You ever want to play Dungeons and Dragons, but you don’t want to memorize hundreds of pages of rules and adhere to strict systems? Yet, despite this you are still intrigued by the endless situations of Dungeons and Dragons and its variants? Well, Tales of the Arabian Nights is essentially DnD, but it has its own book of stories for you to follow…and a board instead of imagination to constrain the game space…and select characters and limited attributes to choose fro- you know what? It’s not like DnD, but it does teach you about a lot of fantasy tropes and constants across board games, while also stirring the imagination to conjure up your own tales.
Arabian Nights is a board game that is past the simplicity of Monopoly, but is not quite on the upper echelon of complexity like Arkham Horror. It is the nice middle-ground that acts as an entryway into more in-depth and interesting board games.
Every player starts in the middle of the map, the town of Baghdad. Each player is then given a quest. These quests can range from being betrayed by your brother and having to hunt him down on a remote island, to you travelling the world, tasting various cuisines. All of these quests serve to provide you rewards, and the most important pieces to winning the board game: Story Points, and Destiny Points. At the beginning of the game, each player must decide beforehand how many Story and Destiny Points they need to win. All that matters is the both of them must add up to 20. So a player can choose to set their goal as 10 Destiny and 10 Story points, or 19 Destiny Points, and 1 Story Point. Quests offer a multitude of these points, and other rewards like positive status effects and treasures. Through progressing to different locations, each player experiences different events that reward or punish them depending on their actions. The first player to meet their Destiny and Story point requirements and subsequently return to Baghdad, wins!
Tales of the Arabian Nights is not a competitive game between friends. The game has a clear goal that facilitates any player’s quest and journey. Do not expect to betray a close friend and ruin their progress much to your delight. In fact, everybody’s journey is almost entirely separate from one another. Other than a few status effects and quest requirements, not much encourages another player to punish another. Some people may not like this friendly atmosphere, and they may ask what the purpose of playing with friends are if you aren’t cooperating or competing.
However, the joy of playing with friends comes in the absolutely ridiculous situations that players can get into. The best part of Arabian Nights, and what truly elevates it above other board games for me, is the included “Book of Tales.”
The Book of Tales contains more than 2000 different possible scenarios for the player to encounter. At the start of a players turn, they always encounter a situation or a monster. This can range from something simple like a cave, to a devilish Djinn. Once you encounter this, you are often given a list of options to take. After making your move, you are rewarded with a conclusion from the Book of Tales.
My favourite situation was an encounter with a “voluptuous sage.” I chose the “Propose” option while lacking any charismatic skills. Rather than winning her with my non-existent charms, I was thrown into jail for attempting to solicit royalty. For my next three turns, I had to come up with ways to escape prison. I tried to attack the guards first, but that only led to a gruesome beating where I was on the receiving end. I tried to grovel for freedom, but then they laughed at me. So, for the third time, I got desperate, and I implemented my charming abilities again, trying to seduce the heterosexual guard. The result (out of sheer luck), was that the guard got to their legs and begged me to stay, as my beauty was something that could not be kept from the world. I was set free from life in prison, by lying about being attractive. That’s amazing.
The jubilation in Arabian Nights comes in seeing what stories you come to. Something I like to do with my friends, is at the end of the game, recap every ridiculous situation that we got into. One of my friends tried to sail the seas, but washed up on the shore four times in a row. It was a legacy of failure. Another friend found a hippo that turned into a beautiful lady that assisted in him becoming the Sultan of Baghdad. There are countless scenarios that can come out of the Book of Tales. The Book of Tales also accomodates for every action the player takes as well. You could encounter a genie, and grovel to gain its favour, or you could also attack the genie in an attempt to convey dominance. This is the same encounter, but the player chooses a different option. The encounter can also have an adjective put to it as well to add even more variety. This genie could be tricky, or it could be lustful. This adjective gives them a different quality and a different potential outcome as well.
The only issue with the Book of Tales is the fact that its massive variety means that you could get conclusions that don’t logically follow from its premises. A player can encounter a beggar and then choose to aid them, but the conclusion will lead to the player stopping a group of bandits because of their strong faith. These moments thankfully don’t happen too frequently, but when they do, they can demolish immersion.
Another issue is how long the game takes to set up and complete. If everybody is not on board for Arabian Nights for a minimum of three hours, you will be subjected to a sub par experience. The ridiculous situations don’t compound enough if playtime is cut short, so people can go their entire experience without anything remarkable happening to them. It is a game where some can have a great time, and others wonder why they even bothered showing up. Tales of the Arabian Nights isn’t very welcoming to newcomers, as it can take them quite a few turns to grasp the standard turn cycle. This can compound with the aforementioned issue and create an even longer, unmemorable play session.
My least favourite part of Arabian Nights has to be the abundance of “city” encounter cards. When it comes to drawing the encounter card, excitement rushes through the player. It’s a mystery what they will get and how they adapt to it. However, this excitement is immediately squashed when, instead of drawing a unique location or mystical creature, you get a card for a City on the game board. These city cards give the player a reward if they move their piece to the city. I understand their purpose, as they are meant to give more direction and purpose to traversing the game board, but the ratio of city cards to unique, encounter cards is about 1:3. What is so terrible about these cards, is that when you draw a city card, your turn immediately ends. This means that you can be playing with five other people, eagerly waiting in anticipation for your own hilarious or jaw-dropping scenario, and you are met with hard disappointment. I have witnessed this disappointment overtake one of my friends when, in a group of 6 people, they drew a city card four times in a row. This was 30 real-life minutes of them having nothing interesting happen to them, and for a board game, which has the principle of entertaining and involving everybody, is wholly unacceptable.
And yet, despite the stalling that can occur, this game is still the perfect gateway to more complicated board games. If you see people in the mall or in a game store playing games that look incredibly elaborate with hundreds of pieces, know that you don’t need to begin there if you want to get into complex board games.
Personally, Tales of the Arabian Nights was my gateway drug into the mystical world of board games that I never knew existed. I always believed board games consisted either of mainsteam crowd-pleasers like Monopoly or Clue, or untouchable $1000+ investments like Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons, know that there are fantastic board games out there with oodles of content like Tales of the Arabian Nights for a decent price. I picked it up for 60 dollars, and after 100+ hours of great content, I can recommend the game without hesitation.
(I play board games so I don’t watch anime and become a weeaboo.)