Five Tribes returned to a three-Heat format for 2023, which likely contributed to the increase in player count. Fifty-six players turned out for the event this year, up from only thirty-nine in 2022. Ryan Feathers was the only player to earn three victories during the Heats, while four other players earned two wins: Chris Wildes, AJ Jiang, Jay Matthews, and Tricia Wolff. Seventeen unique players won at least one game.
Only fifteen of those winners appeared for the Semifinal. This allowed Michael Vaz to join for a sixteen player Semifinal. The top four qualifiers (Ryan, Chris, AJ, and Jay) were separated for the Semifinal.
In the first Semifinal, Ryan bid for the first turn of the game, taking three yellow meeples and buying two rare goods. He was later able to utilize turn order to set up a big move that benefited him more than his opponents. 2022 Champion Nick Henning attempted to rush the end of the game via camels, but Ryan was able to translate his early rare goods into a 40 point card set and advance to the Final. Final scores were Ryan Feathers 160, Nick Henning 149, Sam Wolff 139, and Laura Miller 119.
In Semifinal #2, Tricia Wolff used Sibittis to compile an astonishing 52 points in Djinns. That coupled with 36 points in camels and points in every category except cards propelled her to the Final by three points over Jay. Final scores were Tricia Wolff 158, Jay Matthews 155, Sarah Stewart 143, and Angela Bender 130.
In Semifinal #3, Ray Wolff got most of his points in three categories (59 in coins, 47 in camels, and 50 in cards). AJ scored 61 points in cards and picked up points in most categories, but it was not enough as Ray was the second Wolff to advance. Final scores were Ray Wolff 168, AJ Jiang 150, Jefferson Meyer 141, and Michael Vaz 113.
In the closest Semifinal top-to-bottom, only 10 points separated 1st from 4th. Towards the end of the game, Brandon Buchanan correctly identified that Paul Klayder was in the lead and assassinated one of his Viziers to cost him 11 points. Unfortunately, Brandon’s 72 points in coins was not enough to overcome Chris Wildes’s scoring in all categories, losing by three points. Final scores were Chris Wildes 137, Brandon Buchanan 134, Chris Kalmbacher 134, and Paul Klayder 127.
By virtue of the closest Semifinal margin, Jay Matthews and Brandon Buchanan earned 5th and 6th place laurels respectively. Despite the GM’s best efforts, the Final was once again played at 11pm. Finalist Ryan was kind enough to provide a recap of the game below.
The finalists convened late Friday night for the Final. Chris Wildes was back for a third year in a row, hoping to reclaim his 2019 title. Ryan Feathers had made it for the first time after a heartbreaking 1vp loss in the 2019 SF that earned him 5th place that year. Tricia Wolff had a nearly identical story, having earned 6th place in 2019 and making the Final for the first time. Ray Wolff was earning his first Five Tribes laurels, but in what place?
The players set up the board and then did the customary sizing things up. The market was rather boring with no rare goods, and four of the deck's six fish were visible in the 9 card market. The board itself was a rather average layout with no huge clusters of blue, but a couple of areas with four and five blue tiles to set up acceptable builder actions. The meeples were also distributed very evenly with relatively few doubles, and notably there was only one double yellow meeple tile, which is often seen as a valuable "default" round 1 action if there's nothing else going on. Finally, the opening Djinn's were Bouraq who can add palaces to the board, Sidar that allows for drawing random goods from the market deck, and Marid who grants coin income when meeples are added to tiles that Marid's owner controls.
In post-game discussions, Ryan stated he felt that the most valuable things in the opening were the one spot that granted triple Viziers, since it granted a sizeable Vizier lead when the rest were spread out, and the Djinn Marid since it can lead to a powerful camel control game that heavily constrains opponent placements. Strangely however, Ryan somehow took neither of these moves in Round 1. Chris bid to go first and took the triple Viziers. The other players settled for things like beginning to secure some market goods, building up a reserve of Elders, and claiming tiles. Ray almost took the Djinn Marid but undid the move after clarification. He thought it was the Djinn Nekir which grants coins for every meeple assassinated. In Round 2 Chris secured the Djinn Marid and from there his game plan was set: take control of tiles where possible, to make use of Marid's passive coin income. This would allow Chris to place meeples on his own tiles for money and would heavily constrain his opponents' placements lest they grant him even more coins. Chris would also look to take one more Vizier action to hopefully lock down the majority points.
Through smart bids and smart decisions, and potentially opponent mistakes, Chris had secured the best two actions in the opening rounds. This wasn't to say the other players weren't doing strong things of their own. The Final table as a whole was making sure to play extremely defensively—nobody was leaving strong moves for their opponents. Everyone was carefully considering not just the move they wanted to take, but where to place their meeples during their movement to ensure nothing was being left behind. This is a trait seen in the stronger Five Tribes players, as they will not only take valuable actions, but make sure that their opponents do not have easy ways to score. It is this propensity for defensive play that Ryan felt led him astray—he couldn't find a way to secure the Djinn Marid without leaving behind a slightly better move, and so decided to try and get it later. This perhaps would work against other opposition, but in the Final, it was an error that the experienced finalist Chris exploited.
Ray was spending his time during the early and mid-part of the game securing various goods at the market. While the early deck was pretty bad, eventually some cards began to churn through and uncommon and rare goods were scooped up in Ray's goal of a big card set. This strategy has significant value in longer games, as the board becomes devoid of many high VP moves, but getting to purchase a needed card or two as part of a tile action can give a player a big boost. This game was not looking to end via any camel rush, since relatively few tiles were getting claimed due to the players' defensive play and trying to prevent easy VP moves.
Tricia wasn't particularly focused on any one thing, instead taking generically strong moves. She gathered up several elders to use in buying a variety of Djinn later, did a little bit of work collecting cards for a set, took some viziers, and also claimed some tiles. As in her Semifinal win, she did wind up with the Djinn Sibittis which gave her a use for all the elders as Sibittis allows for the purchasing of more Djinn. Unfortunately for her she mostly found high VP Djinn, which is acceptable, but none of the particularly strong effects that might have shifted her place in the game.
The midgame saw a weird situation. Towards the end of a round, Ryan decided to set up an interesting board for the start of the next round. The players had been careful not to leave tiles with too many meeples on them, in particular avoiding leaving five or more, since this allows for looping possibilities. Ryan helped set up a tile with seven meeples on it! This allows for weird loops and unusual situations. Ray bid the most to go first, and after staring at it for some time, finally admitted he wasn't familiar with stacks that big and was struggling to figure out how to exploit it and took another move. Eventually someone did take the stack of seven and disperse them. Five Tribes does tend to play out slightly like this, with many moves possible in the early game, and the board builds up some larger stacks of meeples that offer even more possibilities to consider. However, after this mid game explosion, the game began to hit the slow decline as meeples get removed from the board and the possibilities do start to shrivel.
The end game emerged after several more rounds of play. There were only a couple of moves on the board, and the time was well past 1am in the morning. The auction was tense, as one of the moves was to collect 2 remaining viziers and claim a tile. It was valuable and it would shift the vizier bonuses around. Chris bid 0 in the first slot. Ryan bid 5. Ray bid 8, and Tricia bid 12 to secure the move. In hindsight this was a clear error from others, in particular Ryan should have just bid 18 to lock up the top move. Instead, Ray basically got his value back on his bid. Tricia paid quite a few VP but got more back still from the tile and collected viziers, tying Ryan's 4 viziers.
The scores were added up, and Chris predictably won by a good margin. The table sensed he had the lead for several rounds and the rest were playing for 2nd place. But what a race for 2nd it was! As the scores were tallied, it became clear that Ryan had thrown away 2nd place. Ray's big set and good camel control locked up 2nd with 140 VP. Ryan still snuck into 3rd place with 135 VP and Tricia was very close with 132 VP. Chris handled the pressures of the Final table the best and consistently made great moves to commandingly win the game with 172 VP. Kudos to Chris for winning his second Five Tribes championship!
Across all games, Tricia Wolff had the highest winning score with 198. Chris Wildes had the lowest winning score with 137 in the Semifinal. Timothy O’Flynn had the highest score in a loss with 176.
Congratulations to all the laurelists and thank you to everyone who attended the event.