Have you ever watched a movie like A Simple Plan and thought to yourself, I want to be just like that!?! Well, sit down and prepare to spiral out of control, as we look into Fiasco! Originally published in 2009 by Bully Pulpit Games, Fiasco, according to the publisher, is the original, award-winning, GM-less game for 3-5 players, designed to be played in a few hours with six-sided dice and no preparation.
Now many of you reading this may already be familiar with Fiasco as it has been around for a while, and even re-released with a newer edition more recently. The game itself has been features extensively on YouTube, even by such star power as Will Wheaton, the king of all things geek! But for those of you with only a passing familiarity, let me lay it down for you.
When you play Fiasco, you are creating a very interesting tragedy from the ground up. This is not a traditional RPG where everything is bit more guided and reactive, but rather fluid and proactive. This isn’t a game of following a single character, but rather creating a true cooperative story. As someone who has played RPGs for a long time, I had to put aside my fine tuned idea of what an TTRPG is in order to embrace this new system. So to make it easier for the uninitiated, I’m going to outline the steps of the game, and explain each one in detail. Your typical game will move as such:
Setup -> Act One -> The Tilt -> Act Two -> The Aftermath
The rules are simple here. Roll 20 Six sided dice and keep note of the flat values on each (how many ones, twos, etc.). From here you have to decide as as group what setting or “playset” will be used. The playset is a genre/setting typically in a single place or area. For instance there is a suburban setting, the old west, an arctic research station, etc. Once the playset is chosen then the players move onto creating relationships.
The game assumes that you are sitting around a table, so you as a player will set a relationship to the persons sitting next to you on either side. From here you pick a single number (from the pool you have established) and begin establishing Relationships, Needs, Objects, and/or Locations. You only need to have relationships defined at minimum, the rest are optional. The playset itself will act as a guide to help determine what certain dice equate to in each category.
For example, on your turn you could use your die to give yourself a relationship between an adjacent player, or you could use it on someone else to give them any other aspect. Everyone will take one die at a time going around the table until the die are exhausted. Now some of the categories may be broadly defined, but that is okay, because as players you will begin to fill in the gaps.
Now with the setting picked, a pool of die at the ready (10 white, 10 black) and playset established, each player will take the lead on establishing a scene. Let us sidebar for a moment:
SIDEBAR – You don’t need to be a thespian in order to enjoy or play this game. You as a player could just narrate what goes on and occasionally have dialogue. I have players in my group who were justifiably hesitant because they thought the game would be like some improv session or community theater, but this is simply not the case. Also, each one of those players had a great time with our play through.
Scenes are simple. You either set up a scene, or you choose to resolve one. Now this is where the game gets interesting because if you choose to set up a scene, the other players will vote on if it ends poorly or favorably for the player. Black and white die are used to represent this. Alternatively, if you choose to resolve a scene, the other players set it up and the player will reward a die to someone else (for whatever reason). This system goes around until the die are exhausted, and it moves onto the next step.
Now by this point each player should have at least a couple of die to represent what they were awarded when the took the lead on a scene, or gifted to by another player. The dice are rolled and those with highest value in either color category will be able to roll on something called the tilt table. This table represents incoming disaster. Perhaps an old enemy is coming to town, or something explosive lays in wait. Regardless, it is chosen and said result will need to be incorporated in our next step.
Just like Act One, scenes are established or resolved, and dice awarded respectively (albeit differently this time). The big addition to keep in mind is to incorporate the disasters chosen during the Tilt.
By the time this scene is over, the players will have a dice pool at the ready. Dice are rolled, and the corresponding value is compared against the aftermath chart. This is really the only time in the game where the total values have any true meaning because ideally, a high(er) score is better.
The result could be anything from the worst to awesome! It’s a bit subjective, but there are prompts for whichever category you may land on. From here each player will remove one die from their pool to narrate a very brief montage of what has unfolded (good or bad). Each vignette (or montage) will build on the greater tragedy or triumph, and could be told over a brief period or time or years after. Once the dice are exhausted, the story ends for the character and the tale is over.
I tried to make this review as palatable as possible, but I can understand where confusion may still set in. It’s like describing what it’s like to ride a rollercoaster. No description can do it justice compared to actually riding on one. When you play Fiasco, go in knowing that you are the conductor of this train wreck. So make it glorious wreck, and full steam ahead!
The system is very easy to learn, and the game doesn’t take long to play out (2-4 hours). Each story is unique, and becomes your own. By the end you really want to see how the story come together, or more aptly, falls apart.
Some may not like the free form storytelling, and lack of structured mechanics. This is wild, it’s chaos, and may be a tough sell for some players.
In Case You Are Wondering
Just this week I finished my first play through of Fiasco. The story centered in the old west and revolved around two charlatans, two miners, and a dad (of one of the miners) trying to steal a bag of gold nuggets.
Fiasco is a great break from a traditional TTRPG. This is a true cooperative storytelling experience where everyone plays a part in the outcome.