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A tale of Tales of the Arabian Nights

Tom Armitage tries to become un-lost in Tales of the Arabian Nights

Last night Tom, Martha, Ed, Kevan and I spent three hours exploring the world of Tales of the Arabian Nights (3rd edition, Z-Man Games 2009). It was memorable. TOTAN is not a great game, it’s certainly not a gamey game, but it’s an extraordinary thing: a colossal, intricate and beautiful story generator with a board. It is the work of a mad genius, who you will encounter on table B and you should probably choose to beat him soundly.

Stories were told: comedies, tragedies, and a great deal of laughter at the misfortune of others. At one point I had become scorned, so I opted to undertake a long pilgrimage to serve penance for my deeds (and remove the negative status and its equally negative modifiers). The very next turn—having not yet started the pilgrimage—I became scorned again. Tom spent most of the game imprisoned, and having finally got out of prison he immediately became lost. Ed was simultaneously respected and scorned, and crippled, and envious which meant he had to rob everyone he met. Martha attacked almost everything which got her outlawed, and then she became accursed and grief-stricken, possibly as a result. People became amazingly rich and then astoundingly poor, often in quick succession. By the end Kevan was an ape with a flying carpet and I was insane. You may understand why.

It’s not a game that rewards tactical play. I’m not sure there are any tactics at all, it’s more a matter of keeping track of all your various skills and statuses. TOTAN is basically a collection of really, really clever mechanics and a brilliantly written book of 2600 individual storylets, and a lot of gorgeous components, that just about hang together to make a game. The main problems with the first edition—the lack of a sense of competition, the lack of interaction between players—are actually worse in this version, and the fourteen reaction matrices, mind-boggling in their complexity twenty-five years ago, seem now to beg for a nice bit of Javascript to sort it all out. But in the thick of play it hardly seems to matter, and it’s still got the rule that if you are grief-stricken (a bad thing), have the Storytelling skill and are in the same space as another player then you can make them grief-stricken as well. That more or less sums up the game: it’s kind of a pointless rule, and it doesn’t come into play very often, but it makes me grin every time I think of it.

Kevan snuck in a crafty win just as we were about to break for the evening, despite or perhaps because he had been turned into an ape. If there are tactics then I suspect he was the person who found them. I also suspect he may be keeping them to himself.

Would play again in a heartbeat, but then it’s a game that could have been designed for me and I played my copy of the first edition to death in the late 80s. Unique, quite bonkers, and delirious fun.


Categorised as: board games | play | story games


One Comment

  1. […] send an email round to the group with a summary of what we’ve learned—the overview of Tales of the Arabian Nights 3e a few weeks back was one of them. Here’s another, and there may be […]

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