One of the games I got to play at GenCon was 1001 Nights
. Actually, I demoed it Thursday with Meguey herself running, and got roped into a demo later with Vincent running it. Friday night I played with a bunch of people.
Now, I tend to get antsy about games that are all freeform-ish with few rules, especially when I don't know the people I'm playing with. And that happened with 1001 Nights, but I got comfortable with it much faster. Someone at the table mentioned trying to figure out what the game was doing. I have a hunch about what's going on.
The core mechanic takes place while telling stories. Players say "I wonder if X will happen", pick a "gem" (die) out of the collective bowl, and put it in front of them. If a player's question is answered, (e.g. "I wonder if the sultana is in love with any of the doctors", and you find out that she isn't) regardless of the outcome
, the player gets to roll the die. If it comes out even, the player puts it in her bowl; odd the "GM" puts it in hers. (The GM can't say "I wonder" and pull out gems.) At the end of the story, everybody rolls all the dice in their bowls, and depending on the results they might get closer to achieving their ambitions or freedom.
If in-game-fiction events turn out so that a player's question can't be answered, the die goes back in the center. If the player forgets what question a die was for, the die goes back in the center.
From what I can see, "I wonder X" is just another way of saying "Here is something I find interesting". If other people find it interesting enough to bring it up and answer it, the player gets rewarded! If not, no reward. If the player herself didn't find it interesting enough to remember what it was 10 minutes later, no reward.
So, one of the hard things about playing with strangers is not knowing what they'll find interesting. 1001 Nights lets everybody say it right there! And it's no real biggie, you don't have to have a big discussion up-front or anything.
I'm sure there's some more complicated stuff that goes on outside of the stories, with scene framing and deciding who is telling the story (being the GM) and stuff like that, but since we had a large-ish group, we only got through the one story.