Review: Fallout Shelter: The Board Game
Fallout Shelter: The Board Game is a tabletop game based on a mobile game, which is based on a role-playing and action video game IP. The Fallout games all see the player inhabit the shoes of a protagonist on a mission, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that culturally halted in the 1950’s but technologically kept going beyond even 2020. Most of the games see the player leaving a Vault, or Fallout Shelter, and trying to find help or some macguffin to bring back to the Vault. Fallout Shelter puts you inside one of these Vaults, and makes you one of the officers vying for the role of the new Vault Overseer. Only by building the best floor and making your Vault Dwellers the most happy will you win the title of Overseer, and the game.
Players can do combat with different threats including radiation zombies, giant scorpions, and a Deathclaw (basically a mean-looking dinosaur with horns). Dwellers can get injured, which means they just lie down until healed. All the enemies and weapons are cartoonish in nature and mostly non-threatening.
In the mobile game, you can “make” new Vault Dwellers by sending a female dweller and a male dweller to a lounge or bedroom. There are rooms you can build in the tabletop game where you need two dwellers and you get a new dweller as the reward. Depending on if you view the dweller minis as literally or figuratively representative of actual people, that will determine if this is a concern you or not.
Fallout Shelter puts 2-4 players in charge of different floors as they build up the Vault and try to win the title of Overseer. I went into the series background because the board game doesn’t mention most of it. They’ve managed to streamline everything in a good way, but it’s odd that it’s so stripped down. For instance, you can upgrade your dweller’s SPECIAL stats in order to get extra resources the next turn, but it never mentions that each letter represents a different base stat (Strength, Perception, Endurance, etc.). The way the game does it works, it just doesn’t explain much. This could be a good thing for trying to pull in players who’ve never played a game in the Fallout universe, but could also be confusing to players who have. The game itself comes in a handsome metal box made to look like one of Fallout‘s metal lunchboxes, which helped tie in the theme. It’s not thick metal however, and after just a few times of opening and closing I noticed some wear; depending on your opinion of the Fallout universe (where many things are worn or used over and over) this can be a positive or negative.
In the game, players take turns placing their dwellers on different spaces in the Vault, gaining resources, items, more dwellers, more rooms, or doing other actions like healing an injured dweller. After everyone has placed all their dwellers, they are all recalled back to their owners and a new round starts with threats being spawned. I really liked the push-pull of how enemies don’t move, but they occupy a space from which players could otherwise get resources. All the threat cards are transparent, which seems kind cool until you realize they’re difficult to pick up or shuffle due to their sheen finish.
The game ends when either the threat deck is depleted or someone builds their 6th room. Both seem to happen around the same time, but on the plus side you still get to finish the round when the endgame is triggered. Gameplay moves at a good pace except for the first and last couple of rounds; in the beginning, players may be hesitant or unsure of their options, and at the end they may take their time as the spots they want on the board fill up. Once the board is filled with a few threats and players have 3-5 dwellers, it can start to feel crowded.
The art and minis are great, and fit in perfectly with the Fallout world, which is often represented by their little blonde-haired blue-suited man known as Pip-Boy. In the Fallout video games, players can find Pip-Boy bobble-heads to increase stats; each of your Vault Dwellers look like one of these bobble-heads. This is a fun nod to the games, but can feel odd if you think too hard on it, like when you use two dwellers to *ahem* get a new dweller. I like how each of the seven dwellers are different, but it would have been nice if they were more diverse. The mobile game Fallout Shelter is based on has dwellers of various backgrounds, races, and both genders.
Something else I greatly enjoyed was the resource trackers. I was a little worried at their durability at first but they work great, and make it so they didn’t need different tokens for water, power, and food. It also protects you from bumping your cubes off a flat player-aid, in case you have any “Anne Wheaton” types at your gaming table. I was however a little confused on the color choices for the players. Blue and yellow are standard Fallout colors, and I can understand why they wouldn’t want someone to have green since all the resources and rewards are in green. But why white and brown? Why not red, or purple, or even pink? I feel like brown is destined to be the last-picked color in any game of Fallout Shelter that I play. The only other nitpick I have is that at first I thought each player would be in charge of their own Vault, not their own floor. The rule book is short and sweet, but could have used one more line explaining this better. Especially since the picture of the game setup has the player’s elevators in the fold.
My complaints are all minor, because Fallout Shelter is done quite nicely. The art assets look like they were lifted straight from the mobile game, and the minis are all individualized and highly detailed, even though they are about the size of a six-sided die. Small nitpicks aside, if you’ve heard of the mobile version or played it and liked it, you’ll enjoy this tabletop version.
The Bottom Line