Inside Fallout: Factions – Designer Reveals the Secrets Behind the Tabletop Skirmish Game

11 June 2024
Watched the exciting series of Fallout on Amazon Prime, or played one of the many video games, and looking for the best way to bring it to tabletop? We sat down with James Hewitt, designer of the brand new Fallout: Factions to find out everything.

Interview by Charlie Pettit

Who is James Hewitt?

James M. Hewitt is one busy designer, with an enviable gaming CV. His work with Games Workshop included Necromunda, Adeptus Titanicus, Blood Bowl, and Warhammer Quest Silver Tower. With Mantic Games, it was Dreadball. His own company, Needy Cat Games, co-owned with Sophie Williams, offered board game consultancy, and also worked on Devil May Cry: The Board Game, and Hellboy: The Board Game. If you didn’t think him busy enough, we were delighted to find him over at Modiphius, working on Fallout: Factions.


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Where to begin with Fallout?

The alarms have rung, the sky is on fire, and you’ve had no choice but to descend into an underground bunker to survive the nuclear destruction that’s long been feared. What awaits you when you open the door to the outside world? Some things will never be the same, and that includes the wasteland and mutations outside. With a PIP boy to help you – a fancy watch – and your own desire to survive, each Fallout game centres on that curiosity of what’s outside, and the lawlessness that dwells.

Whilst the Fallout history is longer than the current popular iteration of games suggests, it’s also not entirely well known that it has significant foundations in TTRPGs, having once relied on GURPS (the Generic Universal Roleplaying System, created by Steve Jackson), before a dispute IGN reports around the level of violence in the game pivoted Fallout to use S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck), as it still uses to this day.

With our own hobby acting as the foundation then, is it any surprise it’s been embraced back on tabletop?

“Modiphius have been making games based on the Fallout video games for a few years now.” Hewitt says of it. Indeed, not only have they created Fallout: The Roleplaying Game, bring post-atomic roleplaying back full circle, but also a popular wargame in Fallout: Wasteland Warfare. This is somewhat of a crunchy, gritty style wargame, enjoyed by those familiar to wargames looking for something to sink their teeth into, but perhaps not the most welcoming to those less comfortable.

“They wanted to kind of make a game which was more accessible to newcomers to wargaming.”


Fallout: Factions vs Fallout: Wasteland Warfare

The game, much like the new world beyond the vault, started entirely from scratch.

“One of the key things was, because Wasteland Warfare was already a game that had been out for a few years, I didn't look at that at all. When I design a game based on an IP, the first consideration is, what is the vibe of that? What is the thing that sells the idea of it? And then with this particularly, because there were some very strong ideas of what the game should and shouldn't be from a gameplay point of view, that just started getting some gears on what the game could look like”

“We're not replacing Wasteland Warfare”, Hewitt cheerfully and categorically states though, when we asked him how the reaction had been. “Initially, there was fear, distraught people everywhere because they thought that Wasteland Warfare was being replaced, which was not the thing. It's like having siblings, right? Your little sister having a thing doesn't mean that you don't get a thing.” He joked, with now something for every kind of gamer. He uses the analogy of Warhammer 40k, and Kill Team– big and small scale games, quick or long games, solo and cooperative, etc.

Where working with existing intellectual property can be difficult – the actions must fit within the frame of the existing game, but at the same time, must then also be approved by the property owners too – can be a tricky experience, with horror stories becoming tabletop folk tales over the years – Hewitt’s game design history prepared him extremely well for a foray into Fallout.

“I think most of my game design career has been working on existing IPs. There are very few things that weren't. I learned game design properly at Games Workshop, which is all, ‘here's a very strictly established universe with very clear-cut rules’. When I did Hellboy with Sophie, we read every Hellboy comic under the sun, 25 years of the comics. I was going to sleep and seeing big red demons.” Hewitt jokes.

“You have to really immerse yourself into it. And yes, you have the approvals process where it has to go, in this case, to Bethesda, and they have to give it the seal of approval. But I'm never writing things trying to get them approved. I'm writing things to be as true as possible to the source material, knowing that that will mean they'll get approved.”

Hewitt quotes the Lord of the Rings films as an example, in that they’re not the same as the books, but they harness what makes the story so unique. In preparation, he jokes he’s completed twenty years of video games to be able to design in the Fallout world. Such a hardship.

As conversation moves around the game though, Hewitt clearly considers the feel of each aspect. We asked about how that works logistically.

“Certainly with the first wave of this, it was like, here are the models, they've been designed, here are the options they have, go make a game. I quite like that, because it gives you a level of constraint. When you've got a clear direction like this, that's really helpful. But now we've changed the process slightly [for future] and now we get to have some say –  we're thinking of doing a crew based on this, it'll be a model set that comes out…What would be a good set of weapons for that crew to have? How would that balance be?

In Fallout 4 you can go to a workbench and you can modify weapons, you can change the stock, and the barrel, and the this, and the that, and it gives all the different pictures of it. I've got a save in Fallout 4 where I've put all the cheats on so I've got limitless resources and I just go in and go, right what would the good different guns be? I go through it and do screenshots, I go to the project manager who then passes it on to the sculpting team so it's this big collaborative thing. It's lovely to be able to work like that. From a gameplay point of view, we might say this is really cool. Then someone gets to go, oh, from a visual point of view, this is what we want to do. And it all kind of just comes together."


What is Fallout: Factions?

“Fallout Factions is a two-player (though we’ll come back to that in a bit!), competitive skirmish miniatures wargame, in which you are taking control of a crew of raiders, specifically in this set around Nuka World, which is an abandoned theme park.

You get to pick your crew from one of three factions, and you play games against other people, against one person at a time, but against other people over the course of multiple games, because all your games are linked into one long storyline which tells the story of your crew. So in the same way, like when you play like a game of D&D, you've got a character sheet and you're recording things, the same sort of things happening here. You've got a little paper record sheet where you're tracking information about all of your characters in your crew, each of which is a detailed plastic miniature. And in this game, perhaps this one has taken a bit of an injury and is now suffering from the consequences of that. This one's going to upgrade his gun and has now got a better effect in the game. I'm going to recruit a few more people…And so you're telling this ongoing story in little instalments”

Each of the games takes around 45 minutes initially, or 30 minutes if you’re familiar with the processes or systems, making it a quick snippet of action.

“It can zip along really quickly. It’s giving people the chance to have these little really cinematic action moments, little bursts of action on the tabletop. And then you back away, you do a little bit of downtime. Oh, what's my crew doing? We're going to go and recruit, or go and scout that area, or something else. Then you play another game and it just kind of goes in that big old loop until you get to the end of your storyline… and then you get to start a new crew!”

You play along what Hewitt calls the Quest Line, which is a three-act structure of actions you’re attempting to take. He explains that there was a direct attempt to keep the game ultra streamlined – complimentary to the larger, crunchier Wasteland Warfare, depending either on the time you have, or the experience you want to have. In Factions, on your route to these achievements, you’ve always got a chance, but your decisions do impact your crew – so you may need to recruit more!

“You've got six different scenarios that you can play. Each one has got how you set up at the start, any kind of special rules that apply, and each one's got its theme and story. When you come to play it, depending on your opponent, what your crew is looking like, what their crew is looking like, what factions they're drawn from, all these different variables mean that every time you play it will be very different. So even though there are only six scenarios, a single one can go so many different ways. It's just endlessly repayable and we're really proud of that.”

That’s not to say Fallout Factions, even with replayability, is a one and done though, as Hewitt describes it as the beginning of the product line. The benefit of having two Fallout games under one roof, is that there will be later compatibility between some of the miniature options between Fallout Wasteland, and Fallout Factions, and vice versa.

“People are kind of guessing what they want the next things to be. No one's quite got it right yet, but there's a lot of good guesses out there!” Alas, Hewitt won’t tell us the future plans just yet either.

What's in Fallout Factions?

Physically, Hewitt describes the box as “chunky” but “really pretty”. Inside Fallout Factions initial set, you’ll get everything you need to play the game (bar things like paint and glue, though these can be picked up cheaply and many hobbyists will already own).

“You’ll get 20 models, so 10 from the Operator’s faction who are kind of 1950s greaser meets organized crime types, lots of big guns and slicked back hair. And you've got 10 models from the pack who are like crazy animalistic, bright colours and fur things. They're really, really cool animal masks. So you've got 10 of each of those. Each one of those, there's a plastic frame and the models can be built in two or three different ways each with a load of extras like add -ons and spares. So if you're into the modelling aspect of the hobby, there's loads of cool stuff there. You get your rule book, you get all the tokens you need. You also get some really cool pressed-together card scenery, which we went around the houses a lot on how we would add some scenery into the box. Lee, one of our graphic designers, came up with this idea and did a great job with”.

The scenery takes a leaf out of what we might expect amongst board games – you punch out the shapes from the tough cardboard, and slot them together to quickly assemble effective terrain, with no experience required.  

“You get your dice, you get a little tiny tape measure, which is lovely. The game uses, it's all measured in inches, trad-war game style, and a little tiny weenie tape measure with Nuka World branding on it, which is pretty cool. You get enough to give you a really solid first few games and then you can start adding to it if you want to.”

For those who find the idea of miniature assembly, and painting the miniatures intimidating, Hewitt promises it’s not so bad. With detailed guides available online so that anyone can get started, and more and more clubs cropping up across the country willing to offer help if you want to do more, there’s always support. “If there's one thing about this hobby that I love, is that people love helping new people get into it”

Ultimately though, if you don’t want to paint your miniatures, you need to.

“Painting them makes it easier to immediately recognise the battlefield.” Hewitt admits, but adds, “Some people just write numbers or names on the base of the model with a silver Sharpie or something. To be fair, I think once you get past the initial stage, painting is a really fun hobby in itself. I worked in a games workshop retail stores for like a decade. So a big part of that was help people cross that initial barrier from going, what is this to, oh my God, I've actually painted my first model and it's really cool.”

It touches on something that Hewitt does really well, as he finishes his answer telling me just to try painting, my reticence to do so clearer than I’d realised – he teaches. Every answer he provides doesn’t presume you know everything, yet it never feels patronising. The early days of teaching people things they don’t know lend incredibly to game design, because at some stage you have to teach the game, and if it’s hard to teach, it’s hard to play. One read-through of the Quickstart guide, where every aspect is clearly explained in a non-patronising manner suitable to any flavour of gamer, confirms this. To make a game designed for people who are less familiar with skirmish games on the whole, Hewitt was a great candidate for a reason.


Where to start with Fallout: Factions

Speaking of which, Hewitt recommends downloading the Quick Start guide, as a gentle explanation of how to get started, without being too complicated. There’s also a gameplay video on the Modiphius YouTube Channel between Hewitt and ‘Steve at Modiphius’, who turns out to be Steve Daldry that gives an explanatory playthrough.

“No spoilers. I do brilliantly. I win completely. My greatness at this game is unquestionable.” Hewitt comments of it. “…Maybe don't watch the last half hour.”


“What we find is once people get about 10 minutes in, it clicks. And that's a really good metric for me as a designer is like when that kind of thing happens. The core loop of gameplay is simple enough that you can kind of get it. There's only one way that dice work. There's only actions work in a particular way. It's very straightforward. And then the variety and the interest comes from the decision space. The game's got a lot of decisions that you have to make all the time. A lot of the time there's one really obvious one, so it's not that you get overly paralyzed with things, but when you get into it there's a lot of depth. And so really the aim was to make a game that is very accessible to newcomers, but has a lot of crunch for people that want that and want to kind of get competitive with it. So basically we've made the perfect thing for all people and everyone should play it.” Hewitt laughs. But in case he’s right, Fallout: Factions has just released, and you can find it on Modiphius’ website, and in your local game stores.


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