Wandering the wasteland one hex at a time
Video game RPGs can translate very well into the tabletop realm. It’s a sort of cyclical relationship, as many entries in the genre are born out of precepts forged in the pen and paper era, and running them back to board games just seems natural.
Fallout: The Board Game is one such endeavor. While it’s not a perfect realization of the trials and tribulations of wasteland wandering, the questing system manages to capture the feeling of being bested by twists and turns all while ghouls and robots alike are trying to rip you apart.
Fallout The Board Game
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Released: December 12, 2017
If you snuck a peak at the header image above, you’re probably thinking “wow, this game must have a huge setup process.” Well, kinda. The initial unboxing is an event as there’s lots of different bits to pop out and get ready — three different card stacks, miniatures, dice, board pieces, quest cards, bottle caps in variations of one and five, encounter icons, perk tokens, arrows, and “SPECIAL” letters with each letter spelled out. It’s a game in desperate need of an organizer insert, or in my case, a lot of not-included zip-lock bags.
It took me roughly an hour to get to the point where I felt like I could comfortably teach the game, which in reality, is chump change compared to a lot of similar RPGs (paging Arkham Horror). There’s a helpful and truncated “learn to play” guide as well as a more in-depth reference book, which help you ease in via baby steps. After just one solo test session, I felt like I fully understood it without a heap of lingering questions, which is a good sign.
The fluff helps get you in the mood, too. The gist is that it’s the year 2077, and as a member of Vault 84, it’s your job to venture out into the wasteland, survive, and gain enough influence to win the game and make an impact on the world. It incorporates bits and pieces of the modern series, heavily favoring Fallout 3 and 4. There are four scenarios out of the box to play with (Far Harbor, The Pitt, The Capital Wasteland, and The Commonwealth), the latter of which is suggested as the starting point.
Where this adaption excels is the quest deck. Linking large amounts of progress to quests, players use preset main scenario cards to lead players along in a campaign of sorts, coupled with quest marker icon tokens to lead the way and split paths that present twists and turns in the narrative. You might help one NPC with a quest to find her missing sister, only to find out that she’s actually an imposter — and at that point you’ve blown through three quest cards of literal hundreds, reaping rewards and hopping around the hex-based map.
A map, mind, that’s mostly randomized each playthrough with shuffled tiles, only a few of which are static to provide stability with guaranteed towns to earn quests from. I really like this concept, because I often found success randomly just going around the map and doing what I wanted, occasionally going back to complete core objectives when I felt like it.
The way turns play out is fairly open-ended too. In any given round, each participant can choose two actions — explore (flip a new tile), move up to two spaces, quest, encounter, fight, or camp (gain bonuses and regain health). Once everyone has taken their turn a neutral card is drawn from the influence deck, which shambles neutral enemy tokens along similar to Arkham and into conflict with players. It’s a system that should appeal to pretty much any style of play, and the concept of sort of pitting players against each other but sorta not straddles the line of PVP and PVE (you can’t directly fight others, but you can technically steal quests or choose to not help someone out if they’re inundated by enemies).
Combat is a simpler affair, simulated by rolling three dice. If any dice show “*” symbols you’re taking one damage per, and you’re looking to score hits on varying body parts to take out enemies. Killing NPCs is an all or nothing affair, but for you, damage is permanent. On your character card if your HP peg ever meets or surpasses your rad peg (which is increased by walking through certain terrain or through quest flavor text), your character essentially faints. That misadventure isn’t the end as you merely lose your inventory — but your rad level stays, and if that ever exceeds your max HP, then you’re dead forever. At that point you’re almost completely screwed, so allowing players to come back in most cases is a good compromise.
To actually win, you’ll need 8-11 influence points depending on the number of players (less bodies requires you to earn more), which isn’t incredibly easy to get. You earn influence through agenda cards mostly by completing quests, and some randomly provide bigger bonuses than others. Factions are also constantly at play (like the Railroaders versus the Institute from Fallout 4 in the first scenario), which can influence…the influence deck’s rewards.
Given that games aren’t terribly long when you consider the genre you’re getting into (mostly clocking in at a few hours), I was okay with the slow-going nature of influence and the randomization therein. You can sometimes feel like you have less control over the outcome, but there are absolutely many strategies to consider when earning influence. It’s also pretty fun solo, and through these tests I learned to just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride with others. All the while you’re picking up loot, companions, perks, and SPECIAL stats to buff your damage, defense, movement, and dice rolls. Although some upgrades can seem underwhelming, by the end you feel like you’ve made progress, like a time-lapsed version of an endgame character.
If you’re a really competitive person that needs to win and requires more direct means of control for everything, the sometimes random quests and fickle influence acquisition might turn you off. With some re-tooling of the agenda deck it could be something that’s a little less luck based, but so far I’m okay with how it operates because I don’t need every tabletop experience to be as stringent as a Eurogame. I will say that four scenarios is a little light, and a FAQ with rule variants and a simple tile/quest card expansion would make the Fallout The Board Game endlessly replayable. I hope it’s supported to that point, but until then I’m more than happy with the base.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]