Blog: April 2010

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

New game: Tales of the Arabian Nights

Yesterday we played a six-player game of Tales of the Arabian Nights, which was new to four of us. (It's produced by the same folks who make Pandemic.) It's a cross between a board game and a choose-your-own-adventure book, with fairly entertaining stories and reasonable mechanics. When the owner of the game initially described it I guess some of us looked dubious because he said "it plays way better than it sounds", so we played and he was right. So I'll just say that up front in case my description is having the same effect.

The game is played on a map covering the middle east, Europe, northern Africa, and Asia through the Indian subcontinent. Cities, towns, and spots in the seas are marked and connected via lines; these indicate legal movement. Players (who are assigned character names like Ali Baba) move around this board fulfilling quests and seeking adventure, which can alter your scores on two tracks (destiny and story), bring new skills, bring treasure, and cause status changes like "wounded" or "blessed" or "married" or "grief-stricken". Ultimately the winner is determined by the destiny and story points; the rest serves to affect your adventures along the way.

After you move you draw a card from the encounter deck, which typically has a noun like "sorceror" and a number. This number is looked up on a table against which you roll a die, which results in an adjective like "angry" or "friendly" or "foolish". You can choose one of about 8-10 actions from a list (there are several different lists; the table tells you which to use), like "aid" or "question" or "hide" or "attack". The table cell where the adjective and the action meet produces a cross-reference into the big book of stories. (There's another die roll that can tweak this cross-reference a bit, so it's not completely predictable.) Someone else then reads the corresponding entry, which provides a usually-entertaining narrative of what happens. Sometimes this is affected by the skills your character has or further decisions you get to make. This entry also gives you a resolution such as "story +1 and wounded" (you got a good story to tell but it hurt along the way).

For the most part characters do not interact, though they can under some circumstances. What keeps this from being parallel solitaire, though, is that at least three people are involved in each turn: the player, the person to his right (who does the table lookups), and the player to his left (who reads from the book of stories). This sounds tedious (and cries out for a software adaptation), but it really wasn't bad once we got the hang of it. Players not engaged in any of this were helping to pull out the right status cards or skill chits as needed, manage treasures and quests, and so on.

The game rules seem to assume that you'll run through the deck of encounter cards two or three times, but even with six players we only barely started the second time. (I think we drew three cards after reshuffling the discard pile.) I don't know if we were supposed to be having more encounters, but there didn't seem to be a lot of ways to call down additional ones. Maybe players are supposed to try to interfere with each other more, but again, there aren't a lot of opportunities for that. Though I note that an unfortunate encounter with a disgruntled wizard cost me the win by giving control of my movements to another player for two turns. I had already satisfied the victory condition in points, but you have to end the game in Baghdad. When I wrested control back I was somewhere in India, IIRC. Oops.

I forgot to time it, but I think our game was around four or five hours, including teaching. That's a lot longer than the two hours advertised on the box, but four of us were completely new to the game and the other two had played a few times. I think our next game would be a lot faster, but with six players who've played once or twice I'd plan on three hours, not two. I would definitely play this again.

Midrash session 3.3

More midrash (with some commentary) about God talking to Moshe at the bush. Why this sign? How did God speak? And was Moshe's reaction good or bad? Read more…


This week was my congregation's annual shabbaton. I want more shabbatot like that. :-)

Read more…

High tea and bunny melt

Yesterday afternoon we joined friends for their traditional high tea and bunny melt. The half-price bunnies, perhaps knowing their fate, had fled the stores this year by the time Pesach ended, but others had had better hunting. In the end this turned out not to matter anyway because after the "high tea" part we were all too full for fondue.

Ralph and Lori had acquired burnt almond torte mini-cakes from Prantl's. This is one of my my favorite cakes (if not my favorite), so that was a pleasant surprise. (I hadn't known they did single-serving cakes.) Lori had baked some wonderful scones, and there were other items too (including some nicely-spiced devilled eggs).

There were also some interesting candies. There was the white chocolate with miniature jellybeans embedded; you might not think that would work, but it does. (I think the jellybeans were mostly of the spiced varieties.) And then there were the miniature bunnies; the dark-chocolate ones had a red filling (raspberry?), which led to some curiosity about what was inside the orange ones. It was a light-colored cream filling, declared by another guest to be "white meat". Funny, it didn't taste like chicken.

We hadn't had time to prepare a food contribution. We considered bringing tea but didn't. That turned out to be for the best; there was quite a large quantity there already and it looked like our hosts would not have welcomed more.

This was fun. I should really get my act together to host gatherings; high tea need not be only on the Sunday after Easter, after all. :-)

Midrash session 3.2

More about burning thornbushes: Read more…