A Call to Adventure
I’m always on the lookout for a new adventure game. Despite the wealth of options available to us gamers, sometimes the intense strategic Euros, light fillers, or even epic miniatures games fail to satiate that occasional thirst for discovery and exploration.
Fantasy Flight Games have always been reliable for providing tabletop experiences which whisk us away to detailed universes, putting us in the shoes of an eager adventurer. Their expertise in art design, component quality, and impressive writing have provided hours of entertainment in the worlds of Arkham, Runebound, and Star Wars. But, somehow I’m still left thirsting for that next call to adventure.
Fortunately, Fantasy Flight Games’ latest licensed acquisition has taken Bethesda’s beloved roleplaying video-game franchise, Fallout, and brought its irradiated wastelands to your tabletop. Boasting detailed miniatures, custom dice, and a gorgeous modular board, could this be the adventure i’ve been waiting for?
Welcome to the Wasteland!
Described as a post-nuclear board game for 1-4 players, Fallout: The Board Game promises an evolving adventure through the choices you make, as you traverse your way through one of the four included scenarios. Players will fight, loot, explore, and quest across the modular board, scoring game-winning influence as they further the goals of one of two opposing factions. Each game will see players reacting to events from the Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 video games, with each play through taking between two to three hours.
How Does it Play?
Your first steps in the Capital Wasteland thrust you unforgivingly into Fallout's post-nuclear world. The first card of the game's expansive quest deck is staged, setting the scene and tasking players with pursuing the branching narrative however they choose. This is largely determined by a player's agenda cards, the game's point scoring mechanism, with most granting points to one of two groups on the faction track. For the first scenario, will you side with The Institute, a shady organisation intent on hiding evidence of their advanced synths' infiltration of society? Or will you stand with The Railroad and protect these sentient constructions?
With the game's story underway, it won't be long until you're fighting your first Raider Scum, looting him for all he's worth, and gaining valuable XP. This decision to drop players in at the deep end creates a great sense of momentum, drawing your characters quickly into the narrative, and having players promptly get to grips with the game's key mechanisms.
So What Can I Do?
Players can perform two actions on their turn. These include exploring an adjacent tile, encountering a settlement or wasteland, camping to restore health, questing to complete objectives, moving, and fighting. Once all players have acted, an agenda card is drawn dictating which enemies will move or attack. If a player ever gains the required amount of influence through their agenda cards (11 in a one-player game, eight with four players), the game ends, with that player declared the winner. Alternatively, if any of the factions reach the end of the track, they win and all players lose.
Fallout: The Board Game's levelling up mechanic is one of the best I have encountered, feeling right at home on the tabletop whilst maintaining a video-game aesthetic. Every experience point will move your grey peg up to the next S.P.E.C.I.A.L. token (Fallout's take on classic RPG skill trees), granting you a new one as you pass the last space. Your peg then resets, with the new total of S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats increasing your chances of passing skill checks, but forcing you to work that little bit harder to reach the next level.
Combat revolves around the use of the game’s three custom VATS dice. These dice, similar to the VATS system in the video-game, represent the likelihood of hitting various body parts, with each success dependent on your enemy’s weak points. A Raider Psycho for example requires at least two hits on either the legs or torso. Each die only counts for one body part, but fortunately, weapons will grant valuable re-rolls if you possess the relevant S.P.E.C.I.A.L. tokens.
A number of pips are also apparent on some sides of the dice, with each one dealing damage to you equal to the enemy’s level. In this case, our run in with the Raider Psycho would cost us six health points from rolling three pips.
These pips serve a dual purpose, counting as successes in the various skill checks you will resolve, with relevant letters on your player board again granting re-rolls. It is a neat system but can lead to some frustration for players missing the items needed to mitigate the luck of the roll. Unfortunately, such equipment can be hard to come by, with loot drops from enemies again being down to luck, and shopping dependant on particular encounter cards.
Why Should I Play It?
In typical Fantasy Flight fashion, Fallout: The Board Game looks stunning. The sturdy modular map tiles and detailed miniatures are complimented by linen finish cards with clear but evocative graphic design, and thick cardboard tokens. The player boards are outstanding, evoking the feel of the video games and housing the game's various tokens with ease. Longtime fans of the Fallout franchise will delight in looting or buying cards depicting items and companions from the game, such as Brahmin Steaks, Nick Valentine, and Dogmeat.
But the most stand-out aspect of the game is its handling of the wealth of stories the Fallout universe has to tell. Each quest card and encounter is a celebration of both Bethesda's and Fantasy Flight's history of storytelling. The decision to place how these stories develop into the hands of the players, through branching quest lines, is genius, and works elegantly. Upon fulfilling a quest's requirement, players will be instructed to stage further cards face-up, presenting more decisions and directions for the story.
Cards will often be added to the two piles of settlement and wasteland encounter decks, making the encounter action that much more enticing for players wanting to further flesh out the story, or simply hunt for alternative ways of gaining influence.
As in the video games, side-quests provide illuminating context for this hostile world, helping elaborate the drama and conflict of the main quest’s competing factions, and give the tabletop experience a great sense of place and narrative depth. One play through saw my Wastelander challenge some kids to a game of Synth: Netrumor. A clever nod to both Fantasy Flight's back catalogue and Fallout's layering of humour over its, often dark, themes. For the record, I ended up losing three caps.
But Things Don't Always Run Smoothly In the Capital Wasteland...
Unfortunately, things don't always go to plan in this post-nuclear landscape. Several elements of the game are dependant on luck, which whilst not wholly unfamiliar in the adventure game genre, are nonetheless frustrating in some situations. Whilst the VATS dice combat is fun and nicely thematic, any strategic sense of control during battles is hampered through the difficulty of acquiring decent loot.
Similarly, those all important agenda cards are lacking in variety. This sometimes leads to runaway leaders ending the game solely down to their drawing of multiple cards scoring for the leading faction. Some agenda cards reward exploring the map or maxing out your character stats, but they are few and far between. As it stands, the wonky and often abrupt end game mechanism renders the impressive storytelling as largely anticlimactic.
Furthermore, the occasional thrill of exploration is not exploited to its full potential, and frustratingly feels only just out of reach. I can't help but wonder whether any future expansions will better reward players for delving just a bit deeper into the game’s impressive stack of branching quests.
Final Thoughts on Fallout: The Board Game
The move from polygons to cardboard has become increasingly popular, with Doom and Dark Souls being notable examples. Fallout is a welcome addition to this trend, offering one of the most immersive video game adaptations tabletop gaming has to offer.
If you’re looking for a faithful recreation of the video-game, with excellent theme and attention to detail then Fallout should certainly impress. Likewise, serious gamers can delight in the game’s fascinating approach to storytelling and a genuinely solid level up system.
Fallout teeters on the edge of adventure game perfection, but its faults, while few, may leave a sour taste for some. Of course, Fantasy Flight are not a company to shy away from expansions, which could address these issues. Until then, Fallout still represents an inventive, evocative, and fun romp through one the most enthralling video game franchises.