Info: Creator – Fantasy Flight Games; 1-4 players; Estimated 2-3 hour playthrough;
As a birthday gift to myself I purchased a copy of Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Board Game on the strength of how nice the box was and a bit off the strength of the beer(s) I had a hour prior. Its rules try to make the board game experience as familiar to the video game experience as possible, which is pretty admirable. Tough decisions will be put upon you and in good ‘ole Fallout fashion consequences will follow. Gamers still angry that Fallout 3 turned the franchise into a FPS will feel at home here following a somewhat familiar experience akin to the first two games.
The wasteland is a collection of hexagons you shuffle to make each game a bit different, which is awesome since this allows the game to be fresh each time. Up to four players communally explore the wasteland like you’re patrolling the video game world together, including tackling objectives together in a bid to become the most influential survivor in the wasteland. A collection of cards play out the choose-your-own-adventure gameplay, along with pieces which represent enemies, status effects, cap coins (my favorite stuff packed in the box), and a few other things.
Wandering the board in search of encounters that will reward you quests, useful loot and influence points while you try not to die from super mutants, deathclaws and all the fun post-nuclear freaks in play are the real meat and potatoes here.
Battles are resolved through unique black and green dice meant to mimic targeting in V.A.T.S. Each side of the die displays an outline of a body and parts of it shaded in green to indicate which body part was hit. Enemies require specific parts to be hit, otherwise no damage is done. If an enemy has the the number two on its token and its head area is shaded green, this means only head shots will affect it (specifically two headshots in this case). Some sides of the die have either one, two, or no dots at the feet of the body icon. These dots represent the enemy’s counter-attack against you, meaning each attack against an enemy could be life or death if you haven’t been paying attention to your health or radiation poisoning (which is measured by green and red pegs on your player tray, respectively).
The game has a lot of strengths to it. The quest card library offers a lot of possible quests, but unfortunately it comes at the cost of replaying the same stuff over. After a few playthroughs, you’ll immediately spot prior entry quests and have already in mind how to milk those situations. At moments like this, the game begins to lose some thematic value. My players did love how their choices really did play out, as the game is pretty slick on how it makes player choice a legitimate thing. It wouldn’t be Fallout if there wasn’t tough choices to make, so one person’s choice can and probably will have a future effect on someone.
Though kind of weird from an immersion standpoint all quests no matter who initiated them become available for others to complete. I was pleased to see my players both cooperating on completing quests and racing to finish some to gain immediate influence for themselves. One person’s generosity in helping another player turned out that weak player snuck a victory on the back of said generosity. I enjoyed the salt that followed afterward.
Then there’s the quality of the stuff in the box, which suffice to say I felt like my $60 USD worth. Everything feels of good quality: from all the nicely printed cards you’ll panic about losing to the neat tokens you’ll be using to represent changes to your pseudo-Pip Boy. The cards are printed on high quality material, so I feel comfortable they will age well after usage (10 games later, my stuff still looks new). There are a lot of cards here but understandably so. One deck controls loot and gear, another the store and companions, another deck an assembly of V.A.T.S. skills, there’s just a lot of stuff and feels appropriately expensive.
At some point during gameplay you’re expected to claim allegiance to either one of these factions. It’s conceivable you can all chicken out and support the same faction so you all work together to either succeed or fail as a team. You can’t directly engage players in anything but trade and conversation, so you can’t opt to directly murder fellow players. Cooperation is instead encouraged. Leading monsters to your rivals is an allowed strategy if you’re feeling particularly petty.
For the impatient or those who just want to toy around, the rules do accommodate for solo play and it’s not nearly as silly as it sounds. Even solo play feels like I’m experiencing a lot of the core elements of the video game, but with a lot of setup you might find yourself just wanting to fire up one of the video games instead (not bad on a day where you’ve got cabin fever, though).
As much as I’ve loved what I paid for there are some hard to ignore flaws. For one, the verbose rulebook doesn’t do a great job of clearly explaining fairly complicated rules. It took a few visits to Fantasy Flight’s message board to figure out what the hell the rulebook was trying to explain, but after two rocky games I sort of figured things out for myself and adapted a few house rules in the process.
Second, and perhaps harder to ignore, were my problems with the faction system and some of its scenarios. At its best, the faction system makes the game quick, perhaps too quick for players wanting to explore the depth of the quest library. At it’s worst, it can be confusing and you can get stuck with a scenario that’s very, very stingy on influence points and drags on way too long.
For example, the tutorial mission, Fallout 4‘s The Commonwealth, is so far my least liked scenario, as you can easily play for two hours and get at most two influence points (where winning conditions usually ask for around 7-10 influence points). I found a sweet spot in the scenario based on Fallout 3‘s Capital Wasteland, which plays with the influence system more so than the others I experienced (to be honest, I’ve yet to try The Pitt; my players seem to favor the Capital Wasteland), meaning there is a genuinely push-pull going on when players declare for teams.
My average play time per session has so far averaged at about three hours, and that was with me making house rules to shorten the game. So if you’re planning on seeing this game all the way through, clear your day.
All told, the creators did an good job of taking the core elements of Fallout (interacting with the wasteland and creating cause/effect storylines) and adapting them over light role-playing elements. It’s going to take a little brain-elbow grease to get at the heart of how the game works for some (including me), but once you pass that initial learning curve the game is a lot of fun. It’s just ending the game that might cause some headaches. However as I’ve experienced a few house rules can alleviate this, and I’ve garnered nothing but praise and curiosity from my group regarding the game since.
All said, Fallout is a fun but flawed board game. The core experience is solid enough I would recommend this to Fallout faithful. I wouldn’t, however, expect any expansions any time soon, but then again never say never.