That Fargo Game10 March 2011 in Reviews by Banjo the Clown
Whilst the Capn’ is fighting the internet trolls with his +2 words, I have a game to review. Obviously, I’m talking about Bully Pulpit’s wonderful game Fiasco, written by Jason Morningstar. The one that @Captcalamitous called “too indie even for me”. Is it very indie? I guess, although I don’t see anything wrong about that. The presentation is sleek and stylish, the quality of the book is amazing, and for twelve pounds I got a physical copy and a PDF download. Can’t go wrong. On top of that, every month there’s a new free playset on the website, complete with a crisp and fresh gorgeous illustration.
Fiasco calls itself a roleplaying game of powerful ambition and poor impulse control. The book presents itself as a “make your own Coen brother’s film in a few minutes and play it out in your living room” kind of thing. Which is exactly what it is, and it works wonderfully. Now, if you’re not a film aficionado then you’re probably wondering who the hell these Coen brothers are. For those of you less film savvy, think of films with criminal ideas gone disastrously wrong, possibly with a lot of black comedy elements. Like Guy Ritchie films or, say, Ocean’s Eleven that end up killing each other for the money they just stole, until there’s nothing but the money left (I’d so watch that).
The way it works is, you choose a playset, which is effectively a list of details styled around a certain theme. The default ones that come with the book are a southern town, a booming town in the wild west, suburban life and a research station in Antarctica. There’s plenty more to choose from on their website, like a rock tour or a group of adventurers who just slew a dragon and want all of the loot for themselves. These give you some ideas for the relationships, needs, objects and locations you’re gonna give to your characters. And then you play out scenes, where you either set up the scene and let the other players resolve it, or give your friends the right to set you up but choose the outcome yourself. You play these scenes till it all comes crashing down. There’s a bit more to it than that, but this forms the bulk of the game.
I’ll be honest with you, the rulebook sat on my shelf for about three months, if not a bit more, without being touched. I read it as soon as it came in the post, which took me about 2-3 hours, very quick for a roleplaying game. But finding a group to play with was not as quick. Admittedly my wife jumped at the idea, and our flat mate was partial to it as well, but we felt like we needed one more person. Now, after having played it, I wish we had been playing it all along. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that, right after we finished, I wanted to dive in again and play a second game. We picked the ‘Antarctica research station’ playset and slowly progressed through character creation, which took a bit more time than the book suggests. But in the end we had a rag tag group of flawed individuals that were about to face each other in inevitably gruesome fashion. I felt like my character was the catalyst for it all; being the guy who scams the warehouse system, is being investigated for fraud and has an unhealthy obsession with his fire axe. Why would I create such a psychopath? Well, the beauty of the game is that you’re only responsible for 40% of who your character is and what he does. The rest is decided by the group and the game still feels like you have the right amount of control.
There were a few hiccups I have discovered. The rules for the setup were incredibly vague and hard to read. I had to re-read it a few times. This might just be me but I usually don’t find rulebooks confusing. But this I feel is a minor issue compared to how much everyone in our group preplayed. Instead of playing the scene we would pre-describe what would happen in it, and when it came to actual roleplaying we wouldn’t know what to do since everything’s already been said out loud. The book addresses this and tells you to avoid it, but it’s very tempting to still do it. Of course this isn’t the game’s fault, but it did taint our session slightly.
The real driving force behind the mechanics however is ‘The Tilt’ and ‘The Aftermath’. The Tilt is a midway point and introduces a car-crash element to your stories. Suddenly my axe-guy, who up to this point was only mildly threatening, had to become a murderer because some of the other players thought that “Greed leads to killing” is a good tilt element to introduce to our game. The aftermath is an exercise in the unexpected. It’s a montage-like summary of the game that wraps things up with three to five sentences per character. Again, because you are not in control of your fate, you never truly know how the game is going to end, even when you think you have it all figured out. I was fairly sure that my axe-man was not coming out of this alive. Not only did he get away with only a minor insignificant head injury, but the final sentence of my montage revealed him in a new warehouse, getting up to no good again.
The bottom line is: this game is awesome. I can’t think of enough ways to recommend it. Oh and I hear there’s a sourcebook coming out in the near future too.
p.s. Follow me on twitter @banjotheclown