Get off your cot, collect your caps, spin the rotating dog lever, and head out into the wasteland because
War. War never changes.
I mean… maybe it does. The guns definitely get bigger and deadlier and eventually the machines will take over and fight our wars for us, leaving us to hide away in underground bunkers afraid of the light and the machines and the mutants…
But anyway… You’re here because you either a) purchased Fallout: The Board Game and are wondering what the heck you got into or 2) you are on the fence about purchasing it and are for some reason entrusting me with this important life-changing decision.
I purchased this game because… I had to. I’ve been playing Fallout since the first Interplay installment arrived on the scene in 1997. It was ahead of its class in style and form and you got to punch rats whose blood instantly formed a perfect circle below their meek, dead bodies. Ohhh it felt so good to punch rats. I didn’t play much of the sequel, but I did play Fallout Tactics with a friend of mine over dial-up and that was a hoot. Then, in 2008, Bethesda picked up the franchise and blew me away with a massive open world, a home with shelves to stack an infinite supply of weaponry, first-person desert vistas that would make your mother cry, and a plot that would take me to the ends of the Earth to disable a nuclear bomb. I ate it up.
I will admit I basically stopped there. I played New Vegas for ten minutes and have barely scratched the surface of Fallout 4, clocking in around four hours of flight time.
But when I first heard about this board game version I knew it would have a home on my shelf, even if I never had the chance to play it. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you, like me, have a special place in your heart for post apocalyptic mutant cyber Deathclaw wastelands. Or maybe you just thought it looked pretty.
Either way, and without further ado, I bring you my review in three parts. And watch out for that Deathclaw…
The First Attempt
After pulling off the top of the box and un-packaging the game, I began frantically assembling the board for the first initial mission (there are four in the box). Why frantic? Because the children were quietly playing with one another in the basement and no one was screaming and yet it could all fall apart at any minute. My wife and I had no time to waste.
The board is made up of a series of tiles that represent areas in the Wasteland. To the side of the board are caps (your currency in the game), location markers, creature tokens, loot cards, special items, more than 100 quest cards, and a unique set of V.A.T.S. dice (I will get into these later).
I had read through the rules the night before and was fairly confident I understood the basics. Still, our first turn or two was slow and I kept referring back to the rules for clarification. The basics of gameplay are as follows:
You are a Wastelander. Congratulations! You arrive at basecamp with your companions and you are ready to head out into the wasteland.
Each turn you have several options form which to pick two:
- You can explore, flipping over the tile next to you and placing any monsters on the board that appear
- Move, which gives you two movement points to use throughout your entire turn
- Perform a quest action, if one of the face-up quest cards has a mission you can complete
- Perform the settlement or wasteland action, if you are on one of those spaces on the board
- Camp, which lets you rest for a bit in the scorching heat, healing some life and trading with your fellow companions.
To “win” this game of dystopic death and disaster, you must accumulate more influence than your fellow companions, and you must do it soon, before the rival factions destroy the Earth with their raging civil war. You earn this influence by completing quests.
A note on the huge stack of ordered cards that form the "library" in this game: Each card represents a small piece of a story that a player can interact with. For example, one might read: "While rummaging around an abandoned gas station for supplies you come upon a corpse. It looks to be an adult male." As with all of these cards, you are then presented with 2-3 options on how to proceed: You can (1) dig through the pockets of the dead man looking for change (2) give him a proper burial out back behind the gas station (3) leave the body be and keep looting. Each decision has immediate (and potentially long-reaching) effects. You might have to roll a skill check to carry the body without anyone noticing. Or you might trigger a trap while looking for change among the dead man's things. At the end of this decision, you will be told to either return the card to the bottom of the deck or trash it. If you trash it, oftentimes it will require you to "stage" another card, which means add another card face-up to the board. These new cards form the basis for the story, setting up potential quests for later on in the game. Another thing to note is the fact that it is assumed that any knowledge gained during these encounters is considered "group knowledge." That is to say, if another player later happens upon a relative of this dead body, and your companion is the one that found him, that doesn't preclude you from being a part of the story.
And here is where I will end our first attempt, because at this point someone got punched in the eye, or smashed their finger in a door, or had a toy stolen from them, or was demanding extra dessert, I don’t really know, I just work here.
I left the game out like this without touching it for an entire week hoping we might return, but, alas, it didn’t happen.
Attempt, the Second
Bound to be more successful, my second attempt happened at the workplace, after hours, with a few six packs of beer, and three willing co-workers.
We set up the board in under ten minutes and got to it.
Immediately we were engaged in the storyline of a missing child and a battle raging between synths and synth “haters.” Combat with the vats dice was quick and each roll had us staring them down in anticipation.
A note on VATS dice: There are three. You always roll all three dice during either combat or a skill check. Each side of the die features an image of a body with certain body parts filled in green, and then either one, two, or no stars next to it. In combat, any rolls showing a body part that matches the monster you are fighting is a success. Get enough successes to equal or exceed their level and they are dead. But any stars that appear represent hits you've taken from the monster. Skill checks are slightly more complicated and not worth going into here.
There were several interesting story moments, when characters were forced to choose between stealing items or helping out strangers, or murdering helpless wastelanders versus helping to aid them in their quests.
The game took around three hours.
A note on winning: Depending upon the number of players, the winner of the game is the player who has a specific number of influence at any point in the game. Influence is gained by exploring the wasteland and completing quests. The lose condition will trigger if the "faction track" ever reaches the end before a single player has won. If that happens, then all players lose, and the bloody battle between the two factions in the scenario win.
In our case, we lost to the bloody war. No one was really paying enough attention to the amount of influence they had (except one member of our party who had done the math wrong and thought he had won at two hours and thirty minutes). We also were not aware how quickly the track was going to move forward once it got going.
Finally, after the game had ended, we were left wondering why it was that no one ended up with any weapons or cool gear, only to find that I hadn’t shuffled the cards properly. Luckily for me, no one poured beer over my head or flipped the board, but instead buried their feelings and pretending like they had had a good time.
Third Attempt, wherein I remember to shuffle the cards first
After a month of planning, scheduling conflicts, and death threats sent to my friends unless they got on a train and headed to the suburbs to see me because I am in desperate need of a damn game… we finally sat down at my house, banished the children upstairs, poured some glasses of Scotch, and began moving pieces around the board.
This time the game was much more successful. The table was filled with laughter and smiles as we each “designed our characters” by the decisions that we made. I was a drug-addicted mutant who stole from women and children and allowed a bomb to go off in a small settlement because nobody cared about me, so why should I care about them? I spent most of the game not caring too much about gaining influence or weapons, but moreso in building my own character’s personal story. Not surprisingly, my friends played it differently…
There was John, who somehow had read the rules on the train getting to my house and already knew them better than me. He was in it to win it, but also willing to engage in fun plotlines for the hell of it.
There was Steven, who got frustrated in feeling like others were moving ahead faster than he was and was always looking for more loot (he also refused to trade with me, which was really the only point in the game where that mechanic would have been possible).
Finally there was James, who, all along had a strategy in mind that he was keeping from us and ultimately won him the game.
I specifically chose a different scenario for this game — slavers versus the slaves. I had hoped it would be an interesting story line, allowing each player to align themselves with good or evil. As it turned out, the story itself mattered little. By the time the factions actually made it to the board we were already reaching the end of the game (although only one of us knew that at the time). Which brings me to my…
The win condition for this game was clearly an afterthought. The story is fantastic, as are the playing pieces, but winning the game comes quickly, out of nowhere, and it is highly anticlimactic.
In our last game, just as things were getting interesting (read: someone finally was able to purchase a weapon and the factions had begun populating on the board) we ran smack dab into the end of the game. We were at that time discussing a rule issue that we had failed to take into account (and were deciding on how to deal with it) when I announced the completion of my turn, signaling James that it was his. He then cleared his throat, gave a slight smirk, and then said “So… I don’t think we have to worry about how to handle that [rules issue] as I just won the game”.
And it was true. I looked over his influence cards as he turned them over, and he, in fact, had, eight influence, the required victory condition for four players. None of the rest of us were even close to that number (I, myself had just two).
It’s this anticlimax that is the downfall of the game. The components, the flavor, the miniatures, all get an A+ in my book.
A Note on Miniatures and Painting Materials
I first began painting miniatures in 1991, when Star Wars West End Games released Star Wars Miniatures Battles. I was twelve and did not prep or prime the metal figurines. I used a mixture of enamel and acrylic paints (yeah, don’t do that) and one out of every twenty-five or so didn’t look like complete garbage.
Since then, I have graduated (a bit) to more professional paints. Around 2003, I began painting Warhammer figures with a friend. That was short-lived, however, and the next time I picked up the brushes wouldn’t be until 2010, when I somehow convinced my wife to help me paint The Adventurers board game. To get the job done I headed over to my local game shop and purchased my first set of Citadel basic paints. They don’t quite sell the same thing anymore, but I’m sure the general idea is the same: Lots of paints specifically designed for Warhammer factions, plus your Boltgun Metal, deep black, bone white, and black wash.
When I came back to the hobby last year (2017) I started with what was left of that paint set. I then purchased a Vallejo Game Color Intro Set, which is getting the job done nicely. I prime with matte black (generally), and finish them off with Testor’s Clear Coat.
Below are some close-ups of the minis that I painted for Fallout!