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July 15, 2019

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

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Tales of the Arabian Nights: a Game that Plays You.
There Will Be Games

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.

There Will Be Games
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CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #255607 12 Oct 2017 17:25
Here's Shut Up and Sit Down's review:

Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #255613 12 Oct 2017 18:29
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?
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #255617 12 Oct 2017 19:15
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.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #255620 12 Oct 2017 19:53
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.
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #255624 12 Oct 2017 20:14
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.
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #255637 13 Oct 2017 01:10
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?
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #255642 13 Oct 2017 06:58

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!
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #255643 13 Oct 2017 07:00

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.
HiveGod's Avatar
HiveGod replied the topic: #255681 13 Oct 2017 14:43
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!
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #255684 13 Oct 2017 15:25
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.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #255781 16 Oct 2017 10:25
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.
Saul Goodman's Avatar
Saul Goodman replied the topic: #256770 01 Nov 2017 11:25
It's a great game. Maybe twice a year it comes out and I always have blast playing. The thing is you have to just roll with it and you should must house rule it.

My house rules are:
Play with a lower number of points to win - I find 8- 10 to be the right range.
Always destiny + story.
No more then 3 conditions at one time. As soon as you get a new one throw the oldest one out.
As soon as one person wins everyone get one last turn. Why? Because it's the epilogue to your story.

I do like the idea of flipping Day / Night every turn.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #256827 01 Nov 2017 20:45
"It's a great game" "but you must house rule it"

These two statements seem to get used a lot together on this site.
Saul Goodman's Avatar
Saul Goodman replied the topic: #256836 01 Nov 2017 23:48

Mad Dog wrote: "It's a great game" "but you must house rule it"

These two statements seem to get used a lot together on this site.


Yup. Love it - my go to for house rules.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #257028 04 Nov 2017 23:14
So I finally did drag out the game after eight years of owning it. My wife, our most regular gaming partner, and I played this afternoon. It's obvious that a lot of work went into this game, and even the first printing from 2009, which I have, has only minimal and minor errors--a major achievement, given the scope. That said, I can't say it went over particularly well. My wife ended up being Imprisoned for several turns, I kinda bebopped around ineffectually, our friend ran away with the game. Even though no one went into it expecting a strategic game, it still felt, well, kinda dull, and it's not the kind of game I see getting better with repeated plays, at least not for my wife and me. I contemplated just playing a two-player with with the wife, but when I asked her whether she'd ever prefer this to Above and Below, neither of us could honestly say yes. The "runaway" friend really likes these sort of games, though, and has interest in buying it, so I think I'll take him up on that. Again, I respect the effort and the game's importance in the hobby history, but it just wasn't our cup of tea, and we generally like Above and Below and storytelling-via-card games such as Eldritch Horror.
wadenels's Avatar
wadenels replied the topic: #257040 05 Nov 2017 08:07
Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment but I love TotAN. It's like a paragraph roller coaster. When we have 4-5 players I'll even happily volunteer to be the reader, and handle all the looking-up-and-reading without even actually playing. The game moves much faster that way and I have almost as much fun just watching the wreckage unfold as I do being in the thick of it.

TotAN and Talisman are kind of personality-categorizing games for me. If you can have a lot of fun playing them we're going to get along great.

I think it's a little bit amazing the game even got published in an age before Kickstarter. Imagine someone came up to you with a game design that involved using a matrix to look up disjoint paragraphs in a book based on a decision matrix every single turn, and then told you that at least half of the things you'll encounter are just bad. Oh, and there's a big-ass map with a handful of points of interest. I don't know if that's how the discussion went, but I like to imagine it that way and that the person on the other end of the conversation said print it. That and by just happening to have finally created an account on F:AT which led to me having Loter's old copy, which came with pink plano boxes for the bits, amuses me more than it probably should.

Totally agree with setting a point total, day/night cycle every round, and max 3 conditions most of the time. Sometimes I like to play it by the book on a lazy day when time isn't a factor. Even those days I still cycle the day/night thing every 3rd round. It just seems a little more atmospheric that way.
KingPut's Avatar
KingPut replied the topic: #257096 06 Nov 2017 06:57
If anyone is looking for a copy of TotAN, I’ll sell my lightly played copy for 40+10 shipping.