Through blowing sands … under the burning sun … 71 contenders for the Sultanate of Naqala ventured forth from near and far to vie for the throne. Among them were all four of the previous finalists back for a second bite of the apple: Michael Huggins, Luke Koleszar, Bob Wicks Jr. and Denise McKibbin. Denise and Luke would meet once again in the first heat, with Luke winning a narrow victory on the strength of his six viziers. Luke’s win was enough to earn a place in the semifinals. Bob Wicks Jr. suffered a heartbreaking loss to Dominic Blais in his first heat which came down to bidding for the last remaining legal move. Bob bid eight gold, but was outbid by a bid of 12 gold! This bold bid gave Dominic the last move for a 143-136 win. Bob would persevere to score another second place finish, but not the elusive win he needed. Jay Boring powered his way to a place in the semifinals on the strength of a 60 point turn in Heat 2 (four builders, two fakirs and five blue tiles, doubled using the djinn powers of Echidna). Meanwhile, Mike Huggins continued to win. He added to his undefeated 5-0 record that swept him to the 2015 title by winning his first two heats this year. Only a 141-141 “loss” to Gillian Gemmell on a tiebreaker in the third heat kept Mike from entering the semifinals with an intimidating 8-0 streak. All together, these would-be sultans played 27 preliminary games, yielding 22 unique winners.
All five double winners and half of the 22 single winners presented themselves for the semifinals. The top four (Michael Huggins, Cary Morris, Andrew Martin, and Angela Bender) were seeded at four tables, while the remaining players were seated randomly. At Table #1, Mike Huggins continued his dominance 166-154-142-134 with a balanced strategy. Mike earned points in all categories but did not score more than 33 points in any of them. At Table #2, Cary Morris won 150-144-132-102 using the combination of Sibittis and Ba’al to accumulate six djinn for 44 points. At Table #3, Dominic Blais again won on the last move when he found a move which had been overlooked by the opposition. This was enough for a two-point victory 148-146-116-111. At Table #4, Luke Koleszar cruised to an easy win 159-137-114-109 using the djinn Bouraq to enrich his 44 points of land tiles with an additional 20 points worth of palaces.
The Final welcomed back two alumni in Mike Huggins and Luke Koleszar who had finished 1, 2 in the inaugural tournament. They were joined by two newcomers;, Dominic Blais and Cary Morris (Cary having just learned the game recently). The intensity shown by all of the finalists was evident from the start. There was very little table talk as each player silently studied the board for several minutes prior to every bid and move. Each played an excellent game and the end result remained in doubt until the final score was tallied.
The preferred strategy of each finalist was more or less apparent from the outset. Mike, in full pursuit of a market/green strategy, collected four trade cards during both the first and second round for a total of eight. Cary also started with a market strategy, collecting four trade cards in the first round. In the second round, however, he diversified into viziers, collecting two of the yellow meeples and an additional two trade cards (for a total of six). Meanwhile, Luke collected five elders during the first two rounds and purchased the djinn Sloar. Finally, Dominic placed the first two camels on the board, assassinating for a six-point tile in Round 1 and collecting two viziers to claim another six-point tile in Round 2.
The bidding during the first two rounds was fairly conservative, with three gold twice winning the top bid. However, the appearance of gems in the marketplace at the start of Round 3 led to a bidding war between Cary and Mike. Mike opened the bidding at three gold but was quickly outbid. Cary jumped in for five gold and used the first move to scoop up two additional viziers (for a total of four) and purchased the coveted gems at market. Mike, sensing that the marketplace was played out for the time being, shifted strategies. He executed a long, looping move which resulted in 30 points from four blue meeples and two fakirs. The only downside was that this move left a single red meeple on the 15-point tile, which Dominic was all too happy to use. He seized control of the 15-point tile and assassinated for control of the 8-point tile next door for two additional camels (now a total of four). Finally, Luke collected three additional elders and purchased a second djinn, Monkir.
During Rounds 4 and 5, the players scoured the board for every possible point advantage, breaking up several large clusters of meeples in the process. In Round 4, three players executed long, serpentine or looping moves using seven meeples each. Dominic continued to acquire land, placing camels in both rounds. Cary also entered the land rush, claiming three tiles, as well as purchasing another trade card (for a total of eight). Luke likewise placed two camels on Round 4 and collected three viziers on Round 5. He also purchased yet another djinn, Utug. Mike placed a camel and collected two viziers on Round 4 before returning to his market strategy on Round 5, procuring five additional trade cards.
By Round 6, the endgame was in sight. Dominic held only two camels in hand and could realistically end the game in a single move. The number of legal moves on the board was also diminishing rapidly, meaning that each play had only two, maybe three, moves left. Luke bid five gold and immediately put Utug to work, using the djinn’s powers to purchase an 8-point oasis tile. He then executed a brilliant looping move which resulted in placing a palm tree on the tile he’d just purchased while assassinating for another 6-point tile. Dominic bid three gold and likewise claimed a 6-point tile, leaving him with a single unplaced camel. Cary collected two more trade cards and placed a camel and a palace, and Mike collected three blue meeples, which with the addition of three fakirs earned 18 points.
Round 7 would prove to be the last. There were few points left to be scored and the finalists put as much effort into denying other players points as they did into scoring their own. Mike bid five gold, which netted him a 4-point tile, two elders, and two additional trade cards. Luke bid three gold for two elders and a palm tree. Dominic placed a palm tree and used the two red meeples he collected to kill one of Mike’s viziers. The result was a 10-point gain for Dominic, who now had one more vizier than Mike. Cary was left taking the “least bad” move available and collected two elders as a result. At the end of Round 7, only one legal move remained. Dominic won the bidding at five gold, and collected two trade cards as a result, but also had to place a palace on Mike’s tile.
With no legal moves remaining, the scores were tallied and the winner revealed. Defending champion Mike, scored 47 points from his trade cards and held another 58 gold earned mainly by his builders. Unfortunately, he scored very little in any other category and his amazing streak of nine tournament games without a true loss was coming to an end. His camels, elder, vizier, and palaces only earned an additional 24 points for a total of 129 and a fourth place finish. Luke started with a promising genie strategy but only scored 18 points for his efforts. A strong showing in camels (47 points) and viziers (23 points) kept his score close, but his total of 135 was ultimately only sufficient for a third place finish. The battle for first came down to a two-point difference between Dominic and Cary. Dominic’s parsimonious bidding (he bid a total of nine gold during the game) and land-oriented strategy earned 47 points for gold and 57 points for land. Together with a respectable 22 points in trade cards, 12 points for viziers, and six palm tree points, he finished with 144 points. Cary’s green/yellow strategy earned 50 points in trade cards and 34 points for having the most viziers. Together with 21 gold, eight points for elders, a 3-point palm tree, a 5-point palace, and 25 points for land, Cary scored 146 points which was just enough to win. Overall, it was a very tight game with only 17 points separating first from last. Congratulations to all of the finalists for a well fought battle. I hope to see all of you again next year.
Looking forward to next year, I am considering making a couple minor changes: 1) rewarding players who have both a first place finish and a good second place finish, ranking them ahead of players who only win their first heat. This should encourage additional participation in the heats (e.g. players who finish second in the first heat will have an incentive to play for a subsequent win, which a play who wins their first heat will have an incentive to play for a second win or a second place finish to bolster their ranking). At the same time, a player with a win or a second in their first heat will not be unduly penalized for a poor result in later heats or if they decline to play any additional games; 2) count tie scores for first or second in the heats as a win or second for both players in the standings. Ties in Five Tribes are fairly rare and the rules do not offer any official tiebreakers. This would reward a player who scored enough points to tie for the win, but who would otherwise lose on an arbitrary tiebreaker. GM tiebreakers would still be applied in the elimination rounds where it is necessary to determine a single winner for each game; 3) changing the tiebreakers. Right now, the first tiebreaker is most gold. The intent is to reward players who bid the least over the course of the game, but there is no easy way to track this without a lot of burdensome record keeping. Using gold as a tiebreaker also unfairly rewards players who pursue a builder strategy. If I allow for ties (i.e. both players tied for first are credited with a win) in the heats, then tiebreakers are not really necessary until the elimination rounds. One thought would be to have the players keep track of the total amount they bid during the game, with the lowest total winning ties - but depending on players to keep accurate records is often foolhardy in practice. Another possible tiebreaker would be to reward players who score points in the most scoring categories. Any thoughts or input on the subject of tiebreakers would be appreciated.