If you bring your Euro gaming need for strategic planning or Judeo-Christian expectations for fairness to the game you will be sorely disappointed. Terrible things will happen to you regardless of the choices you make.
I played Tales of the Arabian Nights with my buddy the creative writing teacher, his 15 year old son, and my 17-year-old son. My friend also attends a weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons, which he justifies by saying that it's a story generating experience. We played at 2:00 pm, when I am generally a zombie, so I was a little less engaged that I would like. My surly 17-year-old, however, comes alive when teaching and playing board games. It's like he's a different person.
If you bring your Euro gaming need for strategic planning or Judeo-Christian expectations for fairness to the game you will be sorely disappointed. Terrible things will happen to you regardless of the choices you make. I was "ensorcelled" for half the game, which means that I had to ask other people to move me. My son was ensorcelled, so we agreed to help each other. I moved him right were he wanted to go, loyal father that I am. He then sent me in the opposite direction of the city I needed to visit, cackling with glee. This is not unlike our real life relationship. We make plans for him, and he cheerfully ignores them.
The game is probably inherently unbalanced, but this is a storytelling game more than anything else. My friend, for example, got an easy quest up front and shot to a big lead that we never approached. Speaking of playing fair, there is no guarantee that if you encounter someone and are nice that you wont' get totally screwed over. I had a strange beast jump on my back and ride me like an arthritic horse, *after* I tried to help him. I need to read the book to get a better idea of the weird, non-Western morality at play here. Or maybe it isn't a unique cultural artifact, and I'm just projecting my Western sense of exotic Orientalism on a game that just wants to make you cry.
The game will change you. I started off all nice and lawful good-ish, then realized I needed more money to increase my movement range, so I started robbing everyone I met so I could try to visit all the islands I needed to in order to finish my initial quest. After about 2.5 hours we called it for my friend. It was a little slow going at first, and amusing at times. You can, however, modify the length of the game based on time or by cutting the points required for victory.
This game will teach you things about yourself and your friends that you might not want to know. At the end of the day, I thought I was an easygoing guy who could hang with a seemingly random story generating game like this, but when it comes right down to it, I have a pretty big Euro stick jammed up my nether regions, and am more competitive and structure driven than I want to admit. This confirms my theory that if you scratch the surface of anyone claiming to be laid back, you'll find a fascist. At times, I found myself wishing we were playing Eldritch Horror, but I'm not giving up on Tales of the Arabian Nights yet. I think we'll play it again with my daughters, who sounded interested after we talked at dinner about the various tragedies that had befallen us.
I wish there were a way to combine the flavor text of TotAN with the mechanics of Duel of Ages. I'd like a little more structure and fairness, combined with all of those amusing outcomes.
This video review is about a million times more interesting than my description. There's also a great line at the very end. Note: I fell asleep while typing this with the laptop on my stomach, long enough for the screen to turn black. I woke up in the dark about midnight.