29 May 2018
Atom bomb baby or nuclear waste?
The first proper Fallout board game since the venerable roleplaying video game series debuted more than two decades ago has taken its time to arrive, but it’s landed with the force of an atomic bomb.
This is a streamlined adventure game crammed with little details, from the way that levelling-up steadily requires more experience points as players fill out their personal row of SPECIAL (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck) skill tokens to the unique starting equipment and traits for each of the five different player characters, capturing the different feel of the wasteland’s diverse inhabitants while providing a good bit of replayability.
If you have any familiarity with the video game series, you’ll be right at home here – this is a board game that feels like Fallout through and through, whether you're popping off single-use perk abilities or engaging with the intense VATS combat, translated to a simple rolling (and rerolling, based on your equipment and stats) of three attractive custom dice to calculate hits and misses when battling enemies and resolving quests across the semi-randomly-generated map of hex tiles.
While you’ll be doing plenty of fighting, it’s the quests that glow at the centre of Fallout like a pool of radioactive waste. A healthy deck of quest cards operates as a dynamic choose-your-own-adventure system, adding and removing different cards from each scenario as various events and actions trigger repercussions. For instance, you might decide to stop a woman from kicking a dog in one scene, only to discover the pooch wandering the wastes later on and have it join you as a companion.
Smaller one-off beats are contained within a larger arcing storyline based on a number of different scenarios inspired by Fallout 3 and 4, with interesting revelations and twists throughout. There can be an element of trial and error to finding some of the outcomes or progressing certain plots – especially when needing to roll for success – but the atmospheric writing and branching storylines kept us hooked throughout, returning game after game to search out the different outcomes and soak in more of the universe.
As players influence the world, warring background factions can gain or lose power – and even win the game, resulting in all players losing. The world-changing impact that decisions have helps the collection of cardboard and plastic feel alive, delivering the spirit of a light roleplaying game in an experience that can be learnt, set up and played in a couple of hours. You’ll obviously benefit the most if you’re already a Fallout fan, but hunting down synths, hacking robots or talking your way into a vault is huge fun regardless.
Outside of the love-it-or-hate-it reliance on dice rolling and rerolling, Fallout’s weakest aspect comes as a result of the decision to make the game competitive. Players acquire agenda cards by completing quests, which grant influence points based on certain conditions – hit a number dictated by the player count and you win. The issue is that these cards are drawn randomly and feature generic objectives rather than quest-specific achievements, meaning that one player can pull ahead with a few lucky draws and win out of the blue. It’s a bit of a letdown and breaks the otherwise strong feeling of mood conjured, but is absolutely worth overlooking to just explore the immersive world and see how its captivating stories play out.
If you can get past the iffy competitive scoring system, Fallout will reward you with a world that you’ll want to spend hours digging into every corner of in search of its various stories and quests. The combat is punchy, the writing sharp and there’s just enough roleplaying-lite happening here to dig in the hooks and not let go.
Designer: Andrew Fischer, Nathan Hajek
Time: 2-3 hours
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