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Posts Tagged ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights

Tales of the Arabian Nights

After years of hearing and hype, I bought the reprint, a nicely made, elegant dancing bear.

I’m not sure what Arabian Nights is, but a game? Pshaw.

Now, I’m willing to concede the point that the decisions you make do affect your strategy … in particular, if you study the book (or just play it often enough), you’ll know that you should Bribe a Wicked Jailer (unless you have the Piety skill), Attack a Friendly Jailer, don’t drink from a Ghostly River unless you have the mystic doodad, etc etc. But as someone who is going to play this a few times (maybe), there’s so much randomness that “good” decisions seem to payout just as well as “bad” decisions (like grovelling in front of the “All powerful” djinn instead of attacking it).

While I’m perfectly happy to study other titles, studying TotAN strikes me the way that practicing golf struck the Scots who founded the sport … cheating. So I’m left with an experience where my decisions are disconnected from my outcomes.

What really struck this home is your first decision is to allocate your victory conditions …. do you want to go for 10/10 (story and destiny points), 12/8, 20/0 or what? Once you’ve made that decision … do any of the stories ever offer you a choice of what to get? No. And you tend to get points roughly equally, picking anything lopsided seems like a sucker bet, given a binomial distribution.

(Even worse, the game liberally takes away psuedo-decisions making. Maybe it’s just bad luck, but we had several players ensorcelled, so they couldn’t control movement, or insane, so they couldn’t pick their reaction posture. Not that these choices really matter, but its the polite thing to do).

But I’ll give you one thing … that bear dances. The mechanisms work. And your character can get wounded, diseased, crippled, exiled, imprisoned, turned into a beast and defeat the obscenely rich, treasure laden king of thieves. It’s an enjoyable experience, even if its not quite a game.

I remember one article by Costikyan, where he mentioned that games require expectations. If I pick a card, I don’t expect to get the E of Battleship. If my ‘card’ could be literally anything, I have no way of making decisions. (I thought this was in “I have no words and I must design” but I couldn’t find it…).

Do I recommend Arabian Nights? Eh. It’s amusing enough, I guess. We played with five, which is too many. This is definitely a fixed fun experience. And there are few things (be it games, movies, etc) that get better when you add an empty half-hour, so taking it away can’t hurt.

As a cross between a board game, rpg, and choose your own adventure story, Arabian Nights kinda manages to pull things off. But remember, you stand amazed the bear can dance at all….

Update: Aha, found it! (Apparently it wasn’t in the updated version…)

The interface must provide the player with relevant information. And he must have enough information to be able to make a sensible decision.

That isn’t to say a player must know everything; hiding information can be very useful. It’s quite reasonable to say, “you don’t know just how strong your units are until they enter combat,” but in this case, the player must have some idea of the range of possibilities. It’s reasonable to say, “you don’t know what card you’ll get if you draw to an inside straight,” but only if the player has some idea what the odds are. If I might draw the Queen of Hearts and might draw Death and might draw the Battleship Potemkin, I have absolutely no basis on which to make a decision.

Written by taogaming

September 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Reviews

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