I first started gaming, like many players in the UK, with Heroquest and Space Crusade, followed by Battle Masters as I looked for larger games. I went to a boarding school and was introduced to 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons where I played a Human Ranger. Partway through our campaign, our characters had a huge disagreement and we all tried to kill each other, some successfully. This had a knock-on effect for all our next characters and campaigns, and none of us really got over it or trusted each other properly in game.
After playing several campaigns of different RPGs and getting into Games Workshop’s systems, I moved into competitive CCGs, playing in tournaments for Magic the Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings. I stayed with competitive CCGs for a long time, dabbling occasionally in wargame tournaments and the occasional RPG. At the time, I had no idea that I was a power gamer. It’s an interesting nature/nurture debate about what made me the type of gamer that I was, but regardless of the cause, I wanted to win at all costs. I would make disgusting CCG decks, wargame army lists and all of my RPG characters were a min/maxer’s dream. I would make the single most combat effective starting characters that my DMs had ever seen and could drop whatever they threw at me, leaving the other player’s struggling to keep up and putting us all on an awkwardly uneven XP path.
One single game of Fiasco changed that.
A decade ago I was attending a Free RPG Day at my local gaming store in London. I went to test out a couple of the new products and the store owner told me about the copies of Fiasco that he had just got in. He’d had some great games of it and thought I might enjoy it. I watched a group play it in the store, bought my own copy, and everything changed for me.
I was on a weekend away with some friends, a mix of gamers and non-gamers. I managed to talk everyone into playing Fiasco and we played a Whiteout scenario, where we were a research team in an isolated arctic facility. The fact that our characters had no stats threw me at first. How could I win if I didn’t have stats? But I made my character and our adventure began.
After two scenes, I was well into my character, the owner/manager of the facility who was effectively watching it burn around him, while trying to give the impression of control. The station was collapsing, burning, and generally descending into madness. Several characters were attempting to steal the huge diamonds that had been discovered, all of them trying to backstab each other.
My character’s scenes prior to the Tilt, a section half-way through Fiasco that adds in some extra elements to really ruin everyone’s day, were spent trying to maintain control, or at least an air of authority while arranging for a portion of the diamonds to be "rescued" for his own gain. He successfully managed to get a couple of the workers to help him, with the intention that they would try to kill each other, leaving him alone with the diamonds.
A pivotal moment in my final scene saw my character reaching for the hand of our Eastern European helicopter pilot, a moment that, had it gone well, would have seen him safe away with the diamonds and no witnesses. One by one, the group all looked at me. Their task was to resolve the scene as I had established it. My eyes met each of theirs in turn, and they all nodded solemnly. Some may have even had tears in their eyes. The words didn’t need to be said. Out of the 2 possible outcomes, it could only have been a negative choice and my cold, power-gaming heart welcomed it.
The game ended with my character freezing to death in a deep snow pit, with no shoes, holding a diamond the size of his head.
That game of Fiasco allowed me to fully embraced the narrative, and my character’s slow decline and ultimate death was 1/6 of the sum of that incredible story, despite not accomplishing what I would have previously perceived as "winning."
Fiasco taught me that gaming isn’t just about winning. It’s about creating a story full of epic moments with friends, and not just in RPGs, but in any gaming medium. I've since taken my new found love of theme and narrative into other gaming mediums. I've started making thematic wargame armies, embracing the narrative around them and enjoying story-driven games, even when I lose. I made some funky CCG decks and just had fun with them, but mainly, I made characters for our RPG campaigns that were interesting and that I and my group enjoyed gaming with. It saddens me to think of how much I had missed in my time before playing Fiasco, but it makes me glad of how much I have embraced since.
Have you played Fiasco? What's been your fondest or most memorable moment from a game? Let us know in the comments below.