This week, the On The Tabletop team take a look at Fiasco in a Box, which is an interesting hybrid roleplaying/board game from Bully Pulpit Games.
Released 10 years ago, the 1st Edition of Fiasco was an RPG that encouraged storytelling and used dice only to generate relationships between characters, which assisted with players designing their characters, and for prompts during the game. Characters didn’t have stats and no dice were rolled for tests. Scenes were designed and resolved by the players. This encouraged story over each player’s individual character. Over the last decade, a huge amount of player produced content was made for Fiasco in the form of playsets that help generate the characters and stories for player use.
The 2nd edition, Fiasco in a Box, is currently on Kickstarter. It evolves Fiasco from its single rulebook, giving it a board game feel, replacing dice and playsets with card sets.
The product we played with is a prototype of the game currently on Kickstarter, so some components may vary to the finished product or a retail release later on. The card playsets we have are also different to those in the Kickstarter.
Off The Shelf / On The Tabletop articles come in two halves. In Off The Shelf we will look at what’s in the product along with covering how the game plays. This is followed by On The Tabletop where we talk about our first playthrough games and finish with feedback from the On The Tabletop team.
The On The Tabletop playthrough articles catalog our initial experiences with a game; as a result, mistakes will be made. On The Tabletop should also not be taken as a full review. These articles are simply our first impressions of a game.
Off The Shelf
The original Fiasco rulebook was a punchy digest-sized book, and Fiasco in a Box keeps things very simple too, with minimal components.
Everything you need to play is contained in the box:
- The Fiasco Rulebook
- The Fiasco Playboard
- Let’s Not Cards
- Fiasco Engine Deck
- 3x Fiasco Card Playsets
The rulebook is short and punchy and reads more like a quick-start that a full game rulebook.
Games of Fiasco are extremely straight-forward in terms of mechanics and are even easier now with the card prompts. To start with, players decide on a card playset to use in their game. These playsets can be themed for a certain time period or place. For example, the ones we had are for a small town, a mall, and an office.
These playsets can be mixed and matched, to create your own crazy setting and variety of games. If the previous version of Fiasco is anything to go by, the community will be producing their own which can easily be printed out and sleeved at home.
Once a playset is chosen, players shuffle all the cards and then deal them out as evenly as possible. Then players take it in turns to play a relationship card until there is 1 between each player. This should start to give everyone an idea of the character they might be playing. A lot of the fun of Fiasco is creating your character, so take some time to discuss the sort of character you might be playing.
Once everyone has a relationship card between them, players then take it in turns to add a detail to each relationship. These are Locations, Needs and Objects. Once everyone has a relationship card, with an additional detail attached, players use the backs of the remaining cards in their hand, which all have names on, to name their character while they flesh out the details using the extra detail on the relationship.
Sometimes it’s very apparent who your character is, but sometimes a more in-depth discussion will be needed to work out the details.
The game itself takes place over 2 halves, each containing 2 scenes for each player. Play starts with one player and moves around the table until everyone has had a scene. On their turn, players can either Establish or Resolve their scene. Establishing means they can pick the scene they want and the other players Resolve by deciding if the outcome is positive or negative for their character. Choosing to resolve is the opposite, and the other players establish, with you choosing the outcome.
Outcomes are either positive or negative, and it’s usually obvious as the scene plays out which one it is. Players then take a positive or negative card from the engine deck and place it in front of them.
After everyone has had 2 scenes, the Tilt happens. All players flip over their Positive or Negative cards and work out their ‘score’. There are numbers in blue and red on each card, and players simply take away the lowest from the highest, leaving a number in either red or blue. The player’s with the highest red and blue scores each pick a tilt text from any in play on the positive or negative cards and these are then used to inspire the events of each player’s final 2 scenes.
At the end of the game, all players flip over their positive and negative cards again and do the same, taking the highest away from the lowest. There are aftermath cards with numbers on, and each player takes the card that equals their number and color, reads the reverse and decides how it all ends for their character.
On The Tabletop
As we had three card playsets, I read all the score cards from each of the 3 card sets we had and Main Street was decided upon for our game.
We shared out the cards between us from the playset and as I had most recently damaged something valuable (I clipped one of my alloy wheels driving to game night), I was the first to play a relationship card.
After dealing out the cards, we had the following:
- Between Adam and Kyla – Former Co-Workers with the detail, To get respect from this town by bringing down the machine
- Between Kyla and Ewan – Drug People with the detail, Poisonous snake
- Between Ewan and Adam – Bitter social adversaries (church people) and the detail, Trailer out of the back of the high school
The characters we came up with based on these were:
- Adam – Big Dan ‘Knee High’ Huntberry – A preacher, preaching to a tiny congregation in the trailer out the back of the high school on Wednesdays and Sundays
- Ewan – Puffer Shue – One of Big Dan’s congregation, who broke away to sell drugs to his new church, which is in the same trailer, on Thursdays and Saturdays
- Kyla – John R. Johnson – A trained chemist, was very high in Big Dan’s congregation but left to help Ewan set up after losing faith with Big Dan’s way
What follows is a brief summary of each scene, so you can get the idea of where our game went.
- Adam – Big Dan arrives at the trailer for his service, only to find out that Shue is there. There’s a brief discussion about who has what days for their service and Shue is flippantly dismissive of Big Dan’s claims.
- Kyla – A few days later, John is packing up from one of Shue’s services, collecting the bibles off the seats. Big Dan arrives and tries to convince John to come back as Shue’s ways are wrong, but he refuses.
- Ewan – Shue’s snake has died, a snake that he relies on for the added umfph to his supply for his followers. He takes Wilson, a snake expert who saw a snake back in ’82 to see Gonzales, his supplier to see about a new snake.
- Adam – The snake that Shue thought was dead gets loose in the trailer, biting Marjorie, who is 50% of Big Dan’s congregation. Due to lack of any effective animal control, or law enforcement in the town, the trailer is sealed off indefinitely while they wait for the snake to die.
- Kyla – John looks for Big Dan, who’s preaching on a street corner after the closure of the trailer. The death of Marjorie has played on his conscience and he wants to help out.
- Ewan – Shue comes to ask Big Dan for help catching the snake but is refused, the snake is his own sin to solve.
After totaling up the positive/negative numbers, Ewan and Kyla had the highest blue and red scores. The Tilts that were chosen by Kyla and Ewan were:
- You thought it was taken care of, but it wasn’t
- Love rears its ugly head
- Adam – Big Dan wants to give Shue another chance and approaches John, who thinks it’s a terrible idea and veto’s it as it’s his mum’s church they’re holding their services in.
- Kyla – Quick scene where we thought the snake was dealt with but is seen wriggling around after escaping from the trailer.
- Ewan – Shue comes to spy on the new church, in a really bad disguise with his small crew. The new church has grown in size, but Shue is easily spotted and told to leave. Just as he is approaching the door, Gonzales turns up to deliver the snake that Shue ordered. He’d been looking for him for a while. The new snake is suspected to be the old snake, that Gonzales is attempting to sell back to Shue.
- Adam – The scene cuts to a hospital, Big Dan, Shue, Gonzales, and several others are in isolated quarantines cubicles, almost certainly with snakes bites. They can’t hear each other, but it doesn’t look like Gonzales is very happy.
- Kyla – John’s mother dies and the house sold to pay debts, disbanding the church.
- Ewan – Shue is in prison, getting out in 2 weeks. It looks like he’s aware that things won’t be great for him when he gets out.
- Adam – Big Dan has lost everything and is preaching in a roofless empty church (the old trailer). He realizes that the bible that he bought from a second-hand store and he’s been preaching from is actually a bad, erotic version of the bible with a real bible cover in order to disguise it.
- Kyla – John took up a job in chemistry, finally using the chemistry degree that he had. He ends up working in a lab that specialized in poison control and the study of rare venoms. It was recently named in memory Marjorie who had died in the snake attack, just to torment him further.
- Ewan – Shue owes the local mafia for Gonzales’ lost work while in quarantine and spends the rest of his life in and out of jail trying to work it off.
Adam – I played a fair amount of Fiasco since the release of the original a decade ago and it’s fair to say that I’m a huge fan. I named checked Fiasco in my Blades in the Dark review as a game that had changed my approach to gaming. The emphasis on story was new to me and I’m still amazed by the incredible stories that are produced by such simple prompts and mechanics.
Fiasco isn’t for everyone. You need to have at least a couple of players who will really get into it, as they will pull other players in. But if you have a group who don’t want to act and improv on the fly, it can be uncomfortable for them and others.
For me, it’s not something that I’d play every week. But I do love to run it as an ice-breaker in a new group after the first session is spent making characters for our campaign. And playing with close friends can really make some incredible memories and stories.
I’m a little torn with the new version. I loved how the original book would travel well, along with the printed playsheet and a handful of dice. Being able to change up the setting simply by looking at what was available online and rolling from the playsheet tables from a phone or tablet really made this a portable game for me. The new version is great in terms of visual inspiration, and it is only a handful of decks. I’d be tempted to print off the playboard so I could fold it up and carry it in a deck box along with the cards. The move away from dice really helps the immersion. I’m not sure how I feel about having to purchase playsheet card packs or print the cards myself. The results are worth it, but I did really enjoy the practicality of the original playsheet tables.
If you haven’t tried Fiasco, I urge you to give it a go. At the very least you’ll create an interesting story, but it could also change the way you approach tabletop gaming, by bringing out the joy of creating a narrative with friends.
Adam is the righteous leader of the On The Tabletop Team and is an experienced tabletop gamer. He has played physical and online CCGs to a very high competitive level. He also has a background in roleplaying, board and wargaming and has playtested and produced content for several companies. A veteran tabletop writer who’s favorite games includes Dark Souls the Card Game, The Legend of the Five Rings LCG, Shadespire and Bushido. You can read his work here on TechRaptor and follow his exploits on Twitter – @StealthBuda.
Kyla – I had a lot of fun playing Fiasco but I’m not sure I’d choose it over other games. If I want a roleplay experience, I’d rather play a traditional RPG, and if I want a fun group game that is easy to pick up and play at parties there are plenty of popular alternatives. I think the game would work well in a couple of scenarios though, for example, as an ice breaker before a normal roleplay/tabletop session, or as a tool for drama students who are working on writing stories and creating scenes.
For me, I just think the game’s card sets would get old quickly and I’d be wanting to buy more expansions so I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to invest in. The alternative would be to get players to make up their own cards but it sort of defeats the point of buying a boxed game with everything included.
Having said all that, I wouldn’t say no to a few more sessions with a larger group to see how more players could really influence the game’s story and how crazy things could get.
Kyla is a 3D Artist and VFX Compositor. She is also known around the UK convention scene for her costume and prop making work. She’s been a regular DM and player of Dungeons & Dragons for the last 3 years, and when she’s not busy writing her own homebrew campaigns she can be found playing Zombicide with friends. You can find her on Instagram at @HallowStudios, and on her website.
Ewan – I struggle with pen and paper RPG’s a fair bit because of all the tiny character print outs and references so this sort of game is right up my street. I found the character creation fairly intuitive. It was really fun forming my cult leader Puffer Shues’ character and background using the cards and discussing them with the other players. Everything was fairly well laid out easy to read. However it felt to me at least like a few of the cards were duds and would be really hard to make an interesting narrative from.
It fairly put me on the spot at the beginning and I struggled through the first scene after that however I got into the swing of things. If you struggle as the center of attention then you’ll probably have a hard time getting into it.
I quite enjoyed playing it and never found anything difficult to understand. The cards limit its scope but there’s always room for more sets!
Ewan is severely visually impaired, which makes playing some games difficult, especially when there is a lot of small text on the board. Having his input is very important to us as it can be something that is overlooked in gaming. He’s been gaming for a while and enjoys Talisman and Camelot. He has also played a few CCGs and is currently loving Warhammer Age of Sigmar Champions. He tries to get some wargames in when he can.
This copy of Fiasco in a Box used in this article was provided by Bully Pulpit Games.
Have you played Fiasco? What do you think of the new version? What’s been your favorite game of it? Have you already backed Fiasco in a Box? Let us know in the comments below.