Tribal Wars and Travian (which is the more recent version of Tribal Wars) is a browser-based strategy game. Millions of players, I guess that mostly teenagers and college students, play the games. Every player starts with a village, where he can build and upgrade various buildings, like a Clay Pit, Stables, Iron Mine, and even an Academy. The player can also train various types of soldiers that help pillage or conquer other villages (and defend one’s own village when someone else tries to pillage or capture it).
My younger kid started to play this game, and so he pulled us all into it: we all manage our village together and are happy with its progress.
The game’s entry in Wikipedia emphasizes the cooperative nature of this game: to reach the game’s goal, which is building a world wonder, one needs huge amounts of resources, which can be supported only by many players. Therefore it is essential to form large coalitions of players who help each other, or “tribes” in the game’s terminology. So the game “is heavily geared toward cooperative play”.

The entry does not tell us that the game has also a non-cooperative aspect: conquering other players’ villages. My son joined the game in quite a late stage, when there are many abandoned villages. These villages keep progressing, but there is no human player behind them, and so when you pillage them, you do not harm anyone. But since they are managed by a computer and are regularly pillaged, their progress is slower than the progress of villages managed by humans. Therefore, when a player wants to conquer another village, it is more tempting to capture a highly developed village managed by a human than a mediocre village managed by the computer. The only problem is that when you capture a human-managed village, there is a human, usually a teenager or a college student, who stops enjoying the game.

My son, who got a pacifist education, does not dream of harming other players. Others think differently. One day we found to our horror that we are attacked by a player who is 10 times stronger than us. Unbelievably we withstood the attack. We then sent an e-mail to the player, telling him that we do not want to fight, and that the board is large enough so that we can both enjoy the game. The response was a raid.

I then explained to my son the role of a tribe: your tribe should assist you when in need. He was exposed to the game through a friend, and joined the friend’s tribe. The problem was that the friend’s tribe was rather weak, and anyway was based on another corner of the board, so that the other tribe members could not help him. We switched to a closer tribe with strong players, and let the vicious attacker know that we did it, so that he will not attack us once again by mistake. We now prosper and our village progresses faster than ever.

Why do I tell you about this experience? First, I was left open-mouthed with this young fellow, the attacker, who is willing to kick a player from the game, even though the other player asks to be left alone, to enjoy the game. Two thousands years ago (and even few hundreds years ago) life did not count much. It seems that when some people do not see the other person, they may harm him. Some may say that it happens only in Israel, because of the long period in which the country mistreats others, but I suspect that it happens elsewhere as well.

Second, I found the game very useful in explaining to the kids many facts about life and strategic thinking: the importance of information (the attacker failed in his attack because he did not know how many soldiers we had), planning (what is the next building that we should upgrade), the use of information (when the attacker sends soldiers, is it to raid us or to conquer us? can we withstand another attack?), strategic thinking in general (what should we do to survive? what will the attacker do?), and of course, the fact that having strong friends is very useful.

Bottom line: this game is fun but addictive. Stay away from it.