Friday, 12 September 2014

Arabian Nights Game Review - A Bridge between Board and RPG...?

When you’ve been playing games as long as I have, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually see something that you’ve played before repackaged as a new game.  Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not.

Way back in 1981, a company called Reaper Miniatures (No, not that one...) came up with a single player game called Barbarian Prince, in it you played the titular hero as you went around the board and tried to summon up help to go and retake your throne in the north.  The game was played on a single map and had several books to enable you to play it.  One of these books was the event book, one of them the encounter book.  As you moved to different squares, you played through the encounter there and you progressed your quest from there.  There was only one quest, make it back to the north and win back your throne, and you were under a time limit to achieve it (otherwise you’d just spend days running around the board getting all the support you needed and returning back to the north with the entire Game of Thrones cast following on...).

The game was released by it’s creators as freeware a short while ago and I can only say how pleased I was at this turn of events.  It’s not the game I’m speaking of today, but if anyone wants to take a look at Barbarian Prince, the whole game can be found here.

The game I’m talking of today is called Arabian Nights, billed as “The Legendary Storytelling Boardgame in the world of Aladdin and Sindbad”, each player takes the role of one of the protagonists from the stories of the One thousand and One Nights, is given a quest, and sets out into the world to accomplish the quest. 

A word first on production values, this game looks phenomenal, from the full colour maps to the counters, cards, and hand outs to the players.  It’s not cheap as a result, but you can see that what you’ve put your money up for actually cost something to produce.

And on the subject of plenty for your money...

As evidenced by my excellent friend Lee Swift, the Encounters book is a little bit large...

Before this puts everyone off, I need to point out that this isn’t the rules book, it’s the Encounters book, which is a completely different matter.  Each player is given a quest, which will give them a reason for being out in the world, victory conditions for completing that quest, and complications that can be encountered as a result of that quest.  The success of a character is defined in both Destiny and Story Points, with each player choosing any combination of the two numbers that adds up to twenty (So it would be possible to set Destiny:10, Story:10 or Destiny:18, Story:2 and either would be equally valid options for victory).  We set the default at 10:10 and commenced with the adventure. Each character also starts with three skills chosen from the list on the character board that will help or hinder them when it comes to dealing with the encounters they come across.

In the game, I, playing Sindbad, received the quest of Exiled, meaning that I had to find a way to clear my name before I was brought back to Baghdad and imprisoned.  The game is played in a particular way, the piece moves in any direction that they like to the limit of their movement (Which is limited by their wealth level), and when they finish their move, they resolve the encounter that they find there.

I should point out that the encounters book has 2600 entries in it, so the chance of any two games being even remotely similar is, well, remote... The character draws a single encounter card, then rolls a single die and adds the number found on the location they are standing on to find the nature of the encounter that they are engaged in per one of the tables below.

Once this is done, it gives a letter code, from which the character may now choose how they seek to deal with the matter, again, see below.

From this, a single fate die (six sided die with two pluses, two blank,and two minuses for those not familiar with them) is rolled to determine if the encounter varies from normal.  This yields a result from the Reaction Matrix which is then looked up on the encounters book.

At this point, this is probably sounding terminally complex and not at all fun to play, with memories of the times when you had to cross reference a million things to get a single result.  I have to correct that right now, the way this is laid out, together with the ease of access between the different tables, makes the whole cross referencing things a very easy thing to do. We played it with each player in charge of one of the books and this in turn made it a lot faster to check through things to get to the result.

It has to be said that there is a massive degree of random to this game, you cannot be sure what you will get and given the immense amount of different encounters that are listed, you’d have an equal chance of encountering a crafty beggar as you would a militant Efreet.  The skills that you have as a character can help or hinder the encounter depending on what you choose to do, and the encounters are read out as a story, with the active player choosing the path they wish to take.  It has to be said that in some cases, having no skill was preferable to having a skill that was relevant.

An example of this was encountering a young woman in a cave, guarded by an Efreet, if you had no skill, the Efreet kills the woman and you get to walk away Grief-Stricken (it’s a status in the game).  If however you had the relevant skill to fight the Efreet, there was a very high chance that it would turn you into chunks instead, ending your game with no other recourse.

The thing about this game is that you couldn’t play it with any degree of planning, there’s no point in assigning Destiny and Story points different than 10:10 because there’s no particular way to aim for one or the other.  The skills in the game make some difference but not much, and for the most part, the characters do spend a lot of time getting the bad end of the stick shoved in their face.

And that’s where the dichotomy of the game comes in, because something with so much random, so many penalties, a rules book you could use as weights, and no viable skill base, should be the worst thing in the world, but despite that...

This game is great...

We played for two hours yesterday, didn’t get anywhere near the end of the game, one of us was Crippled and reduced to practically no wealth, another was diseased and cursed, and the other (who had played before) was curiously without any ailments.  We’d encountered Hags, Beggars, and Efreet, we’d gone Pearl Diving and hunting in ruins and we’d spent two hours laughing and joking with each other on the nature of what had been happening, and that’s when we figured out the point of this game.

It’s not to win...

If you’re looking to win something, you follow the rules, you plan a strategy, and you aim towards doing that at any cost. You can’t do that with this game, because the whole point behind the game isn’t the end result, it’s the journey that you undertake to get to it.  The end game in this is an anticlimax, you reach a number of points and win...


But on the way to those points, you’re out and about having adventures that you wouldn’t find in any other boardgame, you’re with your friends around a table playing a game of legendary tales and enjoying every second of them.  I hadn’t believed before now that a game could bridge the gap between Board and RPG with any satisfactory result.

Today, I‘m a believer...

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