It’s Friday, Friday, gotta play games on Friday… yeah. This is the first installment of what will hopefully be a series of writeups of Final Friday. What is Final Friday, you ask? Final Friday is an event I’ve started whereby a randomly-generated group of my friends come round on the last Friday of the month to play a new boardgame or RPG, or to try out an experimental game concept or mechanic – in short, to try something new.
I must admit, my first Final Friday was not exactly well-attended. It didn’t help that I announced the idea two weeks in advance. Oh, and not technically on the last Friday of the month; I’m on holiday then. What can I say, I just couldn’t wait until September. So in the end it was only Ben, Kat and me who sat down on Friday night. That was easily enough people to create a very fun evening.
We decided to try out Fiasco. For those who don’t know it, Fiasco is a GM-less roleplaying game in which, with the help of some skeletal setting material and some random tables, the players work together to create a trainwreck story on the lines of a Cohen Brothers movie.
Now I should say here, to my knowledge I have never seen a Cohen Brothers movie. And I’ve never played a GM-less game. So there was clearly the potential here for a little trainwreck of our own. And indeed, it took us a while to get to grips with the concept. But after a slow start we got into it.
We decided (against my express wishes – nobody listens to me…) to play the Ice Station playset. Ben was Archie White, an introverted trucker who ended up at MacMurdo Station when his wife Elena (Kat) moved there. Now divorced, his only real friend at the station is The Voice, a mysterious presence at the end of a CB Radio who is blackmailling him into smuggling illicit goods in and out of the base. Archie has become dependent on their relationship for human contact – he needs to hear a voice… anyone’s voice. Unbeknownst to him, The Voice is actually Gilbert Stringer, an embittered naval comms officer who dreamed of making Admiral but never made it past Ensign. The loops is closed when we learn that Elena has asked Stringer to help her move some stolen experimental material from her lab, with which she hopes to make her career away from the stultifying grip of the MacMurdo hierarchy.
It’s difficult to explain exactly what happened in the game. Things came to a head when Archie, already some distance down the road out of MacMurdo, gets a call from The Voice, demanding he turn his truck around and return the package to the base. Elena, who for reasons of her own had stowed away in the truck, overhears the conversation and steals the package back, heading out into a blizzard with it in her clutches. Stringer, hearing that the package has gone, goes off the deep end and comes after Archie on a skidoo, ending in a shootout, then a second shootout at the MacMurdo airstrip where Stringer tries to stop Elena leaving by airplane. The story ended with Elena flying away in her plane while both Stringer and Archie lie in pools of their own blood on the airstrip.
I really enjoyed our first outing in Fiasco-world. I really want to give some other playsets a try, in particular the suburbia playset, because I think with some of the others there’s too much of a temptation to play off the setting rather than focusing on character interaction and pure mayhem. If you don’t like the idea of having no GM and no real rulebook to fall back on, and just improvising wildly to produce an interesting story, Fiasco may not work so well for you. For this group, this time around, it worked well. We got a good mix of poignant story that we had deliberately made happen collaboratively, and random chaos that emerged through play.
By the way – epilogue to the story: Stringer wakes up paralysed in hospital. He is alone, except for a CB Radio. The last thing we see is Stringer picking up the radio to call Archie, just to hear his voice… anyone’s voice.