Time for another Game Day – yep, they do come round fast, don’t they!! Today I’m taking a look at a real gem of a game, the positively venerable Tales of the Arabian Nights.
Originally published in the mid-1980s by West End Games, the game was released in a third edition by Z-Man Games in 2009, which was promptly snatched up! The game is just awesome, and if you’re a fan of adventure boardgames, of roleplaying boardgames, of storytelling boardgames, of choose your own adventure books, of orientalia, or all of the above, then this game is waiting to fill a void in your life.
Now, before I plow ahead with a series of jumbled thoughts, I should probably point out that I felt the rules at first were a little overly-complex. Not worryingly so, just take a little to get used to. But that could just be me. Anyway!
The game is played on an early medieval map of the known world, centred on Baghdad, the city of peace.
The game has got a very rich Orientalism that employs an Islamo-centric vibe that, so I’ve read, a lot of people find uneasy (to say the least) in the modern world. I’d just like to say that the theme of the Arabian Nights demands such a vibe, so if you’re coming to this game expecting something else, then more fool you. Anyway! You play the role of one of the great characters from that enchanting epic, such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, or even Scheherazade herself!
Once you’ve chosen your character, you pick two values for Destiny and Story scores that must together add up to 20. This becomes your win condition, and is kept secret from the other players. I’m not normally a fan of this type of mechanic (it’s a major turnoff for me in Catan), however it doesn’t normally bother me in this game, because I’m so invested in the adventure that I generally don’t care who wins.
So how do you get Destiny and Story points? Why, by having adventures!
The Book of Tales is the heart of this game, and accounts for the box’s incredible heft. Full to the brim with adventure, it is consulted throughout to determine the course of your character’s adventure. Let’s take a look how the turn moves:
A character moves according to his wealth, so a poor person can move by land and by sea only to a maximum of 3 spaces each. The more wealthy you are, the easier it is for you to procure transport and move faster. The highest wealth rating in this game is Fabulous, which really says it all for me! When you have moved, you have an encounter, drawing a card from the deck that will be one of three types:
The character encounter (represented by the Enchantress above) changes depending on the time of day – as the encounter deck is cycled through, you move from morning, through to noon, and then night. A location encounter (the Dendan) changes depending on the space you’re on, shown by different-coloured jewels. Finally, the City encounter is a card that allows you to interact in different ways with different cities – if you’re not on that space when you draw it, you take the card and can play it on a later turn when you arrive there.
But what are those numbers for? This is where the Book of Tales comes in. At the start of the book are a series of matrices. When you have an encounter, you turn to that matrix and roll two dice, which determines what it is you encounter (in a location encounter) or the mood/aspect of the character.
Ali Baba has encountered the Pearl Diving location encounter while at Shiraz, which is a city, so I turn to matrix 12 in the book, as that matches the space I’m currently on.
I’ve rolled a 3, so I encounter a Garrulous Soldier! The letter after the encounter in the matrix refers to a second table I need to consult, the Reaction Tables. This is a separate, three-page thing with a series of tables that allow me to determine how I react to the encounter.
I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to Hire the Garrulous Soldier, so I then roll the Destiny Die! This is another six-sided die with plus, minus and blank spaces; if it’s a plus, you add one to the result of the Reaction Table, a blank just is what it is, and a minus (as I’ve rolled here) takes away one. So my die result above directs me to paragraph 836 of the Book of Tales, and my adventure begins!
Or maybe not! While I do get a Destiny Point, I’m driven Insane!! The bold italics results of stories refer to Status cards, while the regular results refer to Skills tokens. Skills allow you to affect the result of your adventures, while Statuses have more of a blanket effect on the game:
Yes, in this weird and wonderful land you can become sex-changed! There are all sorts of things that can happen in the land of the Arabian Nights, which is what makes the game so much more than just rolling dice and consulting charts.
As a child, I had a lot of books. Really, I had hundreds. Among these, there was a small nucleus of five or six that I would return to time and again, small hardbacks of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin and the Lamp, The Thief of Baghdad, Sinbad the Sailor… The sense of adventure and wonder was something that had truly captivated me, and to this day has never let go. I’m still a voracious reader, but it’s no exaggeration to say that nothing I have encountered since has had quite the same allure.
If you love the exotic tales and yearn for the adventure, then this game is a must! And while I’m throwing recommendations around, here’s an excellent choice of soundtrack:
I do love a bit of orchestral splendour from Rimsky-Korsakov, and Scheherazade is a no-brainer for this game! Ah, takes me back to my clarinet-playing days (that solo at 13:50 really does turn you purple…)
In order to write today’s blog, I thought it’d be fun to try playing this game solo, as it’s something I’ve often thought would work in theory, but hadn’t yet tried. Well, I’m pleased to say it’s pretty marvellous, and requires minimal tweaks! I’ve since discovered there is an actual official solitaire variant, along with a Storytelling variant that sounds pretty amazing, but anyway.
My game began pretty well, where I’d drawn the “Seek Love” quest (oh, the irony) and completed it on turn 3 or 4. However, I hadn’t realised what I was getting myself in for! The Married status that results requires your character to return to an Origin city whenever he has an encounter in another city on the board – I quickly found myself in a bitter marriage, which had turned plain bizarre when I wound up changing my sex! Through an unlucky series of turns, I became both Insane and Scorned – oh, it’s almost funny! When I found myself Ensorcelled to boot, I’d lost all free will as my Reactions and Movements were chosen at random.
I think my lowest point was when I was forced to rob a dying hunchback. I managed to lose these pesky statuses, though in constantly returning home I was surprised at how many babies I was producing – especially given my sex-changed state! On one particularly unlucky encounter, I became Imprisoned and Wounded while in my origin city, all for avoiding some strange customs! And there I was, with six children to care for!
The game took an unexpected turn when I wandered into a strange land where a surviving spouse is buried alive upon the death of their partner. Luckily, my spouse died (I’m a terrible person), and after a period of surviving by killing other surviving spouses, I escaped that awful land, and made it into the Valley of Diamonds! A few turns later, I converted the entire Undersea Kingdom to Islam, but none of these achievements were enough to fill the void left by the now-regretted death of my beloved, and just when I was considering ending it all, I rediscovered the Sex-Change Spring and returned to myself!
Buy it from amazon:
Tales of the Arabian Nights