Well, it’s that time of year again. That time of year when TLDP goes alliterative. This marks my fifth year of bringing you the D for December, and I decided to go with board games. Welcome to Disconnected December!
This week, I ease you back toward our regularly scheduled format by bridging the gap between wood pulp and refined sand and have a look at Fallout: The Board Game.
Time Falling Out: 2 to 3 hours
Sponsored By: My nearly pathological love of all things Fallout-except-for-New-Vegas
Half Life Review
So let me see if I have this right: They took a video game that was built by automating tabletop role playing games, and then made a tabletop role playing game out of it.
And we’re surprised that it worked out because…?
Vault Release Timer Review
I love the concept of tabletop RPGs. My house contains full sets of books for both fourth and fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. We own four full sets of dice, one for each person living here. I even have spiral-bound notebook full of graph paper specifically for mapping campaigns.
Number of times we’ve played Dungeons and Dragons: zero.
The problem isn’t that we’re not geeky enough. Good lord, no. The problem is that we don’t actually know how to start. I’ve tried reading the Player’s Handbook, and I’ve tried reading the Dungeon Master’s guide. I’ve even thumbed through the Monster Manual. There’s a lot of talk about the core mechanic, but I’ve been unable to find a satisfactory description of what the core mechanic actually is. I know it involves the twenty-sided die, and I know you’re supposed to add and subtract modifiers to it based on things, but the manual doesn’t explicitly tell me when to use it or what a player’s turn looks like.
Without knowing that, it’s hard to figure out how to plan a campaign. I know I could buy a prefabbed module, but those all require four players, and right now only two people in the house are interested in actually playing.
So we resort to games like Fallout, which has many of the trappings of a tabletop RPG but has clearly delineated structures for how turns play out, and it provides a pair of campaigns, complete with side-quests and those patented Bethesda Moral Choices.
The first thing you notice when you open the box is how high the production values are. Fantasy Flight is clearly rocking those Bethesda Bucks here, because the game contains five highly-detailed plastic miniatures (one for each playable character), custom V.A.T.S. themed dice, and four cardboard Pip-Boys that you need to assemble. (No, they’re not wearable.) There’s even a bag of cardboard bottle caps to use for currency.
The base game includes two scenarios, one based on Fallout 4 and another based on Fallout 3, each with its own objectives and encounter decks (more on this in a bit). The manual recommends you start with the Fallout 4 scenario to learn the game.
The main draw of any Fallout game is the exploration, so they made that core to the board game. You build the map by placing four hexagonal landmark tiles in predetermined locations and surrounding them with face-down map tiles. Each turn you can explore any face-down tile that’s adjacent to the one your character is standing on. This may reveal points of interest or enemies. If you’ve got the movement points to spend, you can move to one of those things, or avoid them completely.
As you explore, you’ll be drawing cards from the Encounter Deck, which is where you get your missions and side quests. Open quests can be completed by anyone, and the ones pertaining to the story will advance the game toward its conclusion, so the game usually ends with an epic race to the finish. One of the things I found cool and interesting was that the quests don’t force players into any particular faction alignment. Players can all choose the same faction, or all choose different ones. It makes the game feel either cooperative or competitive, depending on how everyone wants to play it, which is nice because from a pure mechanical standpoint the game is just two to four people playing next to each other, not with each other.
Combat is not particularly innovative; you roll dice to determine whether V.A.T.S. did damage or not, just like in the computer version of the game. That’s fine, though, because I’ve always liked V.A.T.S.and wouldn’t have wanted them to change it anyway. The more interesting part is how the game manages health. You have a single row of holes on your Pip Boy, into which you place two markers. The red one starts and the right and moves left as you take damage. The green one starts on the left and moves right as you take radiation. If the two markers ever meet, your character dies. The amount of strategy that goes into managing your health bar is a game unto itself. Kind of like real life, really.
Should we keep playing to find out if dice ever change?
Gosh, I’m running out of room, and there’s so much more to talk about. Like how you can play as a ghoul or a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, or how the miniatures for the characters are high quality and probably worth painting.
But the main thing I want you to take away from this review is how impressively the developers have captured the Fallout experience and made it work as a board game. It’s kind of like the way the movie of The Princess Bride is different from the book, but still retains the fundamental things that make it The Princess Bride. This game isn’t like the video games, but it has the same soul as the video games.
It’s definitely worth playing again. It may even be worth buying the inevitable expansion packs. And if you don’t like it, well, at least you got some cool miniatures out of it.
Is it the Dark Souls of board-video-board-RPGs?
There are two rule books to contend with, so it’s edging toward “yes.” There are a lot of systems to keep track of, so the game is plenty “crunchy” if you like that sort of thing. Still, my wife and I played a full campaign and didn’t really feel like we were ever in danger of dying.
We actually, kind of, finished the main quest by accident.
So it’s probably not the Dark Souls of tabletop RPGs, but it is a good introduction to the core concepts of tabletop RPGs, and it left me feeling more able to tackle Dungeons and Dragons.
Now I just need to write a campaign.