Fallout Shelter took the world by storm when it originally released, shifting the focus from exploring the deadly wastelands outside of the vault to keeping those living inside the vaults happy and content. When combined with Vault-Tec Corporation's trademark mascot Vault Boy, it made for a compelling combination, and Fantasy Flight Games has managed to deliver a similarly addictive gameplay loop in Fallout Shelter: The Board Game. Though some things shift here and there, the core elements are all accounted for, and if you are looking for an enjoyable way to introduce new fans to the Fallout universe, you've arrived at your destination.
Fallout Shelter: The Board Game is pretty straightforward in its premise and goal, as up to four players will attempt to build out their six-room floor of the shelter, all the while building up enough happiness from their Dwellers to win the game. You do that by strategically placing your Dwellers in different rooms on the main Vault level, as well as the other levels once they start being built, and these rooms will either net you power, food, water, items, healing, exchanges, or training.
The Board Game version of Fallout Shelter puts more of an emphasis on resource management, and because of that, the first player token in this game is far more important than in others. Each player places one of their dwellers in clockwise order, followed by as many turns as it takes to place all players' available dwellers. That means the first player has first dibs on what they need most, which can definitely give them a huge advantage if they have it for a long time, so you'll want to make use of the room that gains you the first player token next turn, which doesn't cost any resources.
Players battle it out for rooms early on, but as more rooms get added, your options expand considerably, and the more options you have, the harder decisions you have to make. You could play the long game and train someone early to net you double of a resource next turn, which is great if it works out, but someone could take that spot you need and leave you with nothing to show for your dweller's time. Likewise, you could take on a Threat Card and battle it out with an intruder, gaining you some Happiness and an Item, though if you fail, you now have an injured Dweller on your hands that you have to waste a turn healing.
Of course, some rooms require injured Dwellers as a resource, so perhaps it's worth it, and Items can also be worth it, gaining you weapons, armor, and more that will make your adventure a bit easier, though that all takes away from your room-building. You could also work towards gaining more Dwellers, but, early on, they won't have much to do without more rooms to access.
Personally, I liked to take a few chances early on, as there's only so many rooms and resources to go around. Threats get added with a dice roll to each floor with a room in it, and these will cover the room's resource reward until disposed of, but this can be an advantage to you depending on your opponents, as it might hurt them more than it hurts you.
As you can see, there's a lot of risk and reward in Fallout Shelter: The Board Game, but the main gameplay loop is relatively simple. That's a strength in many ways, as it's incredibly easy to teach, something I did with two different players with differing backgrounds in tabletop games. By the second turn, everyone was hitting on all cylinders, and we already have several rooms on each floor. That said, the simple loop is also the game's main drawback, as more experienced players will likely get a little bored after repeated plays.
Fans of Fallout will love the game's visual aesthetic though, as the game comes in a lunchbox style tin and features tiny but adorable Vault Boy miniatures, each featuring a different design in four different colors. Another welcome element is the relatively small table footprint, as even with four players the game makes effective use of your table's space.
Now, while the game does pack an unexpected amount of strategy into its small box, it does feel like it could've used just a bit more depth in its Vault designing elements. You purchase rooms to stick on your floor and once you add the sixth room, the game comes to an end, but you really don't feel as if it's yours in any way. Sure, you bought the rooms, but there are no other elements that push that premise forward, and since anyone can still use rooms on your floor (albeit with a small resource fee to you), the strategy of which room you pick feels a bit more inconsequential.
Despite those issues with the game, I had a great time building my Vault and battling it out for resources and happiness against other players, and it helps that the game is so immensely teachable and easy to learn. I'm not sure how often I'll go back and play Fallout Shelter: The Board Game, but I know that, when I do, a fast-paced and enjoyable time awaits me, and Fallout fans shouldn't overlook it in the least.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Published By: Fantasy Flight Games
Designed By: Andrew Fischer
Fallout Shelter: The Board Game is available now, and a review copy was provided by Fantasy Flight.