From the moment I read the Fiasco rules (link and link) I knew that there was something special about this game. Within its short 135 pages was a game of pure brilliance, finely tuned to a specific type of play and yet structured to allow for nearly unlimited re-playability. While I have enjoyed playing Fiasco numerous times over the last year, my inner game designer has been curious about what makes this game tick, and what you can tinker with. Recently, my inner designer’s wishes have been answered with the release of the Fiasco Companion.
Disclaimer: Bully Pulpit Games graciously provided this Pointy Hat a PDF copy of the Fiasco Companion.
The Fiasco Companion was written by Jason Morningstar and Steve Segedy. This book is 170 pages, 35 pages longer than the Fiasco rulebook. The cool mod artwork from the original Fiasco book continues in the Companion. A sign of the immense popularity of the book comes nine pages past the cover, with a foreword from geek icon Wil Wheaton, who took a shine to Fiasco at Gen Con 2010.
The Chilton Guide to Fiasco
Back in my youth, when you could easily work on your car in your garage, it was customary to get the Chilton’s guide for your car, so that you knew everything thing there was about the inner workings of your car; every single part. In many ways the Fiasco Companion is the Chilton’s manual for Fiasco; taking you under the hood and showing you how the whole thing runs. The book is broken up into five parts with several subsections in each Part.
Part 1: Beehive Tetherball
This section is all about improving your Fiasco play. Each of the sections in this part are aimed at making you an awesome Fiasco player. Several of the techniques draw from the improv theater community, and are aimed at increasing the collaboration around the table. This section also talks about techniques for Editing and Pacing of the story; to help keep the action at the table moving along. There is a section on rookie mistakes, the gotchas that can stymie a hot session. This section ends with some alternative methods for the order of play.
Personally, I found this section a very solid discussion on what makes for good play at the table. A number of these techniques I had in my toolbox, from other improv style games that I have played. For those that are not as comfortable with storytelling style games, this is a good section to get some solid advice. I was most intrigued by the alternative orders of play, and will be looking to put them into play in the near future.
Part 2: Herding Leopards
This section focuses on how to run Fiasco. It starts with a section about Facilitating Fiasco; having one player facilitate the game, by leading the group through the order of play. There is a good discussion about the proper sizing of a Fiasco game, and the challenges of when there are too few and too many players at the table. The section goes on to talk about how to set up materials for running Fiasco; coming up with a kit of pens, index cards, etc to help run your game. Finally, this section concludes with discussions on running Fiasco at conventions and via the Internet, discussing the nuances of how Fiasco runs in both of these arenas.
Personally, I really connected to the Facilitating section, as I have been performing this role in the games that I have played. I also liked the discussion on the sizing of the game. I had a feeling there was an optimal number for playing the game, and it was confirmed in this section (sorry read the book to find out the optimal size). I am also going to be setting up my own Fiasco kit for future games.
Part 3: 144 Ways To Hurt A Dude
This section is the ultimate instructional manual for how to create a Playset. Playsets are the settings that are played in Fiasco, and are made up of Relationships, Needs, Objects, and Locations. A good playset is the foundation to a great Fiasco game. This chapter provides sections on how to create each of the major parts of a playset, and goes into depth on how each of the components works. With each of the major parts covered there are some advance notes, and then finally instructions on how to publish your killer playset so that you can share it with the world.
If the Fiasco Companion was only this chapter, it would be worth every penny. This chapter is pure gold, and the advice that it provides opened my eyes about the importance of what goes into a playset, and more importantly what not to put into a playset. After reading this chapter, I became aware that the construction of a playset is not just a random list of crazy objects thrown together, but rather there is a real purpose to what elements go into a playset.
Part 4: Spiking The Punch
Hacking. Tinkering. This chapter goes into hacking the game and taking it past the established rules by introducing a few optional elements. There are rules for Stunt Dice that trigger a special effect in-game. There are rules for how to create a custom Tilt Table and custom Aftermath tables, and the effects of what happens when you do so. There is an example of softer Tilt and Aftermath tables, which drift the traditional Fiasco game from Very Bad Things to something more like The Breakfast Club.
I found this section fascinating. I will at some point put Stunt Dice into an upcoming session. I had not really thought about how the customization of the Tilt and Aftermath could dramatically effect the play of the game. I am not sure if I would change them, but I might use the custom ones to create a more light hearted game. The example tables do a great job of showing just how powerful changing these two things can be to the game. It also highlights just how flexible the game can be when tinkering with some of the core structures.
Part 5: Feeding The Wood Chipper
The last section of the book is dedicated to a series of discussions about using Fiasco with different groups. The first section talks about using Fiasco with students as a learning tool. The next section discusses Fiasco as a writers tool, in a round-table with Nathan Russell, Will Hindmarch, and John Rogers (Executive Producer of Leverage). Then a discussion with a group of improv actors, and ways to use Fiasco as a tool for improv theater. This section concludes with some words of wisdom from Wil Wheaton, who provides the Big Six, six tips for playing Fiasco.
This chapter was interesting, but was not the big draw for me. This chapter was enjoyable to read, but really did not deliver too many ideas for my next game. It does show that there are ways to take Fiasco past just an evening of fun around the table. That said, the Big Six are great tips for playing Fiasco, and might have been equally at home in Part 1.
Oh Yes…There Are More Playsets
What would a Fiasco book be without some playsets for creating all new mayhem? The Fiasco Companion does not disappoint, with four new playsets:
- Fiasco High
- Regina’s Wedding
- Mission to Mercury
Each playset has a half-page discussion, with talk about how some of the modifications such as Stunt Dice or the softer Tilt and Aftermath would work for each one.
I have had a chance to play the Vegas playset, and it was quite enjoyable. The other three playsets look equally enticing and will come up in future sessions.
For a fan of Fiasco, the Fiasco Companion is a wonderful under the hood look at the inner workings of this brilliant game. The advice for perfecting your game play is spot on and completely usable. Playset creation rules are a must for trying your hand at playset creation. The alternate rules are intriguing, and beckon experimentation. It is impossible to read this book and not come away with a short list of things to try in your next Fiasco game. The Fiasco Companion takes Fiasco past its solid formula and reveals ways that this game can expand and morph into other creations that are no less interesting. It is a true and worthy companion to Fiasco.
Game Designers take note. Please follow up your games with a Companion book similar to the Fiasco Companion, rather than just pumping out splat books. I think books like this which speak to the GM (and players), open the gates for a GM to revitalize and re-invent a game they already love, increasing their commitment to the game, rather than moving on to the next shiny.