Opportunity Action: American Disasters (Fiasco) Reviewed
Well, they’ve done it again. The fine folks over at Bully Pulpit Games have put pen to paper again, and the result is an absolute Disaster. Or Trainwreck. Either way, it’s another Fiasco. This time the boys (and gals, let’s not be too presumptuous) have cooked up a book that takes what is a fantastic one-shot game and actually gives the framework for continued play. Enter American Disasters. In the tradition of a Hollywood money-maker, Fiasco players can make their stories live on in the inevitable sequel. So let’s crack this one open.
The book starts off with a way to make that sequel happen. This is called Trainwrecks. As the name implies, things are meant to go from bad to worse. You’re turning the screw until the wood splits. As hard as you try to polish that turd, you’re just spreading the problem you were trying to fix (ew!). The concept is a fairly obvious one, where characters from the previous session live on in the further misadventures of people who should really be in prison instead of freely roaming the countryside. Reasonably, this is the sort of thing that shouldn’t really require all that much in the way of mechanics. Much like any other consecutive game session, you grab the character you played last time, set up the scenario, and go.
In American Disasters you’re given some intriguing systems to roll with, which I think help smooth the transition from one session to the next. You end the first session by saving your index cards from that night’s game and rolling things over to the next game. The reason There’s a suggestion that a player assign who should play their character in the next session. I have mixed feelings on this. It can either go really well, where the only thing more fun than playing your character is watching someone else do it, or it can go horribly wrong, where the phrase “You’re doing it wrong!,” becomes the night’s catchphrase. That being said, I’d be willing to try it sometime.
There are a few different methods for making your Fiasco into a full fledged Trainwreck, and they’re discussed in Framing Options. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get a good sense for several ways to string games together. The book suggests that a series go no longer than three sessions. I generally agree with that, but man would I love to try creating a contained universe much in the same way that all of Tarantino’s films are connected somehow or the way that Stephen King can’t help reminding you that he wrote The Dark Tower. In every book he writes.
One nice thing that happens in this section is that they don’t just tell you how to connect things and hope you figure it out. For each option you’re given an idea of where to go with your story either by outlining a possible grouping of playsets or movies that inspire the style they’re going for. Now, the track that a particular game follows won’t always fit the outline they put out there, and I’m sure they weren’t trying to force gaming groups to pigeonhole their sessions to a strict line. I think the suggestions are helpful but ultimately a game will go the direction it needs to as defined by the explosive and infectious nature of Fiasco.
This book comes with three playsets. The playsets are pretty standard fare for Fiasco playsets, which by no means diminishes how well-crafted they are. They’re designed in such a way that they can be played on their own, or as part of a Trainwreck. Here’s what you get:
- Business Casual – A cubicle farm on the brink of collapse. Similar to Office Space.
- Rainbow Mountain – A hippy commune gets a reckoning. I haven’t seen a lot of movies like this, put it appears to play on Jonestown or the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX.
- Poppleton Mall – A holiday-themed playset that evokes the dark side of consumerism. It’s your very own chance to make Bad Santa into Worse Santa (?). It should be mentioned that they include alternate Elements so that it’s not locked into just being a Christmas thing. It’s good advice if you want to change the theme of any playset. Change any Elements that don’t fit and you’re good to go.
There is one sentence in this book that jumps out at me. When talking about carrying characters over from one session to the next, it says, “It’s usually best, but not essential, that you choose a character who’s still alive.” Really, it’s the “but not essential” part that grabs me. I guess I have a dream to play out a game that feels like The Big Chill gone horribly wrong, where all my scenes are flashbacks with the still-living characters of other players. Other movies where that happens (for anybody else sharing my sick fantasy):
- Citizen Kane
- Drowning Mona
- Courage Under Fire
- and, an inversion of this idea, where everybody minus one character is dead at the beginning, The Usual Suspects.
The Bottom Line
If I have one criticism of this book, it’s that it’s notably short. To be fair, it only offers one optional system at the outset and it definitely delivers. I guess that’s sort of the point, though. You are given the tools to use, but nobody’s going to build the house for you. There’s also plenty of room left out there for you to find new ways to mess around with what’s provided. Bully Pulpit Games can never be accused of making Fiasco a game that needs rules to simulate absolutely everything in the universe and, really, that’s exactly what gaming needs in a world where the level of detail in some game systems require hours of gameplay to play out a scant few minutes of time. American Disasters is a good product, and at $5 for the pdf it’s absolutely worth it.