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TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS (Z-Man Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up, 120+ minutes; $59.99)

 

Some games appear, shine brightly for awhile and then disappear into limbo, never to seen again. In some cases, they remain highly regarded and some even assume the status of a “Holy Grail” as knowledgeable gamers seek to obtain this gaming treasure. Such a game was Tales of the Arabian Nights, a game designed by Eric Goldberg, published by West End Games and reviewed by us way back in the Fall 1987 issue of Gamers Alliance Report. (Check out the Flashback in this issue.) But now, after several decades, the game has reappeared in a new edition that brings gamers back into that magical, fantastical world that is Tales of the Arabian Nights.taleszman

In essence, Tales of the Arabian Nights incorporates the idea of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books and elaborates upon it to great effect. The basic gameplay of Tales has remained unchanged but the changes incorporated into this new edition are hinted at just by holding the box. It weighs a TON! And that can be accounted for by the presence of the new Book of Tales which is huge compared to the original, now being a spiral bound book of 300 pages containing 2600 paragraphs! (One of the criticisms of the original game was that players could become too familiar too soon with the paragraphs in the book. By expanding the book this way, that criticism is blunted.)

Each player begins as a chosen character stationed in Baghdad with a wealth status of “Poor” (a player’s status will change, for better or worse, during the game) and, in a tip of the hat to the classic Parker Brothers game Careers, secretly determines a “Victory Formula” consisting of a number of Destiny and Story Points. (You may decide on any number of Destiny or Story Points but the total MUST equal 20.) All players then choose 3 “Talents” (skills at the basic level) to help them in their adventures. They also receive a Quest card which gives players a goal they may seek to fulfill and serves as a way to earn some of those important Destiny and Story Points.talescards

The active player moves his piece (movement ability tied to wealth), draws a card to determine the latest encounter at his new location and chooses his reaction to the situation. Encounter cards come in three varieties: Character (where a specific a particular entity a player has come across), Terrain (the situation impacted upon by the type of terrain your character is currently occupying) and City (which give you a chance for a “special encounter” if you decide to keep the card and end up in that city on a future turn). Most places on the board can be reached by players through normal travel but there are ten “Places of Power” that are more elusive. These special places, filled with tremendous potential for wealth, glory and Destiny/Story Points, becomeavailable to players if they are skillful enough – or lucky enough – to be presented with an “opportunity to enter” as a result of a previous encounter. As a player goes from encounter to encounter, he will be able to improve on his skills and earn/develop new ones. Generally (although not always) during an encounter, a player will be offered the chance to use one of his superior skills. This can often (but not always) result in a skewing of the encounter’s result in the player’s favor.

Most players have a function to perform each turn. The player to the right of the active player will cross-reference the situation to find the correct table to provide the active player with a menu of possible responses. The correct table is determined by a die roll added to the number on the space your character is currently on plus a bonus of 1 or 2 depending on how many Destiny Points you have accrued up to that point. Once the active player chooses a reaction, the player to his left will read the resulting paragraph (which may be modified by a roll of the “Destiny Die”) and recount what transpires. Having several players actively engaged is a good method to modify the perils of downtime between turns but the tales are so enjoyable that even players not directly engaged can enjoy the ongoing story. (Although the game handles up to 6, a table of 4 or even 3 players is the “sweet spot” virtually eliminating downtime entirely.)talescard2

While this version is a definite improvement over the original with its attractive large playing board and bigger Book of Tales, a few flaws remain. Drawn in borders between geographic areas to more easily distinguish where one continent begins and another ends would be useful as it sometimes has an effect on adventures. Also, a sea connection to Serendib was left out, an important route in travel. (Fortunately, this is easily corrected via sticker or Sharpie.) The icons used to denote different terrains, especially sea and island, can be a bit difficult to distinguish as the same basic shape is used for all! Different geometric shapes for each type would have been a better choice. And let’s not forget that this game requires a definite time investment. The core game mechanism of referencing and cross-referencing takes time. Expect the game to last from 45 minutes to 60 minutes per player! The good news it that the storylines and adventures hold your interest so that time slips by quickly.

There is lots of text on the cards that players gather throughout the game. Although I’m not a big fan of tons of text on cards as the more text there is, the smaller the type and the harder it is to read, in this case, I do not object. Text adds to the ambiance and directly pertains to encounter effects so as to generally advance the game play. The standard winning conditions – meet your winning formula of Destiny and Story Points and survive a final encounter in Baghdad – remain the same but the alternate winning condition of the original edition of achieving Sultan status has been removed.

In most games, defeating your opponents is the primary goal but here, the focus is a bit different as the game is predominately multiple solitaire play. Of course, there is some interaction (a player whose encounter has left him “diseased” for example, can spread that affliction to an unlucky player occupying the same space) but interaction is purely secondary. Instead, players are challenged to develop skills, explore the unknown and overcome the unexpected. Tales of the Arabian Nights is, in essence, an “experience” game where the profound pleasure for players is living the adventures. These qualities of the original edition have not only been maintained but enhanced with this new edition and like a fine wine, Tales of the Arabian Nights has only improved with age. – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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