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.

movie and book review: watchmen

So I saw Watchmen this afternoon, and am happy to report that it didn’t make me want to claw my eyes out, but it’s really not as good as the comic. I don’t know that I ever expected it to be and I was kind of relieved it wasn’t.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

While it was neat to see a bunch of the stuff on screen, it felt like it was a lot of eye candy but with like a salmon flavour (possibly tunafish). Just off somehow. Like Veidt is trying to get society off fossil fuels, when in the book he’d already done that and it hadn’t really helped the world. And Rorshach kills the kidnapper/killer with a cleaver instead of letting the guy make his own compromise to save his life or not. There wasn’t really a reason to care about anyone in the movie apart from the fact that it was a great book (which might have been the metatextual point).

The pace of the thing was wrong. I mean wrong for a movie and wrong for the book. In the book the simultaneity of the arrangement of panels on a page means that the whole Dr. Manhattan episode is actually happening all at once. It’s all right there and you can go with it back and forth, instead of being pulled through flashbacks. A movie goes forward even when it doesn’t really. But the structure of the thing needed to be handled differently. Movie flashbacks aren’t the same as comic book flashbacks. I know I’m probably just parroting a bunch of Alan Moore stuff here (it seems I a lot of my “views on comics” are the most easily understandable bits of his interviews), but I think in the end I do agree that it was unfilmable. (I do stand by my previous assertion that the best possible adaptation would have been as a 12-episode HBO miniseries.)

That’s not to say it was horrible. They did a good job with what they could do. There are lots of bits I missed seeing but they’re all still in the book. I just checked. No pages were erased by the existence of the film.

movie review: coraline

I did my part and went to see Henry Selick-directed Coraline (2009) last night. If it had just been Selick’s stop-motion movie I probably wouldn’t have seen it opening night, but it’s also a Neil Gaiman book, so adding my dollars to the opening weekend pool felt worthwhile. Apparently it does make a difference when you see a movie. Not when it’s Dark Knight or something big, but when it’s just a little one. I guess it matters for the big guys too, just not as much individually.

Anyway, the movie was good. I saw it in 3D. John Hodgman and whoever did the cat were my favourite voices, and the stop-motion was beautiful. The whole actual quest part of the story felt like it went too quickly. I mean, it looked good and all, but sitting in the theatre it felt like there was tonnes and tonnes of buildup and then boom! it was all over. In a nice neat package. I should know better than to expect the same kind of introspection you get from a book. And maybe I brought all that slow pacing to the book myself. Who knows?