I debated classifying Fiasco as a game, and I am not sure that it truly fits the classic description of a game. Yes, there are outcomes, and they are measurably good or bad, but that doesn’t mean that you feel like you lost. In fact, you might decide halfway through that it really doesn’t make sense for you to try and “win”. This is an experience meant to model a Coen Brothers or Guy Ritchie style film, after all. Basically a quick description of the game aspects works like this:
There are two types of dice in the game, designated by color. One color is designated as the good choice color, and one is the bad choice color. At the end of the game, you roll your dice pool (four dice of some color combination), and the lower color roll is subtracted from the higher color roll in order to get your overall color roll number. You want higher numbers of any color in order to end up alright. Again, this entire game is based on something like the Coen Brothers or Guy Ritchie, so sometimes the hapless criminal ends up successful in an entirely unexpected way, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s just how it shakes out. During the first round, you get a die based on the outcome of your scene, and you give that die away. You do not keep it. In the second round, after the tilt, you keep the die you receive based on your scene. Good color for a favorable scene outcome, bad color for a negatively impacting scene outcome.
So how do you get these die? There are two actions you can take on your turn. You can either Establish a scene, where you get to pick the location and the participants (one of which must be you, as you are the central character), or you can Resolve a scene, where other people decide the location and the participants (one of which is still you, as you are the central character of any scene on your turn). If you Establish a scene, the rest of the table decides on the color of die you receive based on the way the scene is going. If you Resolve, you get to dictate the outcome and get pick the die color. This is easy enough, but it allows you to strategize. If you want to start someone down the path of ruin, you do have that option, but it opens up revenge dice assignments.
The other “game” like moments occur during creation, the turn, and the epilogue. The batches of dice are rolled and pairs are used to determine the actions. Such as 6-2 might mean something, while 2-6 means something else based on the chart. The game MUST have four relationships defined, one location, one object and two needs. Needs are things that should drive the story and are really simply plot propulsion. Now, these categories are different for every Setting you choose. We chose Gangster London. However, these are less game like and more just like a fun randomization. Each player will get one relationship between them and the person either directly across from them or the person next to them, but diagonal relationships are never established. The relationships might contain paired words, such as Con Man/Mark, and it’s up to the rest of the relationships and the players to figure out which person is which. For our set up, it was obvious which person should be the Con Man, and which one was the Mark. To quickly sum up, our relationships were Con Man/Mark, Co-Workers, Parole Officer/Criminal, and Siblings. The location defined, between me and the person on my left was Bank. The object between me and the person in front of me was The Strongest Weed You Have Ever Smoked. The need between the person across from me and the person next to him was Wants Revenge On the Russians. The need between the person next to me and the person across from him was To Get Some Unanswered Questions Resolved. Because of the relationships, objects and locations it made sense that I was a Mark who worked at a bank and occasionally testified as an expert witness, which is how I worked with the Parole Officer on my left. The guys across the table were brothers, and were obviously Russian.
So that’s how our first two rounds progressed. The story resolved as the Con Man was the younger, inept brother of the true criminal, a Russian doctor who was an organ harvester. The bad criminal was trying to frame the Russians who beat him up by planting weed in their cars outside the night club and humiliate them by having the arrest televised. I was a poor bank official who gave out loans and was defrauded by the Con Man, who forged the check I had given him and I was on the hook to get the money back by the end of the week, a scant two days away. The parole officer wanted to get the doctor for a case of unanswered murders where the victims all had their organs harvested, but he could only get the doctor on selling his prescriptions for a profit.
The tilt, which occurs after two rounds of scenes, established that for the final two rounds, something precious would be set on fire, and that cold blooded vengeance would occur. As you might expect, the weed caught fire before it’s purpose could be completed and due to a complication between similar vehicles, it was the poor banker’s car that was covered in burning weed. I, in turn, tried to murder the Con Man who had driven me to seek out the Russians to help me track this guy down. In short, everything ended up as awfully as you might imagine. I ended the session with two white die and two black die. The others were 3/1, 1/3 and 2/2. The two criminals ended up well from this, while I was sent to a minimum security prison after testifying against the Russians and was killed my first night inside by the Russian waiting in my cell. The Parole Officer was promoted to detective, but was forced to give up his ambitions of catching the squirlie Doc Petrov, who continued to harvest organs and had only the most minor of inconveniences from the whole ordeal, a flesh wound from a bullet. The criminal, his brother Nathan, ended up being accidentally hit by a car, awarded settlement money and became a talk show darling after it was revealed he narrowly escaped the whole sordid affair at the climax.
While I technically lost the game, it didn’t matter to me at all and I had an absolute blast. The game never climbed into absolutely ridiculous territory, and stayed firmly within the realm of the genre and the people at the table absolutely knew what they were getting involved in at the beginning of the game. Expectation management couldn’t have been any better. The one thing I feel I need to stress is that strong creative and improv skills are desired to make the game really flow well, and you have to be willing to just jump in and help out in a scene as it’s demanded of you. It’s all just whatever shakes out in the story, and it’s truly a collaborative experience.
All in all I would give the game five smiley faces. It was a joyous experience and I already can’t wait to try out another scenario. Failing zoo anyone?