Always keen to help bridge the gap between the video gaming and board gaming communities, I was desperate to review one of the biggest titles on the video game market, that being the post-apocalyptic RPG-come-action shooter, Fallout the board game. Not only is it from a series that I love, it’s also a theme that I really enjoy, and it’s from Fantasy Flight Games who are a publisher that I know extremely well. Nothing to worry about then, right? Let’s find out.
Fallout is very much scenario driven. The modular board will be set up differently depending on which one of the scenarios are chosen, which will also introduce alternative ‘boss-like’ enemies, such as the Enclave or Synths. Advertised for 1-4 players, it will take anywhere from 2 hours or more to finish. As with the video game, each player will take control of one of five Wastelanders who will all start their journey at Crossroads Camp and are represented with five beautifully sculpted miniatures. Player characters will begin their journey in a relatively weak state with possibly a single piece of equipment and only two of the seven iconic S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes available. By exploring the Wasteland, players can level up their character using experience points gained through fighting enemies and completing quests or encounters, as well as scavenging for loot and other valuable assets.
The map itself is made up of numerous large hexagon tiles that all fit together, most will be face-down and require exploring which is when enemies will spawn for the first time. Exploring is a must as you can’t traverse across an unexplored tile, although enemies can do so and at a much quicker pace than if the tile was face up. A face-up tile will be further broken down into areas such as highways or buildings, difficult terrain (meaning two movement actions are required to move into) or irradiated areas resulting in radiation damage to the player.
On a player’s turn, they may take up to two actions, which include: move your character, explore an adjacent tile (flip it face-up), complete a quest, encounter, fight or camp, which allows players to regain health points. I’ll explain these actions as we go along.
Once a scenario is chosen, the board will be assembled, enemies and factions placed and a starting quest card will be read out loud. The quest card will outline the overall scenario whilst giving players usually two ways in which they can complete it, which may involve exploring a certain area of the map or finding a particular person. When that quest is complete, it will instruct players which quest(s) will be staged next and must be pulled from the quest library; this will continue the initial story as well as introduce new strands, side quests and people. By completing a quest, it’s possible that you will advance one of the two factions involved in that scenario. This is a must, to a certain degree, as it can help you reach your overall influence total required to win the game. The negative impact, however, is if either faction reaches the bottom of that power track, then all players lose the game. Encounters are very similar to quests, only they won’t advance the power track and don’t require you to complete specific tasks beforehand. There are two types of encounters which are organised in decks: a wasteland deck and settlement encounter deck. These decks are represented by symbols on the map that a player can activate once they reach that symbol. Each encounter has its own prelude text which is read aloud by another player who will then give you choices on how to resolve this encounter. An encounter could be that you have entered a building and a woman is there, so you can: 1. Help her search for loot; 2. Grab something and run; or 3. Kill her and take her loot.
The active player must decide on a course of action knowing that for every action there is a reaction. If you help someone, they could reemerge in the game at a later time and repay the favour; on the other hand, if you hurt or kill them, it could impact you negatively either there and then or later on. These reactions are represented by more encounter cards being added to each encounter deck once the active player has chosen their course of action, which will usually give you immediate benefits as well, such as loot cards, caps or valuable assets. Just like in the video game, there are chances to buy and sell wares at a market, which might include weapons, armour, food or drugs. Using the Wasteland currency of bottle caps, players can improve their chances of survival by purchasing these items, four of which will always be face-up for players to see but will regularly be added to throughout the game via the asset deck. Usually, a settlement encounter will allow a player to shop.
Loot is similar to assets, only usually not quite as powerful or expensive, and is far easier to come across. You gain loot by searching ruins, completing quests and sometimes killing enemies. Enemies in the game come in the form of critters, humans, robots, monsters and Super Mutants and are represented by tokens that display their type, abilities, level and V.A.T.S. vulnerability. Their abilities could include whether they carry loot, have a ranged weapon or if they have extra defence, as well as others, whilst their level governs how many hits you need to kill them and how much damage they will deal out to you.
Enemies move around the map after all players have taken their turn. A card from the agenda deck will be drawn and will show the symbol of the enemy that will move that round. Each corresponding enemy will move one space towards the nearest player; if they enter the same space as a player, then they will attack. Again, in keeping with the video game, Fallout the board game uses a Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System or V.A.T.S. during combat and is represented by three custom dice, the faces of which display areas of the body which that dice will hit, as well as up to two pips which show how many hits the enemy gets on you. If an enemy’s vulnerability is its legs and it has a level of two, then at least two of the dice must be leg hits in order to kill it. Certain perks or S.P.E.C.I.A.L. abilities will let you re-roll the dice, and different weapons may give you other advantages, such as headshots or extra re-rolls.
The way in which players win is to gain the required amount of influence points depending on the number of players; this is done through the agenda deck which, if you remember, is also how enemies move at the end of each round, so it acts as a timer to make sure the game progresses. Each player will be given one agenda card at the beginning of the game and will collect more as they complete quests to a limit of four cards. Each card will in itself be worth a number of influence, but it will also offer bonus influence if you meet certain requirements, such as collecting certain equipment, saving caps or supporting a faction’s cause. I will talk more about this system before the end.
Before moving onto the review proper, I’d just like to mention the component quality, which is tremendous. The minis are great, and all cards, dice, tokens and rules have correlating symbols that make it easy to play, although I did find the ‘learn to play’ booklet a little vague and wishy-washy compared to others that FFG have released. Lastly, each player will be given a player board that tracks their health, radiation, and abilities, as well as equipment and perks. This board is so well designed and is similar to those which you might find in Zombicide.
So, what do I think? Well, to put it frankly, Fallout is fantastic but has been one of the most frustrating games that I think I’ve not only reviewed but ever played, and I’ll explain why now: The quest and encounter systems are fantastic, probably the best of their kind that I’ve played. The narrative is brilliant, the way cards are added to the decks depending on player decisions is awesome, and I really got sucked into the main scenarios, and I also enjoyed going on side quests to help a particular person or gain a certain reward. Given the fact that each of the cards might have two or three options through which they can be resolved means that replay value is extremely high. I really can’t speak highly enough about this aspect of the game, and FFG could release numerous expansions by simply providing us with more cards and scenarios. I also really like the combat system which, if you wanted to strip it down, could just be a D6, but the three custom dice look quality. It’s a change not to have dice manipulation in an FFG game too; there is a small amount, but generally it’s all about leveling your character up and using the correct weapons to generate re-rolls to defeat an enemy. A little simplistic but very clean and easy to understand.
Fallout the board game has to be one of the best board game representations of a video game that I have ever played. On every level, FFG have incorporated so much of the Fallout world into their game that any other theme over these mechanisms wouldn’t work anywhere near as well. It’s for this reason above all others that I was so disappointed to have to explain my frustrations.
The biggest letdown with Fallout for me is the manner in which you score points using the agenda deck, it’s just so random, lacks variation and is completely unsatisfying. It can also work against the theme of a particular scenario as well, totally negating any kind of strategy. As a player, you may wish to follow a certain path through the Wasteland, completing the quests or encounters in a particular way and fighting whoever you like. However, by simply drawing a random agenda card, it could punish you for doing so and effectively force you down another road, only to send you back down your original route a few turns later. Add to the fact that you can only hold four of these cards at any one time and it’s not unusual to draw a card only to discard it again. There are so many better ways that this could have been done, having a track or using tokens, anything really that would make you grind for those precious influence points instead of a random draw of a card that could give you one point or four for completing the same quest.
Lastly, I wasn’t keen on the way enemies moved around the map, they feel too automated or programmed: draw a card, then this type moves one space and so on. It made enemies feel devoid of character as they all act in the same manner. This isn’t ‘game breaking’, for sure, just a little annoying in a game that oozes theme.
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Designers: Andrew Fischer, Nathan Hajek
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Release: November 2017