Whoever designed this game must be some sort of planning and structuring genius. Tales of the Arabian Nights is a cross between a board game and the Choose Your Own Adventure books I enjoyed in my youth – only the adventure book that comes with it contains more than 2,000 different paragraphs. This is backed up by a series of matrixes (or matrices) for making story choices, not to mention a wealth of different courses of action on each encounter card depending on what type of space you land on. And dice rolls that can alter which paragraph you end up with. Complicated? Yes. Worth your time? Definitely – as long as you’re not out to win.
Each player chooses a character from the Arabian Nights (Aladdin and Ali Baba are the two you will probably recognise immediately) and a selection of skills. (These skills may also affect story outcome, by the way.) Everyone starts out in the city of Baghdad. The aim is to be the first to reach a pre-chosen amount of Destiny and Story points in the course of travelling over the world and having encounters. There are also individual quests, although completing these is not compulsory or essential to winning the game.
This brings me to my major criticism. Winning this game is (a) nigh-on impossible due to the random and unpredictable nature of Destiny and Story point scoring, and (b) incredibly anti-climactic if you do manage to win. There is an overwhelming sensation of having spoiled everyone’s fun – because fun it definitely is, if you like reading aloud. The plot can take some hilarious turns…although it does seem to be inordinately difficult to find your way to the special locations (think Cave of Wonders and the like). The system for movement related to wealth level is also a bit fiddly until you get used to it and in fact, unless you’re planning on doing a lot of sea travel, you might want to avoid becoming fabulously wealthy and stick to ‘Respectable’ or ‘Rich’ instead.
We have found a solution to the winning problem around our table. Scrap the system the game recommends. Play to a time limit. An hour is usually enough. The person who has the most points overall at the end of that time wins. And since there is literally no way of playing this game tactically, I’d advise playing it when you’re in the mood for something that’s light-hearted without being inane. There’s certainly no game out there quite like it, and for this reason it will be residing in my games cupboard for a long time to come.