Sunday, February 27, 2011


I got the chance to play via Skype with ze Bulette and Risus Monkey last night.  The post title is not describing the results, but the game we played.  I want to thank them both for the opportunity, especially Risus who had three hours more sleepiness being on that other coast.

First, I'm not a fan of Skype gaming.  The picture I get is grainy, and choppy, we haven't managed to conference call with it so you can't see everyone at the same time (it seems this should be a basic technology by now, come on imaginary invisible hand ;), and, any communication technology that garbles crucial sentences isn't very good at its job.

Anyway, that aside it was fun.  Fiasco is a one-shot story game where you replicate the plans-gone-wrong genre typified by movies like Fargo and Burn After Reading.  Random rolls determining relationships and objects connecting players help everyone develop characters and start solidifying a sense of story.

Starting out, it seems you need to leave a little slack to allow for things to develop, as well as allow other players room to be creative.  When it's your turn there are scenes that you can choose to either set up or resolve.  This is crucial because if you get stuck you can throw the responsibility of what happens next back at the other players and then just resolve whatever they set up.

Scenes will either go well for the player whose scene it is or not.  Accumulation of these successes and failures will help determine the outcome of the story, although the tendency is for everyone to be screwed.

We played a short form of the game.  At its best I think the funny flashes of creativity were the same as those when something unexpected comes together in a D&D game.  For example, when presented with a way to a) affect things in the past and b) clay that could become anything, one of my players made a tentacle for the one-armed fighter in our party.  I could have never predicted that, it was cool, creepy and funny.  Actually, a better example would be when two players riff off of each other.  If, for example the one-armed fighter had suggested a replacement and the other player said: "No, I know, a tentacle!"  Fiasco feels like it has bottled that flash of collaborative insight.

It achieves this with simple, clever rules.  Although, I get the sense if the rules were a DIY product and not something meant for polished publication it could probably be represented on one 8x11 page.

I think the intention is for all the scenes to be role-played.  I haven't played any other story games, but I think Fiasco can get away with this because it doesn't take itself seriously. I imagine a serious game would be some combination of terrifying to try to perform in and tiresome in its pretentiousness.

I suppose its greatest strength is that it zeroed in on the perfect genre for that kind of ironic, light hearted play- the fiasco movie.  Although, it does offer "playsets" which allow you to set your story in other genres such as postapocalyptic and fantasy (which we used).  This seemed odd to me.  Not that you couldn't make a fantasy movie as a caper-gone-wrong.  Or a post-apocalyptic movie about irony.  But when the "Fallout" playset lists The Road as a possible source of inspiration I'm thinking the maker of that playset is losing sight of what makes Fiasco Fiasco.

In conclusion, I wouldn't mind playing again.  It does distill out one of those things that makes roleplaying games awesome, and awesome in a way that is different than other games.  But I think that is just one of several aspects that made D&D awesomely unique.  Fiasco would not satisfy my exploration itch, or my making progress itch which adventure games do so well (I wonder if other story games are designed more to do those things).

And that is a lot of blather from someone who has played one shortened game of this and perused the rules.  Feel free to correct me on anything. 


  1. Great summation of the upsides and downsides to a game like Fiasco. I'm considering writing up a full report but having a hard time remembering all the details... You guys definitely had me laughing, so I rate it a good time.

    I blame myself for our failure to get videoconferencing fully going: I haven't used Skype for this as much as iChat since the feature wasn't available in the Mac client until recently. I also haven't yet tested the linux client that you use. For what it's worth(to you or anyone else who's had problems with it), here are instructions for starting a video conference in OS X and Windows.

  2. I think for now, to get more than two-way video conferencing on Skype, you have to pony up and pay for Skype Premium service. A bummer to have to fork out $$ but it has been working for our group.

  3. It sounds like a good change of pace game, or a way to help your old school roleplayers work out some different mental muscles.

    My wife does a lot of improv, I think I'll check this out and see if it makes sense for a game night with the improv-ers.

  4. I've had good luck with Skype, first using audio-only and recently video. We've had 66 sessions as of last night, so I'd consider it a complete success. Of course, all my players are old friends so we get along quite easily and I trust them to be truthful with reading off their dice!

    Although it kinda sucks that you have to pay for the multi-party video conferencing, on the plus side only ONE person in the call needs to have the pay account. So long as that one person (or account) is in use, you're good to go. Personally, as the DM I don't have the time to look at the player's screens anyway, except to see if people are back from breaks.

  5. Thanks, all.

    @no worries, zeB, I don't blame anyone. Maybe it is just a premium feature? If so, it hasn't been communicated very effectively to me, a possible customer

    @Beedo: When you say she does improv, fill me in. Does that happen at certain venues, like small theatres. Or, do you mean at home with friends? Interesting.

    We have some open mic nights around here, but even poetry and comedy seems rare, mostly bad guitar playing. Sort of a cultural desert I guess.

  6. Oh, Welleran, you posted as I was writing I guess. Thanks for the info and I'm glad it's working for you. I probably shouldn't have complained about something I use so infrequently. And If I have opportunities for more one-shots I will look at the premium account.

  7. @Beedo: When you say she does improv, fill me in. Does that happen at certain venues, like small theatres. Or, do you mean at home with friends? Interesting.

    Yep - improvisational sketch comedy (with a troupe) at small theatres in Philly (previously Denver).

    In a weird sort of reverse-gateway, maybe an improv roleplaying game like Fiasco could get some of the actors more willing to try an old school game. :P

  8. Just chiming in before I put the kids to bed. I plan on doing a little AP later, though you and ze bulette hit most of the the key points.

    First, it was great fun playing with you guys. I hope to do it again at some point in the future.

    Second, I agree about playing online. But I have to say that compared to other games I've played online, this one went fairly smoothly. Of course, I had better luck with my audio then you did.

    Third, I concur with most of what you said about Fiasco. For me, it would never replace traditional (or even non-traditional) RPGs, but it is great fun every once in a while. And I also think it would be a great party game for folks that don't otherwise role dice and assume the roles of imaginary people. My wife seems interested in trying it.

  9. @Risus: It was a pleasure, and thanks again for staying up late.

    @Beedo: That's badass. Anyone who can do improv comedy should find old school gaming a piece of cake.