By: Jason Morningstar
Players: 3 – 5
Playtime: about 2 hours
Everyone loves a good movie. One full of drama, passion, action, adventure, and maybe a bit of tragedy. Well, Fiasco is a great way to make one of those movies play out in your imagination with your friends. In this game, the players take the role of actor and writer in a Coen Brothers style movie where anything can happen but it will probably all end up going horribly wrong. There will be some carefully laid plans and some high stakes, but as the famous saying goes, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Setup & Gameplay
Setting up the game is different than most role playing games. In Fiasco, there are several playsets to choose from. Each scenario gives different choices for planning out the character’s own black comedy. From there, each player will roll 4 dice, 2 white and 2 black, and consult the table of options for fleshing out the story. There are random tables for relationships, needs, locations, and objects. Each one of these has a subset to go along with them. So each player will build up this intermingled web of circumstances and deceit tying all the characters together and setting the stage for catastrophe.
After setup, players now get to act out the movie. In Act I, one player goes first and in that first scene they will be the central figure. Then they choose to either establish or resolve a scene. During the course of the interaction, determine the outcome. If it’s a good outcome, choose a white die. If it’s a bad outcome, choose a black die. If the player chooses an establish scene, they get the die will then give the die away to a different player. If the player chooses a resolve scene, the player chooses if the scene was good or bad for them and takes the corresponding die. Act I ends when half the dice are gone.
After Act I, comes The Tilt. The Tilt is when a new element of the story comes in to mess up everyone’s carefully laid plans. A player will then roll all the dice they have. Here they will add up all the black dice pips and all the white dice pips and then subtract the lowest from the highest. For example, if a player has one black die and three white dice, they roll all of them together. And if the result is a 5 on the black die and a total of 4 on the white dice, it is a total of 1 black. The player with the highest black total and the highest white total gets to consult the Tilt table to add in a new story element. Players will get to keep the dice they got in Act I.
Act II plays similarly to Act I. The exception is now everyone must incorporate the Tilt as well. It can come in at any time but players should be trying to tell the story with the Tilt in mind. Play continues like in Act I until the final scene. In the final scene, the die is wild and can be either positive or negative. This is mostly to get the last player to do a resolve scene and that way they get to choose and not the other players at the table.
When Act II ends, then comes the Aftermath. The Aftermath is when we learn what finally happens to these characters. Each player will roll the dice they accumulated over the course of the game. And just like the tilt, they will add up all the black and white and then subtract from the lowest from the highest. Then they will consult the aftermath table based on that final number.
This is such a fantastic game for writers. It gives plenty of prompts to help with creativity and it forces players into “new choice” improv. This opens them up to new possibilities and promotes creative thinking. Things won’t go the way the players want, so it’s important to adapt and keep the story going. There’s no GM in this game. It’s a completely cooperative effort to tell the best movie possible.
There’s a lot of replay value with a game like this. And with four playsets in the book along with several more playsets in other books available, it’s a game anyone could play for quite a while.
Some players might find it difficult to wrap their minds around the idea of a game without a “winner.” Winning and losing isn’t the point of a game like this. Telling the best story possible and having a unique story to tell to other friends is the point of the game. Chances are the characters will not make it through this game alive. It’s a black comedy. That’s why it’s called Fiasco. That’s not to say a happy ending isn’t possible. It certainly is. But, again, the point of the game isn’t to have your character come out on top. It’s to collectively tell an interesting story. One no other people in the world will ever see or hear. Assuming of course one of the players doesn’t turn their game into a screenplay.
Improv and acting isn’t for everyone and that’s the heart of this game. Some people will find games like this frustrating or unsatisfying. In that case, Fiasco will not make any converts. It’s a very good game and one guaranteed to get creative juices flowing, but that has to be appealing to the players involved.
Fiasco is also not ready to go out of the box. You can buy the book, but dice, index cards, and pens are sold separately. All these things are fairly cheap compared to other role playing games, but it does take some preparation.
If anyone ever saw A Simple Plan and wanted to take a crack at being in a movie similar to that, then Fiasco is worth a shot. It really is a game for people with a lot of creativity, a dark sense of humor, and poor impulse control.
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