How did that comic book, movie or TV show hold your attention and keep you hooked to the conclusion? Was it the special effects, stunning visuals, or the characters? While these are certainly important elements, what most likely kept you riveted to your seat was the story. Without story all the other elements quickly fade, it is the story that keeps our minds engaged and keeps our memory of the comic, movie or show alive. Shahrazad, perhaps the greatest storyteller of all time, knew the importance of a good story, and it kept her alive. The story of her beguiling the king with her one thousand and one tales was always a favorite, and I was excited to see this theme in a board game.
Shahrazad is a tile-laying game that can either be played solo or cooperatively with two players. Players are trying to impress the king by telling the best possible story. The best stories have a consistent beginning, middle, and end, with the same genres together. Low scoring stories make no sense to the king, and the highest scoring stories will make even Shahrazad proud.
Components / Set-Up
While I wouldn’t classify Sharazad as a micro-game, there are only twenty-two story tiles that comprise the game. These tiles come in four different colors, yellow, black, red, and blue to represent the various genres of stories. Each genre has a different number of tiles, with red having the most and black having the fewest. Individual tiles have a name, number (0-21), picture, and a list of the other tile numbers that share the same tile color. The pictures are from famous stories like Sleeping Beauty or Midas. There are also two double-sided scoring tiles with one side for the solo game and one side for cooperative play.
The set-up is very simple as you shuffle the tiles, place one face-up as the start tile and give each player two tiles. With that the game is ready to start.
There are two rounds, and gameplay is the same for both. In a two-player game, players take turns either placing a new tile or replacing existing tiles. At the end of their turn, a player draws a new tile. While players can discuss where to place a tile, the tiles in a player’s hand and the tile they choose should be secret. For a solo game, a player just takes each turn.
Placing a Tile
Each tile is part of a column and row and tiles may be placed anywhere on the table as long as they follow these rules: For a two-player game, a maximum of three tiles may be in each column, while there may be four in a solo game. A new tile must touch at least one other tile. When a new tile is placed to the left or right of an existing tile, it must be offset half-way up or half-way down the side of the other tile. There is no limit to the number of columns allowed.
Replacing a Tile
Instead of placing a tile, a player may choose to replace a tile already on the table with one from their hand. If they do this, the tile must be placed in the same spot as the one replaced. Because a player still draws a tile at the end of their turn, they will finish with three tiles in hand. On their next turn, they may not replace again and must now place two tiles. When the face-down stack of tiles runs out, players can no longer use the replace action.
Once the last tile is placed it is time to see how the story went. Before you can score players must check to be sure the story was told in order. Players will check each column, and if any tile is touching a lower-numbered tile in the column to the right, flip the higher numbered tile. Players next must check for a path from left to right. Each tile must be part of a path from left to right. Gaps and face-down tiles cannot count as a path. Any tile that is not part of a valid path is flipped. If any entire column is flipped, no points are scored. Once players have checked the order and paths, they now check the colors. The largest connected group for each color scores one point for each tile in the group. From that score, subtract one point for each face down tile and for each space in the middle of a column. Keep track of the score using the score tiles.
For round two any face down tiles are removed from the game and players will choose one column to keep for the second round. This column is pushed together if there is a gap and becomes the starting column for the second round. At the end of the second round, players add their score for each round together for their final score. Hopefully the scores shows that they told a truly beautiful tale.
The story of Shahrazad fascinated me as a child and I hoped a game with that theme would involve a bit of story. Instead of a story, Shahrazad is an abstract mathematical puzzle of tile placement and memory. It is a beautiful and well-designed game, just not for me.
Osprey continues to amaze in the components department with close attention to detail and fantastic presentation. There are thoughtful touches that show a lot of consideration was put into the game. The game box is just the right size for the game (I can’t stand when a game comes in a box way too big for it), the box is also high quality and has the same design on the inside as the back of the tiles. The tiles are amazing in their beauty and quality. These thick tiles are adorned with beautiful artwork that illustrates some of my favorite fairy tales and fables, with a few lesser known stories. I also like the linen finish of the tiles that helps reduce the glare when playing. The color choices for the tiles work well together and show a consistent design. There is no need to worry, the symbols to represent each of the colors make it colorblind friendly.
The scoring tiles are a welcome edition and, because they are the same thick material as the rest of the tiles, they will stay put unless bumped. I appreciate that they are double sided for solo or two-player games and show the score and verdict.
The rule book is easy to read and offers some helpful visuals for tile placement, scoring, and tile layout. It was easy to read and left few questions after reading it. Scoring was a bit confusing but once we played a game, it made sense. I did reread this section to be sure I scored correctly. I appreciated that the color scoring example was sure to include the symbols to make it colorblind friendly.
While the gameplay is very simple, place or replace a tile, the game is full of tough choices and deep decisions. I enjoy games that get their complexity not from their mechanisms but their decisions. The game can be taught quickly, but mastering it takes practice adding to the replayability of the game. Shahrazad is a classic abstract strategy game in that is all about the strategy and not about the tactical gameplay. Players need to think about the current round and keep the second round in mind. Mistakes can be very costly since flipped tiles are removed at the end of the round. A poor score in the first round will make it very difficult to score high the second round. For a simple game, it proved to be a very challenging mathematical puzzle and would be perfect for anyone who enjoys this type of challenge. The game works well as a solo or two-player game but truly shines as a one player experience.
Shahrazad is a game that will reward multiple plays and offers a different experience whether played solo or two player. It is a simple game to learn and play whose complexity comes from the strategic gameplay decisions. I adore the artwork and component quality but am less thrilled with the gameplay. While the theme screams story, the game is an abstract mathematical puzzle. The artwork and components are beautiful and will draw you to into play. Enjoyment of the game will depend on your gaming preferences. I tend not to enjoy abstract strategy games, and Shahrazad was not an exception for me. This does not mean the game isn’t a good game, for the right person will be a perfect blend of simplicity and strategy.
Artist: Kotori Neiko
Publishers: Osprey Games, Kocchiya
Game Length: 10 minutes
Ages: 8 and up