‘Tribal’ pre-gunpowder skirmish rules – Māori, Aztecs, Japanese, gladiators – oh my!


Tribal by Australian company, Mana Press, is a set of skirmish gaming rules designed for recreating pre-gunpowder inter-tribal conflicts.

The aim of Tribal is to capture the essence of the heroic skirmish style warfare that existed in many pre-gunpowder cultures, who exalted the feats of the individual and their courage and prowess in battle.


Central to this type of warfare (and to the Tribal wargame) is the concept of honour. Honour determines why one is fighting, how battle is conducted, what sorts of tactics (both honourable and dishonourable) are used, and who becomes the victor at the end.


Tribal takes an innovative approach in using playing cards, rather than dice. In fact, you need neither dice nor measuring tapes for this game! Activation, movement, fighting are all driven by a couple of sets of ordinary playing cards. Other than that, you just need some tokens to represent ‘honour’, and of course some figures and scenery.

Whilst the splendid cover features a tattooed Māori warrior, these rules specifically cover other pre-gunpowder fighting than just Māori inter-tribal warfare, such as Vikings, Aztecs, Heian Japanese, and even Roman gladiators. But overall, the rules do have an emphasis on the Māori inter-tribal wars (no doubt based on the writers’ Kiwi backgrounds).


Australian manufacturer Eureka Miniatures actually makes a set of Māori figures specifically designed to work with Tribal, as illustrated in the pics above and below, borrowed from the Eureka website.


Or you could use Empress Miniatures figures for this game – the ones without firearms (like some of those in my picture below). Or, of course, you could use Vikings, Aztecs, Samurai, Roman Gladiators etc.


As they stand, the Tribal rules won’t be suitable for colonial wars, as they don’t include rules for using firearms. But I think I’ve heard that Mana Press are interested in expanding their rules to include them (can anyone confirm or deny?).

From my initial read-through, Tribal seems to be a characterful yet relatively simple game. Of course, this opinion is yet to be borne out one way or the other through actually playing the rules. But at only $10 to download the PDF in two formats (one lavishly designed, the other more printer-friendly), Tribal is a good deal even if you just read the rules rather than actually play them!

POSTSCRIPT: While I was writing the above article, I forgot that I’d already written a overview of Tribal back in June 2016 (and in more detail than the posting above)!!! So if you want to know more about Tribal, have a look at my old article too!

5 thoughts on “‘Tribal’ pre-gunpowder skirmish rules – Māori, Aztecs, Japanese, gladiators – oh my!

  1. The ‘honour’ system sounds intriguing. I guess for game-makers the issue will always be reducing a complex array of socio-cultural systems associated with the way warfare was conducted among people with significant resource limits – meaning most pre-industrial peoples – into a game format. Maori had particular issues in this regard because NZ wasn’t well suited to the usual staples, such as kumara, which the original Polynesian settlers brought with them – and NZ didn’t really have anything much to offer of itself. When Europe’s industrial goods arrived around the turn of the nineteenth century, those socio-cultural rules bent but didn’t break… I did write a book on it… (‘Guns and Utu’) 🙂

    1. Interesting thoughts. I’m intrigued at the way this game can cover many different peoples and eras. ‘Honour’, whatever it is named, is so similar across cultures and centuries that it must be a commonality for all humankind? By the way, I own a copy of your book too,

  2. I’ve watched the video at Wargame Vault and wonder if this wouldn’t work for small parties of Angles, Danes, Saxons and Vikings but I play solo and if I have it right it requires intelligent use of the cards rather than random blind drawing.

    Have you any thoughts on if it will play solo, please?

    1. Somewhere I did see something about playing Tribal solo when I was trawling the web today … but I can’t recall where (I’ve done a lot of browsing today!). Hopefully another visitor can point us back to it …

  3. Hi Roly, thanks for your kind review. For anyone else interested, we’ve posted a couple of ‘ideas’ for solo play and gunpowder rules on our forum (although we want to be VERY careful about introducing gunpowder into the Tribal rulesystem, we also recognise that people want to have some fun with the game in their own way)

    Solo-play ideas: http://manapress.freeforums.org/solo-play-t19.html

    Gunpowder: http://manapress.freeforums.org/black-powder-weapons-gun-rules-t21.html

    Feel free to use the above as you like – we’ve found half the fun with the game is houseruling ideas, it’s very flexible that way.

    kiora & ka kite ano

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