Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tales of the Arabian Nights

There are a few literary works which are worshipped in our house. Examples include the complete works of Hergé, Goscinny and Uderzo and all derivatives thereof in all languages, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward Tufte, and the Tales of the Arabian Nights. I know, when I see something related to the Tales, that we will end up owning it. Hence it was quite astonishing that in the middle of January this year we still did not own the new edition of the board game. The only possible reason is that Scrabblette had been so busy with her thesis that she hadn't had time to think of acquiring it, or encouraging me to.

I played it at GenCon Oz last year, and though we had to cut that game short I could tell there was some magic in there. Characters seek their fame and fortune, and find it. They can become miserably wretched or fabulously fabulous. The game is astonishingly well done, and if you don't care that it's kinda random, it's lots of fun.

The day Scrabblette left Canberra I realised that Mind Games had it on sale for 20% off. That's a significant saving on a necessary purchase, but I was still in a quandary because I had limited baggage space back to Brisbane. I bought it anyway. As it turned out, TotAN was only about half of my carry-on luggage quota, so I was able to fit the kids' game Queen Melissa gave me in there as well.

Aaron, Amanda and I played Tales at OtB, and I was quite surprised when Aaron won. My first experience suggested it was a long game, but I'm beginning to think it speeds up a bit as it goes along. If you haven't played it, it's like one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, but much prettier, much more complex, and not so fucking mindlessly stupid. Players have skills (e.g. Seduction, Magic, Courtly Graces, Story Telling) which they can add to over time. Many encounters either require a skill, or you gain one when you fail miserably. In that way characters advance over time, and as you gain skills you improve your ability to gain Destiny and Story points.

I've noticed that characters benefit more from assertive actions than from aggressive or timid ones. It's probably better to AID the Old Woman than to ATTACK her or HIDE from her. Of course, I haven't tried a combat-oriented character, maybe they get better results from attacking. It also seems that characters go one of two ways - they either succeed and become wealthy and powerful and have a chance to win the game, or they fail and become enslaved, ensorcelled, envious, outlawed and imprisoned. I thought at first either option was a valid way to play, but honestly, life seems to remain miserable for the characters who take the second path.

In my game at OtB I managed to walk a middle path. My bad luck started when I beat an old woman for no obvious reason. I became an outlaw. If I returned to such-and-such a town I would be captured and imprisoned (bad). Then I got lucky in Africa and a rich prince fell in love with me (I play yellow, the yellow character is a girl, I am totally not gay) and I had riches showered upon me. However my home town became the town where my prince was, and that was where I was wanted. I was required to return home to have babies etc regularly, but if I did so I would become imprisoned. I think I actually managed to deal with that, then got pulled overboard by a merman in Timbuktu. Timbuk-fucking-tu. Then I ended up on a desert island (in fact, Ireland) which is of course what happens when one falls off one's boat in Timbuktu. Anyway... then Aaron one.

Coincidentally, BGG user ibn_ul_khattab was flying through Brisbane on the weekend, and TotAN is one of his favourite games. Brisbane is only on the way between two interesting places in the entire world (Singapore and Auckland) so I was very lucky to be able to game with him. ibn, the kid, and I gave TotAN another whirl. The kid fell into the trap of over-extending himself (you know how these young people are, they think they're bullet-proof, then along comes a djinn) and all sorts of horrors befell him. However ibn and I took the path of Having Good Things Happen, and I won on the turn before ibn would have, and then only because I had the ability to go back and choose something better than the mediocre thing that was going to happen. The game only took about two hours.

That suggests to me that Tales might even be the sort of game you can play competitively, if you're in the mood to not do odd things. That's not really in the spirit though - the fun is in finding out what you can get away with.

Anyway, I'm enjoying that game. When Scrabblette is done with her thesis (again), I look forward to trying it out two-player. I wonder when they're making the board game of "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information"?

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