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[Fastlane] Arabian Heists at GenCon

Started by Lxndr, August 16, 2006, 01:06:23 PM

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I'd brought a 20lb briefcase full of heavy casino-weight poker chips, cards, dice, and a roulette wheel to GenCon and carried it all over the place.  By Saturday night I was insistent - there shall be a game of Fastlane, my toils and suffering shall not go to waste.  So I walked into the Embassy Suites from my hotel while many people were still off at dinner, scouted out the best location, pushed a couple tables together, and started setting up.

Immediately there was interest.  It was quite a cast of players: Jason Morningstar, a friend of his whose name I'm sadly blanking on, Eric Boyd, and as an almost-late addition, Ralph Mazza.  There was interest in a heist movie, and I went 'sure, but let's do a twist - how bout it's a fantasy setting?'  Eric took it a step further by suggesting an Arabian Nights flair, which really cinched it.  We had a flying carpet getaway driver, a magician explosives expert, and a 'cleric' who was really just a fast-talker.  Ralph, who showed up late, became Akbar, the mastermind funding the whole plan.

I started us off in media res, with the 'cleric' and the magician breaking into the safe when, suddenly, the Sultan's guards come in.  Jason immediately set the stage for his character by going "oh, oh, no!  look, guards, I caught the thief!" totally giving up his partner.  In the end, they did manage to chase away the guards, and then we whisk back to 'two days earlier.'

It was a long game, so I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow of each scene, as we had a lot of them.  In the beginning the wheel was cruel to our poor players, but over time things seemed to turn in their favor.  We figured out about half-way through that the number of chips the Croupier starts with makes sense for a continuing game, but for one session, might be considered too much. 

Ralph thought I was a horrible, horrible man when I had one of the character's girlfriend fall asleep in bed, weeping, because she knew he wouldn't marry her.  We found out it was the Sultan really behind the whole escapade, and Akbar's rival also got in on the action, bribing the carpet driver (or rather, calling in an owed favor) to get him to leave and have another driver take his place.  Of course, in the end he had a double crisis of conscience and greed, and so came back and proved to the other driver that he really was the fastest in the land.

But I think that, if this was a movie, Jason's character would have had the first billing.  It's his arc we really followed - his daughter was his Life, and in his first scene with the daughter, he flubbed it up, the mother coming in and telling him that if he goes off on another job, he'll never see Amita again.  Things didn't go much better as the scenes went on - it turned out that one of the guards was Amita's betrothed, and challenged him over his daughter's honor, an event which ended in Burnout.  In the end, he fell off the flying carpet (while trying to save the loot), and his final words were 'Tell my daughter...' (the rest was lost).

It had been almost a year since I'd actually run Fastlane last, but I quickly slipped back into the rules.  It was run entirely with the existing rules, which is good because there were some rules out there I was thinking about changing that I've now decided against.  On the other hand, I saw some holes where I'm glad I tightened things up - the order of scenes, for instance, and the times when winnings can be spent.

In short, before GenCon I was interested in getting a new edition of Fastlane ready for when the old one sold out.  Now I'm excited about the game again, and I'm pretty sure everyone who played with me were excited too.
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming


Fastlane was awesome.  This is a game that really needs to be promoted more and us indie-designer need to pay more attention to it.  There are dice rules for those that don't have a wheel, so that shouldn't be an excuse.  I've always been a fan of mechanics that match the source material and Fastlane is a good example of accomplishing that..."Life in the Fast Lane will surely make you lose your mind..." and its true.  Roulette betting is stacked in favor of the house.  Play it long enough and you WILL lose.  Getting lucky and having the sense to quit while you're ahead is the only way to not burn out.

The character design is very flavorful, and I got alot of mileage out of "Everyone come to Akbar's" and "Akbar thinks of everything" as I played the role of the boss putting together the job.  We decided to end the game with Jason's scene of depressing burnout, but if there had been another scene it would have been to determine whether Akbar married the Sultan's daughter and became Vizier as was promised...or if he too gets betrayed and burns out. 

The one part I'm not sure of (not having read the rules myself in a while) is how the opposition chips are sets.  In Fast Lane, the GM establishes the strength of the opposition (characters or obstacles) and players have to use their winnings to beat that strength in order to win conflicts.  Alexander did a great job of setting those opposition levels so that it was fairly easy to ensure yourself victory (almost) by very conservative bets...but such betting would cause a long term drain on other words, bet enough chips so that your nearly certain to a) have enough to win, but b) come out with fewer than you started.  I'm not sure if there is guidance in the rules as to how to accomplish this effectively or if its just a skill he's developed through play.

Some neat things we were able to do is have some remote conflicts.  In one case there was a race between two flying carpets...Akbar wasn't even present, but using my "Akbar Thinks of Everything" trait I was able to get into the conflict and use my winnings to narrate how I'd had my rival's driver's carpet sabotaged before the race.  In another, I jumped in to help my crew get past some guards, using my winnings to establish that the guards had already been bribed to hand over the key to the vault.

The only other thing I wasn't sure of was the "Live fors".  It may have just been for our one shot Con game, but I only started out with 2 points...and when you hit zero you Burn Out, so instead of being a resource to be risked, in my case I horded them...I think I risked one once only.  Perhaps starting out with more...with some other narrative fallout for loss would encourage a different behavior pattern.  On the other hand, risky bets and lack of wheel luck did drive Jason to the point of risking (and eventually losing) his, so it may just have been my luck at the wheel that kept me from needing them (I think I ended with more chips than I started with, or very nearly).

All in all a good game design that should get mentioned more often in the various "you should look at Game X to see how it does Y" threads.



The opposition chips in Fastlane are set completely in accordance with GM whimsy.  The book encourages this - go with your gut, and if some task is ten chips one time and two the next, so be it.  After all, if the croupier wants to drain his own bank, he's more than welcome.  When he runs out, the players can go crazy.

That said, Fastlane gives some rules of thumb on setting bids (and I'm piling a few more in there for the next printing), but a lot of it is just eyeballing plus experience.  Some easy rules of thumb:  a person can usually get at least as many chips as he gets from his Facet back without issue, so a difficulty equal to (or less than) that is almost a token (and as the Croupier, you'll usually get about half the chips a person bids).

Also:  Life values are used in two ways:  by risking them, you can get extra chips, which we saw quite a bit, but also by risking yourself (and reducing the number of chips you can bid), you can increase your relationship to your Life (thus increasing the value), which either I didn't explain very well in the game, or just didn't get as much used (a one-shot game does tend to encourage more risky behaviour, since you know you'll be done at the end anyway). 

The second part, the threatening, is the other way it can be used - it might be the "other narrative fallout for loss" you were missing.  So, you bid less chips, and are thus less likely to succeed in whatever you're trying, but have a good chance of growing closer to your Life.  It's the player's choice, every time the Life comes up, which way to go.

That said, your luck was probably a good part of the reason you didn't risk them.  On the other hand, perhaps you didn't use them because I dropped the ball a bit as the croupier, since it's my duty (per the rules) to say "Hey, this is in the scene - pick one, risk it, or risk yourself!"
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming

Eric J. Boyd

I played the flying carpet getaway driver in this game and had a hoot. This was my first chance to really try Fastlane on for size, and I was impressed by the mechanics and their flexibility. As Ralph mentioned, the capability of impacting comflicts remotely was great and really let his character shine despite not being directly involved in the actual heist. I was also impressed by the power of favors, which were used several times to bail us out of troublesome situations by declaring that our contacts had smoothed the way for us.

My one bit of advice for starting a game is to perhaps let the players do an establishing scene for their character where they can use some chips from the bank or house to practice the actual betting mechanics under time constraints (kind of like an initiation scene in Dogs). Let them pocket any winnings but not actually suffer losses out of their chip reserve for that first scene. This would be a quick practical intro to the game rules in action where the stakes for messing up aren't high. I felt like Jason and Steve got a bit rushed with their initial bets and the impact of those initial losses was something they had to work hard to overcome; an introductory scene of some sort to establish themselves and get familiar with the bets might have helped things along. I realize this works a bit counter to the burn out theme of Fastlane, but I'm betting the burn out would still come along shortly even with one freebie to start everyone off.

All told, though, Fastlane really accomplishes what it sets out to do. And seeing Jason's character burn out was a great ending and showed the game achieving its goal. Thanks for a very satisfying game, Lxndr.

Jason Morningstar

Yes, it was fun!  Both Steve and I agreed.  I really struggled with the roulette betting scheme, which was a barrier for me - I got better at it, but never saw the subtlety that Eric and Ralph seemed to have down.  The thing I liked best about the mechanic was the time-delimited nature of decision making.  You have maybe 20 seconds to allocate resources before the wheel stops.  That's exciting. 


Steve!  I can't believe I forgot that name.  Sorry, Steve, for blanking on your name, and thank you Eric for remembering it, and Jason too for making sure I noticed it!

I'm glad you guys had an excellent time.  Eric, your suggestion of making it middle-eastern themed, I think, really made this whole thing gel.  Without that theme, all the flying carpet things never would have happened, and Ralph probably wouldn't have made Akbar, who was played wonderfully!  But Jason, you brought the heart, with this deceptive man who, in the end, wanted nothing more than the love of his daughter. This is the only Fastlane game I've played in that had burnout in the first game, and I think a lot of that was that everyone was pushing the system harder - 'one shot syndrome' and that was awesome.

If you've read the old Fastlane design threads, you can see I never played roulette before starting my design... but then, I'm a numbers man (studying for a double mathematics/economics degree because I've always had talent an interest in that way) so I'm picking up the patterns easily.  My playtesting has generally had people learn pretty quickly, even online where there's no tactile elements to bid.  So I'm approaching it from a period of strength, and I'm not sure what I might need to do to help people who aren't grasping it.

I wonder what the difference is that made Eric and Ralph seem to struggle with the whole bidding system less than you feel you did (or the struggles Ron has had).  It could just be that they had better luck, especially at the beginning, so they just seemed to be struggling less.  Jason, do you think a 'freebie' contest of the kind Eric's suggesting would have helped you?  Can you think of something else I could have done, and/or included in the rules text, that would have helped you?

I think Fastlane gives a mild enough decline that players can recover from early losses while they're learning the system, so I doubt I'll be adopting any sort of practice scene.  I'll admit, the 'sink or swim' feel of Fastlane as it exists now is somewhat appealing from a designer standpoint, since it fits in with the theme; on the other hand, I don't want players walking away from the table out of frustration.
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming

Jason Morningstar

Well, I'm definitely not complaining.  It works fine and I wouldn't change anything.  The only thing you could have done for me would have been to give me six hours of rest before the game.

Steve Segedy

Alexander, do you have a sample or a Creative Commons version of the Fastlane text?  I never actually got the chance to look the book over while we played (too busy ordering my monkey around and blowing things up, I suppose).  I'd like to look over the rules again, as well as your list of inspirational references (movies, books, etc.).  Although I had fun with the Arabian fantasy theme, at some point I'd like to try the game again with a more traditional  con-game/heist story- I'm thinking specifically of movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Confidence, and Layer Cake (among many others).
The Shab-al-Hiri Roach and Grey Ranks, available now at IPR!



Sadly, I currently do not have a sample or a CC version of Fastlane.  And the text itself doesn't include any list of inspirational references; I'll admit that, personally, it's an area I don't normally read in game texts, so it's not one I thought to include in my own.  Let me give you some right here though:

Also, after finally watching the Fox TV show of the same name as my game, I can definitely say it's good source material, though I didn't watch it until years after Fastlane was printed.
Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
Maker of many fine story-games!
Moderator of Indie Netgaming