Friday, April 16, 2010

Digital Frontier - Part 2

Well, I was able to join Rich, Arnold and Scott to play a game of Fiasco, by Jason Morningstar, (you can download a preview sample of the game here) as part of Rich's Monthly Pick-up Game. This was another on-line playing session. Fiasco has been described as 'Coen Bros. the RPG'. The tag like for the game says it all:

A game of powerful ambition & poor impulse control.
The Game
I think Fiasco was a great game. Technical difficulties aside (see below), I think it was easy to learn and fun to play. I had no problem picking up what to even though I did not have game book as a reference. I have listened to several podcasts that talked about the game prior to playing and was able to look over the setup 'oracle' before the session so that did help. It also builds on a skill-set common to many indie games (scene setting, pushing the plot to get a reward).

The game is best played with 4 players (which we had although others were slated to play but had to drop out due to technical or scheduling difficulties). Each player uses various tables in the setup to build and define relationships and aspects that will come into play in the upcoming game. The setup tables are referred to as Playsets. These Playsets are grouped by an overall description of where and/or when the story of the game takes place. Our group decided on using the McMURDO STATION, Antarctica setup (even though it was actually played like more of an Alaskan outpost by tacit agreement).

One of the neat aspects of the Playsets is the almost infinite flexibility and re-playability of the tables. I heard that players around the net started drifting the game by building their own Playsets. Bully Pulpit Games is showcasing a different Playset every month. (Interestingly enough, the oracle-like Playsets makes me want to play In a Wicked Age).

Play progresses around the table with each player taking a turn at setup but allocating values of randomly rolled dice to the various aspects of the Playset. Once that is done players take being the focus of a scene. The play can decide to start the scene and leave the outcome up to other players (which determines the color of die that will be awarded - White if the outcome is good for the focus player or Black if it is not) or letting someone else start a scene so the focus player can decide the outcome.

In the first two rounds around the table players give the die from the outcome to one of the other players at the table. Then the players take these dice and allocate them to the Tilt (much like they did in the Playset), which may dramatically change the direction of the story. This is followed by two more rounds for each player around the table before the outcome is decided each character at the end of the game.

Technically I got hosed with my final score of 0 (subtracting the totals of two sets of colored dice), but I really enjoyed the outcome. I wasn't so much into the game aspect of watching what color dice I collected and worrying about where to push my dice. It really was a fairly invisible mechanic. I was much more interested in the story that was being created.

I think the ease of play in learning the game speaks volumes about the strength of the game as well as the players facilitating this session. I believe I was the only one who had no prior experience with it. Even then, I was diving in very quickly in scene framing and lending to the madness of the story as it unfolded.

I love the gm-less aspect of the game. Minimal setup and shared world-building makes this a perfect pickup game. I could easily see it being a fall back for a regular group when some of the players can't make it. I think the freedom of minimal mechanics made the game sail. It is amazing what you can do with so little framework. It really pushes the paradigm and definition of 'rules light'.

On this one play of the game I can enthusiastically recommend it to any that have found enjoyment in creating rousing adventures when everything goes pear-shaped. I won't go into the specifics of the story (ask me some time you see me at a convention), but I will say there was much laughter generated throughout play.

Technical Aspects
Rich set up a Google drawing doc to track relationships and other aspects of play. Overall I think this approach worked well. I believe Rich did most of the editing during play, although the rest of the players did attempt to edit as well which led to some duplication of efforts. I think having everyone be responsible for a specific aspect of that doc, such as relations and objects added by that player, might have sped setup.

I like that there is now an artifact after the game to be able to look back on (published to the link above). It would be interesting to see if there would be an easy way to expand that document to include the changes that happened as play progressed, like adding in each of the NPCs and their relation to the main characters and eventual fates.

Again we used the dice roller at Catch Your Hare. This worked very well for tracking and allocating dice to the Playset, Tilt and Outcome. We also made good use of the chat feature within Google Docs so we didn't have to keep switching back to the Skype chat window post links and track events.

Technical difficulties were limited to some awkwardness in having all of working on the same document and Skype breaking down for some players. Apparently it's not a Skype game unless someone can't get tuned in. I had the same difficulty at the end of the session I mentioned last time regarding the Skype signal. The audio really went down hill after 12:00am. Thankfully we were wrapping up at that point.

I enjoyed gaming with this group of players. I'm sad that some of the players who wanted to play were not able to due to technical or scheduling difficulties, but there are hopefully more opportunities to game with everyone.

Next month we are talking about playing Polaris. I am very psyched to play this game (provided everyone else is on board as well). Another gm-less game, w00t!!

Follow Your Bliss,


  1. Thanks for the write-up. I admit I got over-zealous with moving and adjusting the document. Breaking that up amongst the group is a better idea.

  2. No worries, it's all good. I really enjoyed the game and wanted to share the experience with others while it was fresh in my mind.