Tag Archives: Bethesda

Fallout the Board Game

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.

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A gist of what you’ll be using

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.

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A solo game, for best immersion played on a dirty rug

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.

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Faction/Influence Meter slash Scenario Cards

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.

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Brotherhood Outcast, Wastelander, Vault Dweller, Ghoul and Super Mutant

 

 

 

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.

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Case For/Against – The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

The concept was pretty cool: take the massive role-playing experience provided by the likes of Skyrim and convert it to a MMO in hopes of creating a more narrative-flexible MMO in a genre that’s typically inflexible. Much like Star Wars: The Old Republic tried this last, and Elder Scrolls Online tried to cash in on a single-player franchise and apply it to it’s total opposite. It’s was a gambit that fell relatively flat quickly, despite early praise, and (also like Old Republic) quickly went free-to-play surviving off initial purchases and its atypical in-game store.

Tamriel Unlimited is among the first (Neverwinter having the distinction of being the first MMO on next-gen consoles) in likely many more console-headed MMOs. It controls and plays admirably on a controller, especially in a genre that features many nuances requiring key-logged macros, but things work pretty well. I can’t speak for the experience as a whole. Full disclosure I’ve never been a huge fan of MMOs. The last two I voraciously consumed were City of Villains and the first Guild Wars. I found myself chronically wanting to assault people in real life during my very, very brief stint with World of Warcraft, and after that effectively gave up on the genre until my next very, very brief stint with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach talking about this game, so I’m just going to do this in the most simplistic way I can:

Pros

On the plus side, if you’re a big time Elder Scrolls fan whose been playing since the days of Dagerfall, it’s a treat to finally explore the whole world of Tamriel. Finally getting to see the likes of Elsweyr or Black Marsh was pretty cool. Especially after just having only read about them in in-game lore for several years. Maybe these will also be locations I’ll one day fully explore in a single-player setting since playing online felt like a non-stop chore.

I digress, to Elder Scrolls Online’s credit the world looks really good and true to Elder Scrolls’ fantasy design (though generic it might be anyway). Also the character creation system is pretty damn flexible. From the character creator itself, which allows very detailed avatars, to the build of the characters themselves. Instead of investing points into a general pool, Elder Scrolls Online tasks players with developing the character through repeated use, much like in the singe-player franchise. Want to wield a greatsword? In true form you must use one over and over in order to specialize with that weapon. Unfortunately, I also have beef with this system which leads me to the…

Cons

… of the specialization system. I get what the game wants the player to accomplish. Become good through use. Instead of waiting to level up to use something, you just use that weapon type from the start and keep with it. Instead of investing general points into pools, like being good at all swords or staves or bows, you have to invest in specific weapon types of those weapons. Meaning there are multiple types of the same magic staves to invest points in. So say when you invest in restoration staves, those point buffs don’t match to the other staff types like the destruction magic staves. It’s way specific as even the mainline games don’t do this. This means you must at times knowingly stick with weaker weapon options because that’s what you invested points in. Did that all read a little confusing? Good now we’re both on the same page about it.

As for the rest of the game very little of it feels like anything but the same MMO archetype I’ve experienced for decades. Sure, there are some occasional lines in a side-quest that check to see if I’ve been paying attention to the story but generally I’m not. I’m trapped in an eternal loop of fetch quests running around like a dumb bitch. Might as well make it mandatory to name your character Gopher, because I’m constantly going for other people’s shit. There’s nothing particularly engaging about the plot. A Deadric lord stole my soul, that alone should lead to a badass revenge story, but instead it’s, “Our nation is at war! Oh by the way, you have no soul, did you know that?” And I suppose that’s the fundamental problem when it comes to these story-focused MMOs.

The story wants you to suspend your disbelief and ask you to believe your unique (you’re not, ever) despite seeing an endless supply of new characters join you in your seemingly pivotal moment. It’s like being nominated for an award, onto find that every single person who was nominated won anyway. What the fuck is the point of this. As for it’s basic MMO elements, it’s grouping system also sucks to boot. It’s faster and more efficient to just spam, “LFG, LFG” over and over than trying to use the built-in system. So there’s that too.

MMOs are a dime a dozen now. There are some games that are worth your time and others that simply aren’t. Elder Scrolls Online, in my humble opinion, isn’t. Exploring Tamriel with friends might be cool, and the experience system makes it flexible enough to make whatever build your mind comes up, but that’s where the fun ends. There will be two minds on this game as long as it exists: the fans of the singe-player games disappointed with how unrecognizable the MMO is, and MMO fans who have been so inundated by other MMOs that they don’t give a shit anymore, it’s another fix.

Mandatory Score: 6/10

The nicest thing I can say about Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is that it’s decent. But decent isn’t enough. Not when there are plenty of better, and subscription free, MMOs out there if you’re desperate to fulfill your OCD needs of eternal character grinding. Granted, it’s not all bad but it’s hard to want to invest in something that invested little in itself.