Fiasco: A Mutual Problem

Stayed up way too late last night getting into trouble. Some of the Arc Dream folks and I decided to get together after the Ennies to give Fiasco a try.

As came up at the game table as we were explaining the game to those who hadn’t read it, Fiasco is essentially the Coen Brothers/Guy Ritchie rpg. It’s a game, as the cover says, of powerful needs and poor impulse control. The whole experience is geared toward creating interlocking connections to tell a story where things spiral out of control and everything ends badly in a most entertaining manner.

One of the core elements of playing Fiasco is what they call a playset. These are lists of options for relationships, objects, locations, and needs relevant to a specific setting. Each of the four categories is broken din into six general types, and each general type is broken down into six specific elements. So, you have 36 relationship options, 36 location options, etc.

You get four playsets in the book, and each GenCon copy came with one extra play set in a separate booklet, and apparently there are more on the Bully Pulpit Games website. There are also rules for creating your own in the book.

Elements are added in turn to the game semi-randomly. You roll a huge mitful of dice – four for each player, and people take it in turns to take a die from the rolled pile and buy an item from the playset, building a network of relationships and details to serve as the framework for the story you tell. Only after you get the framework of the situation fleshed out to you decide who your characters are, based on the relationships you’ve built.

So, in our game we wound up with:

  • Frank Dodd, a corrupt, divorced police officer
  • K. C. Montana, a war hero seeking to uncover the corruption in the city
  • Martin Thornton, studio owner, Frank’s patron, and K. C.’s father-in-law
  • Max Shirley, bookstore owner and sparring partner of his war buddy, K. C.
  • Margaret Phelps, Frank’s ex-wife, and Max’s employee

Game play runs in a series of scenes that players create in turns. Players can choose either to establish the scene, in which case the rest of the players decide whether the outcome is positive or negative, or to resolve the scene, choosing positive or negative outcomes themselves, while the rest of the players set the scene.

After each character gets two focus scenes, the first act ends, and the group introduces a couple of complications that really make things go south. Another round of two focus scenes per character, and the second act ends.

Now, if you’ve been using the details created in the set-up phase, things will have degenerated massively by this point, probably to the destruction of at least one or two of the characters. In our game, a love square had formed around Margaret, with Max and Frank intensely jealous of (married) K. C. and his attentions. Frank kept trying to win her back, and Max went to Thornton to report that K. C. was cheating on Thornton’s daughter (“We have a mutual problem…”). Frank and K. C., after initially trying to kill each other, (Max to Frank: “We have a mutual problem…”) wound up uniting to bring down Thornton after Max’s betrayal was revealed. Frank wound up shooting Thornton, Margaret got a little knocked around, and K. C.’s gun was found at the scene of the shooting.

So, as play progresses through the scenes, characters accumulate dice: black dice for negative outcomes, white dice for positive ones. When the second act is over, it’s time for the aftermath. Each player rolls the dice for his or her character to see, basically, how screwed he or she is. The wrap-up is then narrated in turn as a montage by each player, describing how each character meets his or her come-uppance.

For our group, only Margaret came out ahead, moving to San Francisco to start a new life. Thornton was dead, and Montana had become what he hated most, taking over his father-in-law’s businesses, both legitimate and otherwise. Frank was a broken shell of a man, firmly under Montana’s thumb, and Max… Max wound up pretty much back where he started, hiring a new attractive clerk for his store.

From start to finish, the game took about two to two-and-a-half hours. It ran very smoothly, and all the rules were easy to understand. I was the only one who had read the entire book, so I acted as facilitator, as well as playing Margaret – the game doesn’t have a GM. Easy to pick up, minimal prep, and fast to play. It was a hoot.

Now, as I was starting to explain the rules to the others, it was pointed out to me that the author, Jason Morningstar, was sitting at the table behind us playing AD&D. When we finished our game, we rudely interrupted his to tell him how much we had enjoyed Fiasco, and he was very gracious.

So, good game. Pick it up.

**Edit** I was wrong. It was actually Steve Segedy, not Jason Morningstar, whom we accosted at two in the morning while he was playing AD&D. Still, he was very gracious with a bunch of late-night fanboys, and also forgiving of my misidentification of him. It was late, and I didn’t read his badge – one of the players pointed to him and said, “It’s his game,” and I leaped to entirely the wrong conclusion. So, sorry about that, Steve. No hard feelings?

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3 Responses to Fiasco: A Mutual Problem

  1. Ha! A chill ran through me when I first read your post – *what was I doing in Indianapolis*? – so thanks for the clarification. I’m glad you guys enjoyed Fiasco, and I’m glad you got to meet Steve, who is excellent.

  2. Rick Neal says:

    And thanks for being understanding about my boneheaded error. 😉

  3. John Marron says:

    THat was my fault for mis-identifying Steve as Jason. I already sent an apology to Steve, but man, we were so pumped after playing that we just wanted to gush about the game. I’m obsessed with Fiasco now, and hope to get the playset I’m working on done soon. Rick’s portrayal of Maragaret in our Genocn game was wonderful. I’m glad we finally got to game together!

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