Friday, September 24, 2010

Trivia Game Review - Fictionaire

It’s tough to improve on the standard trivia game format. Trivial Pursuit pretty much nailed it - you ask a question, and if the other guy can answer it, he gets ahead. It’s straight-forward and simple, and fun for people who know a hell of a lot more than I do.

But when an idea does really well, copycats are inevitable. If you start shopping for trivia games today, you’ve got a huge variety of options, most of which totally suck, because the really great idea has already been taken and adding to it is just screwing it up.

Which is where Fictionaire comes in. This is more of an obscure factoid game than a trivia game (a distinction that I recognize is not especially obvious). But instead of having you just answer the question and get points for getting it right, the game adds the opportunity to lie your pants off.

The questions are incredibly obscure, for the most part. Like, if I ask you what the German town of Grafenroda was famous for making 100 years ago, would you guess garden gnomes? Because I would not. I would not have guessed anything, because I’m not even sure I spelled the name of the town correctly.

So one person reads the question, but not the answer, and passes the box of cards to the next player, who reads the answer and decides whether to spin a fabrication out of thin air or give the real answer. Only one person can tell the truth, so everyone else needs to be very convincing. If the first guy chooses your answer as the correct one, you win a point, and if you fooled him into guessing something that was wrong, then you get another point.

That’s where the game breaks down. Eventually, after you play a couple times, everyone figures out that if you’re the first person to answer, the easiest thing to do is to give the real answer, real fast. Then everyone else has to make up an answer, and they’ll stumble over it and look stupid, and the guy who has to guess will be able to tell at a glance that they’re lying. Even if he was thinking that a tautogram is a medical procedure, when you tell him right off that it’s a sentence where every word starts with the same letter, he’ll know. Then the rest of the players will be stuck coming up with complete gibberish, and the game will suck.

Well, in all fairness, it won't completely suck. It's still fun to try to see if you know what a cereologist studies, and it's somewhat entertaining to come up with ridiculous answers that you try to sell as the truth. But as competitions go, Fictionaire breaks down in the first twenty minutes into a tiny bit of rules with a lot of silliness on top. It's more an exercise in slinging bull manure than it is a trivia game - or a game at all, for that matter.

Now, I will give mad props to Days of Wonder for the packaging. The cards needed to slide halfway up and be easily stored to be effective, and rather than try to reinvent the wheel, the designers went with the most obvious choice - cigarette boxes. Having smoked for nearly twenty years, I am quite familiar with the packaging, and Days of Wonder didn't just get close. These boxes look like they shook the Marlboros out of them before they put the cards in. And then, deciding that if they were in for a dime they were in for a dollar, they made the outside of the box look like a pack of cigarettes. It wouldn't be hard to mistake a deck of Fictionaire cards for a pack of cigarettes, especially when the designers spent so much effort making them look like a 1975 pack of Pall Malls.

There are four different varieties of Fictionaire, and each one has a very different look (though they all look like packs of coffin nails). Each pack also contains a completely different theme - one has you trying to guess the definitions of rarely used words, and another asks you to call on your knowledge of incredibly weird true stories, like chickens who lived after their heads were lopped off. With all the varieties available, there's no way you know all this stuff, and that will let you enjoy all the random guessing and complete malarkey the game helps you create.

If you're in the market for a serious trivia game where knowledge is power and the best educated players win, then you're probably one of those insufferable people who drags a copy of Trivial Pursuit to every party you attend, and you will not like Fictionaire. But if you want to have fun coming up with ridiculous answers to silly questions, and maybe learn something in the process, you might get a kick out of Fictionaire. It's light and fast and a little absurd, and even if it fails as a competitive game, it can still be a lot of fun as an exercise in fooling your friends.


As many players as you can fit in a room

Fast, silly fun
Fantastic, politically-incorrect packaging
You just might learn something

Less of a game than a social event

This may come as a shock, but Dogstar Games is not carrying Fictionaire. You can probably find it at an online retailer, or you could just take your butt to the Days of Wonder site and buy it there:

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