A few weeks ago, I renewed my mobile phone contract, which came with an iPhone 6S. I used to have an iPhone 5S, but went with a Nokia Lumia 1520 back in 2014. I liked my Windows Phone, especially the quality of the photos it took, but the apps left a lot to be desired. Since I like to play games, I felt that it made sense to go back to Apple and revisit some of the games I once played on my iPhone 5S and to check out some of the newer games that have appeared on the platform since then.

A handheld device is ideally suited for turn-based games. One of my favourite games on the iPhone is Civilization: Revolution, though it is extremely ugly. Fortunately, 2K released a sequel that is virtually the same game, but with nicer graphics (fully 3D, more reminiscent of the console releases of Civilization: Revolution than the Nintendo DS port we got first time round). I actually prefer the more streamlined approach of the Civilization: Revolution games to the bigger releases on desktop computers: assigning workers to construct tile improvements, for example, gets laborious quickly in Civilization V, and in Revolution you don’t have to worry about that at all.

But what if you could streamline the experience even further? Is it possible to create a 4X game – i.e. a turn-based game focused on eXploring, eXpanding, eXploiting, and eXterminating – that you could conceivably play over the course of fifteen minutes or so? The answer might be a fairly new game released on iOS called Super Tribes, developed by Midjiwan AB.

research

When you start a new game, you first pick a tribe. There are four available at the start and you can buy three more tribes for a modest fee. Each tribe starts you off in a particular environment and with a specific technology already researched. For example, if you pick the Imperius (similar to the Romans), you’ll start off on a map with mountains and green valleys (perfect for growing fruit) and have the ‘Organization’ technology already researched. The Oumaji, who look Middle-Eastern, start off in a desert environment and begin the game with the ‘Riding’ technology. You then select the number of opponents (1 to 3) and the difficulty (ranging from easy to ‘crazy’).

The map is randomly generated and initially covered for the most part by the fog-of-war, which lifts as units move around the map. Interestingly, there are no victory conditions. Instead, the game lasts 30 turns and the aim is to get the highest score available before time runs out. The only way to end the game prematurely is to lose control of your last city to the enemy, which results in a game-over. Fortunately, your opponents don’t start off particularly blood-thirsty: when you first run into them, they’re likely to present you with a gift, usually in the form of a new technology. Only when space becomes limited will they resort to taking your cities from you.

And that’s an important point: there are no settlers in the game. You cannot just go out and found a city. You have to conquer them. You can do so by capturing neutral villages or by seizing control of enemy cities. You then need to build up your cities, but you do so by exploiting the surrounding countryside: hunting game, harvesting fruit, and so on, will give a bonus to the nearest city. Once enough has been harvested, your city will level up, allowing you to increase the size of your army. Each time a city levels up, you also get to pick a bonus, like additional resources or an explorer, who will reveal part of the map.

hunting

Cities also generate resources at the start of every turn. The larger the city, the more resources you get. Resources are all generic: there is no food, production, or gold to worry about. These resources are used to pay for everything: from building mines, temples, and other structures in the landscape, to training units and researching new technologies. If you have the resources available, you can do all those things. This leads to interesting situations: do I spend these resources on recruiting another unit or on researching a new technology? The latter, by the way, also increase in cost as you acquire more cities.

In short, then, the game ticks all the boxes you might look for in a 4X game, but distils those traits down to their very essence. You start off with a single city and a single unit, explore the map, gather resources, develop new technologies, expand your empire by conquering villages or rival cities, pit your units against those of the enemy, and so forth. Often, I succeeded in wiping out a rival civilization completely by taking their last city from them, but this is not necessary to achieve a high score when time runs out. Some of the scores on the leader boards are insane, and it will take a lot of practice to even come near them.

Graphically, the game looks fantastic. It’s entirely 2D and uses an isometric perspective. The structures, peoples, animals, plants, and environment all have a modern, square look to them. Colours are bright and vibrant. There’s no problem in recognizing what’s what on the map, though if you are ever in doubt you can just tap somewhere and information pops up. The different tribes and tile sets add variety to the game and increase its longevity. It’s quite a neat-looking little game, and you can play in both landscape or portrait modes.

Super Tribes is available for free on iTunes. I thoroughly recommend you check it out. And if you enjoy the game, you can support the developers by buying some additional tribes to play with for $0.99 each (or the equivalent in your local currency).