Fallout: The Board Game Review

Fallout - Cover

It’s a desolate landscape with strange, offensive beasts walking around; stalking others, chasing them down and claiming territory for their own. You feel lost, dazed and alone as you wander in search of meaning and a sense of belonging in this lurid, post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But enough about Brexit.

In case you’re not familiar with the Fallout franchise, it’s been going for a fair few years now. The most recent incarnations of the video games feature a full RPG game where you wander around the Capital Wasteland (Fallout 3) and the remains of Boston (Fallout 4). They’re both very similar in form and appearance so if you’ve played either of them, then Fallout: The Board Game will feel quite familiar.

Fallout - Brotherhood of Steel

Long story short: nuclear war reduced an alternative-future America (and presumably the rest of the world) to a wasteland where survivors eke out an existence in what’s left of the planet after living in underground bunkers for 200 years or so. Fallout: The Board Game takes place in the Fallout setting and includes every detail,  right down to the enemies, factions and vaults that feature in the video games. I love the Fallout games so buying the cardboard version wasn’t much of a tough choice for me. I will say though that if you’re not familiar with the video games, some of the features in the board game may seem a bit…strange.

Fallout: The Board Game is an exploration and mission-based game where each player takes on the role of one of the vaguely friendly factions in the wasteland (Vault-Dweller, Ghoul, Brotherhood of Steel, Super Mutant or a Wastelander, represented by really lovely miniatures) and your job is to explore the map, complete missions and ally yourself with one of the two factions in the game in order to score influence with them. First to a certain influence wins the game. How you get that influence is key to Fallout’s operation.

Fallout - S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

One thing to bear in mind is that Fallout is simulating a video game RPG so it has a lot of elements to take into account. Your character has stats which determine their abilities (the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. scores) to perform certain tests such as wielding weapons, shooting bad guys and completing tasks. Stats have been streamlined in the cardboard version so you either have an ability or you don’t, there’s no graduated value for each one. You get eXperience Points (XP) for killing bad guys and completing missions, which is how you level up. Get the required number of XP and you get another S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute.

Gameplay is quite straightforward; you get two actions as per many of the Fantasy Flight's games and those actions can be move, shoot, interact, rest and so on. Terrain effects hinder your movement as do the enemies. However, you don’t necessarily have to interact with a bad guy as their activation is semi-random and happens based on the remaining cards in the influence deck. I quite like this mechanic as it prevents every monster on the map heading right for you at the same time and keeps everyone on their toes as nobody will know what’s going to wake up next.

Fallout - Story Cards

The bit of Fallout that really shines are the branching story cards. You pick a scenario and set up the map; the scenario tells you which cards to use. Every card is numbered so—a little like a “choose your own adventure” book—there are identified cards that can spawn depending on player action. Some missions are available at the start, but as players explore further, more are opened up and the outcome of each will depend entirely on player action and their stats. Missions aren’t limited to the player who started them either, so one story arc could take a drastic turn if another player wades in and has a different agenda to the instigator…and this ties back to the influence that players have with the two factions in the game. Two players trying to swing a mission in their favour acting from opposing positions makes for the fun times.

One big downside to Fallout is the finishing conditions, simply because all progress is unknown to everyone else. Players keep their influence cards hidden (they have a limited number of them, but the contents remains secret) so there’s no way of knowing how well (or badly!) any one player is doing until they pop up at the end and say “I’ve won”. Nice for the winner, but it’s very anti-climatic for everyone else. “Oh” is the usual response. Followed by “Well then.”

What's especially annoying is that the game will often end before the scenario finishes, a bit like watching your favourite programme that just stops half way through the final episode with no explanation or closure. This disappointing damp squib isn’t a deal breaker for Fallout, as for me it’s all about the journey, the mooching about the wasteland beating up mutants, stealing high end weapons and completing quests. Almost like a proper RPG…for serious board gamers, however, it really will feel like the arse fell out of the game and is now currently dragging behind, getting quickly redder as it scrapes along the ground.

Fallout - Gameplay

The other less serious, but equally perplexing, issue is the real lack of starting quests. Between us three here at Polyhedron Collider, we’ve played the game enough times with varying player counts and the same problem remains: we’ve seen all the starting missions and their varying outcomes to the point that we know the “right” answer. They’re great when everything is new, but we feel that there should be more variation for cards you’re likely to see more often. Of course, there’s always expansions (and, indeed, there’s one in progress at the time I write this) but that feels a bit cheap on the part of Fantasy Flight Games. For the minimal cost of a few more cards, the variation of starting missions could have been significantly improved.

Is Fallout any good? Yes. Is it a super-duper fandabidozy board game? No. But if you’re a Fallout fan, you’ll definitely like it and probably forgive the glaring flaws as, to be fair, the video games have more bugs than NPCs so from that point of view, the cardboard variant is a near-perfect recreation….

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game.
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