My weekly gaming group took a break from our regular Dungeons & Dragons campaigns to play Fiasco … in space!
Fiasco (Amazon /Indie Press Revolution ) by Bully Pulpit Games is a role-playing game of ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. It’s a role-playing game for 3-5 players and no game master inspired by movies such as Fargo, A Simple Plan, and The Way of the Gun. Essentially, it’s a Coen Brothers simulator.
The game is divided up into four stages. The first is set up, in which you establish your characters and the relationships between them. Setup also determines their essential needs, important objects (e.g. guns, drugs, a $1 million in unmarked bills), and notable locations (dive bar, my uncle’s old hunting lodge). Then comes Act 1, in which the fiasco unfolds, the story is established, and the narrative starts building towards a series of unfortunate events). In the middle of the game comes The Flip, which adds further complications to the game. Act 2 is where it all goes to hell, with your characters along for the ride (or more specifically, driving the 18 wheeler of doom). It all ends with the Aftermath, where you determine just how bad things ended for your character (spoiler alert: probably pretty bad).
I played it once at MEPACON, and I’ve been itching to play it ever since. Re-familiarize myself with the game, I watched Wil Wheaton’s Fiasco episodes of Tabletop: Setup, Part 1(consisting of Act 1 and the title), and Part 2 (Act 2 and the Aftermath).
The episodes do an excellent job of explaining the game’s setup and core mechanics. More importantly, the episode shows how the game brings order out of chaos as the players brainstorm and then execute ideas.
For the game itself, I printed out the Fiasco Play Mat, which served as a quick reference reminder of the stages of the game and the Fiasco Facilitation Cheat Sheet, which summarizes what to do at each of those stages. Finally, I downloaded and printed Geek Ken’s Fiasco Cards, which are simply cards to write down the relationships, needs, objects, places, and Tilt effects on.
A long time ago, in a Fiasco far, far away
The game leverages playsets to frame the story. The baseline Fiasco playsets draw inspiration from source material like Fargo, but people have built dozens of variant playsets to support the game covering settings from Star Trek, Archer, and Paranoia. If you’re looking for a playset for your game, I recommend visiting Fiasco Playsets, a browseable and searchable archive of playsets for the game.
For our first game, I went with the Star Wars-themed Escape from Cloud City rather than a more standard Coen Brothers-style game. My gaming group is fluent in Star Wars, having played a Knights of the Old Republic campaign for several years and well, we’re all geeks of a certain age. Star Wars is in our DNA (and that of our kids as well, but I digress).
Here’s our set up:
- E-3PO: Remember that protocol droid that cursed at C-3P0 in Huttesse when he arrived in Cloud City? This is that droid … and it turns he was a criminal mastermind playing the Empire and Rebellion against one another.
- Rando Valanisan: A naive Rodian infatuated with the Rebellion who thinks he’s as cool as Lando Calrissian (he’s not). By day, he’s a carbon freeze technician; by night he works with his rebel contact, E-3PO to help the Rebellion achieve its inevitable triumph.
- Jeren Biddec: A human middle manager in over his head. Responsible for the carbon freezing process in Cloud City, he’s part of E-3PO’s criminal organization. When the droid needs someone disappeared, Jeren and his ugnaught enforcers find the person, freeze them in carbonite, and smuggle them out of the city.
It’s an almost stable triangle of need that starts to teeter almost immediately. Rumors spread that an Imperial Star Destroyer is in the system and that Lord Vader himself is on the Cloud City … and is showing an unhealthy amount of interest in the carbon freezing facility. Rando, seeing an opportunity to strike a blow for the Rebellion, decides to overload the carbon freezing process as a way of hurting – or perhaps even killing – the Sith Lord and his minions.
Meanwhile, the insectoid bounty hunter Zuckuss is in Cloud City hunting rebels … and has a lead on Rando. The Rodian, eager to save his own neck and escape the bounty hunter’s attention, points to his boss Jeren as the real rebel provocateur on the station. Motivations begin to crash into one another: with the Empire on Cloud City, E-3PO sees a way to manipulate supply and demand within the carbonite market, Rando dreams of killing Imperials in a convoluted carbonite death trap, and Jeren just wants to get out of the city.
This is all complicated half-way through the session when Lando Calrissian announces that the Imperials have seized control of Cloud City … and all the transportation hubs are locked down.
Chaos ensues, and naturally, it all goes very badly. In the aftermath, Rando ended up incarcerated on an Imperial prison planet, E-3PO had his memory wiped and was told to rout out his own criminal empire, and Jeren emerged largely unscathed, contemplating how things might go better next time.
It ended several years later after the fall of the Empire. Rando gets released from the prison world and shows up in Jeren’s office, where he asks “So what now boss?”
Next steps with Fiasco
Everyone enjoyed the game and would like to play it again. I can see this being one of our go-to games when we want to play an RPG, but we don’t have enough people to pull off our regular Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. The Escape from Cloud City playset proved to be a good introduction to the game because everyone in my group had a shared understanding of Star Wars(perhaps much more so than Fiasco’s original source material). I think it’d make a great convention one-shot for that reason, and I’m thinking of running at MEPACon one of these days.
I’d like to play Fiasco with four players. While the game is fun with three, I think four players gives you more opportunities for mayhem … and the possibility that one player doesn’t have a relationship with another player at the table. That would give rise to more intraparty conflict as people’s competing needs go to war with one another, and I can see how that could lead to some disastrously fun scenarios. Regardless of the number of players, I’m looking forward to playing the game again.
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The Fiasco rulebook, along with a few Star Wars: Saga Edition rulebooks. Credit: Ken Newquist