Tales of the Arabian Nights
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I'm not a board game fanatic, but I can really appreciate a complex and well-designed board game when I come across one, and Tales of the Arabian Nights delivers! I can't believe this game is as difficult to find as it is, but that's probably because everyone who has a copy is holding on to it. I think this may be the best board game I've played. I love how it just allows you to design a character based on a set of skills and then go adventuring around the board; you can do whatever you want, and your achievements are based on your reaction to individual encounters. I definitely recommend playing this with at least four or five people, and set aside several hours, because it definitely takes a lot longer than two!
The in-game repetition rate for tales is low enough, but game to game, after a dozen playings, you notice more tales coming back. My major criticism is the Book of Tales cover is too thin and suffers. The sheer handing it gets tends to wear it down. So if you get a copy of this gem, xerox the book of tales--despite the cost and time, it's worth it. (If you don't think so, sell me your copy instead. Someone ran off with mine when I loaned it to them for a weekend party.) :) Given that, there is a good replay value by following different strategies in characer type and area, and thus avoiding loops.
'Tales of the Arabian Nights' is one of a long-lost breed called paragraph games. These games were story-oriented, relying on a semi-random mechanic to determine which paragraph in a booklet would come next in the story, and the players' action would be affected accordingly. The earliest examples of this genre were published in Ares magazine, a short-lived mag devoted to science-fiction and gaming. The earliest examples were more more experimental than successful as game designs, as there wasn't enough variety to satisfy for the long run.
Victory Games took the ball and ran with it in the successful Ambush! series, which allowed a solitary player to play out very detailed squad-level missions set during WWII. The system took the part of the enemy and could play a very intelligent adversary.
The paragraph game reached its highest glory in 'Tales of the Arabian Nights.' Here is a game that does not use the system as a mere adversary, but as a tool to tell a story. Each player takes the part of a hero of Arabian folklore, Aladdin, Ali Baba, and so on. During the game, the players journey over a lush mounted map of Arabia and its surrounding areas, getting into and out of trouble. The system is able to generate thousands of storylines, and the skills players have chosen for their heroes can mean that the same plotline can result in two entirely different outcomes for different players. The game, unfortunately, takes quite a while to play. A game could easily stretch to 3 or 4 hours, more than most contemporary gamers are willing to spend on a game.
Still, if you want a game that is highly atmospheric and gets players involved in the telling of some wonderful stories, TotAN can't be beat. It was republished a short time ago by a German game company, but unless one is fluent in German, I would not recommend buying it. There is a LOT of reading to be done in this game.
If, on the other hand, you put it on your Funagain wish list, or find it at a garage sale, I would highly recommend this game to gamers and story lovers alike.
P.S. If you want to create your OWN tall tales, I recommend the wonderful Once Upon A Time.