The Saving Throw
Fiasco 2010
Everything right is wrong again. Just like a train in the long, long trailer. And all the dishes got broken and the car kept driving and noboby is going to stop and save her.

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Overall Review
published by Bully Pulpit Games and Amusements reviewed by Scott Wachter
132 pages, 2009, $25.00 (print+pdf)
Game Setting 3.5
Art 3
Character Generation 4.5
Game Rules 4
Intelligibility 4.5
Review Scoring

Story games tend to get a bad rap as unstructured, pass the stick style experiences you could participate in just as easily without using/looking at the book at all. This scares traditional gamers away, as they like having a big stack of splatbooks to hide behind. While this may be true of a great many of the early output of this style of game, the genre has grown beyond that and into some very interesting places. Fiasco belongs to the latter group. It brings a unique character generation system and story style lifted from that of a Cohen Brothers film.

Character creation plays a great deal like Mad Libs. Each playset comes with a set of phrases indicating motivation, backstory, significant props, relationships with other characters or ties to one of the set's locations. The group brainstorms how to fill in the blanks in these phrases, then begins scheming their way toward completing their goals. This is essentially the opposite of most character creation systems where what makes up a fictional character is the focal point, and what they can do is left off to the side. This is refreshing and interesting and serves the type of plot that the game is attempting to accomplish.

The book offers a few example playsets that provide a great deal of entertainment in their own right, but also serve as a good baseline for creating your own. The setting of the game is shockingly mundane as it mainly features small towns and suburbs. There's no space aliens or magic powers, and the closest to being even remotely outlandish comes from the gold rush boomtowns or Antarctic research facility. Itís odd to praise a game's setting for being normal, but ordinary is very much the exception and makes it stand out against a sea of elf sub-races. There's no rule that says you canít have things go horribly wrong on a space station, but the stress of the game is on characters and interactions between them as they scheme, so adding a space station just seems superfluous.

After character creation; play is very streamlined. A number of dice per player are put into the centre of the table; half of one colour and half of another, representing good or bad outcomes for scenes. Going around the table, each character gets a spotlight scene where they try to further their goals until half the dice are gone, making up Act One. When they have the spotlight, players may either establish their scene or resolve it. Establishing means they get to use the locations, props and characters involved in the scene but not the outcome, and because there are a fixed number of positive results from the outset of play establishing usually means have the scene end badly for your character. At the end of act one each player rolls all their dice and tallies it against a chart that determines their second act plot twist. The second act carries on as the first until all the dice are gone. At this point, all the dice are rolled against a chart to determine exactly how bad things go for your character, and narrate the epilogue.

The game is tightly structured and stays very close to its stated tone, something that can be rare even in books from the big guys, let alone small press story stick-type games. The text is very good at conveying the game's intended feel and explaining the procedure of play. One chapter consists of an actual play example that does a great job of introducing some of the trickier elements of play to the group. The book closes out with a solid index, a cheat sheet that summarizes the order of play, and a list of movies that they designers consider an inspiration for the game or good examples of the sub-genre, something more games should do. The artwork is sparse but entirely consistent and evocative of the posters for the kind of movie the game is emulating.

There's a common issue in RPGs that a bad group can ruin a good game, and Fiasco in particular places a ton of pressure on the players to make the game enjoyable. This style of play s drastically different from more traditional pen and paper games, but is worth attempting. If this is your first time getting your feet wet, however, it's better to read the Fiasco Companion and watch Office Space beforehand to get a better feel for what the core gameplay consists of. Fiasco is weird and different from what gamers are used to, but it's unique in its approach, and well worth trying for those evenings when your cleric can't make it to the session.

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