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Subject: Generic stories? Why should I care? rss

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Volker Hirscher
Germany
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Hi all,

I thought about writing up a review, but then again don't have enough time at the moment. Still I wanted to talk a little about a game I longed to play for months, and now I played and I am really disappointed...

Ok, the Eurogame-part is just... mediocre, nothing special here. That's ok, everyone was talking about the stories...

But: 200 paragraphs of generic stories, with not outcome (not "end text"), no evolving story, just things that could happen in a cave? I did not get a feeling of exploration, as I did not see any progress from story to story... There are so many other games doing this so much better (Tales of the Arabian Nights is mentioned quite often and a real gem).

I actually don't think I missed any rule, still I am curious: Why was the story part statisfying for you? Real interest, no trolling...

Thanks,
Volker
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Loren Cadelinia
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For me personally, this was one of the first euro-games to have a story element. So this chance/luck component was new to me.

I actually found the euro-game quite tight, with hard decisions. So this contrasts nicely with a "pause" in the gameplay to hear a story. Combined with the rich artwork, you can really let your imagination take over.

I think it's not for everyone; I've played with people who read the stories emphatically and with suspense, as well as others who speed right through it.
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David Jones
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Quote:
200 paragraphs of generic stories ... no evolving story


I'm not really sure how you expect this to happen. Because the stories can come up randomly and to different players, its hard to introduce story elements that will evolve. You can't create a story fragment where you run into the old woman you saved last turn because you can't rely on the player having previously encountered the old woman. With that it mind, I have a hard time seeing how you say that Arabian Nights is any less generic. Arabian Nights does have outcomes that affect your character stats, but this evolves your character, not the overall story. So the difference here is that Nights evolves a character while A&B evolves a town.

(Edit: I should add that Ryan's new game, Near and Far, does have a mechanic where you can "carry a story element" with you. When this happens, the next time you have an encounter, the story element overrides the random paragraph with a specific paragraph related to that story element. So the next game might offer something more cohesive that you feel A&B is missing.)

I can kind of see where you might feel that Nights is a bit more thematic as the stories all fit into a specific narrative that most of us have at least a passing familiarity with. A&B does have a mythology, although I doubt players (other than the game owner) take the time to read the blurb inside the storybook as they would rather play than take another 5 minutes to read a page or two of flavor text. The encounters do make a little more sense if read within the context of knowing about this culture/mythology. However, I do have to concede that I wouldn't say this theme is "rich" and many of the stories are not overtly connected to the theme.

I guess the final answer to your question though is that most eurogames of this nature are completely devoid of theme. Thematically, what's the difference between Caylus, Pillars of the Earth, and Kingsburg? A&B at least offers some kind of cohesive and relevant theme that does allow you to create a different narrative every time you play. I admit its not the greatest in the world, but its better than 95% of what is out there for typical euros.
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Tony Graham
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I love envisioning the quests. I try to create a theme each game with my choices. Sometimes they are Brave and daring and sometimes they are just cautious spelunkers. I try to connect the stories through my actions. Kind of like roleplaying for each story based off of your characters attributes. Really makes for a great game.
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C&H Schmidt
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I wouldn't call the stories generic, actually -- there's some pretty fresh material in there. The world is not standard fantasy, but Ryan and collaborators have come up with some pretty unique story elements.
Yes, they are only snippets -- that happens when the stories are random, which is in this case a mechanism to increase replayability.

I like Above and Below as a relatively light and accessible euro with the stories adding lots flavour (I always find the decisions pretty tight, because the game is quite short). Add the gorgeous and evocative artwork (every villager really has their own character; the building illustrations fit with what the buildings do) and you have a winner.
It has been a hit with all the friends I've played (except my partner, who, like you, Volker, wasn't that impressed either), both the hardcore and the casual/non-gamers.

It's ok to not like it, of course. I guess it's not for everyone. But I would regard it as a euro with flavour from stories, not a story-driven game -- maybe you just expected something different?

Near and Far has been mentioned above, which will have a continuing story. The downside of this is that once you know which location has which story, that's always going to be the same.
I think the games have a different focus and each will have its merits.
(I am a backer for N&F as well.)

Edit: In terms of euro mechanisms, I like the tension the advancement track provides -- income now or more points from common goods later?
Also, action economy: One more explore in the hope of gaining a new type of good, or do I take the safe option and buy a building? But that costs money. If I buy this building, I may not be able to afford this star building I want next round. Unless I explore, which may give me some more money...
Edit 2: I agree that the stories in Tales of the Arabian Nights are not any more coherent than in A&B. Yes, they are longer and there are more choices, but often the choices are really weird and the outcome doesn't make any sense. I still like it, but it is also a completely different type of game. Comparing this with A&B is a case of apples and oranges, in my opinion.
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Volker Hirscher
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Quote:
For me personally, this was one of the first euro-games to have a story element. So this chance/luck component was new to me.


Maybe not completely new, but still I did not really like the mix of Euro-low-luck with story-much-luck. I could have accepted it if the stories were less generic. For me, it lacks a general setting (maybe a page or two to set the stage, but more general than those last two pages in the storybook).

Quote:
I'm not really sure how you expect this to happen.


You mentioned the aspect of character development in Arabian nights, and this is part of what I meant. I prefer that, I guess. Of course, AN also has no overall story arc. Arkham Horror for example also does not have a story arc, but its generic encounters nicely fit to the overall theme of closing/sealing gates.

Quote:
I guess the final answer to your question though is that most eurogames of this nature are completely devoid of theme


I am no (longer) a big fan of Eurogames, but I still think there are some with a strong theme. Think of Agricola, Dungeon Lords ...

Quote:
I agree that the stories in Tales of the Arabian Nights are not any more coherent than in A&B. Yes, they are longer and there are more choices, but often the choices are really weird and the outcome doesn't make any sense. I still like it, but it is also a completely different type of game. Comparing this with A&B is a case of apples and oranges, in my opinion.


Here I disagree, I think there are nicer "stories to remember" told in Arabian nights. In A&B it is just what you said (and I really expected more): Just some flavour text and randomness packaged in a second mechanism in addition to the Euro-game. Some may like that, it seems I do not...

Thanks for you input though!

 
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Phil Jurney
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The stories are generic because they can be. This game wasn't made to be a story driven game like AN or Mice and Mystics. You don't even have to explore to win this game. The game is an engine building game in which the stories help you build a civilization. Personally I love the story telling element because that's what gives you the most choices. Do I have enough explorers for the big reward? Is it worth injuring someone? Am I going to get gold so I can build that star building? The whole game is based on how well you can manage your characters. Where are they best going to be served with your engine. It's not much different than Dominion in the sense of do I buy this action card or a victory card? Above and Below is really in a game class of its own though and trying to compare it to other games that have similar mechanics is really hard to do.
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Christopher Pitts
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Totally agree with you. I find the story telling in this game to quite dull and makes the game longer than it should be. Especially since there's plenty of instances where you don't even have a choice because it's impossible to roll enough successes for one of the options.

 
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Peter Hazlewood
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cphpitts wrote:
Totally agree with you. I find the story telling in this game to quite dull and makes the game longer than it should be. Especially since there's plenty of instances where you don't even have a choice because it's impossible to roll enough successes for one of the options.



That's not really fair. If you want to go exploring (which is entirely optional) you should be building a team capable of competing high risk explorations. You should also make use of 'exerting'. That being said, if you don't like the story-telling then there is possibly no point in playing this. There are so many medium-weight engine building games.
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Charles Waterman
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I'd be happy to give a couple of reasons why I personally really like the storytelling element of this game.

Number One: QUOTE "...I've played with people who read the stories emphatically and with suspense" THAT. I LOVE playing this game with people who will (like I will) get a kick out of acting out the paragraphs with their voices and gestures as they're reading them. There are lots of colorful, evocative words in almost each mini-adventure I've gone through so far that makes this really fun.

Number Two. Random? Well, I've only gone through 88 paragraphs so far. (yes, I have a sheet where I cross off the numbers as we encounter them)
After 88 paragraphs, I'd say there is a very consisten world to this game despite the randommness of the numbered paragraph you choose in it. Play the game a couple of times, and you get to know
1) what kinds of actions the residents of this world consider reputable and the opposite (although there are occasional surprises, so far, I'd have to say that even they were hinted at) Therefore, if you're going for a reputation win, you *usually* know which action to attempt.
2) that the higher the Explore number, the more valuable the cash and items will be that you find.
3) that there are certain races in the caves which put in reappearances in several paragraphs and they become almost continuing characters in your adventure.
4)that the story of an adventure and the characters in it will give you a pretty good hint at what kind of treasure you'll find if you succeed. e,g. (imaginary If you help the king of the fungus people, you'll probably find the food item you might expect there. If you open a treasure chest, which items in the game look most like treasure? (Of course, if it's a mountain climber's treasure chest, it might be different....)

That Ryan and team have managed to keep the element of surprise and wry wit in so many of the paragraphs and yet maintained a logical world with rules you can **discover through repeated play** delights me! Those rules enable a level of strategy based on the belief that heavy investment in exploration should yield certain kinds of results - but it's a risk and while likely never completely certain.

If I didn't like the uncertainty of dice, though, I might really dislike that chance element in this game. For me, however, the dice roll is adrenaline time and the whole table is involved no matter who is rolling!





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Dan
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mavo wrote:
Hi all,

I thought about writing up a review, but then again don't have enough time at the moment. Still I wanted to talk a little about a game I longed to play for months, and now I played and I am really disappointed...

Ok, the Eurogame-part is just... mediocre, nothing special here. That's ok, everyone was talking about the stories...

But: 200 paragraphs of generic stories, with not outcome (not "end text"), no evolving story, just things that could happen in a cave? I did not get a feeling of exploration, as I did not see any progress from story to story... There are so many other games doing this so much better (Tales of the Arabian Nights is mentioned quite often and a real gem).

I actually don't think I missed any rule, still I am curious: Why was the story part statisfying for you? Real interest, no trolling...

Thanks,
Volker


Compared to what? You picked the only/most "euro" story driven game of all time, and many would argue that Tales of the Arabian Nights isn't even a real game (since you have next to zero control of events), and it's story is also so random.

Compared to Lords of Waterdeep, Above and Below has WAY more story then a tiny blur on a mission card to explain it's cost to complete. For any "euro game" for that matter.

I'll raise you one better, T.I.M.E Stories has a way better and more coherent and immersive story then anything Tales of the Arabian Nights.
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Volker Hirscher
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I only need "story" when it is good. For me, the stories in A&O were boring and non-sense...

TotAN is far superior (of course: my opinion). Many other are - Time Story of course, Pandemic Legacyy, even the Star Trek Adventure game is...

All depends on taste, of course... Anyway, sold it long ago, and probably will not buy a game from Laukat anytime again soon...
 
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Jack Spirio
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I totally understand you and feel the same.
I was super hyped about this game seeing it in Essen, and was finally able to play it. But then I felt it was way to much luck involved and the stories felt dry. I mean, you never really choose according to the story, but just about the odds you will succeed, and it doesn't really matter, because there is no text for succeeding. So after the game I was sadly disappointed.
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