Within the realm of tabletop gaming, role-playing games can be one of the most intimidating to players. Players either are given or create a character then assume the role of that character in personality, goals, dialogue, and so on. This Game of the Week, Fiasco, tasks 3 to 5 players with creating a web of relationships, needs, objects, and locations before setting them loose to act out scenes of criminal activity, low impulse control, and shenanigans. Depending on the playset, these characters can be from a variety of settings and backgrounds, but the majority of the time, they are terrible, terrible people making equally terrible decisions.
The hardest part about playing Fiasco was certainly the improvising. The game gives vague prompts and general details about the characters, relying on player creativity to figure out what that means for their characters and what they want to do or achieve. Scenes are thought up on the spot and acted out between the players immediately, with the only direction given to them either a white die signaling a good outcome or a black die signaling a bad outcome. Fortunately, once the ball gets rolling and the initial 2 or 3 scenes are completed, the direction of the story becomes more clear and everybody has a better grasp on who they are playing as and what they should do. At my table, there was one player who started the game not knowing what they should be doing or how to play the game. However, by the final scene of Act 1, they had masterminded a plot to rob a bank, hired my character to help them, then threw me under the bus to the bank’s treasurer to play both sides of the conflict and always come out on top. I didn’t even care that I was being used as a scapegoat because it was such a glorious move.
One very important aspect to leadership that can be seen through Fiasco is that everybody in a group should be equally comfortable and equally involved. The characters in the game are not good people who can get into any scenario that the players think up. Some situations, however, might be really uncomfortable or triggering to players. It is very important- and the rules explicitly say to take a break and discuss the direction of the story -to check in with everybody at the beginning and frequently throughout that there are not any topics or themes that are ruining their fun. In addition, especially with a roleplaying game, some players (particularly those with more experience) may become more prominent while other players are pushed to the side. A couple designs I really appreciate from Fiasco include how each scene has a different character that is explicitly the focus of the scene, each player-character has an equal amount of scenes, and the circle of relationships and details tie everyone together because that allows everybody to have an “in” that allows them to get involved in the story and remain relevant. Thinking about this in terms of leadership, everybody in a group needs to be relevant and feel that they are relevant, and it is a leader’s responsibilities to make that happen.
Fiasco is meant to be played by people looking to act out a ridiculous story together. People who appreciate games for their rules and mechanics, or people who get frustrated when they can’t pause to think and must improvise, should probably find a different game to play. Personally, I have some friends I’ve met in various theatre programs that would find Fiasco really fun. They have experience thinking on their feet, getting into character, and creating a fun story together. However, I recommend that anybody who likes being creative, whether you are a professional actor or somebody with zero improv experience, give Fiasco a try.