Super Tribes Review

A Pocket Full of Civilization

Super Tribes

If you were to ask me to make a list of video games that I think everyone has played, it would be a pretty short list. Before the dawn of mobile, there were few games that appealed to the non-gamer crowd - and the ones that did rarely overlapped with suspiciously self-dubbed "hardcore" gamers. It would take a game that didn't rely on exceptional hand-eye coordination; a game that was infinitely accessible, yet impossibly deep.

It would take a game like Sid Meier's Civilization.

But while that franchise is now in its 25th year, and has seen a few attempts at going mobile (including the spectacular space battle spin-off Starships), series' steward Firaxis Studios has struggled to find a formula that hits on what mobile players want most.

Lucky for us, an indie game developer has risen to the challenge.

Welcome to Super Tribes

The debut release from Sweden's Midjiwan, Super Tribes is a stripped down strategy game that draws a clear inspiration from Sid Meier's Civilization series. And by stripped-down, I mean that it looks like someone made a bulleted list of what they love about Civ and built only that. It's a minimalist approach, and like another great Swedish strategy game, rymdkapsel, its minimalism is what makes it work. Gone are the deepest layers of depth, multiple paths to victory, and chatty negotiations. Instead Super Tribes focuses on the core of what make Civilization so great: getting bigger, developing skills, and squashing your enemies.

Limiting players to 30 turns to achieve victory, Super Tribes starts world leaders off with little more than a city and a single skill. That skill will be determined by the nation you choose to play as, but you'll ultimately want to acquire all of the starting skills fairly quickly if you want to make any progress. This fishing skill, for example, will let you harvest fish tiles to grow your population. Hunting will do the same for animals, while Climbing will let you get over mountains. The tech tree in Super Tribe isn't massive, which is great, because it means skillful players can unlock every available ability (and even those who aren't top players will get to know all of the options available to them fairly quickly).

Priorities Matter

The core loop in Super Tribes is very much the same as Civilization: explore, build cities, build up resources and population, repeat. But because keeping things simple is the magic that makes Super Tribes such a tight mobile experience, each of these steps is done in a very limited number of ways. You won't need to weigh the benefits of each plot of land to determine where to build your next city; cities are only established by capturing neutral villages or the cities of your neighbors. You won't need to micromanage production to balance income and expenses; you'll earn resources every turn based on your population size, and spend them whenever you want new tech, troops, or projects.

The challenge in Super Tribes comes from strategizing which of these elements to prioritize when. A bigger population produces more resources, but to grow that population you'll need to spend the resources you have now on land projects. But would that money be better spent on building up an army to protect you, should your neighbors turn hostile early? Or maybe there's more value in acquiring a new technology to explore the world even further? After all, those boats aren't going to build themselves.

Even when you have a general idea of the direction you want to go in, there are still decisions to make. Are your points better spent building mines in City A or harvesting fish in City B? Knowing how close each city is to growth, having a sense of the perks you'll unlock with each city's level, and understanding the limitations of a city based on its surrounding resources will all factor in to that.

Once you've mastered the intricacies of Super Tribes, from how to unlock and best use every skill to which troops are best to use in which scenarios, you'll be ready to up the challenge. Lucky for you, Super Tribes lets player customize the number of enemies and difficulty level to suit their skills.

A Glitch in the Matrix

For the most part, Super Tribes plays like a flawless experience. No strategy gamer should miss this. Having said that, there are a few niggling bugs and hiccups that serve as a reminder of the game's smaller studio origins. Strange little things, like the in-app purchase price for the one locked tribe displaying an endless line of zeroes at the end, or the victory screen not quite fitting the dimensions of my iPhone 6s. There's nothing particularly game-breaking here, and launch window bugs like these are almost always smoothed out in an update in the weeks after launch. I'm hoping Super Tribes will be no exception.

And if we're looking to get nitpicky, there are a few small additions that could make the Super Tribes experience even more super. Rival tribes will initially start out as friendly, but always turn hostile -- yet there's no real indicator to let you know that this has happened. If you glance up from your phone during the enemy turn, you might miss a friendly neighbor making a viscous assault on one of your warriors, losing the precious knowledge you'd need to retaliate. Super Tribes could also a proper tutorial, and an "undo" button would have saved me from accidentally bottlenecking my troops on more than one occasion.

Still, these are minor quibbles. Super Tribes is the most fun I've had with a strategy game on my iPhone since the days of rymdkapsel and Hoplite. If you've ever enjoyed a game of Civilization on your desktop, there's finally a worthwhile alternative to put in your pocket.