- No specified age provided (but most certainly not children)
- For 3 to 5 players
- Variable play length (single-shot, about 2 to 3 hours)
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Reading & Writing
- Emotional Coping Skills
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Child – Not tested
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Lie, cheat, steal, and laugh as you hilariously and self-destructively navigate the choppy waters of ambitious plans that go horribly awry.
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek rejected!
- Child Geek not applicable
The role-playing game, Fiasco, focuses on storytelling that has some very tragic and hopelessly flawed characters. And while the story the players cooperatively share is most certainly the highlight of the experience, one cannot discount the importance of the character and story development it includes. For those looking to improve their game play experience, a companion is available to help guide them in strange new directions!
The Fiasco Companion, by Bully Pulpit Games, is not an expansion of the game, per say. In fact, it is hardly even a new idea. “Companions” have been around for a long time and have been released with many popular role-playing games. They often focus on going deeper and introducing variations of what was introduced in the core rule books. The same can be said for The Fiasco Companion. It contains a great deal of important and well-thought out information, but is in itself just a deeper level of the core book. As such, individuals who have access to the Fiasco core book are the only ones to truly benefit from it. Which is something of an obviously statement since the only people who would be interested in it are those who own the game, right?
Hold your horses. That’s not necessarily the case here. Let’s explore it a bit before we jump to any conclusions.
Improvements on Improv
Anyone who has a chance to play Fiasco knows that there is nothing to prepare for. The set, characters, major plot points, and scene are all establish right at the beginning of the game with all the players contributing. The game becomes loosely tethered to these story elements that are built using a Playset, a structured “frame” of what the story will become based on the players’ ingenuity. If this sounds complicated, it isn’t. What it should sound like is intimidating as it means that all the players will have to think on their feet and listen very closely to each other to pass the proverbial “ball” that is the story back and forth as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. This is the essence of improvisational theater and the heart of Fiasco.
The only way to improve a player’s ability to play the game is practice. Many players get their first taste of improvisational thinking when they play the more traditional role-playing games, join a speech, debate, or theatre club. But even being familiar with it seldom prepares a player for the game. The Fiasco Companion acknowledges this and addresses several corrections to common mistakes made by the new or inexperienced player. It then builds off that and helps those who want to become an even better player by focusing on character development and then knowing where to bend the rules of play for everyone’s benefit. Some excellent stuff right off the bat that makes The Fiasco Companion worth while for devoted fans of the game. But then it gets even better.
Follow the Leader
Knowing how to be a good player is exactly the kind of info you want to read if you enjoy the Fiasco game. More times than not, however, the problem for those who enjoy the game is finding others to play it. The Fiasco Companion addresses this by providing tips and tricks on how one can be a facilitator for the game. Or, in other words, lead a game session. This is something of a 180 from the Fiasco core book, because Fiasco is not a role-playing game that requires a “Dungeon Master” or “Game Master”. There is no “master” at all. All the players are equally contributing, leading, and telling the story at the same time. When not in the spotlight, players are working the story behind the scenes. But this represents the best case scenario and more times than not some of the players are not up to the task. The Fiasco Companion addresses this fact by not only discussing helpful game aids and ways to prepare, but then goes the extra mile and discusses how a Fiasco enthusiast can get their act together to host a game at a convention and even over the Interweb!
Redefining the Playground
At the core of any Fiasco story is the Playset it was built off of. The Fiasco core book comes with preconstructed Playsets for the players to use and guidelines on how to create their own, but these guidelines lack detail. The Fiasco Companion fills this hole by breaking down the art form of creating a Playset into a creative and well-directed exercise. Much is given to the reader to contemplate and explore as they create their own Playsets. Then, after the creation of a Playset is completed, a number of helpful tips to make it unique and exceptional are listed. Pro tips discuss common mistakes that don’t shy away from clearly calling out issues and then confidently telling you how to fix them. Finally, when the Playset if completely done, with as much stress testing and tightening as possible, helpful tips are given for those who want to publish it. This will allow others to join in the fun mayhem the creator structured for destruction.
After going into so much detail about how to create a Playset using ingenuity and surprisingly simple rules to create a useful structure, The Fiasco Companion then teaches you how to break them. Not break as in destroy, however. Think of it as more of a way to stretch the boundaries of a rule, but not to a point where you totally disregard it. Kind of like purposely driving 5 miles over the speed limit. You won’t get pulled over for it, but you are most certainly breaking the law.
But “breaking” is not really the best term to use within the context of the game. A player is really “hacking” the rules while playing it. Sort of like using video game cheat codes to change the game’s play. There are even suggestions on how players can mess with the Tilt to achieve even stranger and more rememberable games. This is a huge game changer, both literally and figuratively, because the Tilt is traditionally controlled by only two players in the game. This also leads to discussing how players can alter the story’s Aftermath, which has the fun affect of changing the game’s end state. Luckily for the reader, an entire chapter is dedicated to giving examples to make it easier to understand how very small changes can have very large and beneficial impacts for all the participants.
New Toys to Hurt Yourself With
The Fiasco Companion then takes a turn from being an excellent guide to how a player can manipulate and improve their games, to providing new Playsets to use. The Fiasco core book comes with 4 Playsets, and with The Fiasco Companion, the total is brought to 8. Using the already explained and detailed examples of how players can bend, break, hack, and mold existing Playsets or create their own, providing 4 new ones seems unnecessary.
Unnecessary, but not at all unwelcome! The new Playsets take the players to high school, Las Vegas, a wedding, and then out of this world to Mercury. All of these settings are ripe for extortion, mayhem, betrayal, and unfathomable ambition! Just the kind of places you want to run your imagination wild as the story and the characters attempt to achieve their goals self-destructively.
Ever Onward, Outward
The last portion of The Fiasco Companion is perhaps the most interesting. While the majority of the book is focused on how to improve the game and game play, the final chapters describe how to use Fiasco in settings one would not initially consider. For example, with students and a creative writing class or even as an improvisation exercise for theater students and would be actors. Of course, it all makes sense the moment you read it because Fiasco lends itself easily to any creative situation. And what is more creative than a creative writing class or performers pretending be someone and somewhere else?
For the über geeks, the last word goes to the well-known and respected Mr. Wil Wheaton who is not only a Fiasco enthusiast but a loud proponent. Mr. Wheaton gives the reader six important points to always consider when playing the game. They are, for most part, pretty obvious. For example, there is no winner or loser to the game and everyone needs to work together. But Mr. Wheaton also gives excellent advice and reminders on how to be a good facilitator of the storytelling, focus on keeping things simple, and then taking the time to write down your game experience for later sharing and possible inspiration for a short story! Excellent points and a good reminder to the reader that Fiasco is meant to be fun, invigorating, creative, and most importantly, a disaster you will want to remember and talk about long after the event is over.
The Fiasco Companion is a “must have”, but I think only for those who are true game enthusiasts. There really is no need for anyone other than a player who greatly enjoys and often plays Fiasco to grab a copy. Unless you are constantly tinkering and working with others in a Fiasco game, the ideas and suggestions in the book won’t be of much use. Of course, if the reader is a teacher or a writer, the companion would be very useful as a guide on how to use the basic structure provided by Fiasco as a way to deliver a creative exercise.
Why then write the book if the audience is so small and there is already a multitude of freely available material for the game that expands it further than The Fiasco Companion is even capable of? Is there any value at all between its pages?
Yes, without a doubt. The Fiasco Companion is intended for those who are truly looking to take their game and their storytelling abilities to the next level. Anyone can play Fiasco, but to be truly great at it you must work on your ability to quickly think on your feet, react to others, know when to lend a helping hand, and most importantly, when to accept help from others. The Fiasco Companion discusses all of this and more, reading like a manual on how to be a creative component to the overall game play versus just one more player in the game. For that reason alone, The Fiasco Companion is worth it, but as already stated, the audience who would benefit from it is limited.
The Fiasco Companion is meant for the Fiasco aficionado, not the casual player. For those who want to run the game, build the game, break the game, and expand the game, The Fiasco Companion is indispensable, but for someone who just likes to play the game from time to time, its advice, detail, and focus would be lost. A shame, as the book is exceedingly well written, witty, and useful. But like all tools, it is only as useful as the hand (or in this case, the mind) that wields it.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.
You are so right on the money with this review, FG. The companion is an outstanding book for those who really like the game, but not much good for anyone else.
Great to see FG do role-playing game reviews, too! Is there nothing you won’t review?!?!
KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK! I’ve been an enthusiastic reader now for over 2 years! I guess you could said I’m a “Father Geek aficionado”, eh?
Much thanks for taking the time to read and to comment, Todd. And THANK YOU for doing both for over 2 years! Wow, has it already been that long….?
Yes, we do have our limits regarding what we are willing to review. For example, we will not review undergarments (unless they are Super Underoos for adults – we continue to dream the impossible), wines (unless they are the crazy expensive kind – like over $7 and and not served out of a box), and rubber bouncy balls (as they have been reviewed to death).