If you were going to be stranded on a desert island, and you had to pick one computer game to take with you, what would it be? I can't speak for you, but I'd take a game where the characters are stranded on a deserted island with one computer game. That game, naturally, would feature characters stranded on a desert island with one computer game, centered on a deserted island with...
Ow. Okay, maybe that isn't such a good idea. If the recursion makes your mind hurt too, you could get a copy of Grubby Games' (the creator of Professor Fizzwizzle and IncrediBots) latest release instead. In My Tribe, you play as sort of a guardian angel for a tribe of island-dwellers, telling them what to do, dragging them from place to place, and occasionally sprinkling them with a (hopefully) beneficial potion.
As the game starts, you're given a chance to pick an island. For a starting player, it doesn't really matter which you pick; they all have plenty of trees and rocks for you to harvest, and the oceans will provide more than enough fish for your small starting tribe. From there, it's pretty much your standard resource management game. You need to harvest food (in the form of fish and later crops) and wood (for the fire) to feed your tribe, wood and stone to build with. You'll also need to build huts for your tribe to live in, and other buildings when you have enough resources to spare.
The tribe of My Tribe continues to work even when your computer is off. If you've played the Virtual Villagers series before, this mechanic will seem very familiar. In fact, the games are similar enough that you may be tempted to skip the tutorial, but there are enough small differences that it might be worth your while to play through it.
One novel mechanic of My Tribe is that it rewards you for being around. Every so often a crate or barrel will appear in the ocean, or Stardust or Moondust will land on the island. Drop an islander onto these gifts to collect them. Crates and barrels contain recipes, items, or even dangerous insects while Stardust and Moondust can be used in various places to provide all sorts of useful effects, from stocking your stockpiles to building your buildings and researching your research.
Each island also comes with three of the game's eight mysterious objects for you to solve. Once you've figured them out, each one gives a powerful benefit to your tribe, and one of the game's 25 trophies. Trophies can also be gathered by other tasks, ranging from the simple (build a building) to the complex (keep an islander alive for 969 years).
Analysis: When a game as successful as Virtual Villagers comes along, there will naturally be a host of similar titles following in its wake. My Tribe rides the wave of the village sim but is careful to tread its own innovative path while keeping the core concept in familiar territory. The number of islands you can inhabit is staggering (numbering in the billions), and the potions system really sets the game apart from Virtual Villager knockoffs. Grubby Games is an experienced studio and covered all the main bases a casual game should touch upon, making the game easy to get into, easy to come back to, and rewarding no matter how long or short you play.
The biggest strength and weakness of this kind of game is its persistent nature. Part of the reward in playing My Tribe is coming back every so often and seeing how your tribe has progressed while you were away. This also brings two big problems: not being able to play continuously and coming back to find your entire tribe dead. My Tribe has done an admirable job with the first part, though time doesn't seem to work quite the same when the game is open. Unfortunately, the tribe is still prone to sudden die-offs when your back is turned.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the reasons your tribe dies off. It only takes a few islanders to provide the food and wood needed by the entire tribe, so there are basically three things that can go wrong. If you don't stop in and call the stork regularly, your entire tribe may grow too old to have children. If your food gatherers die from old age, the rest of your tribe will lounge around until they starve. And if you forget to mark trees for harvesting (they all start marked "don't harvest me!"), your builders may use up all your firewood, again making everyone starve.
As much fun as it is to look after a tribe of island-dwellers, it hardly seems believable that fifty people would starve themselves because the voice in the sky forgot to tell them which trees were OK for firewood. Even though he didn't forbid them from harvesting trees to start with.
I also find myself underwhelmed by the amount of content in this game. It boasts "billions of islands", but the only important feature is which three of the eight mysteries you get (only 56 possibilities, with repetitions). It also advertises "over 40 powerful potions", yet many of the ones given are purely cosmetic.
Despite its downsides, however, My Tribe is very compelling. I have spent many hours in-game, and in the end, it was well worth the price of admission. If you start playing you will find yourself coming back to it again and again, even if you don't need to yet. You'll set it on Fast overnight and check it nervously in the morning to see if your Lunar Tower has finished. In the end, I had to stop playing not because I'd run out of things to do, but because I had too many other things to do... and had been neglecting them while I played.