What I Learned by Playing Fiasco

Fiasco is a role-playing game where things go wrong. It’s a GM-less cooperative story-telling system that facilities a story of converging fates that combine in catastrophic but oh-so-entertaining ways.

To set up a story you each choose things off of some charts. Relationships, Needs, Locations, Objects. From there you make characters and start acting out scenes. Then, terrible things happen and you continue the process to its grievous conclusion.

For each game you pick a playset, which supplies those charts and directs you towards a specific genre or style. There is a surprising breadth of playsets to choice from, but the core system is the same.

Fiasco is very good at what it does. I recommend you grab some friends and a playset and give it a try.

I have played a few games of it, and each one has been better than the last. As I go I’m starting to learn what makes the game work well. Since Fiasco is essentially a story-creation engine, I found that what I learned can be applied to writing as well.

1) Each character has to have a need. Even if you don’t explicitly state it, you should know as the writer what is driving this characters decisions. If it makes sense to you it will make sense to the reader.

2) Characters should have connections with each other. If characters are working in their own little bubbles, they don’t have real reasons to be in scenes together. Give them reasons to interact that they care about and have fun from there.

4) Each scene needs a goal. This is so important in Fiasco as well as writing! I don’t like to think of where a scene is going to go. I like to think about where the characters want the scene to go. If they get it there or not, well, that’s the fun part about playing the game or about writing the scene. Either way, the goal is what drives the story.

5) Have fun! Relationships, needs, objects and locations are the building blocks. Make each block as interesting as possible. Everything has been written already except the things only you can think of.

6) As usual, all rules are made to be broken. If something isn’t working, don’t stick with the rules, just do what feels right and move along. Nothing sucks time and creative energy like trying to follow rules that aren’t clear or aren’t working.

Overall, the fact that Fiasco and the art of story creation use the same principles shows that the game hits upon the fundamentals of how stories work. And that is the beauty of it. It directs you to do what writers are supposed to do: tell a good story. It’s a great activity to help you hone in on what makes good fiction tick.

Board Games and Telling Stories


I am an avid board gamer and have recently been watching Top 100 Game of All Time lists from a few of the hobbies most stalwart reviewers. This prompted me to come up with my own.

The exercise made me think a bit about what I like in board games. Yes, I love interesting mechanics. I love to be made to think. I love to be given the opportunity to try to out-think my opponents. I love to have fun, be creative, and try to think outside the box while doing all of that. But most of all, I love when a game becomes a story.

I’m not talking about story-telling games here (although there a few on my list), but when a session you played becomes something memorable. An event you keep coming back to or a talking point among your friends.

Like the time in Eclipse where one of my friends was in the lead, holing up in his corner of the galaxy, building monoliths with abandon, and another friend found a way to blast through some wormholes with his custom ships and took over his whole system in the last round.

Or the time I spent the whole game of Shogun outguessing a friend of mine. Attacking him before he attacked, taking over his provinces right before he taxed them, and razing his castles right after he built them.

Or the time in Twilight Imperium when I made a risky move to attack another player (which almost worked!) and then another player sneakily added long-distance travel to his spaceships and swooped in to take over my home world while my back was turned.

Or the time a good friend of mine wrote a string of curse-words as his fake definition in Balderdash just so he could see me read them out loud. (I have never cursed out loud.)

Or the time in Wrath of Ashardalon, where our whole group barely escaped a dungeon with our lives because this goddamn rolling boulder trap somehow kept rolling towards us no matter what direction we went!

Or that time in Battlestar Galactica where we were so paranoid that we were convinced our lone engineer was a Cylon. We voted him into the brig even though he pleaded with us not to, only to find out later that he was a loyal human and had been trying to help us all along. He won’t let us live that one down.

Or the first time I played Tales of Arabian Nights and won after my character turned into an ape, murdered the princess who was in love with him, and ended up becoming a sultan.

These are stories we create ourselves, with our friends, without even trying to. Board games are the medium that help us do that in ways we couldn’t have done otherwise.

I wrote a few words about some games I love, and I hope they will inspire you to go out and give these games a try. Below that you will find my Top 100 Games of All Time list.

#3 Battlestar Galactica – Everyone must work together to try to get your spaceship home without dying or starving to death. But one of you is secretly working for the enemy. Which one? MY GOD WHICH ONE????

#6 Galaxy Trucker – Step 1: Build a space ship faster and better than your friends. Step 2: Watch all your spaceships fall apart in spectacular fashion.

#8 Sentinals of the Multiverse – This is the one super-hero game where it feels like you are in a super-hero battle. Choose your heroes, choose your villain, and choose your location. Then proceed to have an intense and fun battle of epic proportions.

#12 Tales of Arabian Nights – This is a completely unique experience. You play a character travelling around looking for adventure. You encounter something: A rich princess, a raging storm, a mystical djinn. What do you do? Choose from your many options, consult the book of tales, read from one of the over 2500 things that could happen to you, and laugh with your friends as the story unfolds!

#17 Arkham Horror – Grab some friends and try to sastop an ancient god from awakening and destroying humanity. This is a lingering, atmospheric game. Give it a chance to grab you and you’ll have sessions you’ll never forget.

#90 Cards Against Humanity – Play this game with your parents.

Rank Game
1 Shogun
2 Yggdrasil
3 Battlestar Galactica
4 Castles of Burgandy
5 Eclipse
6 Galaxy Trucker
7 Glen More
8 Sentinals of the Multiverse
9 Steampark
10 Alien Frontiers
11 Small World
12 Tales of Arabian Nights
13 Cyclades
14 Heroscape
15 Kingsburg
16 Agricola
17 Arkham Horror
18 Balderdash
19 King of Tokyo
20 Twitch
21 Dixit
22 Ticket to Ride
23 Legend of Drizzt
24 Wrath of Ashardalon
25 Castle Ravenloft
26 Catacombs
27 Jungle Speed
28 Mage Knight
29 Airlines Europe
30 Modern Art
31 Star Trek: Fleet Captains
32 Age of Conan
33 Word on the Street
34 Hanabi
35 Puerto Rico
36 Mansions of Madness
37 Pocket Battles
38 Forbidden Desert
39 Carcassone
40 Escape: Curse of the Temple
41 Stone Age
42 Carson City
43 Race For the Galaxy
44 Love Letter
45 Earth Reborn
46 Legendary
47 City of Remnants
48 Mage Wars
49 Mr. Jack Pocket
50 Space Alert
51 Quarantine
52 X-bugs
53 Long Shot
54 No Thanks
55 Civilization
56 10 Days in Europe
57 Gloom
58 Yedo
59 Lords of Waterdeep
60 10 Days in Africa
61 Zooloretto
62 Dynasties
63 Kemet
64 Elder Sign
65 Exodus: Proxima Centauri
66 Samurai Swords
67 Enigma
68 Merchants & Marauders
69 Star Trek: Deck Building Game
70 Pit
71 Martian Dice
72 Best Sellers
73 7 Wonders
74 Betrayal at House on the Hill
75 Twilight Imperium
76 Cineplexity
77 Guillotine
78 Forbidden Island
79 Dominion
80 Tsuro
81 Wits and Wagers
82 Runewars
83 Kill Dr. Lucky
84 Scrabble
85 Biblios
86 Cosmic Encounter
87 Power Struggle
88 Time’s Up
89 Game of Thrones
90 Cards Against Humanity
91 Letters From Whitechapel
92 Khet 2.0
93 Formula D
94 Flash Point
95 Settlers of Catan
96 Pandemic
97 Fresco
98 Shadows Over Camelot
99 Heroquest
100 Battle Masters