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[Fiasco] It ended in tears, and smoking helicopter debris ...

BWA

Retired User
I played Fiasco last night for the first time. It was probably the hardest I have ever laughed at a gaming session.

I am always on the lookout for games to play with my non-gamer friends. The group was me, James (who plays in my regular gaming group), Edward (who played some D&D years ago, but doesn't dig tabletop RPGs) and Chris (who has only ever played one RPG before).

Fiasco requires no prep. Not in the sense that lots of games *claim* to require no prep, but in the real sense that there is no way to do any preparation whatsoever, and you can sit down and play at a moment's notice. Also, it is a GM-less game. Since it wasn't really a group of serious gamer nerds, this trangression against The Natural Order of Things passed completely unremarked upon.

The Set-Up

We went right to the set-up before I discussed the rules, to get everyone on board with the tone and the setting. There are four "playsets" in the book - lists of people, places, relationships and stuff that defines a setting. We picked "Main Street .... In A Nice Southern Town" (there's also a wild west setting, a suburban setting and an Antarctica setting). We're all from a small town in Virginia, and went to college in another, so we know the score.

There was some mild confusion over the idea that we don't "make" characters. I guess maybe more traditional gamers might have an even stronger reaction, but I'm not sure. Instead, we went around the table deciding on relationships (one between every two players), and details attached to those relationships (needs, objects and locations).

Once the relationships and details were in place, the process of figuring out who the characters are is fun, and really intuitive. It also leads to some surprises. I won't unpack the whole mess, but here's an example.

After all the elements were picked, between me and the player on my left (James) were the following index cards:

Relationship (Romance): Current spouses
Location (Out by the interstate): The Chicken Hut


And between me and the player on my right (Chris) were the following index cards:

Relationship (Romance): Current spouses
Need (To Get Even): With a police officer


So clearly my dude was some kind of polygamist, since he had two current spouses. Also, because of the way that other relationships around the table worked out, James' character was a woman, and Chris' was a man.

So, really, instead of your garden-variety polygamist, my character was a closeted gay man who had married his lover, despite already having a wife. Also, it seemed awesome to have my wife (James' character, who he named Billie-Anne Sandford) be the police officer that my character and his secret husband were plotting revenge on.

The only remaining element for my character was the Chicken Hut. We decided that I was the manager, and it was the source of great resentment between me and my wife. Also, it turned out that my secret gay con-man husband lived in the back room. Which would later cause trouble with a health inspector.

The other characters included: My mean-spirited cop wife, my secret gay con-man husband, and a lovely church volunteer who owned a mink farm (which was the target of my secret husband's con attempts).

It sounds convoluted, but the elements you draw one by one make untangling the mess really fun and easy to do. It doesn't actually require lots of clever character-making.

Act One

Act One was fantastic ... it really did seem just like a Coen brothers' movie.

The characters got quickly intertwined and horrible - the Chicken Hut was closed by a health inspector, my crazy cop wife decided to shoot me ("I'm not gonna shoot him HARD, just in the foot or something"), my secret gay con-man husband was forced to sleep with the church volunteer, was evicted, and came no closer to stealing the deed to the mink farm, and the church volunteer made inappropriate sexual advances and resorted to violence to put down an attempt by her developmentally-disabled unpaid pre-teen employees to unionize. ("I'll just go after the weakest one.")

Each player got two scenes, and could choose to either Establish (you set the scene for your character, but the other players decide if the outcome is positive or negative) or Resolve (you decide if the outcome is positive or negative for your character, but the other players set the scene up for you).

We had a pretty even mix of Establishing and Resolving. Both are fun. Plus, once the story gets rolling, it gets easy to set up a scene for someone. Like, when it became apparent that Edward's character - the church volunteer - was using the church as a front to get mink-skinning workers (the developmentally disabled children), and he asked us for a scene, we knew immediately that we wanted to see him confront the leader of the movement (Dougie, who ended up in possession a .357 Magnum).

The rules discuss technique for deciding the outcome of the scene - whether the players discuss positive v negative, or whether they just silently agree and hand over a die.

In our game, there was a mix, which was fun. Sometimes it was really obvious, like "Here's a white die, we have no idea how this should end, but we want Billie-Anne to beat Rick, because he's a jerk", and sometimes we stopped the scene to discuss for a moment, like "Wow. Where is THIS mess going?"

The Tilt

Before Act Two came the Tilt - where we introduce a couple of new elements. The story was already so wildly unstable and crazy that the two new details (A Betrayal by a Friend and A Sudden Reversal of Fortune) weren't really needed, but they were fun to work in.

We also took a break at this point, and there was much discussion of favorite moments from Act One, which I think is a sign of a good game. We dwelled at length on the church volunteer's ham-handed attempts to seduce the gay con-man ("Don't you FEEL where mah hand is?"), and Edward's excellent portrayal of a walk-on NPC - Lipscomb the health inspector, who closed down the Chicken Hut (he didn't actually care that there was a man living in the back office, he just needed to make his montly quota).

Act Two

The action got WAY more gonzo in Act Two. There were also quicker scenes, with less "in-character" dialogue. I think this had more to do with the night wearing on, and the general pitch-perfect pace of Act One than anything else.

Fiction-wise, the characters all ended up in Atlantic City (at a gay casino called 'GoodFellas'), one of them won a date with Brian Dennehy, and one of them crashed a helicopter into a revolving restaurant. It ended with the lady-cop (who had driven all night) pulling up and stabbing my character in the heart because she "loved him too much", which led directly to a giant police stand-off in the final scene.

The Aftermath

After the second act comes the aftermath, where you roll all the dice you have ended up with to see how bad your character's fate is. There is some strategy to your final number - you want to have as many of one kind of dice (black or white) as possible, and you can engineer your scenes to do that. We didn't do too much of that in the game, although I can see how that would be added fun if all the players knew the game well.

At the end, we went around the table, using up our dice. You can narrate one piece of fiction, montage-style, for each die you have at the end - we each had four. What you narrate has to generally align with the fate your character earned from the final roll.

My favorite bit here was the character with the worst fate - the lady-cop who was arrested following an attempted double murder of her cheating gay husband and his con-man lover. The last scene ended with her singing "I'm Proud to be an American", so each scene of her montage consisted of the cops (in Atlantic City and back home) and the prison guards all singing that song and saluting her while they arrested, processed and jailed her. It was awesome.

Hearty Recommendations

Man, this game is super fun. It might *sound* like a lot of work, but the rules make it easy to create chaos and mayhem, and a bunch of mean-hearted losers doing terrible things to each other.
 

Valandil

Loves Sci-fi RPGs
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I've been wondering about this game and wanting to hear more.

You just made a sale.
 

Elbast

Original Factory Setting
Validated User
I've had a dearth of interest in new products recently and had not heard of Fiasco at all before reading this on the basis of the title.

I suspect quite strongly that I'll be looking into the possibilities of picking this up having read it - it appears to tick many boxes for me, including the potential to play with family.

Sounds like you had a really great night, and it comes through strongly but a question - how much does the game actually support establishing the comic capers and how much of it simply must come from the players involved?
 

BWA

Retired User
Sounds like you had a really great night, and it comes through strongly but a question - how much does the game actually support establishing the comic capers and how much of it simply must come from the players involved?
My game was four people with lots of shared history and a strong shared sense of humor, so that was a big help, for sure.

Plus we all love and know the source material ('Raising Arizona' being a particular group favorite), so we instinctively knew what these kinds of characters should be doing - making bad, self-centered choices and resorting to dishonesty and violence when crossed.

But the game gives you genuinely funny material to work with. When I passed the book to people to choose their elements from the lists, there was usually laughter. All the details listed in blue above come from the rules.

The rules also set up the relationship mess for you. Played properly, there was no way for those four characters to NOT have a terrible time of it.

So I guess I can't really say for sure how much was the rules and how much was the players, but I think the design of the game pretty strongly supported the ensuing comedic mayhem.

One set-up tip from me would be to tie the loose ends as tightly together as possible. If there's any question about how a place or a thing relates to the group, tie it back to another PC. In this game, the Chicken Hut was a detail between my character and James' character, but we decided to have Chris' character live in the back room, which futher complicated matters (in a good way).
 

Matt Sheridan

Minus 10 horse points.
Validated User
Wow, this game really does sound like exactly what I'd hoped it'd be ever since hearing its title. How long did this whole playthrough take you? I'm now seriously considering it for some houseguests that are crashing with me for a comics convention. I just know my wife's sense of humor would send the whole thing careening into utterly horrible places, but we won't have all that long to play, when everybody's gonna be hitting the convention as well. Plus, there'll be six of us, and I imagine that'll slow things down.
 

BWA

Retired User
It wasn't bad on time, although not quite the 2-3 hours promised. I'd say 3-4 hours, from the moment we sat down to the moment the game ended.

But my friend Edward is SLOW AS BALLS when it comes to picking actions in a game, so you wouldn't have that to worry about.

Six players would be unwieldy. I think the rulebook actually limits the game to 3-5 players, and suggests 2 three-player groups if you have six.

EDIT: I guess you could GM/facilitate, and have 5 players. That would probably be fun, although less so for you.
 

jmstar

Retired User
BWA, your session sounds great!

Hey Matt,

The game's sweet spot is four players and it works with three or five. If you have six, as Brian suggests, you need to get creative:

* Facilitate a five-player game
* Have two simultaneous three-player games
* Have two people double up on each character, which can also be fun

My suggestion is to play two small games and use the same playset. Check in at the Tilt and incorporate some of what is happening in the other game into yours. If they burned down the police station, make a point of setting a scene in the ashes. It's even more fun if you can establish some simple relationship at the start - like even though they are in separate fiascos, your character in game A and my character in game B are brother and sister. Three-player games are very quick, which is a bonus in this situation.
 
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