PuzzleNation Product Review: Nanofictionary

[Note: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

We’re used to puzzles where you have to combine pieces to reveal a picture, or you use clues to complete a grid, or you employ deduction to unravel a series of events. It’s far less common for puzzlers to put those skills to use telling a story.

The latest offering from the crafty crew at Looney Labs challenges players to do precisely that: tell a story. More specifically, Nanofictionary tasks you with telling the best story possible from the ingredients available.

And you better do it quickly. Imagine you’re pitching a movie and you’ve only got the length of an elevator ride to sell it to a producer.

Nanofictionary offers up to six players a selection of four decks of cards: characters, settings, problems, and resolutions. Each player draws a starting hand, consisting of two characters, one setting, one problem, and one resolution. Players then try to build an entertaining narrative from the options at hand, by drawing and discarding cards, before declaring themselves ready to pitch.

Here is the first element of strategy in the game: deciding when you’re ready to present your story. If you do so quickly, you secure an earlier slot than the other players. Although this means other players can add additional cards to their hands (and thereby enhance their stories), it also means that ties are settled in favor of players who readied their stories faster. It’s a tradeoff, more cards in the short term vs. a tactical advantage in the long term.

After everyone has assembled their stories, each player has a turn performing their elevator pitch, doing so in the order in which they declared themselves ready. After all the stories are shared, the players then vote for their favorite story. (Naturally, to prevent every player from doing so, you cannot vote for yourself.)

Nanofictionary is an intriguing mix of strategy, luck, and ingenuity. The strategy involves not only when to declare your story ready, but what choices you make to get there. Do you choose the unexpected new card on your turn, or rifle through the cards discarded by the other players? Do you wait for a few other players to declare their stories ready, allowing yourself access to more cards in your hand, or do you go for the tie-breaking advantage you might need?

Luck, of course, comes into play with the cards you randomly draw. Perhaps you’ll end up with elements that quickly form an entertaining tale in your mind. Or perhaps you’ll struggle to ditch the pieces that don’t inspire you, hoping to trade them for a more exciting setting or a problem that makes the most of the characters in your hand.

But, as you might expect, the ingenuity side is where the game comes alive. Just sitting back and watching these delightfully brief (and yet hilariously detailed) stories come to life is a real treat, and quite honestly, it makes the voting aspect so hard. Because with the right group of players, virtually any combination of cards can turn into gold with the right storyteller.

The designers fit a surprising amount of variety and reusability into these four small decks of cards, allowing storytellers to run wild with tales as fantastic as they are ridiculous. It’s not your usual puzzle game, but that’s part of the charm.

Nanofictionary is available now from Looney Labs and select participating retailers for $16.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: New Years Resolutions edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, with the new year freshly started, it seems all too appropriate to return to the subject of new years resolutions.

Last year, I asked several prominent puzzlers about their resolutions for 2014. It’s one year later, so let’s see how they did!

Constructor Robin Stears resolved “to interact more with puzzle fans…, to attend some crossword tournaments and trivia nights and spend some time getting to know the contestants and finding out what kinds of puzzles they like.” How did that resolution go for her?

Well, I really missed the boat on that resolution. There weren’t any crossword tournaments in my area, and I couldn’t convince my local librarian to host one. But thanks to PuzzleNation, I’ve been able to keep up with what’s new in the puzzle world. The hottest thing this year was the emoji; in fact, emoji were so popular, I made up a bunch of emoji crossword puzzles.

And since I couldn’t attend any tournaments in person, I scoured the Internet for puzzle blogs and puzzle forums, and still managed to interact with puzzle fans in the virtual world. Puzzle fans are the nicest people, and they always have great ideas.

Constructor (and field marshal of The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project) David Steinberg resolved to “finish the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project’s litzing stage and to construct more Sunday crosswords.” How did that resolution go for him?

The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project’s litzing stage is now complete. We’ve litzed all the available puzzles–16,077 of them! We’re missing 148 puzzles, though, most of which weren’t published in New York because of newspaper strikes.

The proofreading stage is well on its way — 24 years of proofread puzzles are now up on XWord Info. A two-month proofreading contest is currently in progress, and we’re almost done proofreading the 1969 puzzles. I’ve also been busy constructing more Sunday crosswords, one of which was recently accepted by the Times.

Puzzle poet Peter Valentine resolved to “get up early and finish the poem before anyone else is awake.” How did that resolution go?

Sadly I did terribly on that resolution and can probably count on one hand the number of times that happened. Nevertheless, still keeping up with them daily when kids are in school! (Holidays are a wash.)

Baffledazzle creator Rachel Happen made several resolutions for 2014. How did she do?

1. Exercise brain as much as body — I’d give myself an 11 out of 10 on this one. The first Baffledazzle Kickstarter campaign was a problem-solving obstacle course that demanded all sorts of brain agility! Now that I’m post-campaign, I’m back in puzzle research/development mode and maxing out my library card again. So yes, mission accomplished there.

2. Make puzzles for friends / family birthday gifts — I’d give myself 7 out of 10! I did make a ton of custom puzzly things for gifts though I missed a few months when I was in the thick of Baffledazzle production. Next year, summer-birthday-friends, there will be puzzles for all!

3. Try a new puzzle / puzzly game each month — Oh man I get a 3 out of 10 for this one, but maybe a 5 out of 10 for intention!! My pile of Springboks [jigsaw puzzles] has only gotten taller… sigh. 😉

4. Make puzzles the new black — Ah, ∞ out of 10. This one’s a life-long mission!! Full speed ahead into another year of puzzling!


What about you, fellow puzzlers? Did you make any resolutions this year, puzzly or not? Let me know! I’d love to hear about them!

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