Fallout Board Game Review

Suit up your Power Armor and get ready for radscorpion combat. Because that’s what Fallout has become.

This game is a nightmare. I’ve kind of spoiled my entire review at the start so let’s step back a moment and talk about the good in the game—what little actually exists.

Components

Quality is standard here for Fantasy Flight: you have good linen quality cards, you have good linen quality chits, and everything is thick and very nice overall. The miniatures are great (though the lack of female representation is pretty stupid in an adventure game. It’s 1 out of 5.). The player boards are very inventive and they’re fun to play with. They do their job better than a game without such dynamic play boards.

UI/UX

The art design ranges from pretty good and accurate for Fallout 1/2 to piss-poor and bland (something that reminds me of Castle Ravenloft). It seems like they went half-and-half old Fallout with new Fallout in-game posters. The UI/UX design of the cards is functional. The art is minimized to make way for the information on the cards. Everything you need is on the cards. The SPECIALs are easy to see and pick out on the each of the game components. The symbols makes sense—as soon as you learn them you should understand everything that they do in the game. There’s nothing really bad to say about the overall user experience. This is where things start to get really bad.

70s computer display plus 50s ad posters with washed out color? Perfect! This is neither anachronistic nor an ugly pairing.

The Rant (aka Gameplay)

In this game you get nothing and you do nothing. At the end of it you feel like you have completed nothing. It’s a Co-petitive game which is a made-up word that means that you can cooperate with people but ultimately there can only be one winner in the game. This is better than Fantasy Flight’s usual fare for adventure games were there needs to be an Overlord or Invader or some kind of antagonist player. However, in this game they shit it the fuck up as hard as they possibly could. It’s supposed to be an adventure game but there’s no adventure: The quests are bland. The exploration is bland an time consuming. Movement is atrociously sluggish. The encounters could be okay if they didn’t force you to make all decisions blind (I know that’s supposed to be a feature but they implemented it in a way that it’s a bug).

This is supposed to be some kind of RPG or adventure, yet all of the above hamstring your ability to hit the road and have some freedom (a concept that is supposed to be intrinsic to Fallout games). You can’t even really loot in this game. All the loot does practically nothing. The better weapons often make you take a step back for every step forward, making them very frustrating to work with. In some cases, you’re actually better off keeping a weaker weapon just to not take any detriments (it’s the opposite with armor for some reason). But good luck actually getting any weapons—an item practically required to play the game, since they’re incredibly rare and this game is such a slog you may never get one.

Trade the ability to loot for a couple of pissant rerolls—Get a plasma gun today!

Everything good they add to this game comes with something terrible as well. The level up system is a great example: to level up, you must gain experience equal to the number of SPECIAL traits you have plus one. This is intuitive and elegant…and gets pissed all over immediately when you level. What you do when you level: draw 2 SPECIAL tiles at random, choose one and keep it. If you already have the one you chose, you have to choose a Perk instead.

The perks are pretty powerful (though only one-use) but since you don’t make any level progress in the game with them and you gain no new SPECIALs with the perks they’re essentially like a level that you have to skip. So the further in the game that you get a perk the worse off of you are because it means that you had to get more experience to get the same perk than you would have at an earlier time. And since it’s more likely that you get perks the later you are in the game (due to so many repeat SPECIAL tile draws) it’s more likely that you end up having to skip levels later in the game. That’s incredibly frustrating, as it can mean you simply stall out and can’t get any of the SPECIALs you need to wield your weapon or make a specific quest skill check. You’re just meandering around the board for several hours at a snail’s pace, hoping whatever random junk is thrown your way can be used to give you the sweet release of death—I mean end of the game.

Yep, that vertibird gets shuffled into that deck and you gotta randomly encounter it to stop the madness. Also: every other card is like this.

I can understand forced level-skipping like this if there was any necessity for rubber-banding in this game but actually levels in this game are fairly unimportant. The only thing they do is allow you to make re-rolls for combat and skill checks. Since this game uses idiotic graphical dice, they chose not to have SPECIAL traits grant bonuses to the dice rolls. Instead, you just get re-rolls. FFG needs to hire someone with actual statistical knowledge because re-rolls don’t do shit. If your chance mitigation system is that tepid, just don’t even bother with it. The entire game is about this too. It’s just an unending stream of hellish dice checks one after another until it mercifully ends. Your only lifeline is a re-roll at the exact same probability, which does DICK.

And let’s talk about those dice tests. This game uses VATS dice which is supposed to evoke the iconic VATS system of all the Fallout games. However, they are trash and they do absolutely no such thing. The Fallout designers decided that they should use a one roll system—roll all three of the dice and then all the information you need about that roll is contained on those dice. Monsters will have specific hit locations. Those locations will be on the dice you have to roll. In combat if you were to roll the dot-pips then you will take damage equal to the Monsters level times the number of pips (your armor reduces the pips shown). So armor is incredibly useful because it allows you to take significantly less damage. Sounds really elegant and streamlined right? However you’ll find with this game there are no ways to easily change those results. The chance mitigation is utter nonsense: all you do is re-roll the dice according to some stuff that you might have. If you’re in combat then it’s the stats that you have as SPECIALs (only if those are present on your weapon as well). Therefore, you need 2 coinciding things in the game just to attempt a single re-roll which doesn’t meaningfully affect probability and in many cases can give worse results.

The dice are so totally dogshit that I don’t know how to explain them to someone who hasn’t used them. I would say that it’s typical Fantasy Flight fare to have terrible dice systems in the game with really weird probabilities or low probabilities that just make you want to pull your hair out and throw them across the room or flip the table. This crap is very common for Fantasy Flight games. But it would be disingenuous of me to characterize these dice as typical dogshit Fantasy Flight game dice because in fact they are by far the worst I’ve ever encountered.

Again, I have to go back to how the game only has re-rolls. This is strictly worse than a system where you roll xd6 drop lowest y (which is probably what you think the re-rolls do as you read this review). No. That is not how their system works. If your new result is worse, you are forced to keep it if you have no remaining re-rolls, which again, you can only obtain by having both the corresponding SPECIAL trait and a weapon (or in the case of a skill check: just the SPECIAL trait). And if you remember from earlier, getting SPECIAL gets exponentially harder as the game progresses since you can only gain them at random. See how every single mechanic in this game loops back to undermine the other mechanics? Cards test SPECIALs essentially at random with little ability to guess if your character will be relevant. Weapons are also insanely hard to obtain, if you’ll recall, and most of them not only barely change anything for the better but also make some aspect worse for you. All of this just to get 1 or 2 re-rolls—a mechanic that infuriatingly, doesn’t change your probability at all. And in many cases makes you fail harder.

Victory points in this game are asinine. All of them are drawn randomly, because we don’t already have enough shitty randomness involved. A third of them only give VP if the red faction is winning and a third only if the blue is winning. The remaining third are all unique but half of them are practically un-completable. Fantasy Flight’s games have a tenancy to VP-bubble, which as far as I know, most people find loses its novelty after the first time. Fallout isn’t just exclusively VP-bubbling at the end, but actually random based on which faction is ahead. Not only that but the more quests you complete (which usually increase faction standing) the more you get secretly roped into one of them. Except that you might start with red faction and then draw only blue faction for the next 3 cards. So now you’ve just sabotaged yourself out of VP because it was apparently fun to the designers to make your goals random and constantly change. So these agenda cards aren’t so much something you do as something that just happens and you watch.

Nothing says “Freedom” like removing meaningful choice in a goddamn Fallout game

Most of the problems in this game could’ve been addressed by a proper objective playtesting group that won’t ride Fantasy Flight’s dick. Jonathan Ying of DOOM and Imperial Assault fame was quoted as saying this of FFG’s playtesting procedure: “…because we do a lot of our testing remotely we often don’t know from their reports if novice players are simply playing the game incorrectly or outright ignoring some small rules or mechanics. We do our best, but this is absolutely an aspect of user-experience testing that I wish we could improve at.” Because I’m feeling particularly uncharitable toward FFG’s playtesting methods right now, I’d also like to point out he admitted they don’t roll dice and substitute a much smoother card system: “Fun side note: we actually use a small deck of cards for each die instead of actually rolling dice during testing because it allows us to normalize the die results to an appreciable average. That way each test will be statistically average and we won’t have a test ruined because Paul managed to roll four X results in a row. :P” There you go folks. Fantasy Flight developers know the dice suck and make for unfun gameplay but choose to include them anyway after incorrect testing experiences.

The issues presented here could’ve been ironed out with a more robust feedback system on playtesting as well as actually committing to the experiences they had during tests.

Conclusion

This game RAW has zero redeeming qualities and barely functions as a game—I actually feel somewhat semantically wrong for using the term “game” to describe a drawn out process of trying to guess what faction will win in the end while other meaningless shit goes down. Which is incredibly sad since it has a ton of potential. If most of its glaring flaws were house-ruled away, it could be a passable dice-chucking adventure game, which could make it tolerable but still barely playable. To make it playable, it would need a balance overhaul and dice system overhaul. I can’t even recommend this one to brain-dead groups who don’t care if a game is nothing but dice-chucking garbage, since all of its mechanics are disjointed, wins aren’t really meaningfully shaped by player decisions, and you get so few actions per turn that the entire thing is a nightmarish slog to the end.

Alice

Alice is the webmaster of VMundi, author, editor, mathematician, and autodidact. She has over 6 years of publishing experience writing articles for various self-run sites. Her interests include game design, economics, Game Theory, graphical design, quantum mechanics and mathematics.

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