Tribes of the Wind isn’t Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Board Game, but it may as well be.
Directly inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s classic manga and Studio Ghibli movie, Tribes of the Wind takes place against a post-apocalyptic backdrop where humanity has been forced to live in trees above the toxic smog that now smothers the planet.
We were able to get hands-on with one of the most eye-catching releases during a demo session at this year’s Essen Spiel convention in Germany, finding out whether the gorgeous board game could live up to its inspiration.
Despite the grim lore, Tribes of the Wind is an ultimately upbeat game, as the players’ tribe members set out to clear pollution, replant forests and build villages in order to revive the world from its ruined state.
Doing so comes down to a set of simple actions that quickly fly around the table, giving the game a satisfying sense of speed and rarely ending up bogged down.
Each turn, players can perform one action - usually boiling down to playing a card from the row in front of them. These cards are colour-coded to four key elements: water, earth, fire and wind, allowing players to claim the vital resource of water, replant forests using said water, clear out pollution from squares on their board or move wind riders around (more on that in a second).
The actions are simple, quickly falling into a rhythm as tiles are cleared and forests are planted on each player’s individual board - replacing derelict football stadiums, power stations and other remnants of humanity - before later flipping over to become thriving villages as the tribes spread across the map. Players can also discard three cards to construct a temple on a forest or village, which grants a one-time bonus of resources.
Comparing cards with your neighbours is a clever, captivating way to keep players in competition.
Complicating matters are the requirements on every card, forming the crux of player interaction in the game. Each card requires the player to compare their row of cards with their neighbours - sometimes one, sometimes both - in order to determine how powerful the action is. Having fewer of a particular element than your opponents may result in a weaker action, while other cards require the player to have a complete set of elements to even be used.
The card backs display their element clearly, making comparing your rows easy at a glance - the trick comes in carefully curating your row as you pick up new cards to pull off more impressive actions each turn, while also keeping tabs on your neighbours to try and slow them down. It’s a clever, captivating way to keep players in competition, fighting over control of the elements rather than space on the board.
Each faction is also lightly asymmetric, with a set of four power cards. Forming a specific pattern of forests and achieving another unique objective unlocks up to two of the cards each game, providing an ongoing power that aids their push for victory.
Tribes of the Wind feels as lightweight as its wind riders, but there’s plenty of strategic heft to anchor its gameplay.
Planted forests can be turned into villages by the arrival of wind riders, the tribes’ airborne explorers who appear on each players’ board as diddly meeples. Hopping between placed tiles - but unable to move onto squares that still show the polluted ground - the wind riders are used to flip forests onto their village side. This gains more victory points, but also unlocks helpful technology such as catapults - which fling the riders further around the board - and turbines, which can be effectively teleported to from afar.
It makes for a satisfying ramping up in momentum and sense of exploration, as players at first slowly peek out from their starting tile in search of spots to plant forests and settle, while later rounds see them able to utilise their buildings to quickly move around and pursue objectives.
As well as by planting forests and building villages, players can accrue victory points through a set of specific objective cards that can be picked up and added to their board, rewarding specific placement of villages on the map, a certain number of villages with turbines or catapults, and more. The cards can also be discarded for an instant effect, creating a dilemma over whether to use them for short-term gain or long-term victory.
From our short time with the game, Tribes of the Wind proved that it’s more than just a gorgeous tribute to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Designer Joachim Thôme manages to take a simple set of actions - clear, build, fly - and find a compelling loop as players gradually build up their own board while jostling with their neighbours for the resources they need.
The game moves quickly and is quick to pick up thanks to its single-action turns, making it feel as lightweight as the wind riders that drift across its tiles - but the need to stay on top of your opponents and use your own cards efficiently means there’s plenty of strategic heft to anchor its colourful appearance and approachable cardplay.
Tribes of the Wind is easily one of the highlights of Essen Spiel 2022 so far, offering a gentle mix of smart gameplay and an instantly engrossing theme. No doubt it’ll soar high.