Do you revel in strategy?
Do you yearn for the new Chess; a game that’s finely tuned, lean and honed by decades of play?
Do you love big box games with hundreds of pieces, models and tokens?
Well, if you answered “No!” to all of these questions, you’re going to bloody love Fiasco.
Fiasco is a theatre student’s improv exercise gone insane; like a driving lesson in which you’re encouraged to backflip your car over a flaming pit. It’s a game of winding, twisting, hilarious stories that are created, moulded and sculpted by the imagination of a group of friends, and if it ever reaches the mainstream, it’ll be the number one cause of laughter related hernias in A&E units across the country - which is quite impressive when you consider that when you buy Fiasco, you get a small book. That’s all.
Well, that’s not strictly true; what you’re actually buying is imagination rocket fuel. If you don’t believe me, this is what part of a game of Fiasco can look like:
Fiasco is a nod to films like Fargo, Pineapple Express and Big Nothing - films in which a group of characters desperately try to achieve a goal while the world (and their plan) falls apart around them. It’s a very light set of roleplay rules that allows you to build stumbling, manic stories that grow and contort uncontrollably as the story progresses, and it’s as unpredictable as a bushfire.
Take the game we played last night for example. Exploding Robot’s esteemed colleague Mark had picked the setting for us; he’d chosen Manna Hotel, a scenario based around a Motel that allows for any number of creepy things to feature in the story. There are photos of torture, Mafia Members, sacrificial blades and a whole host of other sinister stuff that can turn up in your game - so of course, what we ended up with was a parent and child with some dubious magical abilities (A secretly gay man with a love for underpants, father to a Badger thief who believes the Brunette race should be in charge, both of whom can make jam slightly chunkier with their minds and not a great deal else), another member of the Brunette Sisterhood and her friend, the previously mentioned father’s toyboy - and that’s before the story even begins.
If it sounds insane, it is; you’ll end up with a table full of post-its with relationships written on them (the details of which are chosen by a load of dice), as well as a load of needs, places and objects that link those people. Each player takes it in turn to take the spotlight, and then decides whether they want to Establish or Resolve their scene.
Establishing allows you to set the start of the scene, while resolving allows you to choose how it ends for your character - but beware, because whichever one you do, the other is done by the group. You might decide your character is going to try to seduce his high-school sweetheart - but your friends might decide that things just ain’t going your way this time, and you and the person you’re working with are going to have to engineer that on the fly, and it’s that quick fire decision making which leads to all manner of baffling twists and turns.
By the end of the first act, your characters will have been through a lot. They will have smiled and laughed as their plans began to take shape, and cried as things from their past come to light, people let them down, or they lose something dear to them.
So at this point, you take a break, work out how everyone’s getting on, and get ready for act two.
Which is fine, but then it’s time for The Tilt.
The Tilt is that moment in those films we mentioned before where everything goes wrong. You can choose from a number of different horrific things to happen to your band of weirdos with calamitously enticing descriptions such as “confusion, followed by pain”, and you’ll often struggle to decide which Tilt elements you want to include in your plot because they’re all so horribly delicious, like chocolate ham.
Then act two begins, and everything continues to turn to shit, just worse than before. If people hadn’t died before, they might well do here; our Hotel Manna story ended up with one man dead, a girl half blind, another cast member in prison, and a man almost drowning in a swimming pool full of underwear and fabric softener; that’s the sort of awful situations this fantastic game can engineer (with your help, of course).
You might really like the sound of Fiasco - and if you have a soul, you should - but before you rush over to the Bully Pulpit site and download the pdf, take a minute to consider this:
Fiasco isn’t for everyone. It requires a group of people who aren’t afraid to do a bit of acting, and the better they know each other, the better (you are, after all, building a story together). Also, if you look at the video and picture included in this post, you might notice they both feature the demon drink - and I can’t deny that booze is a good lubricant for this particular fun engine.
However, if your gaming group is up for it; if you’ve played RPGs before, you all know each other and/or you all like to laugh, then give the game a go. There are loads of different scenarios available on the Bully Pulpit website that allow you to act out just about any story you like, and the rules (such as they are) are easy enough to follow, no matter how drunk you all are.