Actual Play – Havana 1953 (4/1/2012)

Players: Chris Bennett, Karen Twelves, Jon Edwards, and Sean Nittner
System: Fiasco
Playset: Havana 1953 (by Chris Bennett)

First off, there is no April Fools joke here. We played on 4/1. There were no shenanigans. Period. End. Dot.

This game rocked pretty hard, which is a credit both to the four solid players we have, the liquid high five awesomeness of Fiasco, and Chris Bennett’s very well done playset.

By the way Bennett, notice that I’ve written your name four times (now five) and spelled it correctly every time. I know it’s so shocking that it almost looks like I’ve gotten it wrong because I got it right, but really I got it right. I’m sensitive to that as my name has been misspelled “Nitter” by people ranging from hosts at restaurants (where you’re like who really cares) to Human Resources morons who are too lazy to freakin’ copy and paste my damn name off the application and then can’t figure out why the name they have on file doesn’t match with my SSN!

Reservations, party of 1

When I went down stairs to let Chris into Karen’s apartment I told him I really knew nothing at all about Havana, much less Havana 1963. I’m pretty sure it is in Cuba. I imagine that means cigars and warm nights. That’s about it. He seemed pretty confident that the playset would tell me everything I needed to know. I’m guessing from the steaming pile of awesome sauce that covered our entire game he was right.

So rather than tell us all about the time period he just had us read the score, which I did out loud to everyone at the table.

Yay for playing at home and not having to drive afterwards. We all made Cuba Libres and I enjoyed the heck out of three of them. We used original Coca-Cola out of glass bottle and a very yummy run — WAIT A SECOND. I’m doing that thing where a game review turns into a food review. Next!]

The Setup

Using the Bennett method (that’s six Chris), we first mapped out top level relationships between everyone. I was first player (by virtue of something I can’t remember), from their the seating order went Sean -> Jon -> Chris -> Karen.

Here is what we got:

Freja McTavish – A dutch model who was adopted at birth by Irish immigrants and raised in the united states, down in Havana doing a Coca-Cola commercial

Relationship – Work: Model and Photographer.
Need – To get out of our obligations (the Coca-Cola photo shoot specifically)

César Galán – Photographer exiled form Nicaragua because his art challenged the corrupt regime. He worked in Havana both to cover his expenses and to hide his revolutionary work. His art focused on those disenfranchised by wealthy corporations and and uncaring government. It was agreed by all to be incredibly moving.

Relationship – Visitors: Political Exiles
Location – Havana Proper: VIP table for Frank Sinatra in the Capri Casino

Rubino Morales – The Nicaraguan minister moved by César and summarily exiled for his attempts to change the status quo. Betrayed by his assistant Miguel Ortega (Nicaraguan Secret Police informant), he had fled the country but hoped to buy his way back in, by cheating the casinos in Havana.

Relationship: Crime – Casino Cheaters
Object: Valuables – Pair of Havana Tropicana (later rules to work in the Capri) craps dice weighted to always roll 7 or 11.

Maja Jørgensen – Dutch security systems executives, sent to Havana to show the casinos that they should use tested Dutch security measures to protect their investments rather than the mob “insurance” scams they were being pressured into using. Maja was aware of her estranged sister Freja and hoped her presence in Havana would not complicate her work. The characters were played by the same actress, of course.

Relationship: Family – Separated at birth
Object: Untoward – Portable film camera hidden inside a Spanish bible.

Freya McTavish (Jørgensen) (see above)

Holy crap on stick. I could tell just from this setup that we hit upon solid gold. Real motives. Real tragedies. A splash of the implausible (siblings separated at birth, both gorgeous Dutch women in Cuba played by the same actress, I mean, c’mon).  I was convinced that this game would rock the house. And it DID!

The play is the thing

I got the first scene. My phrasing for your scene options in Fiasco is “Do you want to open or close the scene?” I think that is a pretty succinct way to describe the active player’s choice. I chose (as I almost always do) to open.

Freya and César were on the beach of Havana doing a photo shoot. Freja was dressed in a white and red bikini holding a bottle of Coca-Cola as the waves lapped up over her ankles.  Onto the scene burst Rubino, who had to tell César that he had just found their apartment ransacked by the NSP (Nicaraguan Secret Police)! Damn, I thought that was a pretty hot way to open this game.

From there we got to see César and Rubino’s convictions. Would they flee because the NSP had found them, or stay committed to their cause. For my part I wanted Freja deep in this business early on. She was only a model, but she was enamored by the passion of César. Being handed a white die, we agreed that the only place the two exiles could go to speak privately was Freja casting tent, and she wasn’t letting them in there without her. She was the revolutionaries first fan!

Chris carried the torch with a flashback scene (we had several of these throughout the game) of how César and Rubino met. I played the part of Rubino’s lowly assistant Miguel, who Rubino constantly chastised for smoking in his office. (Note, smoking cigars became a major theme in our game. They were always associated with the person hiding something. Even to the extent that Rubino and César had a secret language where the way Rubino smoked (or the fact that he was smoking at all) conveyed private messages to César. Much like you would expect from medieval Japanese fan waving).

Rubino expected to be bored by yet another starving artist trying to get funding from his government, and had even told Miguel to interrupt their meeting in five minutes with an “important phone call”. Instead though, he was captivated by César’s powerful and anti-goverment, anti-corporate message. This was a fun time to hand Chris a black die, as I played Miguel entering the office to tell Rubino about the “important phone call”, then being shooed out of the office by the moved Rubino, and then making a phone call of his own to the NSP to report Rubino’s treasonous plotting.

Finally the first round of scenes was wrapped up with the introduction of Maja and her relationship with Rubino. She had the weighted dice, the security system schematics, and the offer to make the casinos. He had the connections to get in and pull of the “fake” heist. The only problem was their motives. Maja (which everyone mispronounced “mah-ha” instead of “my-ā”) wanted to steal the money and give it back (ala Sneakers). Rubino wanted to go big AND go home. He hoped to swindle the casinos out of $250,oo0 so he could buy his way back into Nicaragua.

The second round of scenes built even more tension

Freja, César and Rubino scheduled a Coca-Cola photo shoot in the Capri, right next to Frank Sinatra’s act as a cover for Rubino’s gambling excursions. The idea would be that Freja would make such a scene with her photo shoot that nobody would notice Rubino… and if they did, she would just come over and kiss the dice for good luck, making it very difficult for the casino to protest without looking very bad themselves. A rock solid plan, nothing could go wrong…

And of course, it all went wrong.

It started with Frank Sinatra seducing Freja. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Why aren’t you at my table. Come, sit with me.”

After Freja disappeared, Maja, who had been observing from a distance was called in to act as her double. She (being the same beautiful actress, but dressed in a “business executive” suit) pulled a Jamie Lee Curtis from True Lies act and with a red and white table cloth, some sultry adjustment of her clothes and a flourish of the hair was the next Coca-Cola model.

Distraction in place, Rubino hit the craps tables, and he hit them hard. His greed got the better of him and he pushed to far. Ending both him and Maja downstairs to have a discussion with the mob. Rubino managed to talk himself out of the situation, diverting the blame. Things went less well for Maja.

And speaking of going less well, César had his own unpleasant encounter. Abandoned by everyone he was left alone at the photo shoot. The camera did some trick photography to show the shadows of Coca-Cola bottles across his face to give the “prison bars” look as he looked onto Frank Sinatra’s performance. This foreshadowed the immediate appearance of Miguel Ortega, now much more than an informant, Ortega was leading the NSP to find César and Rubino.

For his convictions César earned a savage beating, right there on the casino floor. Almost poetically, nobody noticed, or if they did, they didn’t care. César had become the subject of his own message. Miguel however, was truly after the artist, but after the ex-minister that had narrowly evaded him. He left César alive. Broken, but alive.

Maja final scene was another flashback. One set when she first arrived in Havana and learned that Freja was here too. She arranged a meeting over coffee, where she revealed herself to her long lost sister. At first Freja was confused, the doubtful, and finally elated. Here happiness at finding her family dampened though when Maja told her that she sought her out specifically so that the two could make an effort to avoid each other. Two tall blonde fair skinned women in Havana was bound to draw unwanted attention. Much to Freja’s dismay her family reunion was a brief as it was unexpected.

The tilt

Guilt: Greed leads to killing
Paranoia: Somebody is waiting for their moment.

Act Two – Headline: Beautiful model found dead on the Havana beach!

We took a little break after the tilt to stretch, refresh our cocktails and percolate the effects of the tilt into our narrative. I didn’t need time. The moment I saw the “greed leads to killing”, I knew how I was going to open the first scene.

A beautiful day in Havana. The sun glistening off the waves as they lap up onto the beach. The camera passes over a large group of people crowded around something out of view by the waterfront. From different directions two people push through the crowd and emerge in front of them at the same time. César and Maja both came face to face and the looked down, and camera followed them, to see the dead body of Freya McTavish. Cut!

That was pretty much the scene. Jon added that when the moved the body, beneath it was a old Spanish bible, which he took before the authorities arrived.

Somewhat surprisingly from there the story took something of a downbeat. In retrospect I think it was necessary to built tension for the finale. We had some flashback scenes of Freja and Frank, of her getting footage of him meeting with the NSP and the mob (taken inexpertly by Freja with the film camera in the Spanish Bible). This became the lynchpin piece of evidence that César needed to get leverage of Miguel Ortega, and have current president of Nicaragua replaced!

Also, we saw a more tender scene of Maja talking to Freja again after her encounter with the mob. She had been told that she had better let the mob into the family business, or their would be dire consequences. Having refused them, she realized she might not live to return home. The didn’t kill her right there in the casino, but her days were numbered. Knowing that she decided that she should make her peace with Freja. The model was just about to be carted off by Sinatra’s assistants when Maja caught her. They had a sweet sisterly moment and Maja gave Freja a dress she had brought along, so that Freya could go out with Sinatra and not be wearing her Coca-Cola bikini she was modeling in. It was very sweet, it was also the doom of Freja.

The last scene we saw the model in was with Rubino, who picked her up after her date with Frank. He gave her a ride but it was back to his place instead of hers. When she refused his advances and left his place in the middle of the night, she was startled to hear the name “Jørgensen” called out. She turned, and was shot down by the mob, who of course thought she was Maja, as she was leaving from Rubino’s apartment and wearing Maja’s dress. Beautiful.

The Aftermath

César came up with low black. Horrible. Though the president had been deposed and a new administration was in office, it was just as corrupt. He had a moment of protesting along side Che Guevara but ended in a body back in a trunk of an NSP car.

Rubino came up aces. Something like White 15. He was reinstated in the Nicaraguan government (although to my surprise, not the new President) and once again had Manual as his personal secretary.

Maja came up with low black as well, ruined. She returned home having failed her assignment and drawing unwanted attention from the mob, effectively closing of a lucrative opportunity for her family. The disapproving from look from her father was enough to crush her spirits.

Freja turned out almost alright, almost. I showed scenes of media executives reviewing the footage, of her ad campaign, nearly accepting it but finally saying, “Cuba is too hot right now, we need something local and less controversial” and shit canning her work. A letter was sent though, from the McTavishes to Maja, with pictures of Freja growing up. A token to give back the Jørgensens some small piece of the daughter they lost.

Thoughts on this game

Damn, these scenes were hot. I mean everyone just brought it to the table.

I need to find a way to randomly pick my setup options without pissing every one off. Whenever I play Fiasco, someone (or most everyone) wants the dice all sorted and lined up by number to know what options are out there. I want to pick at random what the connections will be.  But once they are all sorted the only way I can do that is to close my eyes and grab a die, which invariably knocks one over or scatters them. I think next time I’m just going to pick up any die… roll it and then use that value. I like things being random at first.

Much credit to Bennett for delivering a solid play set. As I mentioned I had no real knowledge of the setting, but found it was very easy to jump into. This gave me a lot of inspiration to get off my ass and get working on “Women on the edge” (my playset planned for Pedro Almodovar movies).

The scene opening with “my character is dead” was a move I stole from Lenny Balsera. He said he opened the game with it once. That didn’t feel right in this game (at least not a first) but it was perfect after the tilt. I took incredible glee in shredding my own character tent!