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Jason Morningstar

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Fiasco

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The Elevator Pitch
Fiasco is a game about powerful ambition and poor impulse control.

The Cab Ride to the Mexican Border Pitch
Fiasco is a roleplaying game for 3-5 players that requires no GM, no prep, and no shame. In two or three hours you play out a darkly comic disaster of Coen brothers proportions, at the foolish intersection of greed, lust, and chaos. It’s pretty fun. Your particular Fiasco will take place in a setting you choose, based on the many playsets that have been published and are freely available. Maybe it’ll occur among London’s gangster underclass, a la Guy Ritchie. Maybe it’ll take place in Dallas on the day Kennedy gets shot (and maybe one of you will shoot him). There are more than two dozen to choose from, and each offers endless replayability.

The Setup
Fiasco uses the same pile of six-sided dice as randomizers, a pacing mechanism, and outcome generators. You have black and white dice, their number dictated by the number of players. You first use them to help create the starting situation. You toss all the dice and take turns filling out the situation, guided by the numbers available on the dice and the playbook you’ve chosen. Playsets are divided into Relationships, Locations, Needs and Objects, and each is further divided into general categories (Relationship: Criminal) and details (Relationship: Criminal: Dealer and Customer). Each pair of players gets a Relationship, and each Relationship gets an Object, Need or Location pinned to it. As dice are allocated, a map of a situation poised to explode emerges. Maybe that dealer and his customer have Need: To Get Out: Of a Debt Come Due pinned to them. That’s going to drive the game in a particular direction.

Establish or Resolve?
Once the Setup is complete, you play the game. Players take turns having scenes about their characters. These are a sharply limited resource – everyone will get a total of four scenes during the entire game that they will have some authority over, two in each act. The pace of play is generally fast, and scenes are always meaningful, because you get so few. One of the core tenets of Fiasco is that you can either Establish your scene or Resolve it, but never both. If you Establish, you can frame it however you like and decide, generally, what’s going on and who is on hand to mix it up. But if you Establish, the outcome will be decided by your friends at the table and not you. Conversely, you can control the outcome and decide whether the scene is going to be positive or negative for your dude – Resolve – but if you do, those same friends are going to Establish it for you, and you aren’t going to like what they come up with. It’s a double bind that leads to pitch-black comedy.

Wrapping Things Up
Halfway through the game comes the Tilt, which foreshadows a bit of instability into the action. Tilt elements appear in the second half of the game, and take the form of things like Something precious is on fire or You thought it was taken care of, but it wasn’t. And after the second act, all the choices you’ve made – or that your friends have made for you – determine your character’s individual fate. Chances are it won’t be pretty, but getting there is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Cool Stuff
There’s a boatload of extras available for Fiasco, including a whole volume of critical thought on ways to play (The Fiasco Companion). Over 50 playsets are floating around, and Bully Pulpit Games has been publishing a free Playset of the Month for two years.

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