Monday, August 03, 2009

Tales of the Arabian Nights: Out Of My Mind

Matt G and Alex came by on Saturday afternoon to try out the new edition of Tales of the Arabian Nights. As mentioned in the previous entry, this edition is truly gorgeous, aside from a couple of poor choices in how to represent each player's Victory Formula. We used paper and pencil, although to be quite honest we probably could have just remembered what we were shooting for and trusted each other.

Matt had also pointed out the the initial paragraph that you look up is on one of about eight pages at the beginning of the Book of Tales, and so I downloaded a shrunken version of it that I could barely read, but it saved a lot of time in the book by giving that duty to the person with the matrix sheet as well.

My initial impression: this game would be a whole lot faster if the whole look up process were put into an iPhone app. A *lot* faster. Not that this would necessarily be a good thing - you don't want to eat a nice steak dinner over 15 minutes, you want to enjoy the meal and take a couple of hours.

Not that TotAN is a steak dinner. I guess it comes down to what you're looking for. If you want a game where you plan out what you're going to do, and playing competitively is important, you are going to want to hit your Back button on your browser right now and pretend you never heard of this game. It is considerably less a game than a theme park ride, although one where you get to pick which random door you're going to go through next.

Of course, I knew that going in. I don't mind games like this at all - most of my very favorite games have tons of flavor and usually a decent amount of chaos, so long as it's done well. Combat Commander springs to mind, which almost always gives great story. TotAN did much the same thing, although when you hear my tale of woe you will perhaps wonder why I didn't just start drinking after the first encounter.

The first random thing you do is pick three skills. I chose Wilderness Lore, which was never used, Appearance, and Weapon Use. In my very first encounter, I attacked the Strange Dark forms thinking that Weapon Use would help me out. No. I ended up being Wounded, which negated both my Appearance and Weapon Use. From being rolled in a pit of coals.

After blowing a Story point to get better, I then got an 'Efreetah (the kind men like) all hot and bothered over me, and she gave me a kiss that made me particularly hot, in an Appearance kind of way. Which was great right up until I tried to do the Unitarian thing and embrace the Strange Customs, only to be buried alive with my very attractive wife. I was down there a long time, and when I got out, I fell in a pit of snakes. The whole Pit thing kept coming up. I ended up Wounded again *and* Crippled. No Appearance for me, since getting uncrippled takes a lot of luck, so I just stayed Wounded too.

Oh, and I also went Insane. For only one turn, and fortunately Matt had me *question* the Strange Customs this time, which involved having your pinky cut off. It also involved me becoming a Vizier of some city and I also ended up married. I got a *lot* of Destiny and (especially) Story points out of that adventure, enough to almost get me back in the running.

Sadly, Alex had hit his numbers and he headed for Baghdad, and there was no way I was going to make it there being all Crippled and stuff. Matt, however, had drawn an Echo Horse (or something - I never finished my quest and never saw any treasure the entire game), which let him go wherever on the board he wanted to, and he'd finished his formula as well. He nosed out Alex on the basis of having more statuses (statusi?) Me, I was the King (or Vizier) of statuses, with five total, but not enough Destiny because being Crippled apparently gives you a lot of Story points and that was what I was looking for the least.

From a "How Much Worse Can It Get?" perspective, the game was actually pretty entertaining. With three players it moved along briskly and everyone had something to do on every turn. Except when I was trying to stop being Wounded. The statuses can end up with some pretty crazy combinations, such as Matt having a situation where we picked the die roll he got, although he got to choose it too. Believe me, if you're the kind of gamer who doesn't tolerate this sort of thing not being in a FAQ, this is the wrong game for you. Given that there is a pretty loose correlation between having Weapon Skill and succeeding in attacking things (often it will be better to have Courtly Graces or Plays Well With Others or Big Weasel as your status even when it makes absolutely no sense, at least in Western eyes), the game is really about enjoying how the stories turn out. When it comes down to it, that's how you win - by getting into the stories by having a good reason for your matrix choices.

Our game took about 90 minutes including pizza arriving and a few rules lookups. That was about the right amount of time, given that you were more or less spreading the burden of running the AI across three people. Matt said he went home and played solo using the rules from the original edition and said he enjoyed it. I have enough solitaire games to keep me busy, I'm afraid.

When it's all said and done, this is the kind of game that would be a nice wind-down game late at night at a game retreat, or a good one to play with my nieces and nephews (the eight year olds in particular). For Rip City Gamers, though, this one will probably never get on the table. It has it's charms, and it's certainly a better deal than buying the original, but I can't see anyone in my circle wanting to blow more than an hour on it. Maybe with that iPhone helper app...

One note: the original game came with counters and charts for a Merchant variant, where you could move goods between various cities based on an evolving trade network. There is supposed to be a variant online for this, but there are no counters in the game so it would be a much different beast. If you liked this variant in the original, you will probably want to hang onto your original copy if you still have it. As I write this, there is no merchant variant on the web site, although there is a solitaire version, a character interaction version (which would be a nice change) and a storytelling version. I'll probably try the storytelling version, which requires you to reach Fabulous wealth *and* complete your formula before exhausting the Encounter deck. Of course, that whole Wealth thing is as much a crap shoot as anything else, but that's not why you're playing the game. Right?

In a nutshell, if you're the kind of person who loves this kind of game, you'll love this game.

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