Tales of the Arabian Nights


Over a year has passed since I began work on it, and a couple of hundred hours, several hundred dollars worth of book research, and over 400 emails later, I finally have a copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights in my hands, direct from the printers. It should be in the shops early to mid-July.

So my readers can experience the joy of opening one of these big heavy boxes (about 3 and a half kilos!) for themselves, I made this little sequence of photos documenting the process. Sorry I can’t hook up the ‘fresh from the printers’ smell for you as well.

Opening the box
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I’ve been designing for a couple of decades, and there are only a few jobs in that time that have demanded as much hard work, creativity and dedication as this one. The printers did a great job; the matt-finished cover with gloss UV-varnished logo and illustrations looks wonderful, and René Bull’s stunning 1912 illustrations look better than they have in print for many years, which I hope is a tribute to the man’s talent. It was with a great sense of relief that I opened the box to find all the game components as high quality as I’d hoped. Best of all, the whole design hangs together beautifully and gives the game a distinctive ‘feel’, that I hope is something quite different from the usual run of games being published these days.

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Sure, there’s a few little things I’d like to tweak, and I’ll hopefully get a chance to do so in future print runs. But now, it’s finally time to let this baby go out into the world! Tales of the Arabian Nights is published by Z-Man Games, and I’m really hoping it’s a big success for them. Quite apart from the work I put into it, it’s a very fun and thematic game. There’s a 300-page book in there, chock-full of adventures in the old ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure’ style. For gamers who love a story, this is a real treat.

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Thankyou to Dan Harding for his excellent illustrations, Eric Goldberg and the other writers for creating such an amazing game, and Zev Shlasinger of Z-Man Games for the opportunity to redesign it. I hope people all over the world enjoy playing this game, and for at least a little while forget all their cares and worries and disappear with their friends into the glamourous, fun, exciting world of the Arabian Nights …

Boardgame Design 2: Tales of the Arabian Nights


Work is almost finished on Tales of the Arabian Nights, the big game design project I’ve been working on for Z-Man Games. Finally, the cover is confirmed:

Box cover
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The cover features three illustrations from the original 1912 edition of Arabian Nights illustrated by the wonderful artist René Bull.

Since my first preview, I’ve done more work on the cards and improved them somewhat. The card front design has been simplified a bit, and the type of card is now shown on it. These types may yet be differentiated more, probably by colour.

This sample city card shows how players can easily find the location of a city both by a thumbnail image of the board and an image of the city and surrounding area.

This status card gives you a sample of the many wonderful and horrible things that can happen to adventuring characters. And of course there are many creatures and people to encounter in the world of the Arabian Nights: for example, this card and this card–not to mention the 3,000 or so paragraphs in the Book of Tales!

Fortunately, there are many wonderous treasures to be found as rewards for the brave and lucky–here’s just one of the many. All the encounter and treasure cards are illustrated by the talented Dan Harding.

And finally, a look at the entire board, close to final approval. Hope you like it, even if the sea isn’t blue. Note that I was careful to put the numbers for the score tracks outside the actual spaces!

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Hopefuly you’ll all grab a copy of this great game when it’s released–I know I’m looking forward to playing …

Boardgame Design: Tales of the Arabian Nights


Card front and logo
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My next major boardgame design project has been the remake of the 80’s classic part-boardgame, part-roleplaying game, Tales of the Arabian Nights, by Eric Goldberg, to be published by Z-Man Games. There have been two versions of this game–one in English in 1985, and one in German in 2000.

I pushed to get this job because I thought the rich possibilities of the theme had not yet been explored in gaming graphic design. The Arabian Nights is an unique and exciting melieu, but too often it gets a very Westernised fantasy treatment. One of my personal goals was to create artwork that reflected the exotic nature of the Arabian Nights. So the motifs are sourced from Islamic decoration, embellished with glittering metals and colourful jewels. Another big influence were the wonderful ‘Golden Age’ illustrations of such masters as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and René Bull.

Encounter card
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It was the chapter headings from René Bull’s 1912 edition of the Arabian Nights that inspired the game logo. Using that hand-drawn font as a basis, I reworked the letter forms to arrive at something a bit more readable but still evocative of curvilinear Arabic letterforms.

The mechanic that makes Tales of the Arabian Nights quite different from your usual game is the story–as the players adventure throughout the known world they refer to numbered paragraphs in a Book of Tales that tell an exciting interactive tale–a bit like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. The players’ reactions to the encounters influence and expand the story.

The game has a wealth of cards, many of which refer to these numbered paragraphs. In the Efreet encounter shown, the paragraph referred to depends on the time of day the encounter occurs, either morning, noon or night (or more prosaically, the further along the game has advanced).

Location encounter card
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On location encounter cards, the paragraph number depends on the terrain in which the encounter takes place. One thing I got rid of from the old editions were the fiddly icons that denoted the different locations on the board. Instead, I used coloured gems (also different shapes to assist colourblind players). These correspond to paragraph numbers on the encounter cards. It’s also immediately obvious which type of terrain the gem is in from the colors and illustrative terrain on the board.

City encounter cards refer to specific cities on the board and feature a picture of the location and a random encounter table. There are also many other cards for various player statuses such as ‘love struck’, ‘pursued’ or ‘under geas’.

The card illustrations were done by the talented Dan Harding, whose bold, evocative work dominates the design. Nice work Dan.

The map, of course, was the main design challenge. In previous incarnations the map was painted in a very conservative fashion–green forests, blue seas etc. This new map, a small detail of which is shown, is heavily influenced by ancient cartography, the fascinating subject of several books I own. Hence the parchment look, the more subtle colouring, and the period-accurate style. Instead of little illustrations I have used silhouettes of buildings that match the architectural styles of the cultures, which contrast nicely with the old map look.

Map detail
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There’s still a bit more work to do on this project–laying out a 256+ page Book of Tales for example–but I’m convinced it will be worth the wait. Because this game is such a storytelling, semi-roleplaying one, the object has been to create designs that transport the players to another world, stimulate their imaginations, and immerse them in the exotic, different world of the Arabian Nights. With the aid of research into old Arabian Nights editions, Islamic decoration and ancient cartography, I hope to achieve that goal.

More previews soon!