Tabletop Game Review: ‘Shahrazad’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My gaming life seems to filled by increasingly complex, sprawling games, often filled with a half hundredweight of plastic. There’s no problem with that, but I tend to forget that some of the games I enjoy most are small box games that take around 10 minutes to complete.

Enter Shahrazad from Osprey Games, a small game for 1 or 2 players (either solo or co-op) that takes about 5 minutes to learn and 15 minutes to play.

Shahrazad is GeekDad Approved!

Overview:

Shahrazad is the legendary storyteller from 1001 Nights. This gives the game its central theme but Shahrazad is not a storytelling game. It’s more like a sumptuous, fairy-tale inspired game of Patience.

To play the game, you lay its numbered tiles, according to a few simple rules. The aim, as much as possible, is to lay the tiles so they count 0 through 21. Tiles are laid in columns of up to three, and by placing similar colored tiles next to each other, in adjacent columns, you can score more points.

Once all the tiles are placed, you total your score according to the scoring rules. Games consist of two rounds.

Components:

  • 22 Tiles, numbered 0-21
  • Rules
  • Four scoring cards, two for single player and two for 2 players

Setup and mechanic: 

Setup for the game is simple. You start with one tile facing upwards. Each player takes two more tiles. These form your hand. The rest of the tiles are placed in a pile face down, to form the draw deck. Every time you place a tile on the table you draw another from the deck, ensuring you have two tiles in your hand at all times (with one exception, see below).

Shahrazad mid-game
‘Shahrazad’ mid-game. Cards must be laid adjacent to cards already played. Columns may not exceed three cards. Photo: Robin Brooks

All tiles must be placed directly adjacent to a previously laid tile, either on top or below to form a column, or on either side. If you play to the left or right of existing tile, the new tile must be offset by half a card. Columns may have no more than three tiles in them.

You continue to play tiles until the draw pile is empty. You then total your score, shuffle, and play again. Games are played over two rounds. For round two, you choose one of your existing columns as a starting point.

Shahrazad is scored against a pre-defined score card that ranges from 0-40 for the two rounds (0-35 in the two player game). Scores below 10 are poor, anything above 30 is very good.

Scoring and Tactics:

By the time you’ve laid all the tiles you’ll have a run of 22 cards at least 8 columns wide.

Scoring is a little peculiar but is the key to playing the game.

Shahrazad End of Round 1
The round is complete. Note: In the top the number 17 is to right of number 19. This a) hard to see in the photo and b) bad for scoring those cards. Photo: Robin Brooks

The narrative mechanic of the game is that you are telling a story, with the beginning of your tale on the left and the end on the right. In game narrative terms, smaller numbered tiles represent the beginning of a story. Placing them after a higher number in the narrative sequence means that the story doesn’t make sense (because you start in the middle then move to the beginning).

To represent this, once all the tiles have been laid, any tiles with numbers larger than either of the tiles to their right are turned over. They don’t score anything.

Now, depending on how your tiles are laid out, this might cause a schism in your narrative. Any tiles that now can’t be included in a path from the beginning of your card layout, to the end are also turned over. This can greatly cut down the number of points available to be scored.

Worse, these lost tiles are NOT shuffled back into round two, meaning you can’t score off them in that round either.

Shahrazad Scoring
The number 19 is turned over because it is larger than the card on its right (17). Because 17 can no longer trace a line from the start of the narrative, it too will be lost. Photo: Robin Brooks

As well as being numbered, tiles are colored. Points are scored only for sequences of adjacent tiles of the same color tiles. The highest number of tiles in a sequence for each color are scored. So, a single row of 6 red tiles scores 6 points, but two sequences of 3 tiles only score 3 points.

The longest sequence of adjacent cards in each color score points. Here we score 4 Black but only 2 Red. Photo: Robin Brooks

There is one final rule, which allows you to turn things a little in your favor. Instead of playing a tile adjacent to another, you are allowed to swap a tile from your hand with one already laid. If you do this, you still draw from the deck, meaning you will now have three tiles in your hand. Next turn you MUST play two tiles. Choosing when to swap is key to a successful score.

It’s easier to score high in a two-player game, because you have more tiles available, and you find yourself forced to play a bad tile less often. The included scoring cards are a fun if slightly irrelevant touch. A piece of paper, or indeed your memory would work just as well.

Shahrazad score cards
The ‘Shahrazad’ score cards. Unnecessary but fun! (scores shown are 23 & 21)

The Verdict: 

Shahrazad is a great little game. It’s easy to pick up, but challenging to play well. There is some luck involved; how well you do does depend on the order in which the tiles come out, but there is always a good amount of tactical card play.

The game is quick and portable. You do need a decent surface to play on, so whilst it’s a good game to take away on holiday, it’s not one to play whilst traveling.

The production values are excellent. The playing pieces are good card stock, feel great, and above all, look wonderful. Although the game doesn’t have any true storytelling elements, the evocative folk-tale inspired artwork really does make you feel like you’re taking part in a narrative game.

I’ve played a large number of hands of Shahrazad since opening the box. One of the problems of having lots of games to play means that some, even the good ones, rarely get a look in. I’ve returned to Shahrazad time and again since it arrived. Once at the table, it’s impossible not to have at least one extra game.

My oldest (11) enjoys it. He picked it up with no problem. It’s nice to play something quick and simple where we can work together. There are no alpha gamer problems either since you can never see your partner’s hand.

Shahrazad is a great way to pass the time and comes fully GeekDad Approved.

Finally, here is a quick playthrough video, that outlines the basics and shows how a game might go.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Shahrazad for review purposes.

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