2-4 players, Competitive, Vault Dwelling Worker Placement
Designer: Andrew Fischer
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Release Year: 2020
Being a super Fallout fanboy this one was on my radar from day 1. Heck even a basic worker placement would have me swooning but this one added some interesting gimmicks like the enemy invasion and revolving rooms/items to purchase. Did this particular Fallout game impress me regardless of the theme? Read on to find out.
NOTE: Small review of the Fallout Shelter Player Mat (Sold Separately) below as well.
Overview of Gameplay
As I mentioned above, this is a pure worker placement game so those of you who are familiar with that mechanic will instantly have an idea of how this game works. For those who are not, each player will take a single action placing one of their little vault boy minis on an open space on one of the available cards that make up the play area. Once placed you will take the action denoted by that specific spot (usually collecting a resource cube). Players all start with two workers that can be placed although there are spaces to acquire more workers, up to seven if you get them all. This is a pretty standard work placement practice honestly.
After the first round of the game, you will start placing invading enemies and other random issues throughout the vault. To do this players will roll a pair of dice that will generate a number and you will draw the top invader card from the deck and place it in that numbered space, covering that locations action with the invader or issue. This prevents players from placing there and collecting the resource or taking the action that it is covering. Of course, this opens a new placement feature; you can place ON the invader to try to defeat it and gain a prize if successful. Defeating a threat card is as simple as rolling those two dice again and trying to equal or get above the number listed on that particular threat card. There are also some item cards that you can acquire from a different area that can help mitigate the dice a bit to help with the battles. However, if you fail in your roll your Dweller mini becomes injured and you lay it down to denote this. On your next turn, you will have to heal him up by placing him on a particular spot that heals, denying you a placement with that dweller that round….WHICH IS HUGE! In a game like this where you only start with two placements you want to make sure you do not take unnecessary risks or you might be left behind.
After all players have placed all of their dweller minis and taken the corresponding resource cubes/actions, they will collect all their minis back, pass the first player token and start again with placing some new threat cards. Ultimately, your goal is to build six total vault rooms on your level of the vault. This will trigger the end of the game in which the players will finish out the round and calculate how much happiness they have acquired! You can gain happiness primarily from building rooms but also from other room cards that generate happiness from a variety of ways. The end of the game can also trigger if the threat deck runs out of cards. It is a tricky system because don’t expect to win the game if you race to be the first to build six locations either. Even though you gain two happiness per room built, that opens more areas for workers to place, AND if another player places on one of your built rooms you get a free resource (all sounds amazing). In one game I only had four rooms built when the end game was triggered….BUT I had an item card that gave me extra happiness at the end of the game for every dweller I had acquired, which ended up winning me that game.
The game doesn’t come with a game board as it’s composed entirely of cards that are placed to form the vault. That said, there is a game mat that can be purchased separately that has the placement spots outlined for all the cards and gives the feel of actually building a vault underground. Even though it doesn’t come with the game I would recommend picking it up to give the game that extra injection of theme, and really, I just love game mats. The ONLY thing I will say about the mat is that there is a bunch of extra empty space on the mat between where the vault and item cards sit at the top and the rest of the vault cards. This makes the setting HUGE and frankly a bit of a pain to reach and see the item and vault cards. Would have liked this mat perhaps four inches shorter for ease of play, of course nothing is stopping you from placing the cards wherever you like on it but with the deck outlines on the mat it would seem a bit….wonky.
The components are all around excellent with a nice linen finish on all the cards. The token components are pretty standard with the plastic resource cubes and cardboard happiness tokens. The tiny little dweller minis are AWESOME with each one holding a different pose JUST LIKE the little bobblehead’s you can find in the videogames. The clear standout here are the threat cards (pun intended). Each of these cards are made of plastic and see through so when placed over a location area it gives the impression that they are part of the area. Probably the most basic and yet most clever threat card is the “Power Outage” card which is just dark to the point you can barely see the location. I love it.
The box is also a win with the game coming packed in a metal “lunchbox” style tin. It’s also the same size as a lunchbox so very compact and easy to store. It also has a very nice plastic insert to hold all the components! This was a very pleasant surprise coming from Fantasy Flight Games as usually their games comes with a throwaway cardboard piece and no bags for the components. However, this one has dedicated spaces for each different component and cutouts to hold everything perfectly. I mean I would be hard-pressed to find anything that I don’t like about this box and storage solution. I guess if I HAD to nit-pick I would have preferred the lid to be hinged on just like a lunchbox rather than fully removable, but that is in no way a deal breaker for this excellent box.
Visual Appeal /Theme
For those that have played Fallout or the Fallout Shelter app game then you will know exactly what you are in for visually here. The vault areas are the same on the cards as they are in the game and all the artwork is the same. I personally love it, I think the colors used on the cards are excellent and stand out and dammit, those clear threat cards just add so much to this game visually. The theme behind the game is all about a post-apocalyptic world where survivors are digging underground building up a vast network of rooms to survive in. It doesn’t delve TOO deep into that theme though, you are still just collecting water, electricity or food to pay for more rooms to build.
The rulebook is small and super easy to comprehend. We’re talking 11 pages, two of which are a nice 2-page setup spread that very easily showcases how to get the game rolling. There’s only three main phases in the game: Spawn threat cards, Place dwellers and Recall dwellers. And there are only three main resources you need to worry about collecting so the game overall is very simple to get into and play. The rulebook makes it super easy to understand with large icons for different sections and items. For example if you want to learn about the “Item” cards, which have a large present icon on the back, just find that present symbol in the rulebook. To make it even easier the back of the rulebook has an Icon Reference with simplified explanations for each.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
The player interaction is ok. Being this is a worker placement where first come first served you can really mess with some players plans. An interesting aspect of this though is how you gain a free resource when a player uses one of your built rooms. However, as far as interaction goes, this game is all about “getting there first” whether it’s to a specific location or collecting the displayed rooms or item cards. Luckily, there is a spot where you can collect the first player token as well and it does move each turn regardless so players should all get a chance to go first.
I had a good amount of fun although the game did seem rather “calculated” to me. Placing to gather up the same three resources in order to build vault rooms over and over. The threat cards shake up things a bit when they actually hit rooms causing you to change your strategy a bit since they are worth negative points at the end of the game if any are still in your areas. It’s one that if I’m feeling a quick-ish worker placement with not a lot of setup, I would happily pull out to play.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I think it plays good with all player counts BUT as with most worker placements the more the merrier. You get more locations out faster with four players and more options of what you can do. In addition, since players only place a single mini each turn, the downtime between turns is very short. Not only that but having four players just makes the vault deeper and more interesting overall with little downside to be seen. That said, I think it plays just fine at two players with the turns and game itself playing lightning fast.
Replayability is pretty good although it’s mostly due to the variability of the vault and item cards. The gameplay itself can wear thin after a few plays regardless of what cards you see as you are just going through the motions of placing a dweller and taking/spending some resource cubes. Of course for me the real addiction of the game was with the different strategies that can be used to actually win. I touched on this a bit earlier but just racing to place all your rooms first could spell disaster for you if others are spending time collecting specific item cards that allow them to acquire end of game happiness. This for me was the biggest thing in the game that kept drawing me back to play again and again.
Positive Final Thoughts
As a Fallout fan I am pleased to see a worker placement game set in this theme. I particularly love the see-through threat cards and how they are implemented. The components are all excellent and the box and insert is just amazing. They REALLY hit the nail on the head with getting the theme perfect for this game. Even if you have no interest in Fallout, I think you would enjoy this game as a nice entry into the worker placement world.
Negative Final Thoughts
On the same note, the worker placement elements don’t really do anything new for those that have played a bunch of this style of game already. There are only three resources to manage and because of this the game boils down to being very simple to play which may turn off those heavier gamers out there.
The Bottom Line
It’s a cool game no doubt (those threat cards squeeeee!!!) but honestly, if it wasn’t Fallout I’m not sure I would have bought it. There really isn’t much here that is screaming out at me as being unique other than those awesome threat cards. As it stands though because it IS Fallout, I just love it! They wove the theme perfectly into every orifice of this game from the box to the item cards to the minis. For the other Fallout fans out there this is one I’m sure you will enjoy. Heck, even for players looking for a nice easy to learn worker placement game, I think you would enjoy this. But for those veteran gamers that don’t have an interest in this theme, you might not find a lot here that interests you.
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