Welcome to the start of a new series of articles here at TechRaptor. We’re going to be looking into the development process of making a video game into a tabletop game. We’ll talk about why more and more IPs are moving into the tabletop genre, we’ll review video game IP tabletop games, talk to development teams about the difficulties of bringing a video game to life on the tabletop, as well as exploring different tabletop game types.
Our first stop is the upcoming tabletop wargaming release Fallout: Wasteland Warfare by Modiphius. As the game hasn’t been released yet, I can’t review it, so we’ll look at a couple of preview games that I played while visiting Modiphius HQ and also a chat with the developers about their love for Fallout, what they wanted to achieve with Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, what we can expect next with the franchise, and the difficulties of trying to bring a video game to the tabletop, especially one with such a long and popular history.
What is a wargame?
Wargames can be defined as games that require you to pit a force of models or miniatures against your opponent’s force. They generally use measurements for movement and shooting, rather than squares/tiles/hexes for measurement. Although there is no firm qualification for a wargame, I differentiate a wargame from a board game by the above. Wargames can allow players to play with huge forces of small scale models or a skirmish game of a few models. Wargames should require some effort in terms of more detailed rules, putting the models together, and selecting your force. Board games are generally playable out of the box.
What’s Fallout: Wasteland Warfare?
Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is a tabletop wargame planned for a release this year. It will bring several iconic factions from the Fallout video game universe to the tabletop. Modiphius plan to start with Fallout 4 and work backwards through the franchise. Available in the first wave of releases, we’re going to be able to go to war with the Survivors, Brotherhood of Steel, and Super Mutants with wasteland creatures, robots, the Enclave, Raiders, and the Institute coming in subsequent waves.
Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is going to feature several different game modes, from straight battle skirmishes, to an ongoing narrative campaign, and mission-orientated battles, all of which will be able to be played player to player, and also solo and cooperative through the use of Modiphius’ AI system. I was concerned about the AI system when I first heard about it—usually board game AI is a simple set of move and attack the nearest enemy actions, without any real involvement or mission directive—but Modiphius have done extremely well with the FWW AI system.
Fallout: Wasteland Warfare Preview
We’ll review the game in full when it’s released, but for this article I’ll talk about the demo games I was lucky to play when I went to Modiphius HQ a few weeks ago.
In my first demo game, I played a group of survivors, led by the Sole Survivor against a group of Super Mutants that were intent on taking the Sole Survivor down. Turns run with alternate actions, and I started off charging the Super Mutant boss who I knew would be a serious threat if I let him get close to the Solve Survivor, but would also win me the game if I took him out. I immediately got bogged down with Super Mutant hounds charging a bulk of my force, while the Super Mutant warriors fired into combat as they ran forwards. A few lucky dice rolls on my part freed up my Sole Survivor in time for the Super Mutant boss to charge out of the combat that he was engaged in, run over the wrecked shell of a car, and land in the middle of a group of my warriors in a final gamble to take out the Sole Survivor. I got to attack first, as the boss had to wait until the next round to attack. Two of my warriors failed to hit the enemy boss, but a random survivor, using her combat rifle in close combat scored a lucky hit, taking the boss out. All of the above was controlled by the FWW AI system, and although the development team were there, watching and showing me how to play, the enemy movement and actions was entirely controlled by the AI. It was a great first game—challenging and full of surprises. I was shocked by the last charge of the Super Mutant boss who nearly took out my commander, which would have lost me the game, something that a live player would probably attempt in order to snatch the win. It gave me an awesome story moment, even in my solo game.
My second game was a skirmish game against Jon Webb, the Modiphius Wargames Manager, where again I played the force of Survivors against the Super Mutants. The Super Mutants had to burn the crops at my base, and I had to turn on the defense systems around the battle zone. Two of the defense systems were very near to the Super Mutant deployment zones, so I opted to go for the lesser win of taking all the enemies out, rather than the riskier optimal win for turning on the defense systems. Once again, the Super Mutant hounds closed the distance on my warriors, tying them up in combat while the other Super Mutants raced forwards. There’s a distinct difference between hero characters and standard troopers; they get to roll the VATS dice at the start of the round, which gives them distinct bonuses over normal warriors. I had Dogmeat in my force, and as the Sole Survivor has the Dog Handler ability, it made Dogmeat also heroic. Dogmeat saved the day by taking out both Super Mutant hounds, freeing up my other warriors enough to rain down fire on the charging Super Mutants. Jon was one turn away from burning the last of my crops, so if I hadn’t been able to take the last of his warriors out, the day would have been his.
The rules for the system, are currently available for free, as we recently reported. But from my initial experience with the system, which as noted I had several of the development team explaining the rules to me, is initially complicated. However, once you get the hang of the different dice, stats, range rules, and colors, it all flows very well, and most importantly (as anyone who has read any review I’ve ever written knows) is theme. We are currently seeing a lot of existing IPs used in tabletop gaming, and the first question I always ask myself is, does it feel like the IP?
Does Fallout: Wasteland Warfare feel like Fallout? Yes. Yes it does. Modiphius have done a grand job with the miniatures, so much so that I’m not sure which ones I want to focus on (Super Mutants were my first call, but the Brotherhood of Steel look great, then there’s the Minutemen Posse, and the Enclave). The cards themselves have this great feel and color scheme to them, which they’ve capture perfectly and, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats and VATS feel like they should on Fallout. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Modiphius take FWW. If you see the team at any event, just talk to them; their passion for the game and the franchise is obvious.
Fallout: Wasteland Warfare Developer Interview
I talked to Chris Birch, the Publisher and Founder of Modiphius, and James Sheahan, the Fallout: Wasteland Warfare designer about bringing the Fallout universe to the tabletop.
TechRaptor: What was the thought process behind the creation of Fallout: Wasteland Warfare? Was it that you’ve always wanted to create a Fallout skirmish game? Did it start as something else? Or was it a skirmish game that you decided on the Fallout IP for?’
Chris: I’ve always loved the Fallout game from the beginning, when we got talking to Bethesda and the opportunity came up to pitch a miniatures game I leapt at it. The miniatures games market is flooded with fantasy, sci-fi and historical lines, but there hadn’t been a great post apocalypse one and the Fallout universe is so recognisable, the characters are very familiar to the millions who’ve played it and lived through the many stories.
James: The aim has always been for a game that could be played with a few or many models, and the game needed to deliver story during games (battles) because otherwise it wouldn’t feel like Fallout. Also, it was always aimed at delivering a simple core system capable of variety, so the colour range rulers, colour dice for different weapon effects (damage, armour reduction, accuracy and special effects) were from the start of this design.
To deliver the Fallout experience, I identified several fundamental goals. One goal was that it had to deliver the Fallout world and not just pure combat. In most scenarios, if you’re only focussing on fighting then you’re probably going to lose. As a result, the game needed ways to lockpick, use computers, search, find items, contain hidden (but discoverable) information, etc. and these needed to be woven into the scenarios. Combat is important, of course – but it is a tool to achieve your objective to win, not the sole focus. (Battle mode is an exception to this as that allows players to play in a more traditional wargame style which is more about combat and minimises luck, like in tournaments.)
Another design goal was ‘right tool for the right job’. Some models are better than other in many areas, but there shouldn’t be an all-powerful model, and no single combination of models should be able to win any type of scenario. Super Mutants are tough up close but weak at shooting, some models are very fast but have little armour, etc. As a result, a player’s force may be suited to some types of scenarios but not others. The good news is that player can equip models with any cards they own (so long as their force is within the points limit for a battle) allowing them to tailor their force as they wish.
One goal that was a fun challenge was delivering the extremes in the video game – Radroaches are puny and Deathclaws are monstrously dangerous, but Radroaches still needed to be a danger even with great armour as it can still let you down sometimes. The solution to this is the armour dice system. When a model resolves damage, it rolls the armour dice (a mix of numbers from 1 to 4) – if the result is equal to or lower than the model’s relevant armour rating (physical, energy or radiation) then it blocks damage equal to the number rolled. This is really important as it means a model with a high armour rating has more chance of blocking damage (and can potentially block greater amounts of damage) than a model with a low armour rating. Really strong armour (like undamaged Power Armour) automatically blocks one extra damage too so is highly effective, but can still be affected by small amounts of damage with an unlucky roll (just as it should be).
One other goal was what I call ‘grades of relevance’. Following the video game, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes for each model are usually on a scale of 1-10, but a simple d10 didn’t work for me as it would mean a model with an attribute of 1 would be almost useless, whilst an attribute of 10 would never miss. A higher stat needed to be better than a lower stat,but all needed to be useful. As a result, the main skill dice uses a d20 with results 1-10 but there are also several 1s, several auto-misses and a few duplicate high numbers too. As a result, an attribute of 1 has a decent chance of success (25%), a 10 always has a chance of failure, and higher numbers mean better chances.
Finally, the game mechanics needed to be able to deliver enough granularity so that the massive variety of the Fallout setting could be portrayed, but via a simple system. One way this is delivered is that skills are associated with attributes but the attributes can vary from model to model; for example, some models’ Close Combat skill is based on their Strength whilst others use their Agility, some models use their Intelligence to Search while others use their Perception, and so on. This allows models to be good at the same skills but for different reasons – Sole Survivor may not have the high Endurance of a Super Mutant but both can survive for a while in battle because a Super Mutant’s Health is based on their Strength and Sole Survivor’s on their Agility. It’s easy to use as you just use the number that is next to the skill icon you require.
TR: We’re very interested in the narrative campaign mode, what can you tell us about that?
James: There are several elements that can be combined as players wish (and using all of them for the full experience). Whilst some scenarios are self-contained, some scenarios are part of an overarching story so performance in one will affect others creating a narrative built-into some scenarios; however, the narrative is also added by other elements too. The main rules contain many aspects of the Wasteland (such as different types of items, dangers, lockpicking, and a lot more), but the Campaign book adds further aspects such as Perks which players can add to their models, Boosts which give one-shot (no pun intended) powers a player can play from their hand to slightly adjust the battle like a lucky bounce for a grenade or distracting an enemy.
Plus, there are Events that occur each round. I’m not a fan of random events that have a big impact on a game as players can be stung through no fault of their own – so, any events that have a bigger impact are marked and get flipped over when at the top of the event deck allowing players to see what event is coming. For example, this forewarning allows players to utilise the effect of the approaching dust cloud (which stops all long range shots) in their plans, or at least try to work around it. Also, some cards in the game have consequences which get shuffled into the event deck and get resolved when on the top of it. For example, a model may have found a suitcase and, after lockpicking it, found a valuable Deathclaw egg inside – if they choose to keep it, the card gets shuffled into the event deck and, if it reaches the top of the deck, a very angry Deathclaw appears wanting their egg back – if the consequence doesn’t get resolved (because it doesn’t make it to the top of the event deck before the battle ends), the model that kept the egg gets away with it. Consequences can come from other sources too which I’ll mention later.
A player wanting an on-going element to their games can use the Settlement system which occurs between battles. When using the Settlement system, a player can always use any of the models they own but they only receive their standard equipment (usually just one weapon). For more equipment, to be able to fit mods to weapons, to repair power armour, etc., the player needs to build structures in their Settlement by paying the caps they earned in their battles. The structures determine (a) what other cards a player draws (and the type and expense of the structures built determines how general or specific those cards are), (b) how many of the drawn cards can be equipped in the next battle, and (c) how many cards can be retained after a battle. Balancing these three factors offer lots of choice to a player – Do you draw lots of cards but only be able to take a few with you? Do you have structures that focus on one type of card or ones that are more random? Do you make sure you can retain gear from one battle to the next? With enough time, you can have lots of structures but it takes time to build that.
In addition, a player can use structures to go exploring which means drawing an Explore card. These are random encounters in the Wasteland which may result in gaining items or advantages in the next battle, but may also have negative effects like one model starting with one point of damage. The Explore cards usually give the player a choice so they have some control over their destiny – something I feel is an important element in a game for me. Plus, many explore cards have the consequences I mentioned earlier; for example, you meet a mercenary who says they’ll help you out next battle if you pay them 30 caps. If you pay them, they get added to the event deck and, if it appears during the battle, it takes one free attack (sniping from the hills nearby) at any one enemy model. Of course, they may not show up and have just walked off with your money.
It wouldn’t be a Fallout settlement without power and water, and players will need to buy these too so their structures can operate. It’s a very simple system that delivers a lot of choice so players can pick their own route to surviving the Wasteland.
As I mentioned, the Settlement system happens inbetween battles and determines what a player could take into battle; however, the caps (points) value of their force is the same as usual. Therefore, a player using the Settlement system can play against a player who is not – they will both play with the same value of forces.
The last thing I will mention in this area are the Quest cards. In Fallout, you always have a list of Quests to complete and I wanted to include this in Fallout Wasteland Warfare too. Quest cards are completely independent of a battle and of the other player. For example, one quest is to find a thief and the tracks the player is following are growing feint – so, to get a bearing on the thief, the player must (at some time during the battle) have a model at the highest reachable point on the terrain to spot the thief on the horizon. If they complete it, they successfully complete it and can move onto the next step (card) of that quest in their next (or a future) battle; if not, they can try again. Some quests are just one card like claiming a bounty for someone rumoured to be a synth – completed by removing the most valuable opposing model. When completed, the quests give a player caps, small advantages for the next battle, consequences, or even unique Items. As I mentioned, they’re separate to any scenario and one, both, or neither player may have a quest during their game. One player may even be doing the quest the other player already completed themselves (which is just like when you compare notes with your friends about their progress in the video game). Something I have planned for the future is an expansion deck of cards which are mostly quests called the Dick Valentine Detective Agency deck – he’s someone you meet in Fallout 4 and, as his name suggests, asks you to solve detective cases which will be a series of branching, multi-part quests which will tell a story – and all this happens whilst you’re playing scenarios.
TR: There are lots of releases planned/hinted at, how many months/years of releases have you planned/mapped out?
Chris: Currently we have 4 waves scoped out, and Wave 1 and 2 completed in production or final development. We’re in this for the long haul as we believe it has the potential to be a major miniatures game in the market with the strong storytelling, great characters and innovative rules.
TR: Was it always planned for the multiple modes of play, or were they added as the design evolved?
Chris: When I was a kid of had to develop my own solo rules as there weren’t other gamers in the area, and I know there’s a big solo gaming market out there, with the rise of co-op games I knew this was an area we had to incorporate. We did a ton of research and found there were few if any wargames that really gave you a satisfying AI enemy that actually pursued objectives and I put my foot down early on that we needed to get this in to the core game. Not an easy task and we would have made our lives a lot easier if we didn’t I’m really glad I pushed for that as I see so many people excited about this feature.
On the narrative side I also felt that Fallout was very much about the stories as well as the battles so bringing a stronger narrative influence to the tabletop was key too – I think there’s a lot of great games out there for straight battles, and whilst you can do that with Fallout, where it really comes in to it’s own is the narrative mode where you’re following the progress of your own faction and their settlement.
TR: I personally sunk a lot of hours into Fallout 3, and most of that was exploring, collecting junk, and finding secret areas. Will the narrative campaign allow a group of players to take their heroes on individual adventures to find loot and upgrade/modify their weapons?
James: Finding items, searching suitcases and filing cabinets (and hoping they’re not booby-trapped or a nest for a stingwing), etc. are all part of the main rules so are built-into every battlefield. Players can choose how much, or little, of this discovery they want (or use) in their games. Scenarios may add specific elements too. Some items are mods so players can enhance their weapons, armour and power armour too.
Chris: We intend to release narrative missions on a regular basis as well to keep people coming back to the world and discovering new ways to play the game.
TR: Is there going to be an XP system to allow characters to evolve throughout the narrative campaign?
James: Right now, this exists to some extent when using the Settlement system. A player can buy Perks for their models and these remain from battle to battle; however, I focussed on the Settlement element as the personal area that evolves through your games. The Settlement allows your force to have more options and better abilities as it grows, whilst still allowing you to assign equipment to models as you wish so you’re not stuck with a stat increase for a model that didn’t turn out to be useful. This works no matter who you play, whether solo/co-op or not, etc. Each player is on their own journey.
If not using the Settlement system, a player can use any mix of what they have, which is how it should be as they bought it so they can play with what they want (so long as it meets the caps limit). Of course, a player can choose which of their games use the Settlement system too.
TR: Will the mystery man make an appearance?
James: The Mysterious Stranger perk is included in the 2-player set (which is the main core set) who can arrive to help out in a fight sometimes, and then mysteriously disappear. Who knows whether he’ll actually appear as a miniature later on 😉
TR: You’ve mentioned the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats for heroes in the past. Are they set for heroes in the skirmish mode or will you be able to create/modify your own heroes with a points system?
James: At present, there’s no system to generate your own stats for models but we’re including so many of the existing characters from the range of Fallout video games that you’ll have plenty to choose from, watch with their own set of stats and abilities. It’s something we’ve looked at, but with so many skills and abilities, it’s a complicated area to balance. Still, it’s something we may do in the future.
TR: You’ve obviously tried to really capture the rich atmosphere of Fallout, as well as some of the video game features like the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats and the VATS system. Are there any other of the video game features in the miniatures game?
James: It was really important to me to capture as much of the Fallout world as possible; not for the sake it, but to ensure a player gets to play fully in that world. However, any Fallout-theming needed to integrate into the game mechanics and add to the game’s experience, rather than feel pasted-on or add more complication than benefit. What was great is that so many (if not all) of the Fallout world lends itself so well to inclusion in FWW.
As a result, we have chems (with potential negative effects from addiction), power armour, radiation damage (which, like the video game, needs to be treated specifically before it can be properly healed), critical weapon effects (which can be powered-up to deliver a devastating, automatic hit just like Fallout 4), action points (which can give small bursts of extraeffort), weapons that freeze and ignite, and more. We even have Mama Murphy with her powers of foresight.
One other aspect of the video game we have is that you can play against the game (whether solo or co-operative). To achieve this, I created an AI system that uses a set of 5 general responses but each type of model has its own way of factoring in the scenario objective, its own situation, and some personality in order to decide what of these responses it performs (using the usual rules). A Super Mutant Brute gets more reckless as they take damage and becomes less focussed on the objective. Field Scribes’ behaviour is influenced greatly by the number of enemies nearby, and will fall back if near death. Each type of model has its own target priorities too, so may prefer the most wounded target, the toughest target, the least armoured target, a target that is about to act, etc. The AI can attempt most types of objectives, not just perform combat – for example, in one game I played, a band of AI Super Mutants ran into my camp, smashed open a box, and then made off with the contents; in another, the AI Survivors escorted a supplies caravan across the battlefield.
TR: Obviously FWW will appeal to the video gamer fans of the franchise, and it’s very apparent the effort you’ve put in to bringing the setting to life, but you’ve also got tabletop gamers’ interest as well. How difficult is it trying to satisfy both groups?
James: That was a very interesting challenge as the wants and needs of different types of players cover a broad spectrum of different gameplay elements. What I have aimed to create is a system that delivers a core set off rules but with tools a player can combine in different mixtures to play the type of game they want.
Chris: Everyone has a view of how detailed or not the game should be, and when trying to recreate the Fallout universe at a scale where it’s possible to play battles of lots of characters you have to simplify a lot of things. I think James has done a great job giving a nod to some of the key elements like VATS for example, without letting it bog the rules down.
TR: What’s your favorite Fallout game?
James: Fallout 4.
Chris: It’s a tough call between Fallout 3 and 4, you know, good times in the wasteland and all that. Of course 4 is very familiar now so I’d have to stick with that but even way back I think we all have so many great memories of stuff happening in previous Fallout games.
TR: What’s your fondest Fallout memory?
James: I love exploring the Vaults and discovering the stories behind each of them – there’s a lot of dark humour there.
Chris: I love the whole lost secrets of the ancients thing in games so I’d have to say exploring the abandoned vaults too and finding little excerpts of stories from the past. I have particularly fond memories of playing the Brotherhood of Steel version on the PS2 (yeah I know that’s controversial) but right people right time – a girlfriend and I would take turns playing and watching the story unfold.
TR: What’s your favorite faction in Fallout: Wasteland Warfare?
James: Survivors for me – they are a trickier group to play as they have many single-model characters each with different abilities sort of like a super hero team who can combine their abilities well.
Chris: For me it’s also the Survivors – for me though it’s more about the rag tag band of characters, little groups of allies that can be combined to survive against the more brutal Super Mutants or more organised Brotherhood of Steel or Institute. We’ve got the classic characters like Sole Survivor (Nate and Nora), Sturges, Ronniem Mama Murphy, Piper, Cait, Preston Garvey, Codsworth, Dogmeat and so on, add to that groups like Reilly’s Rangers or the Minutemen and I feel like there’s already a story unfolding on the battlefield because you’ve seen them all so much in the game.
TR: Chis and James, thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions.
We’ll report more on Fallout: Wasteland Warfare after we’ve been to Salute in London next month, and we’ll follow up with a full review when the game is released.
Are you looking forward to Fallout: Wasteland Warfare? Which faction are you looking forward to playing? What do you think about the options for playing Solo/Co-op?