I have played 3 games of Tribune now, one 4-player game and two 2-player games. The 2-player game wasn't as poor as I have been led to believe from reading reviews of the game. I enjoyed them. So, what made me buy this yet-another-worker-placement-game in the first place? Well, this being designed by Die Macher designer Karl-Heinz Schmiel did play a part in getting my attention. The worker placement mechanism in itself doesn't excite me. From reading game overviews and getting a rough idea of how the game plays, the game did not seem anything particularly outstanding or unusual. The remark that made me decide to buy was that it is a very well crafted game. Nothing very gimmicky. Nothing ground-breaking. Just old-fashioned hard work producing a quality game. And after having played the game, indeed that is what I think of the game.
When you play Tribune, you decide up front the set of victory conditions you want to use. There are various combinations that come with the game. E.g. needing to fulfill 4 out of 6 victory conditions, and the victory conditions being having a tribune marker, having a favour of the gods marker, having X amount of money, having Y number of legions, having Z number of laurel tokens. You don't always need to fulfill all victory conditions. You can pick and choose. In some scenarios there are obligatory victory conditions though.
To help you achieve the victory conditions, you need to gain control of the factions in Rome (there are 7). When you gain control or take over control of a faction, you gain some benefits, and thereafter every round that you maintain control of a faction, you gain some other benefits too. And to fight for control over the factions, you need cards. Every round many cards are placed on the board, and the players place their pawns on the board to compete for cards. Each area of the board has a different way of competing for cards (or for other resources). Some are direct buys. Some involve auctions. Some cards are face-down and there is a gambling element on whether they are cards that you need.
A very crude summary of the game would be: get cards - control factions - fulfill victory conditions. That doesn't sound like much fun. However as I played the game, I found that there is a lot of planning involved - prioritising which factions you want to fight for, which victory conditions to strive for. Sometimes your decisions can be quite tactical, depending on what cards are available at the start of each round. You also need to watch your opponents, what victory conditions they are likely going to go for, what cards they have been collecting, what factions they are aiming for. There is a chariot in the game which is auctioned by blind bidding at the end of every round. The winner can use this to block a faction from take-over in the next round, or set it aside so that no faction is safe from take-over. This can be a very lethal tool. I find this analysis fascinating, and the competition very interesting. You have flexibility, and there are many options, but as the game progresses and more and more victory conditions have been met, your choices start to narrow down and you are forced to focus on your remaining victory conditions and forced to compete fiercely to be the first to fulfill them. There is a sense of build-up.
The game emphasises on take-overs a lot over maintaining control over factions you are already in control of. The take-over bonuses do not sound like a lot, but they are actually a big help towards fulfilling victory conditions. Also there are leader cards which give you a leader bonus when they are involved in a take-over. You cannot strengthen your hold on factions that you are already in control of, but others can weaken your hold by assassinating your cards. The only strong defensive move you can make to stay in control of a faction is the chariot. Of course you can also try to deny the cards of that faction from your opponents, but it doesn't seem to be a very worthwhile exercise. The game encourages you to scheme to do more take-overs. This creates quite a dynamic and aggressive play. There aren't that many means for defensive play anyway.
In all 3 games that I have played, the game ended after 4 rounds. I guess this is quite normal. The quick end surprised Sui Jye. I should have warned them of this better. I did know that the games usually end at 3 to 5 rounds from reading the reviews. After my first two games I thought that getting a Tribune is the hardest. You need to get a scroll first, and then you have to be in control one of two specific pairs of factions at the same time. This can be quite tricky because by the time you take over the second required faction, the first faction may have already been taken away from you. In my third game I realised that getting the favour of the gods is also not easy. You need to have had control of the vestal virgin faction first, and in that game Michelle made a strong move of denying me this control by using the chariot. This won her the game very decisively. And I was the one who taught her to do that. I complained that that was a nasty move, and she teased me for being so bitter.
I still look forward to play Tribune. Maybe this weekend.