Monday, September 8, 2014

Fiasco game play review: Fort Two Fork, TX

For most of my life, I've been into roleplaying games but not a big player of them. It was always easier to collect and read the gaming books than it was to collect actual players (except for a brief, shining moment in college). Even when I lived in San Angelo, where I wasn't likely to get a game going (largely because I didn't leave my apartment), I still read about new games and occasionally put them on my present list. 

Which is how I ended up with a copy of Fiasco, a game where three-to-five player co-create a Coens Brothers-style story where ordinary folk get caught up in schemes that inevitably go horribly wrong. It's really an interesting game, which I liked so much--in theory, after reading but not playing it--that I recommended it on Twitter to screenwriter and occasional gamer John August. And that's how we got this episode of his podcast, where he and two other screenwriters played an on-air game.

Finally, after telling other people about it, I got a chance to play a game last night with some other programmers who live in this student-housing. (Which I will explain later.) Luckily, there were only four of us and one had already played and I had the book with me to refer to for any questions. It all went relatively smoothly game-play-wise.

But as a story, it was amazing. The first part of Fiasco is picking a setting and using some random dice to help build up your characters' relationships according to the setting options. We played in the wild west, so the relationship options included things like "sheriff and deputy," "opium dealer and addict," "reformed criminals," and "mail order bride and groom." As soon as we had those relationships mapped out--and the setting options and dice really help here by limiting the choices--we could instantly see all the forms of conflict embedded in these characters. Which is, of course, why Jason Morningstar doesn't give individual character creation, but only gets at those characters through their relationships.

Perhaps now is a good time to note that our game played a little silly with some parts of the story: our "western" sometimes had Indians acting up on the frontier and sometimes had the internet; sometimes there were horses and sometimes cars; and above all, while character generation keeps things vague, when we never really decided if the "mail-order bride" was actually a woman or if we had a homosexual relationship, that turned into a running joke about how progressive our town was.

As for the story itself, it turned out to be a classic tale of innocence abused: our good sheriff was also an opium addict with a plan to get all he could from the town; our reformed criminal and opium dealer wasn't so reformed after all and wanted to take over the town, using whatever mysterious prize he had stolen years ago in a deal gone wrong; our mail-order partner really did want to leave his criminal past behind and wanted to help the deputy see all the evil machinations that the sheriff and the opium dealer were engaged in; and our deputy, oh our deputy, was the easily confused muscle who kept getting used by people. (Really, I spent most of my night busting in to confront people about their villainy, only to be turned around and sent off to confront someone else. Imagine Brad Pitt's character from Burn After Reading but with a badge instead of a bicycle.)

It all ended with a lot of bloodshed and tears and new bad habits--which is how you want your game of Fiasco to end.

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