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Fallout board game celebrates the series’ excellent storytelling

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Bethesda and Fantasy Flight are on a roll

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A vault dweller, a super mutant and a member of the Brotherhood of Steel all walk into a bar. Charlie Hall/Polygon

The Fallout franchise is expanding, first with virtual reality and now with a surprisingly excellent board game adaptation.

In 2017, Bethesda announced two new tabletop products, a hobby miniatures game from Modiphius Entertainment and a board game from Fantasy Flight Games. After I previewed FFG’s offering at this year’s Gen Con I was cautiously optimistic, but now that I’ve had time to get the final product on the table it’s clear that this game is a winner.

Fallout is a narrative exploration game for one to four players. Driving the action is a preposterously huge stack of more than 150 quest and encounter cards. As players move into certain sections of the map they can use an action to draw one of these cards, some of which can move the game’s storyline forward.

It sounds cumbersome, but in practice it provides every game with an exciting set of goals and objectives.

The more than 150 quest and encounter cards packaged in the game. All feature iconography from the classic franchise, including the geared vault door.
In Fallout, from Fantasy Flight Games, the narrative action is driven by a novel set of cards. As the game progresses, players build a random deck at the table based on their success or failure at previous encounters.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

The base game comes with four scenarios, all set within the modern adaptations of the game universe, specifically Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. Each one adds its own gameplay twist.

  • The Commonwealth: The Railroad and the Institute battle for the future of the synth race. Synths and coursers appear on the board to harass players.
  • The Pitt: Rebel slaves and the Slavers spawn, denying players access to areas of the map and struggling for control of the wasteland.
  • Far Harbor: Battle against the Children of the Atom amidst a shifting miasma of irradiated fog.
  • The Capital Wasteland: A high-level brawl between the Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave.

Once a scenario is selected, certain cards from the quest deck are staged face up on the table. These provide the global objectives that players must race to complete. In the Commonwealth scenario, for instance, the first objective is to uncover evidence of a synth. The Railroad faction gains power for a peaceful resolution, while the Institute gains power by killing synths.

Once a given objective is completed, specific cards from the quest deck are staged face up to provide new objectives. Additionally, new cards are added to a shorter, facedown pile called the encounter deck.

The character sideboard for each player includes tactile pegs to mark progress, as well as slots for equipment, followers and status tokens.
Each of the five unique character classes in Fallout has a special ability. The Super Mutant earns experience every time it gains a point of radiation.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

Between these two piles of cards, the game eventually becomes a competitive choose-your-own-adventure style romp through the world of Fallout. It’s a ton of fun, but also a vehicle to reminisce about your own personal journey through Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world.

One of the demos that I ran at home included three other players with lots of experience in Fallout’s version of both Washington D.C and Boston. We found ourselves sharing a bunch of stories from our own, single-player adventures at the table and all of us left with a burning need to open up an old save file and get back to work.

Fallout also features a clever leveling system that mirrors Bethesda’s own use-and-grow philosophy.

Every time you kill an enemy, complete an encounter or finish a quest you gain points, which prompt you to move a gray peg across your individual character sheet. Once you complete a circuit, you pull from a pile of facedown SPECIAL tokens and add one proficiency to your character for the duration of the game. As you accumulate more tokens, it requires more work to level up. But the reward is almost always worthwhile, and often includes a perk, a one-time use ability keyed to a SPECIAL stat.

The Toughness, Master Trader, Lead Belly and Inspirational perk have benefits similar to those in Fallout 4.
The original perk cards shown at Gen Con 50. The cards that come bundled with the retail version of the game are slightly different, and each one must be discarded after use.
Charlie Hall/Polygon

What makes this game so interesting is that it can easily be adapted to a number of different playstyles.

There’s a power system at play, one that allows players to align themselves with a given faction for advantages and earn points needed to win. But you could just as easily ignore those win conditions and play the game semi-cooperatively with an eye towards seeing as much of the content buring in the stack of quest cards as possible.

The game is also ripe for expansion. Whether additional scenarios will come from FFG or the game’s community is up in the air, but the components and the systems in the base game are both generic and flexible enough that I could see them being adapted well to Fallout: New Vegas, or even the originals like Fallout and Fallout 2.

As far as presentation goes, I have very few qualms about what’s inside the box. FFG has nailed the dual-manual approach, with one that helps ease you into your first playthrough and another that serves as a resource going forward. There’s even an excellent index that gets you to the right rule when you need it. It’s a far cry from the challenging documentation that came with last year’s Star Wars: Rebellion.

My only criticism is that FFG doesn’t include a helpful pack-in, or even enough bags to sort all the components. Like this year’s Doom board game, which I also reviewed, it’s pretty much impossible to get the toothpaste back in the tube without adding some homemade organizational elements. Look for laser-cut organizers from company’s like The Broken Token to come out soon.

Fallout also plays well as a single-player game. I can’t think of a better gift for the Fallout fan in your life. It’s available now on Amazon.

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, the hobby miniatures game, is due out in March of 2018. We’ll have a review of that as well when it’s available.