The Fallout Series of video games has always focused on telling stories through quests, dialog and the environment. Recreating these elements of the video game series in a board game format is no easy task, and yet Fantasy Flight Games has done precisely that. It’s about as good as a Fallout board game can be, and I can’t wait for more.
They key to everything is the card Library, a huge stack of cards that the players dip into, revealing, reading, and creating sub-decks with as the game is played. There are two small active decks for Settlement and Wilderness encounters at the beginning of the game, and only a few initial quests are staged, waiting to be solved. But as the game progresses, cards are added to the two main decks, new decks are created, and more quests get staged. Each encounter/quest has a number of options available, with different ways to progress the story, offering different outcomes and rewards. It’s an ingenious system that makes every game feel like a single-session legacy experience.
The gameplay itself is standard Adventure Game fare. Each player gets two actions with which they can move, quest, fight, explore, or camp. The map starts out mostly hidden, and as the players branch out, more places are revealed, exposing more enemies and more chances for things to happen. Along the way, the players will by vying for the attention of two warring factions. Each scenario pits two different factions against each other, and it is up to the players to choose sides, and help one advance while hindering their rival.
The faction system adds an interesting balance to the game. On one hand, it acts as a timer. As soon as one faction reaches the end of the track, the game is over. On the other hand, it dictates how the players will interact with each other. Will they be working on the same team, or for different teams? This balance becomes the most important part of the game, and the players have to carefully decide which quests to solve so that they do not trigger the end-game before enough points can be scored.
However, this can also lead to a problem, a similar problem that the game Near and Far suffers from. Trying to win the game can be at odds with what the game is really about. Both of these games are mainly focused on telling stories, and it is far too easy to trigger the end of each game without ever seeing a single story to its plotted conclusion. If you’re playing with players like me, people who don’t care about winning or losing, people who just want to experience the narrative, this isn’t a problem. However, if you are playing with people who are competitive, people who want to win, I can see this being a big problem, as the game-winning mechanisms are at cross-purposes with what makes the game unique and worth playing.
While I have immensely enjoyed playing Fallout (I’ve played three times – twice solo, once with a friend), I can understand the frustration some people might experience. This is a game that rewards a certain attitude, while punishing another. I could say “this isn’t a game for everyone,” but I really hate that phrase. Most games aren’t for everyone. And more often than not that phrase is used to make one person feel better about themselves at the expense of others. What’s better said is this: if you are very competitive, and really care about winning a game through the use of good tactics and strategy, Fallout probably isn’t the post-apocalyptic game for you. However, if you play games to be engrossed in a strong narrative, and to explore an interesting world, Fallout would be an excellent choice. I am really looking forward to playing more of the scenarios, and I really cannot wait for expansions.
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I love this game, but the end game is just weird. I think the game may be too short and/or the faction track is too short. You have to absolutely go out of your way to not trigger some events.
I've played this a bunch now, but only the Commonwealth scenario
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Even if you are not playing to win and want to explore its almost impossible not to trigger some of the Synth faction events. Like kill any human. Some of them have guns or are aggressive and you have no choice but to kill them. Unless you re-role to not hit them. Maybe this was by design?
And once you trigger that last synth event, it is impossible to stop it. I happen to get lucky enough to draw 2 synth faction cards, and I could just sit and wait to win. The CIT moves every turn, but even if you can spawn railroad guys (8 caps is super expensive) it is very unlikely they will move. There are not enough star triggers, especially if players are keeping those cards. There was zero point to me even trying to explore, fight, or gain more gear, I knew I won.
This has happened in pretty much every Commonwealth game. If someone gets 2 synth faction cards its over. A +4 jump for a faction is just too much, especially for how hard it is to get railroad guys to the CIT.
I should not have to try my hardest not to let the Synths win from the very first card, just because its too easy. If anyone has played single player its SO easy to win playing the Synth side. 2 synth agenda cards and 3 events the game is over.
Or worse no one wins because everyone has figured out how to "defend"
sort of speak, and there are too many faction cards to win any other way. Its just all very odd. I hope the other scenarios are not like this.
I'm a huge Fallout gamer, and I'm huge into board games. So I love the 1st half of this game, and the end game (so far) is dumb.
I think their are way too many faction agenda cards. I read someone else's review that says this game needs an FFG expansion fix, and I agree. The end game is too wonky. I'm an FFG Fanboy and I've never said that about any FFG game. I'm a little disappointed in this one.
I played this game at BGGCon (two player, and we basically learned as we played). I thought it was interesting, but even at the time, thought that something wasn't quite there. Nevertheless, I hoped to play again (and I'll be running a game, hopefully, this Wednesday).
My sense is that the Fallout game had two conflicting design goals, which led to a compromise that results in the flaws we are talking about.
Specifically, as many reviewers have noted, the whole game win/end game process isn't satisfying compared to the exploration/adventure aspect. My suspicion is that one of the design goals was to create a clean system that was winnable or endable in a reasonable time (2 hours, or one evening). In other words, the boardgame had to be short enough/small enough to be a reasonably casual game.
But the aesthetic aspect of the game (explore for its own sake) along with the complications of theme (explore: develop characters: acquire equipment: different levels of weapon/armor/tools: multiple versions of damage hit points/radiation: multiple means of character development through SPECIAL, the big picture backstory between faction development: tremendously varied monsters with their own backstories, etc etc) doesnt' lend itself to a two hour game.
So the two games are tacked together: two hour game for 'casual' gamers to complete in one evening, and complex universe for a game that could last dozens of hours.
I find this to be pretty common. Many games seem like they have more going on in them that ever develops because the endgame (defined by a certain Victory Point level) comes before much of that richness can be experienced.
Oddly enough, for Fallout specifically, this suggests that expansions may be appropriate. Base Fallout is designed for folks who want to play a game in an evening. Fallout expansions may very well be designed for folks who are willing to invest much more time exploring and developing for its own sake. I've only played the base Arkham Horror game once (which I thought was just ok), but my sense is that the expanded AH does the same thing: create a longer richer game for those who want to invest the time in it.
Another example would be the Funkenschlag/Power Grid comparison. Funkenschlag is a fun game for detail freaks. I actually enjoy the detailed route design, mathy calculations, and spare graphic design of it (similar to crayon rails games). Power Grid, which is a great game, is nevertheless kind of a cleaned up and more pretty (and less detail oriented) Funkenschlag. Power Grid pulled of the transition from micro detail to cleaner game for the masses who want to finish in an evening.
I'm not positive that Fallout has pulled it off. The detail and exploration aspect of Fallout deserves a Funkenschlag/crayon rails scope-with their larger maps, real sense of exploration and route development, and so on. Fallout the game attempted to translate that complicated universe into a shorter prettier experience (Power Grid), but I'm not sure it pulled it off. I guess I'll find out next week.