game review: fiasco

I played my first Fiasco game on Saturday with Jonathan (who’s a boardgamer and RPG dabbler) and Jamie (who had never played a tabletop RPG before). I’d just bought it at Emerald City Comicon, so it all seemed very serendipitous.

Fiasco is a GM-less storytelling game and it’s often pitched as “a game for creating a Coen brothers movie.” Unlike a more traditional RPG, the dice are more of a pacing mechanism than strict determinants of success and failure. Characters are generated through the relationships they have with each other before you really get into the specifics of what makes them tick. The other keys to the game are Needs, Objects and Locations. Each of those, along with the Relationships, are supposed to be things that will get the characters into a huge mess of trouble.

The game rotates through scenes focusing on each of the player characters. Halfway through a Tilt element is added, and then in the end you show what happened. Setting things up is done through a mix of choice and randomness based on the charts in each Playset (which are a basic setting).

Our game was set in the old west. We had a sick lazy Sheriff, his “doctor,” and his deputy. The doctor and deputy were trying to steal Widow Tompkins’ inheritance and get away with murder. The sheriff just wanted some pie (and everyone else at his beck and call). In the end, the doctor got away scot-free, the sheriff was an invalid being tended to by a disgraced deputy.

The game is definitely fun. There’s a lot of choice and everything feels pretty meaningful (as far as sitting around telling stories about made-up people can be). I think the next time we play, I’d want to push our scenes to have slightly higher stakes and stronger conflicts. We could have ramped it up to be a bit more madcap by the end. A gun was drawn in anger, a widow was defrauded, but it never got out of control.

Part of that was just because this was our first game and we were learning the ropes. We sometimes stumped ourselves deciding what the next good scene might be, and we could sometimes go a bit overboard in the establishment, leaving little for the scene itself to do. I can see how with a bit of practice and sense of short clear questions that the scene will resolve this game will produce some awesome experiences. I can’t wait to play again.

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