Tales of the Arabian Nights is unlike anything I’ve ever played. It is obviously a labour of love that seems like it was a herculean task to create. I picture the writer of the Book of Tales trapped in a dungeon by an evil Vizier, ready to be killed at a whim, his life only being prolonged by his constant insistence that he’s almost done writing the book. It is an absolute monster of a game, easily explained, but not easily tolerated. After a few plays with different groups, I can safely say that Tales of the Arabian Nights will scratch a very specific itch by which your game group may not be affected.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is board gaming at its most creative. When I first opened the box, it felt like I was in the movie Jumanji. The possibilities are endless, the writing is superb and the complex system so elegant and you can start playing in about 5 to 10 minutes. It has quickly become one of my favourite games. The star of the game is obviously the Book of Tales. As it gets passed around the table, your game group will revere it as the treasure it is- within those pages are countless possibilities and numerous pitfalls.
In the Tales of the Arabian Nights, you play as one of the heroes of Arabian folk literature. You leave Baghdad in search of a family member, a wife, riches, the finest foods or even treasure. You start off in one direction and then get swept up in fortune. Sometimes your goals become murky or downright unreachable. Sometimes you become a king, or an ape, and all you really wanted to do was sample the world’s greatest dishes. More often than not, you’ll find your character wounded after trying to attack an angry Efreet without a sword. All of these things can happen in a game of Tales of the Arabian Nights, and it really is a magical experience.
Every turn, you will have to move a number of spaces, determine what kind of encounter you have, and then how you react to the encounter. Suppose you’re stumbling along in Europe and on your travels you have encountered a weathered hag. Do you attack the hag? Rob her? Should you kneel down in front of her and pray? With each encounter, you’ll have to make a decision on a matrix- the matrix will lay out the possible decisions. Once you make a decision and roll the fate die, your neighbour reads out a paragraph from the Book of Tales and maybe you’ll have the skill that’s needed to meet the challenge. If you don’t, it could have dire consequences for your character.
The simplicity of the game is both its greatest selling point and its biggest detraction. There isn’t a whole lot to do aside from go to a place and then decide what you want to do to the thing you find there. There are a few other issues with the game as well:
1. Interaction- There’s no interaction in this game at all. The only thing the other players will do on your turn is either read the matrix number to figure out your decision paragraph number, or read aloud from The Book of Tales. Otherwise, there are some cursory decisions the other players can make on your turn, but there is otherwise no way for your story to intersect with another player’s story. I think this is a real problem with the game. It would have been great for there to be rules about participating in an adventure together, or paragraphs that deal with two or more people in the same story. This would lead it down the path of less simplicity, but I think the game as it stands suffers for a lack of interaction.
2. Decisions- The game is ALL about the decisions you make, but for most of the game, it feels like you’re stabbing in the dark. The choice to use your skill during an encounter isn’t really a choice at all, since the “No Skill” option is usually a loser and comes with some kind of penalty. Some of the penalties are no fun at all, and so you enter an encounter and find yourself hoping that you have the relevant skill. It’s all a bit like you’re on the rails. Sure, it’s an amazing roller coaster, but after you’ve been on it a few times, it loses its thrill.
3. Length- This game is long. A four player game can take almost 2 hours. If even one of you is not into it, it’s a slog. On top of that, once a player starts getting some treasure, the turns can last up to 10 minutes, which is a HUGE time for others to wait while amazing things happen to someone else.
After seeing the Shut up and Sit Down review, I desperately wanted a copy of this game. I am the TARGET audience for it- I love Dungeons and Dragons, really like the magical setting, and wanted to try out something that I’d never really encountered before. If you see this game, read the reviews and still want to play, this game is for you. I can’t recommend this game enough to you- you will enjoy it. I have enjoyed it tremendously every time I play it. I think it is a really unique thing in the board game world. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to do something like it, but the immensity of the whole thing is baffling. The person who created this must not have been in it for the money, because it’s a LOT of writing, clearly a lot of research, and definitely not a huge return on the investment. Sure, there are spelling mistakes and sometimes the paragraphs don’t exactly line up with what is supposed to be happening, but this game is a real gem. There is nothing else like it on the market right now (maybe there is, but I haven’t heard about it).