WORLDWIDE FANTASY MONTH #8: Tales of the Arabian Nights, by Eric Goldberg (1985)

Type of Media: Board Game

If you ask most people what they think of One Thousand and One Nights, better known by the name Arabian Nights, they’ll probably say “oh, I like Aladdin!”...and that’s it. While Arabian Nights once captivated people in the western hemisphere, even becoming more popular over here than in the Middle East where it originated, it seems like now it doesn’t get much recognition compared to other story collections like those of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. That’s such a shame, though! Wish-granting genies, flying carpets, and Bahamut all come from Arabian Nights and are now fixtures in fantasy stories. Lucky for us, a game designer named Eric Goldberg understood how great Arabian Nights is, and in the 80s he completed an insane project: Tales of the Arabian Nights, a board game that let you and up to five friends make your own chaoitc stories in the world of Arabian Nights.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is a game that seems rather simple at first, but once you sit down with it and pour over its character sheets, reaction matrices, and the stunning Book of Tales at the center of it all (which contains not just 1,001, but 2,600 story entries. How’s THAT for productivity, collective of original Middle Eastern and South Asian storytellers!?) you will realize how absolutely bananas its design actually is. The objective is to race against other players and be the first to rack up enough points to hit a goal, but that’s really just a rickety frame to keep Tales at least somewhat in the form of a board game. The real value here isn’t in the destination, but in the journey.

On each player’s turn, they draw a card to have an encounter with something. It could be an elephant, or a fiery efreet, or a crippled old beggar, but whatever it is they get to choose how they react to it from one of about eight options. That option will lead to a story in the Book of Tales, detailing the consequences of that choice and what happens because of it. The really cool things are that 1) what happens in the story entry sometimes changes if you have a special skill or a specific item, and 2) the stories often persist. Did your friend decide to smack the crippled beggar in the face and rob him? Well be prepared to laugh with the rest of your table as that beggar follows your friend from city to city, constantly trying to get revenge over his lost coins.
To be blunt, as a game Tales of the Arabian Nights is uninteresting. As an engine that generates good times around a table with your friends, though, it’s incredible. It takes you on an adventure through the rich mythology of the Middle East, India, and North Africa! You can find Aladdin’s lamp, or journey to the Valley of Diamonds, or get swallowed whole by a massive leviathan! Did the reaction you picked give you something good? Does it even matter, since if you fail it’s probably funnier? Hey, who’s winning anyway? Who cares, as long as you’re all having a great time?*
If you’re at all into Middle Eastern mythology, Tales of the Arabian Nights is a great game for you since it focuses so much on the lore you could even just read the Book of Tales and have a fun time. Meanwhile, board game fans should also pick this up if you’re looking for a game that’s less competitive and more friendly. It’s an excellent addition to your game collection if you regularly host family game nights or just want a selection for chill 

*This game is heavy on randomization, so there is also a chance you will land in prison early on and never get out until the end of the game and by then your character will be insane and then a sorcerer will turn you into a dog. If this happens, Tales of the Arabian Nights still involves you by recruiting you to check the matrices and read from the Book of Tales during other players’ turns, so you can at least savor the adventures your friends are having.