This is one of several posts written as part of a module at Abertay. They are being archived here for prosperity
So my group have finally sat down and played through a session of Fiasco. Our time spent weaving a tale of intrigue, scandal and murder through suburbia helped to reveal some insights into the game and I came away with a few thoughts.
First, the character creation system is excellent. Moving gradually around the table, each player either creating or adding to the relationships and details really works very well. It gets everyone involved with starting to make the story. The fact each character’s relationships are only with the people on each side of them is good helping to keep the complexity of the overall game down, without it turning into a mess of trying to work out how everyone relates to everyone else. In addition, each relationship has its additional details which lets you slip in the maguffin items or the general motive of each relationship. Most of the time these make sense but they can occasionally end up with bizarre details that just get ignored in favour of the story.
I also really liked the tilt and ending sections. Both of these take the dice on the table and uses them to setup the vital middle section or say how the end of the story plays out. The pile of tables and dice rolls forces you to bend the narrative to fit around the sudden twist which sounds horrible but does work out quite well in practise.
So flaws – you may notice I wasn’t a fan of either of the acts. This comes down to the way the scenes play out, with a player improvising or acting out a scene before taking/being given an outcome dice. At this point, the dice’s value plays no part, only its colour having any bearing on the situation. Each of the scenes were not that great to create and play through, knowing that one person’s definition of a good ending can be very different to someone elses’. To make this more interesting, I think it would make sense to merge the ending dice mechanic with the tables used for working out the ending. Being given a black dice with a value of six tells you that this scene has to wrap up very, very badly for the character in question.
The greatest issue of fiasco is it requires everyone playing to have at least a certain level of skill in improvisation or acting. Unlike in D&D, where players can be attracted by either the mechanical side or the story telling side and get equal enjoyment (dependant on a decent DM etc). Without the mechanical side, the game suffers if someone has no interest in the improvisation side. What’s worst is if any player is loosing interest or doesn’t especially want to act the part then if affects everyone.
As part of this, the game has no games master or DM, which means you don’t have the a player keeping things on track or carefully hiding issues under the rug. It can be great, letting the story play out naturally but can also lead to the game taking a very large amount of time to play with story threads flying off in different directions.
To conclude, Fiasco has some great ideas and was entertaining but I think it also has some flaws that stop it from being a game everyone should play. Its perfect for someone who likes to practise improv but not for anyone who finds the loot drop, beat monsters aspect of RPGs to be the most interesting bit.