Fallout the Board Game

Board game review

gaming settings

The Fallout video games are the story of a desolate and dangerous post-apocalyptic world. Each Fallout is a computer RPG known by varying degrees for branching story paths, player agency, a unique real-time yet turn-based combat system, and character customization. The board game attempts to capture all of that atmosphere and flexibility in a tabletop game, and it does a pretty good job of it.

In Fallout, you lay tiles out and start exploring. As you explore, you encounter raiders and super-mutants and other threats, dangerous radiation levels (you have a radiation counter, so this matters), and also settlements and ruins. Each of these encounters has a different effect.

Enemies lead to combat. For combat, you use some specially marked dice that governs whether or not you take damage from the enemy, and where you manage to hit your enemy. Enemies have different vulnerable areas, so some of your hits go unnoticed, but when you score enough of the right kind of hits, you gain XP for defeating your foe. The graphics on the dice evoke the VATS system from the video games, so superficially it feels familiar. You can also use skills and special perks to re-roll a failure, and as you level up, you get more skills, and so there's a good feeling of constant improvement. Well, unless you die.

The one problem with the dice is that they change context between skill checks and combat. During combat, the bullethole icons represent hits against you. But during a skill check, the bullethole icons represent your level of success. So in one, it's detrimental to you and in the other it's beneficial. It works, but it requires mental acrobatics every time you do it, and I almost guarantee that you'll find yourself getting excited about a result only to realise moments later that you should be sad, and the reverse is also true. It's almost annoying enough for me to just use standard dice, but then I'd have to map out what numbers indicate success and what numbers indicate failure. I really wish they'd just included another set of 3 die in the box with different iconography, although there is some small part of me that admires the re-use of existing assets.

Settlements have stores and NPCs you can interact with. NPC interactions use a huge Encounter deck, full of cards strung together like a choose-your-path adventure game based on the choices you make. Because the tiles on the board can differ from game to game, there are several different adventures in the Encounter deck, you get a lot of mileage out of the deck before you start to feel like you're repeating the same old story. As with an RPG, though, there are lots of characters to choose from in the board game, so even if you are on a familiar quest, you may be approaching it diffferently from the last time when you played a different character.

The game does emphasize combat, whether it means to or not. One of the mechanics of the board is that enemies advance toward players, and once they find you they try to kill you. This isn't inaccurate according to the way the video game plays, but this game is supposed to be emulating a game that's equally famous for its RPG play as it is for its combat system. I'm not convinced that the RPG has equal footin g to combat in this game, although to be fair I also don't know how I'd solve that problem. Maybe you could choose to use social skills instead of combat skills when you encounter certain kinds of monsters. Or maybe there could be item cards (and maybe there are, but I haven't drawn them yet) that get you out of encounters as if you'd had some kind of social interaction. I could also imagine a minigame where you play a Social card, and then roll a dice or draw a card to determine whether the social card you chose falls within the "vulnerability" spectrum of that particular enemy...or something like that. The point is, this is a hex crawler game with a really good RPG deck of limited use, and a pretty arduous combat system that keeps you on your toes. It's important to take the game for what it is. It's a board game referencing an RPG, and it does that really well while also creating a unique and fun game experience all its own.

Photo by Riho Kroll using the Unsplash License.

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