Monday, 28 April 2014

Don't Burn After Reading: Reviewing Fiasco


Warning: This review contains strong language

"How much can you trust the people around you?" I ask with a knowing smile, "Anyone could take advantage of you. Anyone could fuck you over."

"If someone tries to fuck me, I want to to tell me so I can fuck them right back," Pete says, viciously prodding at the air. I nod and continue to pull the weeds while he receives a massage in the middle of his garden.


"What do you think of Vinnie?" I say slyly.

"He's a bum," he responds.

"He's got resources and smarts, I wouldn't dismiss him so lightly."

"Do you think he would fuck me?"

"I'm not saying Vinnie would do that, I'm just saying you should watch your back. You don't know who you can trust." I had planted the seed. It was only a matter of time before he turned against his dealer, Vinnie and I'd get even with the bastard.

I think it helps that I've started watching the Fargo TV series when it came to my inaugural game of Fiasco. After all, it's set up to be a distillation of what the Coens do best - snowballing crime capers. It's almost spooky how right Fiasco gets it, too. The mechanics, simple as they are, are geared towards setting up a scenario where everyone has a goal and they will do anything to get it, even at the expense of others. Especially at the expense of others.

Fiasco emulates the caper film with three stages: Act One, Act Two and The Aftermath. Generally, players will decide on a playset to use (a themed scenario) and discover the kind of characters, motivations and locations they're playing with through a series of rolls.

We played the Tales From Suburbia playset, putting us in the middle of a quaint picket-fenced Anytown America setting. There were three of us - one playing a coke-snorting businessman, one as his dealer and long lost friend, and myself as a gardener/drug cooker.



"You brought a fucking body to my house?!" I yell in Vinnie's face. 

"I didn't know what to do - he told me to," Vinnie gestures towards my employer. 

"Get inside, both of you and we'll figure this out," I pull them both inside my crappy, leaky bungalow.

"I hear you can melt a body with chemicals, I saw it on TV once," Vinnie panics. Unhelpful. I begin to pace the room and not kill Vinnie right there and then.

"We could torch the car with the body?" I suggest. Pete shakes his head.

"They'll still trace it back to Vinnie," Pete says. Vinnie goes pale. "What the fuck is it, Vinnie?

"I did a bad thing," he whimpers. I've never seen a look more pathetic. "I signed the car in your name, Pete." 

Pete loses his shit and I have to calm him down. I tell them I have an idea that will kill two birds with one stone. Soon we're on our way to the scrapyard, body in trunk. 

Each player has two turns per act to establish a scene or resolve one. This means that either the player themselves gets to set-up a situation and decide an outcome or the other players do, depending on how the scene plays out. What we found was that scenes flitted back and forth through time, giving it a very cinematic flavour. One scene would be in the present, where Vinnie walks in having murdered a dealer, and then the next would be six months prior where Vinnie and my character first met. Having the other players decide the outcome makes gameplay a lot of fun, but you all generally decide on how the story will go anyway.

After the first act comes The Tilt, where things go all kinds of wrong. Basically, this part sets you up for the final showdown, giving you a range of ways the act will end. It could be bloody and self-inflicted, or perhaps sorrowfully tragic, but it's unlikely to end well. My gardener had the need to get even with Vinnie for killing his wife with bad drugs. Collectively we rolled that the authorities would be alerted, someone would get even in a cold-blooded way and someone would panic.

There's a knock at the door that startles Vinnie. I open it cautiously and find myself face-to-face with a cop. 

"Good evening," he says politely, "Your neighbours reported some suspicious activity around here last night. Something about a car in your drive way. Any chance you remember that, do you sir?"

I try to remain calm but Vinnie pipes up from the other room. "Who is it, Harold?" He yells. 

"Just the cops, Vinnie." The chump makes the mistake of showing his face and instantly the officer recognises him. He starts asking questions about where he was. This isn't good. 

"You mind if me and my partner have a look around?" Asks the cop. 

"Don't you need a warrant?" I ask nervously. His eyes narrow and he barges past me. I have stuff upstairs, stuff I can make drugs with. It's a tense few minutes as one of the cops searches the bathroom. 

"Hey, you probably want to see this," says the other officer. 

"We have to go now!" Vinnie panics. We bolt for the car, knocking over a table en route and alerting the police of our swift departure. I hear them put out an APB. Shit.



The trick of Fiasco is to make sure that everyone has something to gain, but also something to lose. Everyone is connected in some way and every scene must further the active player's need. We found that we would come up with a plot and knew what we wanted the outcome to be, which is the obvious way to play it. At the end of the day it's a game of collaborative storytelling.

Once the second act is over we face the aftermath. This is where it is determined whether you have a good or a bad ending and to what degree that would be. I rolled a good one, put Pete didn't do so well with his roll. These rolls are directly related to the outcomes you get in previous scenes, so it ties in well.

I slam the door to my father's old log cabin. The police wouldn't take long, but what do I have to lose anyway. I have Vinnie in the woods all on his own and a rifle in the back room. 

We begin to argue about who's fault it was, yelling at each other. It get heated and finally I blurt it out: "That blonde that died, the one you sold bad drugs to. It was my fucking wife, Vinnie. My wife!"

I didn't expect him to break down into tears, clawing at me and apologising. Pathetic. I hold a whisky glass aloft, ready to bring it down on his sorry head.

"Hey, Harold, you in there?" says a familiar voice from outside the door. I let Pete in. He's holding a piece and seems awfully pissed. It goes straight up, its sights on Vinnie's head.

"You fucked me, Vinnie. You double-crossed me," he shouts. Vinnie leaps at Pete and knocks the gun from his hands, straight at my feet. I pick it up and hold it at Pete's assailant. "Do it," Pete shouts at me. I hesitate. What's the point? It's not bringing her back. I can't do this, not myself. That's not me. 

I toss the gun to Pete, who swiftly blows Vinnie's brains out. 

Fiasco is a hell of a time. There's a stack of free playsets online and even playing the same one twice won't yeald the same story. I can't recommend this game highly enough if you're into thrillers, black comedy and general crime capers.

Oh, my character retired to Maine where he remarried and became a real gardener. Pete ended up being a gang banger's bitch in Mexico and was eventually fed to his dogs.

Fiasco just gets it.