Over the weekend I had the highly entertaining experience of playing Fiasco with some friends. The games sells itself as “A Game of Powerful Ambition & Poor Impulse Control.” The end result of this aim is in practise, a bit off the mark but in Fiasco you have a powerful storytelling engine that makes players think creatively. You naturally expand upon the basic Setup to create a dark and very comic narrative for the characters you have crafted.
For a relatively simple RPG Fiasco has a surprising amount of depth and gives lots of room for the player’s to customise and expand upon their experience. Easily played over an evening the game leaves you wanting more. You wonder what would have happened if you made different choices or nudged the story and your character in a different direction. It is a game of possibilities and it will envelop you before, during and after you play.
1 – This game is not for the faint of heart!
The game’s playsets and very structure encourage darkly comic storytelling, so if someone in your group of gamers is not okay with anything horrific/sexual/dark in nature being thrown into the mix at any point it is best to leave it for another day. I would say if your group can get through a session of Cards Against Humanity without feeling like truly terrible people and thinking less of each other then you should be okay.
2 – 4-5 players is the perfect group size for this game.
This is because each player has a direct relationship to the person to their left and right. Going over 5 people dilutes those connections and rather than making the relationships circular it can become linear which would considerably weaken the game’s narrative toolset. On the flip side having less than 4 people would make the web too tight and restrict the story being created. Although that might not be a bad thing, it all depends on the story you are trying to tell.
3 – Anything can and will happen.
This is a game which gives you a basic setup and an additional twist at the halfway mark. The rest is up to the players to decide and dictate. Encourage everyone to push their character’s to the limit and make it clear that this is not really a game of winning or losing but of creating the best possible story for your character be that for good or ill. It is not a perfect fit for everyone, for example my wife has a more…competitive streak in her. So she kept wondering how to win while we were playing. There is technically a win state, get the best ending for your character. But the main focus is on collectively creating a story rather than being better than another player.
I would also highly recommend taking the time to obtain and print out the various playmats, details cards and name placements available on the Bully Pulpit Games website and Board Game Geek page for Fiasco. The game can be played with bits of scrap paper but I found that the semi-official print outs made the game more inviting for the players. As ever with tabletop gaming presentation plays a big part in selling a game to a group.
It was around Act 1, Scene 6-7 that the game seemed to really click for me. The awkward establishing of the story had passed and every character/player was starting to work towards something. It was also at this point that the power of the Relationships and Details we had created during The Setup became really clear to me. This interconnected web of details was suddenly heightened and I wanted to see where it was going to lead. Everyone was pushing it to go in certain directions but in the end the story and characters always seemed to win out resulting in some interesting twists and turns in our tale.
The dynamic of Establishing (you coming up with the scene then the group deciding the outcome), or Resolving (the group coming up with the scene for your character and you deciding the outcome) also really began to show itself. It was also at this point that everyone got their heads around the idea of having more of one type of dice (Positive or Negative) than the other was the best thing for their characters.
The story grew with the game and it was interesting to see how everyone interpreted its events, moving some threads to their next step, leaving others hanging. More than anything it is an interesting exercise in looking at storytelling and what people respond to both individually and as a group. It happens naturally and I only really clocked it when some seismic shifts happened in both Acts of the game.
I think the best thing about Fiasco though is that it is a surprisingly inclusive game. If someone feels awkward with rolepalying they simply do not have to do it. They can just choose to Resolve all the time or if they are Establishing, just describe their scenes rather than act them out. The open invitation for people to throw in suggestions for what an individual is doing or the group is deciding upon is also freeing. You are all always agreeing on where to take the story and you character yet you have the power of the final say when it is your scene.
The only real pitfall of the game is that there were a couple of times when players were struggling on what to add to their scenes and the group had yet to determine their outcome. The result of which was things petering out for a bit in places. This is mainly a lesson learned type thing and something I will move to avoid in future Fiasco sessions.
Pre-Game and The Setup
I began by explaining the aim of the game in terms of creating a Fargo/Black Comedy like film story and broke down the rules briefly. I then revisited each part of the rules in more detail during each phase of the game. I urged people to get into character and push them to their limits from the get go and in the end we had a gripping tale of the sordid pasts of characters in a Nice Southern Town catching up with them.
The Setup, perhaps the game’s most confusing part went well. With everyone eventually grasping the purchasing Categories and Elements mechanics. We fully defined Relationships first then dealt with Needs, Objects and Locations. Finally coming up with character names and setting the stage for Act 1, Scene 1.
(Warning! The following gets a bit *ahem* adult themes and post watershed like so you know, don’t read any further if things like implied incest keep you awake at night!)
Public Indecency In A Nice Southern Town
A Bristolian Contingent Production
Callum as Frankie Schultz
Dave as Renard Renoir & Reverend Daniels
Jodie as Sehree Mae De La Vaudeville
Kim as Camembert Campervan
Sam as *loud audible sigh* Mingeater Muffdiva
(Yes diva, not diver you didn’t read it wrong)
It all started with a Police Officer, Sheree being arrested for public indecency, she flashed her breasts inappropriately while on the job and was put into the local Police Station’s holding cells. (The background on this is that that the person playing this character is a new mother and the recent UKIP/Breastfeeding stupidity has but her own breasts into the forefront of her mind so it was both a fun AND topical inclusion in the tale!) This police officer had a past with unusual “cousin” Renard Renoir and as the game went on it turned out that they had a child and had given it to a Reverend with a clown named BoBo present to witness the exchange. All of which Sheree had blanked out of her mind until the stunning revelation at the end of Act 1.
This exchange of words and babies had been overheard by a Camembert Campervan who was friends with Mingeater Muffdiva a hoodlum who was ironically my character’s gay lover, which resulted in lots of running jokes that are far to rude to post here. Also my character Frankie, had a one-time fling with Sheree in a moment of weakness in the Police Station holding cells many years ago.
Over the course of Act 1 things spiralled out of control as the secret of the child was slowly revealed to every character. It turned out that the child was Mingeater whose real name was Sheldon Renoir and the Reverend that Renard and Sheree had given him to had sold him to a crack house shortly after taking charge of him.
Why? Because drama!
When Camembert revealed the truth to Mingie/Sheldon she felt the weight of her life choices beginning to weigh upon her and we had a haunting moment were she was contemplating her life while another player played music on a piano that was present in the room we were playing the game in. It was a chilling moment and had everyone on the edge of their seats as Camembert decided to head out to Lookout Point to end it all.
However after a series of misunderstandings and Tilt induced paranoia, Frankie found out about the child but believed himself to be the father. Meaning that his relationship with Mingie/Sheldon had a potentially twisted and Oedipal nature to it. This resulted in Frankie going to confront the only person who would know the truth about all of this, Sheree’s “cousin” Renard. So armed with a machete, Frankie set off to Renard’s house. Where the Reverend, who had suddenly reappeared in town, was in the process of reuniting Mingie/Sheldon with Renard and Sheree. Frankie burst into the house and attempted to kill Renard because of his increasing paranoia but Sheree dived in front of the blade. Covered in blood and horrified by his actions Frankie dropped the machete and fled to Lookout Point.
In Renard’s home Mingie/Sheldon tried to save Sheree’s life while Renard was holding her. Her last words to Mingie/Sheldon are that she is not his mother (what a twist!) and then she died, very dramatically. Enraged by this turn of events Renard picked up the machete and chased the Reverend through the town to, you guessed it, Lookout Point.
At Lookout Point, blood still dripping from his hands, Frankie is contemplating ending it all when he spots Camembert doing the same. Frantic, he turns and walks towards her. The sight of him covered and dripping blood causes Camembert to naturally try and get away from him. Frankie trips on a rock and falls over the edge of Lookout Point. Camembert then desperately tries to save Frankie who is now clinging to the edge of the cliff. Sadly she slips on the blood that has dripped off Frankie’s hands and seemingly plunges to her death. Then Renard manages to chase the Reverend to the same exact spot of Lookout Point and the Reverend slips on the blood and plunges to his death.
Seeing the helpless Frankie clinging to the cliff Renard faces a choice, get revenge or save the life of the killer of his “cousin.” Renard decides to save Frankie and pulls him up to safety.
In the intercut montage we see Frankie turning himself in, facing a long drawn out trial and having a miserable time in prison. So miserable he tries to end it all but because he is Frankie, he fails miserably and is left in a broken heap on the floor with only his shame and guilt to accompany him.
The events of the story cause Mingie/Sheldon to go off the deep end. He turns to hard drugs and he ends up in psychiatric care after a run in with the Police.
Camembert miraculously alive, slowly climbs to the top of Lookout Point heavily bruised and shaken. She sees Renard and decides to finally tell him the truth. The reason she was there that day to see the Clown witnessed baby exchange was because she is in fact Renard’s lovechild from a fling had with Sheree’s “sister.” They hug and are about to reconcile when you guessed it, Renard slips on the blood from Frankie’s hands and falls to his death while Camembert looks on in horror.
The story ends with Camembert going to Sheree’s very well attended funeral. Sheree a true innocent in all this madness is now at peace her past dalliances forgiven by all.
It all got a bit Desperate Housewives towards the end but it was a lot of fun, the highlights being the haunting piano scene and the farcical sequence of events that lead everyone to Lookout Point. An extra location that we introduced organically in Act 2. I’m hoping to run another session with my main gaming group over New Year’s but this was a perfect first game. Everyone picked it up quickly and ran with it.
There were lots of crude jokes, puns and faux dramatic reactions. Also there a few “So she knows, that he knows, that she knows? But he doesn’t know that she knows that he knows!” conversations that made perfect sense! The only real casualty being my wife’s glasses which were crushed when she was sandwiched between the emotional reunion hug of Mingie/Sheldon and Renard!
So if you have a group of friends who are up for a laugh and also like films like Fargo, Pulp Fiction, In Bruges, American Beauty, etc. I highly recommend giving Fiasco a go.