What is this game about?
Tales of the Arabian Nights is a storytelling game in which players travel the world, seeking adventure before they return to Baghdad to recount their exploits. At the start of the game, each player chooses a character—options include Scheherazade, Sinbad, and Ali Baba—and a secret number of story and destiny points that they must reach before returning to Baghdad and declaring victory.
Winning, however, is not really the point of Tales of the Arabian Nights. In this game, your goal is to have an adventure. Everywhere you go, you will encounter someone or something and make a choice about how to interact with them. Those choices affect what happens next in the game, and your fate is read aloud from a huge storybook that comes in the gamebox. Last time I played Tales, I took students to a board game café in Québec and we stumbled through it in French. One of us ended up being absorbed into an ancient relic, another listened to a story that was so long that he lost his mind, and we all had romances that ended very, very badly. It was hilarious.
I do not, however, remember who won—story and destiny points are not dealt out in any predictable way, so there is no strategy you can follow to ensure victory. You just have to go along for the ride.
How does it play solo?
Tales of the Arabian Nights is technically a game with a winner, but the win condition is so random that it is not really a competitive game. You can definitely get a kick out of this game just by taking a character out for a spin, making any story choice you like, and seeing what happens.
I am not, however, convinced that solo is the best way to play Tales of the Arabian Nights. The events that happen in your story are so ludicrous that you'll want someone to share them with. There's nothing like being able to remind people about the time they got into a fistfight with a street urchin or attempted to seduce a princess and failed miserably. A lot of this game's fun is in the social aspect of playing it.
I have a lot of affection for Tales of the Arabian Nights. To me, it pushes the boundaries of what it means to play a game—in a good way. While you could sneer and say that it's "just an activity," I prefer to think of it as a game whose value comes not from winning or losing but from the experience of playing it. If you can get into its quirkiness and laugh about the random course your in-game life will take, you are in for a treat.
I will say, however, that Tales of the Arabian Nights is a bit clunky. Sometimes all of the tokens and game elements get in the way of carrying on with the story, which is a shame. There are other storytelling games out there now that are more streamlined, although none of them are quite so hilariously random as Tales.
Do I recommend it?
If you know what you're getting into, Tales of the Arabian Nights is delightful. But look elsewhere if you want to focus on victory or strategy. This is the kind of game where you hop on the boat and go wherever the wind takes you.
Overall Rating: 3 stars (4 if you play with other people)
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.