Tales of the Arabian Nights: a Game that Plays You.

Tales of the Arabian Nights: a Game that Plays You.

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cranberriescranberries   October 12, 2017  
398  

If you bring your Euro gaming need for strategic planning or Judeo-Christian expectations for fairness to the game you will be sorely disappointed. Terrible things will happen to you regardless of the choices you make.

I played Tales of the Arabian Nights with my buddy the creative writing teacher, his 15 year old son, and my 17-year-old son. My friend also attends a weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons, which he justifies by saying that it's a story generating experience. We played at 2:00 pm, when I am generally a zombie, so I was a little less engaged that I would like. My surly 17-year-old, however, comes alive when teaching and playing board games. It's like he's a different person.

If you bring your Euro gaming need for strategic planning or Judeo-Christian expectations for fairness to the game you will be sorely disappointed. Terrible things will happen to you regardless of the choices you make. I was "ensorcelled" for half the game, which means that I had to ask other people to move me. My son was ensorcelled, so we agreed to help each other. I moved him right were he wanted to go, loyal father that I am. He then sent me in the opposite direction of the city I needed to visit, cackling with glee. This is not unlike our real life relationship. We make plans for him, and he cheerfully ignores them.

The game is probably inherently unbalanced, but this is a storytelling game more than anything else. My friend, for example, got an easy quest up front and shot to a big lead that we never approached. Speaking of playing fair, there is no guarantee that if you encounter someone and are nice that you wont' get totally screwed over. I had a strange beast jump on my back and ride me like an arthritic horse, *after* I tried to help him. I need to read the book to get a better idea of the weird, non-Western morality at play here. Or maybe it isn't a unique cultural artifact, and I'm just projecting my Western sense of exotic Orientalism on a game that just wants to make you cry.

The game will change you. I started off all nice and lawful good-ish, then realized I needed more money to increase my movement range, so I started robbing everyone I met so I could try to visit all the islands I needed to in order to finish my initial quest. After about 2.5 hours we called it for my friend. It was a little slow going at first, and amusing at times. You can, however, modify the length of the game based on time or by cutting the points required for victory.

This game will teach you things about yourself and your friends that you might not want to know. At the end of the day, I thought I was an easygoing guy who could hang with a seemingly random story generating game like this, but when it comes right down to it, I have a pretty big Euro stick jammed up my nether regions, and am more competitive and structure driven than I want to admit. This confirms my theory that if you scratch the surface of anyone claiming to be laid back, you'll find a fascist. At times, I found myself wishing we were playing Eldritch Horror, but I'm not giving up on Tales of the Arabian Nights yet. I think we'll play it again with my daughters, who sounded interested after we talked at dinner about the various tragedies that had befallen us.

I wish there were a way to combine the flavor text of TotAN with the mechanics of Duel of Ages. I'd like a little more structure and fairness, combined with all of those amusing outcomes.

This video review is about a million times more interesting than my description. There's also a great line at the very end. Note: I fell asleep while typing this with the laptop on my stomach, long enough for the screen to turn black. I woke up in the dark about midnight.

Posted: 12 Oct 2017 17:25 by cranberries #255607
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Here's Shut Up and Sit Down's review:

Posted: 12 Oct 2017 18:29 by Shellhead #255613
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From time to time, I have considered acquiring this game, even before the Z-Man edition came out. But it seems like everytime somebody talks about the game, one of the players was ensorcelled. Are the early encounters often pretty much the same, due to starting location?
Posted: 12 Oct 2017 19:15 by Erik Twice #255617
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I've always been curious about the game but from what I've hear, chances are I would hate it. I tend to approach games with a "what am I doing?" mindset and making choices with no reasonable information or impact in the game is something I really dislike.

PD: I remember the "sexy stuff" from Arabian Nights not so much because it was sexy but because it was massively racist. I started reading one of the complete editions and there are like three stories in a row in which the Sultan's wife cheats on him with a black slave. Which is like, the worst of the worst.
Posted: 12 Oct 2017 19:53 by dysjunct #255620
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I was just having a conversation with one of my nerd friends about my endless disappointment with board games that try to tell stories. I always end up feeling like I should just play an RPG. Board games can tell emergent stories pretty well, but only if they ignore telling the story. It is kind of like the old cliche about happiness: if you pursue it directly, you’ll never get it, but if you pursue other things passionately you’ll end up with it.

TOTAN is one of these. It’s kind of fun but the promise falls flat. You’re supposed to be the protagonist in a story, but you end up being straightjacketed into situations that you have no control over. You end up being a spectator instead of a hero.
Posted: 12 Oct 2017 20:14 by Egg Shen #255624
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Tales of the Arabian Nights is a total classic. It's a beer and pretzels game that is 100% about the experience. You have almost zero control in the grand scheme of things. At best, you feel like you're exploring a forbidden and dangerous world. At it's worst, it's like you're clinging to dear life on a psychotic magic carpet ride. The whole thing isn't meant for "serious" gamers or those seeking any sort of coherent story. It's meant to be a time waster with a few good friends where you marvel at the madcap vignettes sprinkled throughout the evening. You'll get thrown in jail. Have the everliving shit kicked out of you. Fall in love. Fall OUT of love. Become depressed. Do something *kinda* heroic...maybe.

It's a game that I play maybe once or twice a year and it's like opening a portal to the most insane cardboard world you could ever dream up. It's perfect.
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 01:10 by cranberries #255637
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I forgot to mention that the game reminded me a lot of actually living in the Middle East: you wander around trying to accomplish something while everyone tries to rip you off, and occasional someone is really, really cool or something magical happens.

I need to edit this. Is that possible without intervention?
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 06:58 by MattDP #255642
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cranberries wrote:
I forgot to mention that the game reminded me a lot of actually living in the Middle East: you wander around trying to accomplish something while everyone tries to rip you off, and occasional someone is really, really cool or something magical happens.

I need to edit this. Is that possible without intervention?

Don't think so. PM me with the text you want and where you want it inserted and I'll edit it accordingly. Sorry about the time it took to go live BTW - I didn't know no-one was watching the queue anymore!
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 07:00 by MattDP #255643
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dysjunct wrote:
I was just having a conversation with one of my nerd friends about my endless disappointment with board games that try to tell stories,

Not strictly a board game, but you might want to check out Once Upon A Time. Rather than enforcing a story via the mechanics, it's a way to get players to invent their own. One of my absolute favourite games, recently out in a spanking new edition and fairly cheap, too.
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 14:43 by HiveGod #255681
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I really wanted to like this game, but the time required to play was a deal-breaker—until I happened upon the variant where, instead of choosing a combination of 20 points, you play to a hard total of Story + Destiny, so the first person to reach 12 points (4 Story and 8 Destiny, for example) and survive a final encounter in Baghdad wins. This made the game playable to a satifsying finish in about an hour and now I FUCKING LOVE IT.

Here's the thing: played RAW we never got to play it enough—or even finish enough games—to get past the "totally random, doesn't matter what you choose" perception. But now I've played it enough that I've seen the shape of the thing, and it is beautiful. There's a kind of logic to the choices, and you can indeed drive your character's experience in a general direction—though the will of Allah is still paramount and going against your destiny will cause you nothing but suffering. And sometimes suffering is your destiny: I have seen people win as a scorned, crippled, diseased outlaw.

It took a lot of plays to get here, but we can pretty much run the thing as desired; so much so it's now a perennial family favorite.

Here are my standard suggestions for maximum enjoyment:

~ Change time of day at the start of each new round
Instead of waiting for the deck to run out—which never happens—advance time at the beginning of the first player's turn: morning --> day --> night --> morning --> &c.

~ Consider playing to a hard total of Story plus Destiny
Rather than having each player choose a secret combination. For example, first person to get S+D=12 can win. (This converts a multi-hour slog into a delightful hour-plus—which means we get to play it more often!)

~ Go more RPG than board game with the statuses
Some statuses can overstay their welcome and/or become unfun when combined with others—don't be afraid to hand-wave them away with a merciful "You have suffered enough."

~ Only play with awesome people
'Nuff said. (3p is the sweet spot; 4p max)

Thanks for the review!
Posted: 13 Oct 2017 15:25 by jpat #255684
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This is one I need to dust off--literally. I've had the first (Z-man) printing since 2009 and have never played it. I see that you can track down still what looks to be pretty minor errata.
Posted: 16 Oct 2017 10:25 by Legomancer #255781
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This isn't a game, it's an activity. Either play a board game or play an RPG or sit around telling stories. You don't need this thing at all.

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