War… war never changes, except in board game form!
After spend hundreds of pounds on Christmas presents for the wife and kids, nieces and nephews, mums and dads, I decided to treat myself to a few little games for myself, and with that I am now the owner of Fantasy Flight’s post-nuclear war adventure board game; Fallout, based naturally on the video game by Bethesda Game Studios.
The game is currently sold out in most places, or can now be bought on eBay for over £70, so I was quite happy to pick this up when I did.
So the idea of the game is that you play one of 4 scenarios that are in the base game core set (as this is a Fantasy Flight table top game, it is ripe for expansions and I doubt that FF have not already thought of 14 character packs, 5 scenario packs, 3 item packs, and every other add-on that they can possibly make in order to gain large amounts of cash from their customers, as with every other game that they have made). The scenarios are those based in the games created by Bethesda Softworks, rather than the entire Fallout series. Anyone who has played Fallout 4 might have noticed that it does not make any reference to Fallout: New Vegas and solely links back to Fallout 3 and its DLCs. I suppose this was the same when Fallout: New Vegas came out and it had no reference to Fallout 3, as it was made by Obsidian, with the help of the original creators of Fallout 1 and 2, so it is clear that there were some disagreements with the direction the series should go in.
So with that in mind, in the board game you can choose to play through either Fallout 3’s main storyline or Fallout 4’s main storyline, or you can play through the Fallout 3 DLC: The Pitt (set in the ruins of Pittsburgh), or Fallout 4’s DLC: Far Harbour. You can already imagine a scenario being created for Nuka World and/or Point Lookout. So any new location set in either Fallout 3 or 4 could be easily converted into a scenario for this game.
Each scenario features 2 factions battling it out for control of the wasteland. Fallout 4’s scenario has the Railroad fighting the Institute, and Fallout 3’s one is the Brotherhood of Steel battling against the Enclave, just to give you an example. As you traverse the wasteland, you must score victory points (which in number depending on how many players you are playing with, and you can play solo – which I will cover more in-depth in a bit) by gaining agenda cards. You get one point for having the agenda card (which you can hold a maximum of 4 of) and each card has additional requirements to meet in order to gain points, as having 4 cards is only going to score you 4 points, but if you swap one card with a hard agenda for one you already have in progress, as and when the card presents itself to you, then this is how you work towards gaining more victory points (which in this game is called Influence).
Each agenda card has the symbol for one of the factions on it. This means that at any point you can reveal one of your agenda cards (which are normally kept secret from other players) to ally yourself with them to avoid you attacking them and gain other bonuses throughout the game. You still keep your other agenda cards, but you must swap it out if you want to change sides. Alternatively you can be against everyone/no one and just work as a lonesome wastelander. Some times agenda cards might focus on the distance between the two factions on the tracker, meaning you might start completing missions that move one faction further up the tracker than the other. If ever one faction reaches the top, then they have enough power to take over the wasteland and the game ends, leaving the player with the most points the winner.
The board itself is a series of large hexagon cards that are placed in a way shown on the scenario card. This picture shows you the key location on the map, such as the C.I.T Building, and Diamond City – in the example of Fallout 4’s mission (which serves as the easiest introduction mission to the game). The rest of the map hexagon tiles are shuffled based on their back colour (either red or green) and is laid out (again face down) as the picture on the scenario card instructs.
You are given the starting mission from a large deck of numbered cards. These cards are the key to Fallout: The Board Game’s main mechanic and which really do make you feel as if you are playing the video game, and I will address in more detail afterwards.
You also need to select your character. The core set comes with 5, but you can imagine more coming out in expansion form. Each character has a unique starting item or ability. The Ghoul takes no radiation damaged whenever he is dealt radiation damage, in fact it heals him, but he can only have 12 health maximum instead of the standard 16. The Vault Dweller starts with the Vault Suit card, giving him 1 defence, and this suit can be worn under another piece of armour, adding together their values. So if you manage to scavenge something worth wearing, then you can effectively wear two pieces of armour. The Super Mutant gains Experience Points from being in radiated zones, but still takes damage. The Wastelander starts off with a weapon, but cannot wield it unless you are quite lucky at the beginning. And the Brotherhood Outcast starts with Power Armour, which is really good for defence, but makes you incredibly slow limiting your movement to 1, unless you pay the caps to move additional spaces.
Each player has a character board in front of them, and this is really well designed in my opinion. It features a health/radiation level tracker, with health presented by a red peg at one end, and radiation with a green peg at the other. These move as you take the various types of damage and if they ever meet, then you are dead. Death isn’t the end because once you die, you start back at the camp, losing all non-equipped items, and recovering your health (but not your radiation, meaning you can eventually get to the point where you spawn back into the game but only have a few health points because your radiation level is so ridiculously high. If you ever get to the point where you can spawn back in because your rad level is at the top, you are kicked out of the game.
The player board also has slots for one equipped weapon, one armour, one companion (which give you little extra abilities you can rock out as and when you can), and a back pack which can hold three cards (these are the ones you lose if you die). There are three slots at the top which you can put in special tokens determining if you are Well Rested (giving you an extra re-roll for fighting or skill checks – which I haven’t even mentioned yet but bare with me), and tokens indicating if you are addicted to something (such as Jet, or being Well Rested), Feared, or Well received by the people of the wasteland, all of which can sometimes have an affect on encounter and mission cards as and when they present themselves.
Now, the best thing about this character board is the S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls section and the XP side of the board game. This is a really cool mechanic that is pretty unique (as far as I have seen) and does make you feel as if you are playing the video game. Anyone who has played any game in the Fallout series knows that the S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls are your skills. When you select your character you are given a token with one of the 7 letters in the word S.P.E.C.I.A.L. This token goes in the specific slot and allows you to re-roll skill checks that use that letter, as well as weapon attacks that use that letter as well. You then randomly pick another S.P.E.C.I.A.L letter token from the pile and add that to your card as well (re-choosing if you already have that one to begin with). So say you start off with A and then you receive the P, you can re-roll skill checks on encounter or mission cards that show an A or a P next to the encounter requirements.
Under each S.P.E.C.I.A.L letter is a slot for a peg, and an extra slot next to that with a grey peg in it. This is how you level up your character. Each piece of XP you earn will move your peg beneath the first letter that you have, then to the next. If you kill a level 2 monster, you gain 2 XP so you move it two spaces across. If you reach your last letter of the S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls that you have on your character board and gain an additional piece of XP, then you level up and you go back to the start. You pick up two S.P.E.C.I.A.L letters and choose one. You add this to your board, effectively making it longer to level up next time (just like in a computer game) and giving you more benefit. Alternatively if you pick up a letter you already have, then you can trade this in for a perk. Perk are cards with special one time abilities on them. You can use these abilities as soon as you get them, and of course it must be the ability relating to the same letter of the S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls that you have just picked up and decided to use. It is a really cool mechanic and it works really well.
Once you’ve picked your character and sorted out your character board on the starting camp hexagon. Each hexagon has multiple different shaped spaces on it. You pick which one you want to start on and then you are ready to go.
You can do two actions per turn. Reveal an adjacent face down map tile (adjacent to your space on the hexagon, not the hexagon you are on itself). Move, which you can move up to two spaces, or pay more with caps and move an additional space per cap. You can do one movement, do an action, and then continue on your movement. Another action is to attack and any on your space, or an adjacent space if you have a firearm. You can rest (if there are no enemies around – which is a classic Fallout video game thing), recovering health and gaining the Well Rested token. You can complete a mission card if you meet the requirements and have no enemies on your space. And you can complete an encounter for either the Ruins or a Settlement so long as your character is on a space with the Ruin’s or Settlement symbol on.
When you do this action , the player to your right draws a card from either the Ruin or Settlement pile and reads out the text and the options. Like the video game, it is multiple choice and sometimes your status in the wasteland forces you down one path. For example (in layman’s terms): a woman is kicking her dog in a settlement, you can either; A – tell the woman off and save the dog, which you have to do if you are Admired, at which point gain the card Dogmeat (giving you a free companion). B – tell the woman off and save the dog (without being Admired or having a specific reputation), and with this you need to pass a dice roll of 4 success with S and C re-rolls (as per the S.P.E.C.I.A.L tokens mentioned earlier), and this option will have a pass and fail outcome depending on your roll, with one resulting being the dog runs off and you add the Dogmeat card into the Ruins pile, meaning you can find him randomly later (or another player can) as well as gaining a few caps for your help, or if you fail you are kicked out of town and that action is over. Or C. you ignore the situation and just trade with the local merchants, allowing you to sell items you have (all of which have a caps value in the top corner) or buy items from the shop (the shop is 4 cards that are laid out and you draw and additional one from the item deck and pay for one if you can, if not you discard down to 4 cards for the shop and then continue on with your action.
A similar thing might happen in the ruins, but this might mean that if you fail the dice roll you are suddenly attacked and must fight an enemy, or if you succeed you gain two items instead of just picking the option where you take one random piece of equipment from the item deck and run off.
Oh, you can also trade cards with another player, or make some kind of deal with another player for items that they might have, if you share a space with them, but this also counts as an action.
Mission cards affect both the Ruins and the Settlement decks of cards, as when you complete the main mission card giving to you are the start, which outcome you decided to go with (which in turn affects one of the main factions in the scenario gain influence in the wasteland), as each mission has a multiple choice as well, can either add new missions out for everyone, or add in secret hidden missions into the Ruins or Settlement decks.
For example, the first mission might be to either kill a random human enemy (who is revealed to be a Synth), or head over to Diamond City and meet up with the Railroad member. If you pick the Synth option the Institute moves up on the scenario’s influence tracker (which also makes Institute enemies more powerful should you encounter them and have not sworn loyalty to them by revealing one of your agenda cards). The Synth option then tells you to add in card 112 to the relevant deck, and to display card 045 for everyone (as this is the next main objective). Card 112 is picked from the large random deck of cards (numbered from 1 to 150+, all in number order… hopefully) and the back of that card is a Ruin so we add this to the Ruins deck and shuffle it, meaning that when someone does an Encounter action on a Ruin, they might randomly draw this card (which could be relevant to the main objective for the Institute side of the next main story mission card, such as a Synth who has run off and you have found her hiding in some ruins, or it might be that the card is its own side mission you need to complete, or just a little reward for whoever finds it first (as sometimes you are rewarded by drawing a new agenda card to add to your hand, or with XP, or with random items or Caps).
This mission card mechanic is really interesting as it branches each quest off in different directions. Each one has two options (at least) and those in turn have multiple options for you to choose from, changing and shaping the course of the game as you go. Maybe you started growing the Institutes power, just because you wanted to gain more agenda cards to try and get closer to the victory point goal, but all your agenda cards focus on the Railroad, so you must now figure out how you are going to complete the Railroad’s option on the mission card. This, combined with the random placement of map tiles means that very few games will turn out similar.
I will say that there is not really enough map tiles and that they could have made a lot more. You only have perfectly enough for the scenarios (which all use the same amount) as well as the starting location map tile, and the key location map tiles which are relevant to the scenario that your are playing (as these start the game face up, in case I didn’t mention this).
The last thing I want to discuss is the fighting, so speaking of map tiles, when you reveal a new map title, if there is an enemy icon in one of the spaces on the hexagon, you randomly place down one face up enemy of the same type (Critters – such as Bugs, Humans – raiders and wastelanders, Monsters – Deathclaws, and Robots – Mr Gutsys and Sentry bots etc), each one having its own level (for how much damage they deal and how much XP you gain), abilities (such as if they attack right away, or if they can attack from range), armour (how many hits of yours they negate, the same way that your character’s armour does), and where to hit them on V.A.Ts.
Now V.A.Ts is another classic Fallout video game thing, and thankfully it plays a really cool part in this game. You see in the game you have three dice and each one has random locations marked on a Vault boy similar to when you use the V.A.Ts in the video game. You roll these dice and the results show you where you hit the enemy. If you relate this to the locations shown on the enemy’s token, as see the enemy’s level to work out how many hits you need in those area, then you have killed him. If not, then the effects are ignore and the enemy is fine (meaning he has to be fought all over again from the beginning if you challenge or cross paths with him again).
On the dice, however, there are little success markers. These are used when rolling for skill checks in encounter or mission cards (as you ignore the V.A.Ts targeting faces when doing these checks) and these determine how many successes you have rolled (of course you can spend the relevant S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls token to re-roll them – don’t worry, you do not lose it).
When it comes to fighting, these success icons are anything but, in fact these determine how much damage you take from the enemy, which is then timesed (yeah that word looked weird to me to) by the enemy’s level. So a level 3 Deathclaw can deal 9 points of damage to you if you roll 3 success on the V.A.Ts dice.
If you kill an enemy, you discard the token and put another face down enemy on the nearest icon of the same enemy type as the one you killed. This way there is a constant flow of enemies wandering the wasteland, however, these face down ones are not activated yet so they cannot be fought even if you are in the same space as them.
Weapons have various S.P.E.C.I.A.L letters on the cards, allowing you to spend that letter on your turn to re-roll any number of nice to try your luck, keeping the second result (unless you have another letter on the card, a special ability or item that lets you roll otherwise, or spending the Well-Rested token if you have one).
After each player has done all their actions, you draw a card from the agenda deck and this tells you at the bottom which enemies become activated, and any already existing enemies on the board of that type move one space towards the closest player. If they have a lightning bolt icon on their token, then they imminently fight and a battle takes place (similar to if you spent an action choosing to fight an enemy, as mentioned above).
Once this deck of agenda cards are spent, you shuffle all the agenda cards and make a new deck, then move each faction down one space on the faction influence tracker on the scenario card.
Right, well that is the basics of the game. Maybe a little more than basics since the above is four A4 pages worth of writing, and well over 3,000 words! But I feel you will get a good idea of how the game is played.
Personally, I really like this game, and that is not JUST because I spent £60 on it, but as a fan of the Fallout series, it is really cool to see the mechanics of the game moulded perfectly into a table top game. I love the levelling, S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls, and the V.A.Ts mechanics. These all work brilliantly in the game, and although the above might sound like a lot, it is actually really easy to grasp.
I only have two major issues with this game; first of all the amount of enemy tokens and map tiles are a bit naff. These doesn’t seem to really be enough and you will 100% be encountering the same enemies throughout the course of your game, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it looks like there is not really enough of them. One enemy type only has four! Of course this could easily be fixed with a few clearly planned expansions, as I have said before, this game is ripe for expansions.
My other issue is that the mission cards affect all players. So the starting mission can be completed by one character, and then that mission is discarded for everyone and the next mission comes out for everyone to play and do the same as the mission card that came before.
So, for example, my brother did a quest and found a broken PIPBOY, which you used to find a Vault. This mission became available for all players, meaning I could go to the Vault’s location and open it up using the PIPBOY that my brother had apparently acquired, but decided (?) to share the information with the other players. It all seems a bit odd. It makes sense in the gameplay sense as you are fighting for the reward that the mission offers you, but it doesn’t really work thematically, but I suppose that this is not the point. This is one reason why the game works brilliantly as a solo game, but it can be played up to four players.
Overall I love Fallout: The Board Game, and am looking forward to having a solo run this weekend. If you do manage to find a copy then I would suggest picking it up. It is from Fantasy Flight so you know that the game is made of excellent equality (the Cap tokens are beautifully made), and new content will no doubt be on the horizon to keep the game fresh and carry on its longevity.