A solo and cooperative tile-laying game. Players will help Shahrazad tell stories to pass another night by playing tiles featuring unique takes on iconic fairy-tales to construct the best story. (Board Game Geek)
Artist: Kotori Neiko
Publisher: Osprey Games
Category: Card Game, Fantasy
Price: $13.38 Amazon
Shahrazad is a solo or cooperative game based on an old story found in the Middle Eastern book of stories, The Arabian Nights. Shahrazad, or Scheherazade in the book, was the vizier’s daughter, who went to spend a night with the sultan Shahryar, or ruler of the kingdom. The Shahryar was a brutal man who found his wife unfaithful to him, so each day he would marry a new virgin, while beheading the wife from the previous day. Until he met Shahrazad, he had killed a thousand women. Nasty.
Shahrazad was a brilliant storyteller who was extremely well-versed in legends and history from both their own country, and many other nations. She knew the works of many poets, scientists, artists, and other creatives of the time.
With her background, she chose to meet and marry the king. That evening, she secretly met with her sister to work out her storytelling. Afterwards, she began telling a story to the king, which apparently awed him. These stories make up the content of 1001 Arabian Nights. Finally, at the end of the 1,001st evening, the king decides Shahrazad makes a suitable wife, and decides to marry her permanently. Took you long enough, bro.
The board game, Shahrazad, takes this theming and abstracts it a bit. We’ll talk about this in the review, but it’s fascinating.
According to Osprey Games website, Shahrazad was designed by Yuo, a freelance game researcher from Osaka Japan. Yuo was bored with digitization after almost a decade in the IT industry, and is now a full-time board game designer. Shahrazad was originally published under the title Tarot Storia.
Osprey Games is an imprint of Osprey Publishing, originally established in 1969. Osprey Publishing is a longtime book publisher, including many prints of war games and tactical historical military titles. Osprey Games first printed board game was The King is Dead, and has also published titles such as Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, Frostgrave, Odin’s Ravens, and the upcoming reprint of London by Martin Wallace.
Shahrazad is tiles with interesting illustrations from various folklore and tales from around the world. Nothing suggestive, despite the background of the Arabian Nights. The game, and even booklet, does nothing to describe the specifics of the story itself.
Shahrazad is a one or two player game, where players will work to complete a high-scoring layout of tiles, all-the-while avoiding the pitfall of incorrectly placing tiles. This is done for two rounds, with each round scoring points based on tile placement. The final score is calculated and ranked into a scoring system, which you can use to evaluate performance and try to beat your score next time you play.
The game components are comprised of 22 oversized tiles, numbered 0-21, with four sets of colors, and various illustrations on each.
Players begin with two tiles each, and on their turn, a player will independently play one of their tiles. From there, both players must decide to either place their tile adjacent to an existing tile on their constructed tableau, or replace one of the tiles already placed. At the end of their turn, that player will draw a new tile from the stack. Each round ends when all tiles have been placed onto the tableau.
Rules guide the placement of tiles, and can considerably mess you over if you don’t pay attention. Each tile must be placed to an adjacent tile, about halfway up/down the tile. Each column of tiles can also only be three tiles tall, though you can exclude the middle tile. This makes for a sort of wavy design at the end of your game. In addition to tile placement, scoring groups will make players count up the number of tiles in each highest group of same-color tiles adjacent to one another. These larger groups (sometimes only 4-5 points, and other times 1 or 2) make up your points and are added between rounds for a final score.
One can’t simply take these scores. However, there is more to it. Before scoring, players must examine their storytelling structures. Any tiles that have a lower numbered tile to their right must be flipped face-down. Afterwards, this, and previous placement mistakes, might cause a rift in the flow of your tiles. If a tile cannot complete a path from the left side of your tableau to the end of the tableau, you must flip all of those tiles face-down as well. After massacring your work, you must subtract a point from each face-down tile, and each gap in your story. When starting the second round, you must remove all of these face-down tiles from the game, giving you a substantially weaker score, and fewer opportunities for efficient tile placement.
After your first few plays of Shahrazad, you’ll feel like you have the game down. It doesn’t seem overly complicated, and it’s really not. Playing tiles seems pretty obvious, and with two people, you won’t find yourself needing to talk to your partner much because you’ve already decided what’s most optimal.
As you begin to approach anything past your 3rd and 4th games, the game shifts a bit. Previous attempts at high scores still seem valid, but the game opens up. After the first round, you start the second round by choosing a pre-existing column as the framework for the second half of the game. The more you play, the more you begin to strategize about which column will begin your second round. Choosing somewhere in the middle is probably wisest, as it should provide good ground for building up or down numerically.
Furthermore, you might have made excellent choices in your first round, only to draw a 9 tile at the end. Now you’re forced to play the 9 in a spot of which you’re guaranteed to lose it, as well as a slew of other tiles.
It’s these moments that have potential to bring to life the theme of Shahrazad, though it’s not at all apparent at first. I was too curious on the game’s subject matter and colorful art, so I dug around some to understand who Shahrazad was historically, and why all of these tales rest in the game box. To be frank, Shahrazad is thematically abstract. While I love the ideas the game creates, you’ll need to search a bit and develop the theme yourself to find it in the abstracted cloud of mechanics and artwork the game presents.
Imagine each game as a fresh new story to tell the king. Each encounter brings new themes and heroes into play. You might start one story with the fool, only to back up the fool with strength. These abstracted illustrations make for interesting thematic implications. You might be easily placing down your 15-21 tiles, but if you don’t follow a path of tiles all the way to the end, it’s like telling a loophole in a story. You haven’t tied together the plot hole yet, so it makes sense the king was confused and flustered by your pitiful display of storytelling.
Scoring makes sense thematically as well. Pairing similar character archetypes and similar situations together make for a sensible story. Imagine telling a story about ancient kings battling on a battlefield, only to be assaulted suddenly by a gigantic death star, releasing thousands of Starship Enterprises onto the horses and medieval warriors underneath. Of course this makes no sense, and anyone might chuckle, but ultimately be confused and care much less of the outcome of the story. This is why players must work to chain identical colors together, otherwise you’ll simply place tiles in ascending order, and I promise you’ll score maybe 5-7 points.
Since players cannot share what tiles are in their hands, and must play a tile, then decide what to do with it, it’s like two friends attempting an exaggerated story. One friend might blurt a ridiculous story point out, which forces the other friend to try to fit it into their existing tale. “Then we found a shotgun shell on the ground!” proclaimed one of the two, when the other friend covered with, “Which was only there because the NRA had a convention in town the previous weekend!” Flabbergasted at poor tile placement results in laughter between the two of you playing Shahrazad.
Even replacing tiles on the tableau acts as a sort of covering up old plot holes. Sometimes you’ll be forced to play a tile that will certainly muck with your tableau, so being able to replace an older tile resolves the issue to an extent. After replacing a tile, you must play two tiles in a row on your following turn. Replacing is a tactical decision, to be sure.
Shahrazad is a beautiful game on the table. Each tile has eccentric, almost anime-style, artwork. While some of the titles above the artwork feel disconnected from the art itself, each tile is wonderful to hold and play onto the table. Some feature familiar artwork, like a cat as a musketeer, or a beauty and the beast lookalike. The other advantage of these giant tiles means one can easily play this game outdoors. My wife and I were visiting a local winery, and enjoyed a sweet wine while playing Shahrazad under a shelter house, while it was raining profusely around us. That was a magnificent experience, and I’d love to be able to play more board games outdoors. Shahrazad allows you to do that.
Shahrazad’s rulebook is still a little confusing to me. Like the abstracted nature of the theme, I felt constraints in understanding the rules layout. Figuring out how tiles are flipped face-down makes sense when checking numerical values, but learning the path of tiles feels confusing. After a number of plays, this will feel natural to score, but upfront, expect some confusion. At this point in publication, the game simply doesn’t have enough documentation online yet to answer my questions.
As a solo game, Shahrazad performs beautifully. You’ll find games can be played in around 10 minutes by yourself, making it a great game to play to pass a half hour. It’s quite a bit of fun to try for higher scores with new strategies each time. Equally as interesting is playing with a partner.
The game doesn’t provide for a ton of replayability, but for me, it passes because games are so short. I don’t go to Shahrazad for a length experience. I specifically want to finish up quickly. Maybe as a quick filler before a long game, or to wrap up the night, or just to wind down with your spouse or roommate after a long day. It’s a silly and peaceful game that’s quite pleasant to enjoy. There isn’t much to it, and once you’ve grasped the abstract thematics and mechanisms, it’s nice to play.
I’ve now reviewed three Osprey Games titles. Each game has been unique and features exceptional production quality. Add Shahrazad to the list as another wonderful publication from Osprey Games at an affordable price, and a very accessible learning curve, with plenty of gameplay.
A review copy of Shahrazad was provided by Osprey Games for a review of the game.
+ Outstanding simple artwork, and great production quality
+ Can play outside
+ Games play under 15-20 minutes
+ Interesting abstracted theme hidden behind mechanisms
+ Extremely affordable
+ Good, tactical gameplay, made better with a friend
- Rulebook and scoring are confusing to understand at first
- Not a huge amount of replayability