10 March 2010

Fiasco by Jason Morningstar

This is a odd game to read, because the resolution is quite unlike most games. I'm not sure exactly how it will play out. Given that, this has to be taken as a fairly preliminary review - I can't quite predict how it will go in action. That said, reports from the Internet are positive, in general, so I have fairly high hopes.

The game is designed to play stories like plan-gone-wrong type films - almost everything that the Coen brothers have done is a good touchstone, but Fargo and Blood Simple seem to typify the default style of the game. It's GM-less, in a similar way to The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

Play begins with a setup section, where you pick one of the playsets to give you a basic theme and setting. There are four of these in the book, plus they're releasing a new one each month this year (you can find the current one on the home page). So far, we have "A Nice Southern Town," "Boomtown" (wild west), "Tales from Suburbia," "The Ice" (McMurdo Station), "Rock Band on Tour," "Gangster London" and "Last Frontier" (Alaska). All are filled with delicious and terrible details to set your game up.

Once you've picked that, you roll all the dice (4 per player) and allocate relationships and details to give your story its starting point. You'll begin with one relationship with the player on your left and one to the right, plus each relationship will be associated with a need, object or place. Once all that's down you sort out how these fit together and finalize your character.

Then play begins, with everyone taking turns to have a scene. When it's your turn you either get to set the scene (i.e. set your character up to do something you want to see happen) or resolve it (i.e. decide whether it goes well or badly for your character). The rest of the players get to do the other task, so if you set the scene, they decide how it ends, and vice versa.

Then you play the scene out until the resolver decides it has reached the crux and picks a black or white die to indicate if it ends badly or well. You keep playing to work out what happens and then the turn passes.

Halfway through, you add a "Tilt" to make things more crazy. This includes things like stuff being stolen, people being killed and so on (My favorite probably has to be "Failure: A stupid plan, executed to perfection.")

Then play goes on, with everything in theory coming to a head. Then an aftermath is rolled for each character - essentially how terribly they come out of it. You then narrate details of their epilogue based on how many dice you collected.

I didn't go into collecting dice - it's an important economy but I thought it would cloud a quick description of the way the game runs. The short version is that you want to collect mainly one colour, but only have limited control over what you get, so the other players can use this to screw your guy over if they think he deserves it. I suspect this will add an extra level of messing with people into the mix.

In terms of how it will play, I'm not exactly sure. I'm confident that with a proactive group it will just hum along, but there's some areas of vagueness that might stall a little. For instance, the way that you just play out the results once it's determined whether good or bad results happen might be a problem. I suspect you need people ready to step up and declare things pretty frequently, like "I guess this scene is over now". These aren't really problems, but it would be a good idea to be wary of some of these things going in.

Physically, the book's lovely. It's filled with colorful, cartoony illustrations and fun layout and typesetting that really give you an off-kilter vibe as you read it.

I'm hoping to give the game a spin soon, so I'll update with how it played when I do (possibly including a report on the "Smalltown New Zealand" playset I could not resist putting together for it).

Fiasco home

2 comments:

Karen said...

I really like playing those "movie scene" games... esp the way the interactions are really intense... When I tried to run covenant it didn't work so well for me though...in retrospect, mostly because it is a game driven by interpersonal conflict which is something I try to avoid... apparently I want people to think I'm nice even when I'm supposed to be roleplaying

Let us know how it plays out and I'd be interested whether you think it might be made to work with 3 (the number we have on Wed nights)

I had fun last night GMing for the 1st time in yonks... and it must have been okay cos the others are up for more

The Gamester At Large said...

I'll definitely update with how it plays - hopefully as soon as next Monday. Four should be fine - 3-5 are the recommended numbers.

I can see that Covenant wouldn't really fire on all cylinders without pushing at the interpersonal stuff. When I played, it was still pretty intense there in a thriller mode. That seemed to work pretty well.