Maybe you've seen Wil Wheaton's Table Top episode, maybe not (if not you might want to check it out, it's fantastic). That's where I first encountered Fiasco, and I'm thankful to Wil for that. Fiasco is a GM-less Role-Playing Game, designed specifically to emulate the kinds of no holds barred disasters as seen in movies from the Cohen Brothers and countless others. Beyond that however, Fiasco presents a way for a small group of freinds to get a role- play experience in a short period of time (one and a half to two hours for three players, longer with more), with no need for a pre-planned session and no requirement for one player to act as GM.
Set up requires only a handful of dice in two colors and some paper and pencils (I find that index cards are really damn near perfect for this). Somebody throws a number of dice into the center of the table and using the dice players take turns slowly determining their relationship with the other players to their left and right (each player having two defined relationships), objects, needs, and locations that are relevant to the game. Tables for each are provided as part of a playset (there are a few in the book, and dozens more available for free online). Dice first establish the broad category of a relationship, object, location, or need, then further dice determine the specific detail. Example:
• Player 1 takes up a die showing 5 and decides that the first relationship is going to be one from the Family grouping.
• Later Player 2 grabs a die showing 1 and establishes that he and Player 1 are estranged siblings.
• Player 3 takes a die showing 6 and establishes that there is a Need "To Get Even..."
• Later on Player 1 takes a die showing 2 and further defines that Need as "To Get Even ... with the one who laughed at you.
The process continues around the table until every player has a relationship with the players to their left and right and there are at least one Need, Object, and Location (more than three players add more Needs, Objects, and Locations, in that order). Once all the dice have been used and/or everybody is satisfied with the setup play begins.
Play takes the form of scenes between two or more players and usually two of the main characters (though sometimes a player may need or want a scene with an NPC character played by somebody else for that scene). The player who's turn it is chooses to either Establish or Resolve. When they Establish the set the scene, stating where, with whom, and why, and then the players play it out. Once complete that other players decide if the scene worked out well for the player or not and assign a die to the player accordingly (if using black and white dice, white are "good" and black are "bad"). Play then continues with the next player.
When a player chooses to Resolve they take a die of the appropriate color and ask the group to Establish the scene for them, with the intended outcome of the scene to be good or bad for their character. Once the group sets the scene it is played out as usual. Regardless of the choice to Establish or Resolve each scene is played out, usually in just a few minutes, and each player gets a total of four scenes that revolve around their character over the course of the game.
After each player has had two turns (and thus two scenes with their character being central to the action) the first Act ends. The remaining dice are rolled and the two players with the highest total on black dice and white dice choose two Tilt aspects to complicate the second Act. Tilt is determined the same as setup with dice being take to determine the category and then the specifics. For instance:
• Mayhem → Misdirected Passion
• Innocence → The Wrong Guy Gets Busted
• Failure → A Stupid Plan, Executed to Perfection
These Tilt aspects will alter the course of events from the first half and inform the second as the players' character begin (or continue) the downward spiral from "Powerful Ambition" to "Poor Impulse Control", or, to put it another way, well laid plans become a complete clusterf&%k. Scenes played out during the second Act need to be more resolution focused so that the story begins to converge on an end, but apart from that play is generally the same as the first Act with the addition of the Tilt.
Once all the dice are gone and every player has played their parts the game moves to the Aftermath. During the Aftermath we find out just what happened to each character after the events of the story. Players roll their dice (those they got from scenes) and consult the aftermath table, which is generally grim, and often worse, to find out generally how their characters' fare. They then take turns playing a die and narrating a brief montage of scenes (usually just a few sentences) that bring their characters' to their ultimate fate.
That's the gist of play in a simplified manner. With three players I've taken part in half a dozen games and none of them were longer than two hours including setup (even the first game where I was teaching the game was only barely two hours). Things are fast and furious with a focus on an entertaining story that twists and turns (often twisting out of the control of the players). The numerous play set options available online mean that nearly any time period, setting, and genre are available from Superheroes to Suburban Housewives.
With genuinely simple and quick mechanics to setup, and direct play and a strong focus on role-playing and improvisation, Fiasco is a perfect game to fill in after a short session of your weekly RPG, or to fill an entire evening with multiple plays. The book is excellently written, conveying the rules clearly and providing a bunch of great advice on what to look for during set up and play to ensure that your game becomes a true Fiasco. The wide variety of FREE play sets available online mean that there are near endless replay options.
Rating: 100% - Pretty much perfect. This game is everything a lite RPG should strive to be, and I find that the more I play the more I enjoy it.