Monday, 9 September 2013

Fiasco: The Ice

Barb, Rohin and I got together for our first game of Fiasco. We were going to have a fourth player, but he unfortunately had to cancel. The other two hadn't read the book, so I acted as facilitator.

The Setup

After a bit of discussion, we chose The Ice Playset, situated around McMurdo Station in Antarctica. After rolling dice and choosing details, we ended up with the following relationships:
  • Barb and Rohin were "the ones who found the body," and shared the seal research camp on sea ice, out on the Weddell Sea.
  • Barb and I were ecological extremists, and shared the need to get laid in exchange for something we need.
  • Roh and I were Search & Rescue volunteers, and shared five kilos of explosives and a detonator.

It took a little while to figure out the specifics and solidify our characters. Trying to tie things together and have stuff make sense was a bit of a challenge for first-timers with no real idea how things would play out, and to be honest I got pretty frustrated at one point because I felt a responsibility to keep things going but my brain was grinding to a halt. Luckily we started getting a few good ideas into the mix, and sorted it out eventually. All up, I think the Setup took us a bit over half an hour.

The other two picked their names first, so I had to pick a name that started with "Ja-" as well, just to make this Actual Play more confusing. :P
  • Barb plays James Edwards, a young student researcher and animal activist.
  • Rohin plays Jack McReedy, a Search & Rescue volunteer.
  • I play Jane West, a PETA extremist who's undercover as a scientist.

Act One

I outlined how we took it in turns to be in the spotlight and either Establish or Resolve scenes, although the rules didn't say who got to be spotlit first. After looking at the details on the table, Barb eventually came up with the idea to frame a scene focussing on Jack and James discovering "the body." Off-screen, we decided that Jane had probably killed a Marine with an ice-pick for abusing one of the seals.


Seal researcher James discovered the body of a US Marine lying face-down on the ice. He'd got as far as going over to the body and noticing blood, plus a canister of explosives, when Jack came upon the scene. Although James wanted the explosives for his eco-extremist activities, Jack used his position as S&R team member to take command of the body and equipment. Jane showed up soon after, and helped Jack move the body and gear back to base.

Jack and Jane take the body back to an empty shed on the edge of Mactown. Jane takes the explosives, ostensibly to return them to the military, but Jack keeps the detonator.

Later that night, Jane shows up at Jack's room and seduces him. While they're in the sack, she reaches down and finds the detonator in his jacket pocket. Jack notices her taking it and they argue about it; she convinces him she just wants to "blow some stuff up" and he thinks she just wants to blow off some steam by making things go boom. So now Jane is in control of five kilos of explosives and a detonator.

In the mess hall, James has a quiet word to Jane. She tells him about the explosives, and wants to use them to cripple the base. She wants to stop humans from coming to Antarctica and spoiling its purity, and if that means dooming them all to an icy death for the sake of the animals, that's a price she's willing to pay. James convinces her that the authorities will rebuild damage to communications or the airstrip, and that they need to send a clear message that it's because of the animals, by blowing up the seal research camp. Jane agrees, so long as they can conduct an ecological assessment and make sure the explosion won't negatively impact the seals.

Meanwhile, Jack visits the doctor who's performing the autopsy on the dead Marine. The doctor determines the cause of death to be a blow to the back of the head from an ice-pick.

Jane heads out on the ice with the explosives via skidoo, to conduct her ecological impact study. However, the camp and the ice is swarming with Marines searching for clues about their murdered colleague. They question her and refuse to let her anywhere near the camp, so she speeds back to Mactown. Panic starts to rise, as she realises the investigation will likely close in on her. She needs to act fast before she's busted and loses her opportunity!


The Tilt

Barb and Rohin got to inject a couple more elements into the story. We got "A stupid plan, executed to perfection" and "A sudden reversal (of status, fortune, sympathy).


Act Two

The military investigation gets underway. James is taken to a small, clinical room and interviewed. He points the finger at Jack for taking the explosives, which are still missing. The Military Police advise James not to leave town.

The MPs turn up at Jack's quarters. One questions him while the other searches through his stuff. Jack points the finger at Jane, who was supposed to have returned the explosives. However, it looks like Jane's already pulled a fast one on him - the soldiers find the bloody ice-pick among his things, and he's placed under arrest.

On her return from the ice, Jane's desperate. She gives four kilos of explosive and the detonator to James, telling him to go out to the camp and wait until her distraction pulls the soldiers away so he can blow it up. She makes an IED out of the remaining kilo, dangerously rigged with a car battery, and throws it over the military compound's fence into a pile of diesel barrels. Miraculously she pulls it off, and the explosion creates a massive cloud of black, greasy smoke. 


I interpreted "A stupid plan, executed to perfection" to mean "I can't believe that actually worked." Barb thought it sounded more like a stupid plan should be executed perfectly stupidly, but hey.


The soldiers withdraw from the seal research camp, so James moves in and plants the bomb. Unfortunately, he runs into a couple of Marines who were left behind, and has to flee! The soldiers are caught in the explosion, and the ice shelf breaks off and starts to drift away. James is stuck on the new iceberg.

Unbeknownst to James, Jack was actually in the camp at the time, too. The two Marines had escorted him there so he could show them the murder site. He was on the other side of some crates and got caught in the explosion, but just got banged up and was also stuck on the ice with James.

Jane flees on foot across the icy wilderness, hoping to make it to a nearby French base. She miraculously evades the Marine search parties and manages to successfully flee Mactown!


The Aftermath

James (White 9): As a minor (17 years old), he came out of the situation relatively unscathed. He returned to the States, where a few years later he was imprisoned for suitcase-bombing a cancer research clinic.

Jack (Black 6): Arrested for the murder, and probably the bombing too. He returns to the States where he gets to stay in prison for a very long time. Ironically, the guy who wasn't guilty of anything paid the price for everything.

Jane (White 1): Although she made it away from McMurdo, she didn't quite make it to the French station. Somewhere in the blinding white, she falls face-down and never gets up. She's discovered a couple of years later, one arm protruding from a snowdrift.


The End!

Once we got over the initial creative hurdles and into the swing of things, it was a pretty fun game. Barb did note that it seemed like the sort of "party game" that might do better once people have had a couple of drinks to loosen things up a bit.

The game rules don't seem to come into contact with the story much, mainly just when you choose white or black dice to suggest a positive or negative outcome for a scene. Apart from that, the rules are mostly a set of procedures for creating story elements and deciding who's in charge of framing and resolving scenes.

The story elements have no mechanical weight, though; they're more like evocative springboards for the players to gain inspiration from. The system as a whole requires strong player buy-in to the type of story it wants you to create, because if people don't play towards an unmitigated disaster then the Aftermath results will likely not make much sense.

However, with people who agree what sort of story they're producing, human ingenuity and imagination seems more than capable of connecting the dots and coming up with explanations for the end results. I suppose it works as well as it does largely because everything in a playset is geared towards helping you create this sort of outcome.

Oh, and I'm sure there would be different group dynamics with four or five players. I was impressed with Relationships and Details not belonging to one character, but creating a connection between two characters. While in theory you could play out a nice, civil story of people behaving reasonably and negotiating for what they want, the nature of the relationships and details on offer do tend to create situations in motion where some of the wheels are almost guaranteed to come off in play.