Words by David C. Obenour
Explore, discover and band together as Tribes: Dawn of Humanity invites players back to the early days of civilization. Playing out in under an hour, Tribes… spans the first three eras of man with the Paleolithic, Neolithic and early Bronze age as early societies found their formation in shared responsibilities and revelations.
Having designed one of the most celebrated epic gaming experiences of the last decade with the 200 plus minute play for Nations, Rustan Håkansson condenses Tribes… into a simple to explain, quick to play, but remarkably deep game of exploration, and societal and scientific advancement.
Off Shelf: Tribes: Dawn of Humanity is a reworking of your earlier game Tribes: Early Civilization. What made you want to revisit this game?
Rustan Håkansson: The first edition was with a new small publisher, in very low volumes. It sold out, but they were unsure if they could do a reprint. Redoing it with a big publisher with the chance to let many more players enjoy the game seemed like a very good idea, when they got in touch.
OS: You talked about getting to work with an experienced game editor from Kosmos. How did working with them make you see your game differently?
RH: He questioned everything, and I have to explain my reasoning for making all parts of the game as they were. Some things were the way they were mainly due to how the development proceeded, and when viewed in the light of what the game was now they were clearly worth investigating more. Some stayed, while others changed.
OS: What do you see as the advantages of Dawn of Humanity? Are there still things you like, if not better than differently, about Early Civilization in comparison?
RH: Making a game for a new small publisher for Kickstarter is a different task than making a game for Kosmos. For Kickstarter, it is more important to be seen as clearly new and different. For Kosmos, having a consistent experience is much better than having multiple quite different experiences in the same box.
OS: What originally inspired you for setting a game in the early epochs of human history?
RH: My work with Nations most likely. [laughs] I do not remember exactly how the theme got started, as the early development was as long as 6-7 years ago.
OS: Did you have much knowledge of this time period before working on the Tribes games? Was there anything from your research you found particularly interesting?
RH: My brothers are very much into history, much more than me. I enjoy lighter history reading than them. I think it was my brother, Robert who suggested using the seashells for the currency of the game, as well as helped with the background texts.
OS: Tribes is fascinating in the amount of gaming it conveys while still operating within an easy to explain ruleset. Did you find yourself editing down additional concepts that you enjoyed but didn’t felt ultimately added to the finished game?
RH: Oh yes! So many things. The core interaction of what action/event tile to choose has been the main driver, anything that takes away too much focus from that had to be cut. It is easy to bloat a game with too many systems that feel important but mainly add complexity without making the game more interesting.
OS: Related to that, are there additional concepts you might see yourself wanting to add in with an expansion?
RH: Yes, definitely. If the publisher requests an expansion I would be most happy to make one. I have done one published mini-expansion, and have actually asked for permission to post the others that I developed but that were not chosen, after a question on BGG. If allowed I hope to return to work a bit on these and then post them.
OS: It’s also an interesting game in that from it’s setting and goals, it shares more in common with far weightier/classic style strategy games, but in it’s rules it more resembles a modern/more easily accessible games. Was striking that balance a goal in Tribes design?
RH: Initially my idea was to see how far it would be possibly to streamline a 4X [explore, expand, exploit, exterminate] game but retain the core concept of what a 4X game is. After a while I started to sacrifice the Xs, to allow the game to grow to its full potential. But a bit of these roots are still visible as you say.
OS: How do you think having individual playing maps as opposed to sharing a map affects how people play?
RH: It allows the core action selection system to be the focus instead if movement and positioning on a map. I tried tons of variations with shared map, but I did not find anything that worked well for what I wanted to do.
OS: Tribes primarily feels primarily like a game competing with yourself, with the exception of how your actions affect and restrict the available actions of others. How do you think this style affects play as opposed to more directly competitive games?
RH: Oh, I disagree! Yes, when learning the game it is about what actions you want to chain together, but the more experienced I see players become, the more directly interactive the play becomes. The action selection is the core of the game, everything else exist to make this part interesting. The idea is that player situations should constantly change, and the game state should be impossible to calculate completely, so that you have to play with instinct rather than hard calculation. Events also help mix things up a bit.
There are definitely players who prefer direct attacks against a specific player, and Tribes is likely not suitable for them. It is also not a game suitable for those who want to overly strategize and calculate the exact value of each choice, as it mainly depends on what the other players will do. But I think it is a very good fit with the core Kosmos audience, on the more complex side of family games.