In the strangest way, talking about Fiction from Allplay (formerly BoardGameTables.com) feels to me like talking about Wolfgang Warsch’s The Mind. Don’t get me wrong—the games have almost nothing in common beyond the use of a very similar amount of cardstock and cardboard. But they do share this when it comes to the talking: in short, you shouldn’t. Not much beyond explaining the rules, that is. Even that won’t take long.
Fiction, designed by Peter C. Hayward, will click almost immediately for anyone familiar with the ubiquitous daily app Wordle or any of the board games from whence Wordle came. One player, the lie-brarian, chooses a five letter word from a card. The many then have ten guesses or twenty minutes to discover the word. More specifically, they have two five-guess, ten-minute halves.
For every guessed word, the lie-brarian places a token beneath each letter. You know the drill: either the letter is not in the word, in the word in the wrong location, or in the word in the correct location. The lie-brarian’s punny power, though, is the ability—nay, the shackle—of having to tell but one lie in reporting the accuracy of each guessed letter. Therein lies the game. The battle of wits has begun.
Fear not, for the masses have a limited countermeasure in the fight. Three times during the game they may ask whether a particular letter’s response is Fact or Fiction. If a response happened to be the Fiction, the players then learn that every other response in the word was true, and the cascade of information processing gets people chatting. If it happened to be Fact, well, then the folks need their noodles to be cookin’.
If the accurate word is guessed, the many win. If ten guesses pass or the time expires, the lying liar wins.
But why am I buying the cow…
Fiction gets its name both from the mechanics and the cards, which are superfluous in the most charming way. Each card is a passage from one of eight novels (which are in no way ranked here according to the reviewer’s bias): A Christmas Carol, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, A Study in Scarlet, Little Women, Treasure Island, and Moby Dick.
All the five-letter words are highlighted on the card’s back. The context hardly matters, but I am overjoyed at the literary gateway. It’s fun to hear players justify their guess because of the novel in play. To raise the difficulty, the words with duplicate letters are in red should the group decide to include that possibility.
The game is radically different with two or three, or more players. One versus one or one versus two could be described as a quiet grappling. Can the lie-brarian purposefully mislead in the face of what might be an equally purposeful opposing strategy? With a crowd, noise makes the game infinitely more difficult and skews the table in the lie-brarian’s favor. It’s impossible to think, you have to share the one, dubiously designed dry-erase board and marker, and everyone has a theory. Slowly your brain goes from al dente to overcooked mush.
But it’s a hoot.
You can grab Fiction for less than $15 on the right day. Because Wordle is Wordle, it’s the sort of game that can easily hit the table with literally anyone, with a perk of some of that eustress that accompanies most deduction games. The box says 2-8 players, but really it can sustain as many as can see the tokens, provided the chatter doesn’t drive the die-hard “leave me to my silent thought, you rackety imbeciles!!” logician into fits of rage.
I’m coming to believe there are legitimate strategies for both sides, but I’d rather not discuss them much because I feel their organic discovery is part of the fun (not unlike The Mind). Maybe the greater strategic consideration is whether the natural co-op quarterbacks in the crowd can play nice with the rest of the table.
In the meantime, Fiction is a worthwhile consideration if you’re into wordplay. And maybe a healthy bit of lying.