Fallout Shelter may be more commonly known for being an app but recently Fantasy Flight Games have released a board version. Designed by Andrew Fischer, the game turns the app gameplay of building out a vault into a competitive worker placement contest for 2 – 4 players. Vying to become the next Overseer of the vault, players will be building rooms, combating threats and generating dweller happiness – for around 45 minutes. However, will players want to become the Overseer? Let’s find out!
Setting up, the top layer of the vault is built out, including the wasteland and the vault entrance through to a diner. In the middle is the elevator column, with a coloured elevator put into play for each player. Everyone gets a playerboard, used to track resources and any trained dwellers, and two starting dwellers of their player colour. The past overseer has unfortunately died, and players must prove their worth to take over the position. To do this players will build out their level of the vault with new rooms and bring their dwellers the most happiness.
Fallout Shelter is played out over a number of rounds. In each round players will take it in turns to send dwellers to action spaces. For example, a player may send a dweller to the water treatment room to gain water. Some spaces will have costs that must be paid before the reward is gained, such as the wasteland where a player must pay 1 water to obtain an item card from the available market. Players will do this to build up their reserves of power, food and water, as well as to welcome new dwellers and build rooms.
New rooms are built from the available market. As one room is built a new one restocks the market, with three always available to choose from. A built room must be placed by a player into their level of the vault. It can be placed adjacent to any of the rooms on their level but within the 6 room columns, as set out by the starting vault row. Once built anyone can send dwellers to the action spaces on the room card. However, when other players send dwellers there the owner gains a resource from the supply.
Most of the available action spaces have S.P.E.C.I.A.L. letters on them, allowing double the reward to be gained if an appropriately trained dweller is sent there. This training is done by sending a dweller to an action space with the upgrade symbol as the reward. In the next round, and only the next round, that dweller will be trained in that attribute of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. To remember this players place the worker onto the appropriate letter on their player board when retrieved at the end of the round. This retrieval of workers occurs once all players have played all of their dwellers onto action spaces on the board.
Whilst not in the initial round, at the start of every subsequent round threats come into play. Rolling the two dice for each floor of the vault, a threat from the threat deck is added to the location in the determined column, if there is one. For example, if an 8 is rolled a threat would be added to the action space to the right of the central elevator column if there was an action space there. These threats range from radroaches and fires through to deathclaws. Each threat sits over the top of the action, blocking it, until it is removed.
For the most part these see dwellers sent to fight the threat, rolling the dice and hoping to beat a denoted value. Defeating the threat sees it removed and the indicated reward gained, plus the action space below will become free to use again in the next round. If a player fails to roll high enough then the dweller becomes injured and the threat remains. Injured dwellers stay that way, unable to perform normal actions. Only specific stimpack locations can heal injured dwellers, thankfully the starting vault has one of these spaces.
Items can help players defeat threats, potentially reducing the amount needed on rolls. Some of these weapons will consistently give +1 to rolls, while others will need to be exhausted (making them once a round style power). Helping players defeat the likes of raiders and glowing ones isn’t the only thing items are good for. Some will give the player additional ways to score dweller happiness and there are even ways to freely train a dweller each round in a specific S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute.
When the threat deck is depleted or a player has built their sixth room the current round is played out and then the game ends. Players then determine any bonus happiness from item cards, whilst losing a happiness for each threat left on their level of the vault. At this point the player who has obtained the most dweller happiness becomes the new overseer and wins the game. Ties are split by whoever has the most resources remaining, followed by dwellers and then items.
Putting the Fallout Shelter theme aside and underneath is a solid worker placement experience. Players have a lot of choice of where to send dwellers. Plus, just because someone builds six rooms, and triggers the end of the game, doesn’t mean that they have won. Starting with two dwellers each player will need to grow their ranks to stay competitive, to be able to perform more actions each turn. As players’ dweller numbers grow the choices on offer doesn’t necessarily decline either, with the vault slowly growing over time. The addition of new rooms also brings different ways to gain resources and happiness, with the action spaces therefore being varied from one game to the next.
Fallout Shelter is very much based on the app, which is in turn based on the video game franchise. Being based on an app that people can play on their own it does seem odd that there is no solo mode included and that it is a competitive experience. The push for dweller happiness works well though as a competitive and thematic goal. In the Fallout universe it is easy to see vault dwellers being pleased with new fun rooms in their vault and how voting in a new overseer would be a popularity contest. The aim also makes sense to those that aren’t familiar with the Fallout series too.
There is a bit of a disconnect between using someone else’s level and them gaining a resource. Another player could have gone to your nuclear reactor room and you can choose to gain a food resource. Regardless of the thematic break, this rewards those that build rooms whilst allowing the game to flow. Conversely, other areas of the experience make sense, such as an action space in the weight room can train a dweller in strength. Then, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute is lost after a single round, which maybe makes sense for luck but not something like intelligence or perception.
Just like the L of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. there is a spot of luck in Fallout Shelter. As with most games the order that the cards come out of the decks, be it for helpful items or rooms, will play a minor part. The inclusion of dice is really where the luck comes from though. Used to spawn the threats, one player can get lucky and have no threats spawn on their level, while another gets one almost every round. Thankfully, there is a decent reward of happiness or items for removing threats, which does mitigate this misfortune. Trying to remove the threats though is also based on a dice roll. Items are there to help out and it adds a spot of push your luck. Some will potentially find this frustrating though if too many rolls don’t go their way.
Aside from the starting cards and a few of the additional rooms – such as the game room – most feature twice in the deck. This means that multiple players can build a Nuka-Cola Bottler but not everyone in a 3 or 4 player game. As Fallout Shelter vaults are often filled with a variety of rooms this balanced distribution in the deck enables a good mixture of rooms, whilst not necessarily stopping players from building a specific room once another copy of it has been built.
Every item and room captures a small part of the main video game series – just like the Fallout Shelter app. The Diner featured looks like it is straight out of an active Vault, as do the many rooms included. In fact the only aspect that makes them not quite right is their brand new empty appearance – with nothing misplaced or people in them. A party hat or toolbox here and there would have just added the details we’d expect from wandering through countless vaults.
Of course the rooms are also missing the odd radroach or two, yet this is when the games best components come into play. No, it’s not the awesome Vault Boy dwellers in poses from Luck to Intelligence – it’s the threat cards. These mostly transparent cards add those pesky radroaches to the rooms, and much more from power outages to Death Claws. They align over the top of the room cards perfectly and being transparent allows the room artwork below to shine through – completing the look. A good amount of attention has been put into the components and not just from a visual perspective. The starting room cards have different coloured backs making setup that bit easier.
Fallout Shelter The Board Game is naturally going to appeal to fans of the video game franchise and the app. Those who have little knowledge of the series can still very much enjoy the experience though. Under the epic theme is a worker placement game which offers players choices on every turn. The way the vault expands with different rooms each time you play helps the game feel fresh, and that’s before the threats block different spaces each round. The production quality is also extremely high making the game a pleasure to look at. Overall, Fallout Shelter is a game that will bring fans and newcomers plenty of happiness, just like the dwellers involved.
(Editor’s Note: Fallout Shelter was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)