You never forget your first line

Chris Reads
4 min readDec 24, 2021

Recently, I was over at a friend’s house and I was finally able to play a game I’ve wanted to play for a while. It was the perfect opportunity: it was after dinner, we were a few drinks in, and were running a bit low on small talk. My friend had a large bookshelf full of books, we were seven people, and everyone was sober enough to learn the game. I first found this game on Wikipedia under a variation of “fictionary”, but it didn’t have a name of its own.

The game works as follows: Going around in a circle, one player picks a book, shows the cover to the rest of the players, and copies the first sentence of the book onto a slip of paper. The all other players secretly write a sentence that they think could be the first line of the book onto slips of paper. When everyone is done writing, the player who picked the book reads the sentences out loud, without giving any indication who wrote which, and the other players each select one sentence they believe to be the real one. The game can be played with points or alcohol, but players score points for guessing the real first sentence and if someone selects their sentence as the guess.

I think the general sentiment after playing the game was positive, but it certainly met my high expectations. It was fun composing flowery or abrupt first sentences, and watching the metagame change: the first few rounds, everyone used all available information from the cover, which resulted in too many sentences that referenced the title or the author. When it became obvious that the words in the title didn’t usually appear in the first lines of the book, people began taking a more creative approach, writing whimsical, almost unrelated openers. Towards the end of the game, the selected books were more well-known, and people tried emulating the style of the author, or inserting bits of trivia.

I’m surprised that this game isn’t more well-known. Though it is a nerdy parlour game and requires five to eight semi-literate people, I’d like to think I run in circles that meet this requirement. Granted, you also need a bookcase full of books, so perhaps it isn’t the most practical. But I think I would love to play it at every opportunity I get going forward, and many of my friends enjoy reading and writing as much as I do.

Playing this game has led me to think about the memorable first sentences in literary history. Of course, there are a few that everyone knows off the top of their head: “Today, Maman died”, “Happy families are all alike…