Published on January 21st, 2015 | by Nicole Jekich2
Spin Tales Like Scheherazade
Review of Tales of Arabian Nights
I have never completed a full game of Tales of Arabian Nights. Not once had someone arrived in Baghdad, ladden with treasures and stories to tell and victoriously exclaimed that they were the winner. Arguably, Tales of Arabian Nights isn’t a game where collecting the most victory points is a natural to end to the game. Even the manufacturer states: “… the point of the game is less to see who wins and more to enjoy the unfolding and telling of a great story”. The focus of the gameplay is in the journey and not the destination.
The set up for Tales begins like many other games with a board, lots of tokens and two score trackers for a player’s Destiny and Story points. Each player represents a young and inexperienced adventurer from pages of 1001 Arabian Nights. Play as Ali Baba, Aladdin, Zumurud and many more. Players all begin Poor and choose three skills to start the game from a pool of over 20. These skills will aid players in their travels when they encounter people, relics and places.
The story-driven gameplay features an endless combination of bad luck, life-changing windfalls and sometimes repetitive, inescapable boredom. There is no guarantee of a balanced experience for every player at the table. I’ve seen players stuck in a dungeon for multiple turns unable to guess which approach will appease their jailer. I also watched as Luke took his first turn: he was already lost and stumbling around in Asia when he happened upon the Jeweled Fortress. Upon entering, he received a flying horse, a staggering increase in wealth, and completed a personal quest.
Choose Your Own Adventure Gets an Adult Upgrade
If you haven’t made the distinction in your head yet, know now that Tales of Arabian Nights isn’t your typical board game. It falls under the category of a story game but story options for your character are limited- kind of. If you are familiar with the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series, Tales follows a similar pattern. After moving around the board, a player draws a card to determine the encounter on their turn. The storyteller (always to the active player’s left) sets the scene and reads what exactly that player encounters out of the book: maybe an Angry Beggar, Wealthy Sultan or a Place of Power.
The chosen encounter is separated into easily referenced matrices with multiple options for how the player wishes to approach the situation. A player could choose to rob, aid, pray, seduce or many other actions. After choosing an action, the storyteller reads the continuing story from corresponding numbered response in The Book of Tales. After the preface the active player must suffer any and all consequences. There are potential options to change the player’s favor if they meet a certain skill requirement. If not, a player receives any rewards, status effects, Destiny or Story points, etc. Then it is the next player’s turn to progress their story.
It is a mouthful to explain but a player’s turn is a simple task once you understand the process. Don’t let the 3 inch thick Book of Tales intimidate you. The unpredictable status, curses and windfalls are potent and often result in further complications that are difficult to plan around and get rid of. The randomness and lack of control can be very jarring to a goal-oriented gamer.
Nicole, the Woo-less Wonder
I love board games for the friendly competition, mental challenges and entertaining stories I can rehash later. I always loved reading about ancient myths. One of my favorite books that I read more than any other was the D’aulaires Book of Greek Myths: a gorgeously illustrated over-sized book featuring glimpses into the world of the gods and the rise and fall of Greek heroes and heroines.
I unfortunately haven’t had any such epic tale of defeating a hydra or rescuing a town from a volcano while playing this game. I have successfully scared away any and all potential spouses. In two separate occasions I have come across a maiden: once while exploring a mystic artifact and another while traveling the market.
Both times I must have stumbled over my feet or snorted milk out of my nose because both maidens found me undesirable. They vanished in a puff of smoke. No treasure and heartbroken. If this happens again I may be remembered as Nicole, the Woo-less Wonder in the story books.
Despite my inability to find a mate, I was a royal vizier in two cities on opposite sites of the globe and I spent roughly two weeks stranded at sea, clinging to flotsam. I never held a jeweled artifact but the last I heard, I was wandering on pilgrimage to Mecca. Tales of Arabian Nights offers the experience of sitting back and watching a story unfold and at the end of the gaming session, a player will have plenty to retell.
The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected Journey
This game is not balanced. There is no way to guarantee an equal game for each participating character. In fact, the quite opposite is true: each player is guaranteed a unique experience at every play. You will never have the same game twice because there are too many randomizing factors. If the idea of having a completely unpredictable experience sounds more stressful than fun then I recommend sticking with a more traditional, goal-oriented game.
Tales of Arabian Nights was designed by Eric Goldberg and is published by Z-Man Games.