Tales of the Arabian Nights Review


My daughter and I played a pile of games at Board Game Bash a few weeks ago, and Tales of the Arabian Nights is the last one on my review pile. Oddly enough, the weakest game we played may have been the most fun.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is a dinosaur revived for the new era of board gaming by Z-Man Games. It was first published in 1985 by West End Games, and it still has all the wild and woolly characteristics of eighties gaming. Fiddly rules? Lots of bits and pieces to set up? A casual disregard for anyone not ready to put an afternoon into the game? This game has it all!

Once you’ve straighten out all the pieces, you choose one of the signature characters of the Arabian Tales: Sindbad, Ali Baba, Scheherazade, Aladdin, they’re all here. (My daughter was miffed that there was no Jasmine figure, and a quick lesson on the more recent additions to Arabian legend ensued.) Each character receives three skills, and you choose the balance of Story and Destiny points that you need to win.

Where Will the Tales of the Arabian Nights Take You?

There’s no clear strategy to choosing skills or any particular victory point balance, since you never know what the game is going to throw at you. However, the picks do give you a sense of ownership over your character. That’s important, because Tales of the Arabian Nights is all about investing in your character and enjoying your trials and tribulations.

Each character starts out in Baghdad with a quest that gives them somewhere to go. Your opponents frequently choose that somewhere, and you can count on them making your goal as inconvenient as possible. After all the buildup, the play is pretty simple: move to a location, have an adventure, then collect some loot in the form of new skills, treasure, Story points, or Destiny points. You may also acquire one of the dozens of interesting status effects, from getting Lost to getting Married or being Pursued by your enemies.

Mastering the Reaction Table

The heart of the game is in the gigantic Encounter book. Each time you play an encounter, a combination of random card draws, die rolls, reaction tables, and your own choice of action leads you to one of thousands of story snippets in the book. Your choices may lead to rewards or setbacks, and it’s almost impossible to tell what the “best” choice would be in any given encounter. The randomness means that it’s hard to make progress, but if your opponents are reading out your story with enthusiasm then you can have fun no matter how broke, blind, and outcast you are.

The drunkard’s walk of progress does mean Tales of the Arabian Nights can run long, though. It’s fun to play the full game to the bitter end, but there’s no reason not to cut the Victory Point total down to 15 or 12 points if you want something short and sweet. There’s also a certain amount of fiddliness inherent to everything. Look up this, roll that, dig through all the piles of cards… the game does a good job of moving you through your turns, but there’s nothing simple or elegant here.

Tales of the Arabian Nights isn’t meant to be elegant or strategic, though. It’s a light roleplaying game with a lot of shaggy dog tale in it, and should be approached as such. Serious Gamers may be frustrated by the randomness, but if you can relax and accept your kismet, you’ll have a great time.

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