Let’s write up the 1996 film Fargo as a four-player Fiasco session. In a lot of ways this is the ur-fiasco, and many of the Coen brothers’ films are perfect expressions of what the game can, at its best, deliver.

Let’s see what relationships we have to work with in our imaginary 1980’s Minnesota package.

  • Relationship: Crime: Law enforcement and crime victim
  • Relationship: Work: Supervisor and employee
  • Relationship: Friendship: Friends from jail
  • Relationship: Community: Police Chief and career criminal

So Marge Gunderson, Brainerd Chief of Police, ends up interviewing Jerry Lundegaard and implicating him in the kidnapping scheme. Jerry runs the Oldsmobile dealership where Shep Proudfoot is a mechanic, and Shep is an ex-con on parole who knows other criminals, like his prison buddy Gaear Grimsrud, who would be up for a kidnapping. Gaear, for his part, will intersect with Chief Gunderson as their two incompatible roles clash and bullets fly.

Of course Fiasco requires a degree of interdependency that pushes the narrative in certain directions. This set of relationships elevates Shep Proudfoot, a fairly minor character, and completely omits Gaear Grimsrud’s colorful partner, Carl Showalter. Carl and Marge don’t have any relationship, though. You could build a nice three-person Fiasco around Carl Showalter, Jerry Lundegaard, and Jerry’s father-in-law Wade Gustafson, though.

Four players, so five details. We’ll return to our 1980’s Minnesota package.

  • Object: Transportation: Tan Cutlass Ciera with dealer’s plates, attached to the Friendship relationship. This car is part of the payment to the kidnappers, as well as Marge’s eventual entrée into the whole mess.
  • Object: Valuables: One million dollars in cash, attached to the Crime relationship. This is a plot device that assumes Wade Gustafson will show up as an NPC.
  • Need: To get out: Of a crushing debt, by staging a crime, attached to the Work relationship. Jerry’s got the debt, Shep is helping him get out of it.
  • Need: To get the truth: About the killings, attached to the Crime relationship. Marge is on the hunt for answers, and Jerry’s not playing ball.
  • Location: The piney woods: The shack with the wood chipper, attached to the Community relationship. This is where Gaear goes to ground and where Marge tracks him down.

Finally, the fiasco needs a pair of Tilt elements. Although there are many ways to play it, I think I’d pick:

  1. Mayhem: A dangerous animal gets loose. (This is the lunatic Gaear, naturally)
  2. Failure: A tiny mistake leads to ruin.

Depending on the tone you wanted, Tragedy: Death, after an unpleasant struggle and Innocence: Collateral damage would both be great as well.

After a little shoe-horning to work within the game’s necessary restrictions, that’s how I’d set up Fargo as a Fiasco session.

Fiasco This: Fargo
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