Please regard the comments below as designed to give you something of the feel for TribeNet without addressing too many of the specifics. The sooner you can get playing and chatting to other players the sooner you will feel part of it all.
TribeNet is an immersive Play By EMail game set in a dynamic multi-player world. The mood is generally medieval/iron age and has historical references. But TN is its own world.
Initially, your Tribe is nomadic. You know little about your environment and you have but a handful of skills. Each turn you advance your skills and gather resources to help your people survive and develop. Players continuously learn more and more about the TribeNet world and its possibilities. But don’t expect to learn this in 6 turns, give yourself at least 12 and then more.
You do not need to play the game aggressively to succeed and aggression is by no means embedded in the essence of the game. Rather, your degree of success will more likely depend on your capacity to conduct diplomacy and negotiate around areas of mutual interest and conflict. TribeNet might be regarded as an ongoing story about a world with a past, present and future into which each player contributes.
TribeNet is one of the Flagships of the “slow gaming” movement. Running almost continuously since the late '90's, this open-ended game is seeing a new influx of players who enjoy strategic build/war games with elements of RPG thrown in. Exploration, intrigue, and conquest are prominent elements in the game but in a relaxed and less “time sensitive” environment.
The leisurely pace of TribeNet (orders are processed every 2 weeks like clockwork) offers the busy player plenty of time for contemplation, diplomacy, plotting/scheming and planning and makes the learning curve of a meticulously-detailed game easier to navigate.
Play-by-mail (PBM) games, often referred to as play-by-email or turn-based games, are multi-player games played through email. A player sends orders for a position (usually a nation, kingdom, empire, or a character) which is processed by a combination of GM and computer and the results of the game turn are emailed back to the player. Turns are often due every two weeks (or every month, depending on the game). Play-by-mail games were a popular gaming format in the 1980s and 1990s via postal mail. Although video games and the Internet resulted in a decline in the PBM gaming hobby over the past 25 years, many of these games have survived, moving to email (play-by-email or PBEM).
As play-by-mail games are multi-player, it is recommended that you have diplomatic contact with other players who may be allies or adversaries. You can also join the same game with friends and work together as a group towards a set of common objectives or goals.
A neat discussion of these can be found in Episode 1 of Combat Conditional.
There is a lot of detail in the rules and supporting documents. However, this next point is crucially important. You don’t have to learn all the rules to make a start – you don’t need to have seen the whole forest before you can appreciate the beauty of a tree. You enter the game at a very basic level and proceed step by step.
New players are guided through their first Orders by their Mentor (should you want one) to get the hang of things. There is also Discord where older players are more than happy to help you understand Play by Email in general, and TribeNet in particular. Once you feel comfortable that you can play on your own you can unlock more things to do in the game.
The first few turns require following a few fundamental principles common to most build/strategy games. Feed your people, produce a few basic goods such as skins and leather and scout the terrain to create a map of your local area. These do not take long at all – and some patience is required to build a position that will reap later rewards. From here the turns build incrementally, meaning that in practice your grasp of the game evolves along with your Clan.
As your Clan gains more abilities and resources you can start to explore an increasing range of options. You will broaden the range of goods you can produce and then engage in the development of Politics, Research, Economics, Religion and culture on a much grander scale. And then there are the negotiations with other players over resources, treaties, military and political alliances, trade and doctrine. Where TribeNet makes its greatest deviation from the average “civilization” game is that the player determines the developmental direction of their Clan. This is done via research. For example, you may develop a new weapon, new buildings, new animals, new farm crops, specialist troops, new ships, etc. It is also likely that early in the piece you will get access to a resource or some other item that makes your Clan unique.
It is theoretically possible for a Clan (more likely a major faction) to take over the world but highly unlikely. The goal really depends on the individual player - some like being a political and/or economic power or a naval power. Others like victory in combat. Some like making a lot of noise. Others are happy simply to survive. But all of them like the process of playing, in addition to any goals they might set themselves.
The idea of “winning” is not really appropriate to TribeNet. It is an open-ended game that is more involved with the process of play rather than the outcome. However, this does not mean that individual Clans cannot get eliminated – but this in practice is very rare. New Clans are positioned such that they interact with each other rather than the “old guard”. And it does not really matter when you start you will always have something to offer.
However, when you start it is worth telling the GM whether you would like a pretty isolated position, a position with a few Clans around or get right into the middle of the hotspots (note there is an 18 turn moratorium on combat for new players).
It's a bit difficult to talk about time commitment as this varies from player to player. The Orders for a basic clan can be very quick - between 5-15 minutes. As you increase the complexity the time increases as well - but most players can do their orders in 20-30 minutes per turn (two weeks). Some players spend a lot of time on Diplomacy/Politics/Negotiation between turns – sending and responding to emails etc - and it is difficult to put an exact figure on what you will be up for here – this aspect of the game though is one of the things that differentiates it from modern graphical computer and console games. The obvious point is that there is no fixed time during the week that you need to set aside - and this flexibility means that in one sense time is not really an issue. In this game diplomacy/negotiation is not essential - but most players can't help themselves (propaganda is also big). How much time you spend at this is entirely up to you.
The time taken can be broken down into 4 parts:
I have set up an Orders template so that new players don’t need to read all the rules before playing - you submit orders via the template and build on this slowly each turn - while reading the rules in the background. The physical submission of Orders is relatively brief in time required as said above. The thinking/planning/imagination happens in the background - while walking the dog, driving to work, lying restlessly in bed etc - in practical terms this engagement with the game can be consuming but it is not time consuming. It is in the last aspect that I suspect most time will be taken - it is unpredictable, but it is flexible. It's almost a catch 22, the more you enjoy it, the more time it will take, and this might be seen as a reason to not start something you could enjoy. Some get into it more than others. There are some successful players in the game who don't seem to have alliances and don't communicate that much. So the answer is that it depends on how involved you become.
TribeNet is not a real time game (or Web game) but rather a turn-based game conducted via email (no postal mail accepted). There are no system requirements other than being able to send and receive email and a copy of MS Word or Excel. The general philosophy is that your chance of success does not depend on how often, when, nor for how long you can log-on. There is a lot of diplomatic and political discussion mid turn, but this can be conducted at your leisure and is not “hot seat” driven. As a consequence, there is not a great deal in terms of graphical interface – however, many players create quite aesthetic looking maps of their neck of the woods and beyond. In addition, there is much fuller documentation than found in many Web Based games. Although turns are database processed the game is NOT totally computer moderated. Having said that there is Discord and Wiki pages that can deepen the experience. The Wiki in particular is an excellent adjunct to the rules and new players are encouraged to use it.
I have been running TribeNet since 1997. It grew out of a game called Tribe Vibes, which started in 1985 so the TribeNet genre goes back over 30 years which places it as a seminal contributor to games of this type. There was a one-year break in 2012 but then the latest version kicked off in 2013. I am retired and TribeNet is the main way in which I satisfy my and creative interests.
TribeNet does not run free but there is a free period $200 worth of play – roughly a real year for you to try it out and consider whether worth paying for. An ordinary turn is about US$4.50 per turn/two weeks to play a basic position and US$8.00-$12.00 per two weeks will give most players the complexity they want. It is unlikely you will get the depth, longevity, reliability, sophistication and personal interaction (with other players and GM) in free games. In essence, free games give you what you pay for. On the question of whether TribeNet is value for money, players have voted with their feet for a long time. But by most measures the costs are modest - the equivalent of one cup of coffee per week.
All documentation is free.
This is not easy to answer but there are two things to say. The first is that the role of the GM is to provide a structure for a player to exercise their imaginative creativity and how much and how well you do this is up to you. The GM can be entertaining but is not here to entertain you. The second thing to point to is how you as a player see the game. Some players play their clan from the outside looking in. That is, they are a person sitting in front of a computer screen trying to understand the rules of a game. However, the game comes more alive when you place yourself into your Clan as its Chief and have to find things for your people to do in a foreign environment.
On the one hand you read the rules to find ways you can become more powerful, on the other hand you explore the rules to better the quality of life of your people. It's a subtle difference but an important one. That's where the real role play exists. It's a similar thing that can be said about writing a novel - write it from within the novel, as an integral part of the world you are creating, because that is what you are doing.