• Arkham Horror and Fiasco: Two Options for Beginners

    by  • May 17, 2012 • Reviews • 2 Comments

    My big cause right now is figuring out how to introduce new players to RPGs.  I think it’s such a fun hobby and, having gone through a painful baptism by fire, I really think it’s important to introduce new members in a friendly, non-threatening manner.

    Which leads me to two games I’ve tried as “ice-breakers” for introducing people to RPGs, both playable in one evening.  I find that, as I think about them, they really are two extremes of the introduction spectrum.  One is roleplaying-based, the other is rules and numbers based.  What does one choose?  It’s up to you because it’s your group of potential new players and your preference for what role-playing is all about.

    The first game… FIASCO from Bully Pulpit Games!

    Fiasco is consistently called the game that’s like a Coen brothers movie.  I get kind of tired of that description.  It’s more like an improv game in which you have scenarios where anything can go wrong depending on the players’ choices for themselves and for each other.  I don’t want to go into too much detail on the rules, but here is a short synopsis.

    I’ve played this game a couple of times with beginners and it works so well.  You don’t need to talk about an RPG or any of the technical terms out there.  Just say it’s a party game and that’s enough.  But essentially, people are creating characters and playing them.  They are using dice for outcomes and reacting to unexpected situations in other worlds.  These are the core components of an RPG.  Even better, they are learning how to take the initiative in role-playing and creating scenarios, a good practice that GMs should encourage so that they don’t get stuck doing all the work.

    There are essentially five components to the game.  The setup, Act 1, the “tilt,” Act 2 and the Aftermath.  WARNING:  it’s easy to get caught up in the setup because everyone has a part determining the character that you play and vital components of the story.  First you choose a playset which can range from contemporary McMurdo Station in Antarctica to 1977 Germany to anything else.  In a circle, using tables and dice, players determine character needs, relationships, objects, locations and other details depending on the number of players.  (By the way, you should have at least three, but no more than six in my opinion.)

    Once you’ve got the set up, you move on to Act 1.  Using dice, each player can either set up a scene for themselves which the other players can resolve for them using dice, or the player can choose to resolve a scene that the other players set up for me.  For example, if I choose to “establish” the scene, then we play it out and the other players eventually tell me whether it will end well or badly.  Then we improv a conclusion to the scene.  When Act 1 is done (meaning all the Act 1 dice are gone), we move on to the ‘tilt” which is essentially a plot point that throws a wrench into the story.  Run through Act 2 and then, using a table that depends on the number and color of dice you’ve accumulated, you determine whether your character has a horrible or a happy ending.

    It’s a lot of fun.  The last game I played everyone died except for one women who ended her days at a mental institution with a lifetime supply of meds!

    To the other end of the spectrum… if you have people that are interested in specifically what RPGs are and they want a structured world, then I would choose this second game as a fun, but definitely more complicated, intro… ARKHAM HORROR from Fantasy Flight Games!

    I suspect there may be people who are slapping their hands against their foreheads wondering why I would ever choose such a complicated game as an intro, but I would choose it because it IS complicated.  But it’s not as free-form or complicated as an actual tabletop game or as intimidating in terms of acting in a LARP.  In fact, there’s no acting required at all really which is why it’s the opposite of the spectrum from Fiasco.

    Arkham Horror is for 1 to 8 players and it is set in the fictional town of Arkham, MA, created by HP Lovecraft.  Some horrible creature from the Cthulhu mythos (it could be anyone) is awakening and you, as a team of investigators, work together to try and stop it.  If this Ancient One defeats all of the investigators, then the game is lost.

    During the game, investigators explore the city and encounter both normal and weirdly abnormal people, places and things.  Early in the game, players try to avoid monsters in order to gather as many resources as they can in order to eventually stop the Ancient One.  This includes weapons, spells and clues.  But gates to other dimensions keep opening and monsters keep spilling out at the same time.  Yikes!  You’ve got to work as a team to close them.

    Unlike Fiasco, for which you just need the dice, playset and manual, you must buy the game which comes with many components.  These are markers, dice, character sheets, tokens (money, sanity, stamina, clue and skill sliders), investigator cards (common items, unique items, spells, skills, items, etc.)

    It’s a complicated game and there are many details.  But so are tabletop RPGs and LARPS.  There are complicated rules, conditions, etc.  You must be able to read, interpret and implement a pre-prepared character sheet.  You must know what to buy and not buy.  You must know when to do something and when it’s best to just stay low.  Arkham Horror also allows for combat.

    When it comes right down to it, it really depends on the kind of player you are bringing into the gaming world.  What kind of orientation are they best suited for?  Both games can be quite fun (almost any game can be if you have the right people).  But ultimately, you must know your players and let them inform your choice.



    I was always interested in D&D from the time I found Basic and AD&D at my local hardware store while in junior high. I bought both and found out that only boys played and I wasn't allowed to play with boys :-(. At the age of 38, I joined a group with my husband and played tabletop for 2 years. Now we LARP together in World of Darkness games. We are also working on some Call of Cthulu, Mouseguard and Savage Worlds tabletop games. I'm probably the odd person out having come to the hobby so late in life compared to others. My special love is plot, character development, interaction, and DRAMA!! In real life, I'm a tax auditor and an animal shelter volunteer.

    2 Responses to Arkham Horror and Fiasco: Two Options for Beginners

    1. avatar
      May 18, 2012 at 02:38

      Two other games that I would recommend for trying to get new players into the RPG hobby are Cosmic Patrol and Time & Temp.

      Cosmic Patrol by Catalyst Game Labs, is more like a collaborative storytelling game than a “traditional” RPG. The default setting is a retro space opera kind of thing, like Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers. It’s incredibly easy to change the game to a different setting, though. Each player has a character with 5 Attributes (Brawn, Brains, Charisma, Combat, and a “Special Skill”) all rated in die types. Task resolution is simply your PC’s appropriate Attribute Die + D12 vs. a D20. It’s fairly easy for new players to see the impact of smaller dice vs. larger dice. The element that makes Cosmic Patrol more like a storytelling game is that the GM (called a Lead Narrator) rotates to the next person at the start of each new scene. During a game session, everyone gets to be both a PC and the GM, taking the story off in all kinds of new directions.

      A similar game is Time & Temp by Epidiah Ravachol. It’s a light hearted time travel game where the players are temp workers sent through time to fix temporal anomalies. T&T has a single GM like a traditional RPG, but the character sheets are incredibly simple. To make a character, the player creates a “resume” consisting of three previous temp jobs, each with two bullet points worth of duties they were responsible for. That’s it. No numbers, stats, or math at all. Task resolution is very simple in this game as well. Whenever a PC attempts something a “normal” person could fail at, they roll a number of dice determined by how much effort they put into the task and how much of an effect their action will have. Low effort, low effect actions roll big dice while high effort, high effect actions roll smaller dice. The player then chooses one die result to enter into “The Matrix”, which is a sudoku like number grid representing the fabric of time.Good things happen when you complete specific patterns and bad things happen when too many identical numbers end up next to each other.

      Both of these games would be great for new people to the hobby. There are no lists of actions to pour through, no squares to count out when moving, and no complicated math to represent reality. Both games have a “you tell me what your characters does, and we’ll roll some dice” feel to them. Both games were also a blast to play, and had my group literally falling off their chairs laughing.

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    2. avatar
      May 19, 2012 at 01:06

      Traveller is really easy for new players to get the hang of, IME. I’ve used MongTrav to introduce people, and it works well.

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