarkably error free, especially considering the volume of information coming at him every week.
Most players of Tribe Net could easily live with a faster turnaround, but the 2-week period seems to work out best. Since diplomatic intercourse is fluid in Tribe Net the turn sequence and the player interactions rarely get disjointed. Players may have to have tighter communication if they are trading with each other or conducting joint manoeuvres in war, but this has proved easy to accomplish. The speed of E-mail can be truly amazing.
Players know the rules insofar as they know what they have to do, and what they have to have to accomplish something, but the mechanics are a mystery like the continent. A player will know to make bows, and know to make metal arrows, and know to have sufficient skill to use them correctly, but when he fires them at an enemy the only person who really knows what is going on to resolve combat is the gamemaster. Practice has shown this to be sufficient, though many players work hard to figure out the systems in order to better their chances in a given situation. Common sense most often reveals the same results as the best calculations.
The map that Tribe Net operates on is probably awesome. As the Tribes search out their surroundings it becomes quickly obvious that no matter how far they go there is more farther on. The theories on the shape of the continent are as varied and widespread as the theories on the shape of the world were in the actual year of 900 AD. Mapping is a precious commodity.
Tribes are identified by a unique number. This allows the gamemaster to keep track of the Tribe with no misdirections. Players, however, name their Tribe whatever they want. Some have changed the name of their Tribe more than once (prompting a validation of the GM’s use of numbers, they cannot change the number). Tribal names can be rich with meaning, or humorous. There are Tribes like the Hailong, the Chinese name of the Black Dragon. Yamato, a poetic term for Japan and a word embodying the Japanese Spirit. Kung Sah, the name of an infamous Malayan drug lord. The Oxwind, the Heck’r’we, the Sbaras, the Grossartig Bastarde. Where a reference to “Tribe 449” inspires little, the same reference to “The Velvet Glove” tells you something about what you are facing.
But again, that is in the hands of the players.
Player interaction and effect is the hallmark of Tribe Net, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the research subjects. When a player achieves a 10 in a given skill that player may conduct research into something in that field. For example the player researching in Farming may research potatoes, which when planted are harvested in the fall and provide an efficient and readily utilised food source for the winter months when hunting is lean. The player with Herding 10 may research Pigs, which have litters rather than single or paired offspring and thus will reproduce like mad providing the herder with an inexhaustible source of food and leather. A new weapon, war-horses, war-dogs, a player is limited only by his imagination. And the GM has shown himself to be very helpful and cooperative in working out research subjects.
A game with this many facets runs a high risk of being addictive, and it truly is. With its long time span and need for thorough planning and persistence it has tremendous appeal for the player who wishes to immerse himself in the game. But for the very casual player it will have little appeal. The game will return effort abundantly, but if little effort is made then the player simply drifts at the mercy of those players who do involve themselves. It can then be about as much fun as being a tennis ball. In order to get the most out of the game the player must involve himself in it, and the more involved the player is the more fun the game becomes. So if a person is a casual gamer, who likes beer-and-pretzel games that can be picked up and completed in a single hour or two then Tribe Net is not a good idea.
But if a player likes to immerse himself in a game and thinks that real-world simulations are for them, then Tribe Net would be a good investment.
Now pardon me, I have some goat to cook up.
Hetman of the Kung Sah
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