PHILIP S. BOLGER
MONDAY, AUGUST 29, 2016
A Review Of Fallen Land: A Post-Apocalyptic Board Game
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to test out Fallen Land: A Post-Apocalyptic Board game (hereby referred to as “FL”), and I really, really enjoyed it.
So, to lead in, I was hyped about this game since I first read about it. I like a lot in fiction, but I particularly enjoy those two magical decades—the 1980s and 1990s, and the culture they spawned. When I think of works I enjoy, I think of stuff like Commando, Die Hard, Con Air, Eraser, Aliens, Army of Darkness, Escape from New York, the Road Warrior, and, at the risk of being mocked, the Postman (it’s really not a bad film, it’s just not a good Kevin Costner film. Hate away). For books—Tom Clancy techno thrillers, gritty, macabre works of the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker, as well as classic post-apocalyptic works like Lucifer’s Hammer (Technically from the ‘70s, but I’m throwing it in here). Video games—I’m talking stuff like Doom and Wolfenstein. I’m not going to sell you on the idea that these works are designed to get you to a new level of thinking or that they’re supposed to answer life’s questions. What they are supposed to do is give you a few hours of kickass escapism that’ll make you feel like you just spent the afternoon training with Arnold and Sly in preparation to go kill a South American dictator who made the really dumb mistake of kidnapping your daughter. What I am going to try to sell you on is that if that’s the kind of fiction you like, you’re going to love Fallen Land.
YES, BUT, HOW DOES IT PLAY?
Fallen Land is a Sandbox-style game that sees you as a leader of one of ten factions, usually chosen at random, but you can pick specific factions if the folks you’re playing with don’t care. You get a faction town play mat, which gives you information on who your folks are, where they start, and what their abilities are. This makes for an asymmetrical game, but the towns feel balanced. There isn’t a faction in the game I’d be disappointed with. Then, you get your character cards. See, your town can’t spare everyone to go out into the ruins of America, so you just pick your five best. There’s around 80 character cards, so it’ll be several games in before you even know who they all are, let alone until you’ve used all of them. Each character has certain stats that help them survive (or not) in the post-apocalyptic nightmare that is FL. You’ll also get equipment for them—vehicles, weapons, and misc. gear. Once you’re set up, you head out. On your turn, you can move, choose an encounter card, claim a resource, fight another party, take over another town’s resources, or a number of other options, all of which further your goals.
OK, BUT HOW DO I WIN?
There’s two ways to win—getting to 20 Town Prestige or 80 Town Health. These numbers are tracked along the edge of the board, and they’re both achievable, though they’re achievable for everyone. You have to watch out for folks edging ahead. In the playtests I was in, there was not much of a “Bash the leader” problem, though I know some of the other Playtesters did encounter that. You have to be careful, because if you pull away too early, that is a risk, but for both games I was in, the scores were quite close until the end, when one play made a power play (I was that player in the first game!). Now, this is a competitive game—you can impact other players through action cards, many of which are really nasty (at one point, I tried to turn another player’s character into a zombie. He played a reversal card on me, and suddenly I’m the one trying desperately for a headshot in the dark on a guy who just seconds ago was my party’s survival expert). Several of the nastier cards are also “I hurt myself to mutilate you,” with you having to lose either prestige or town health to damage another player’s.
The routes to town health and prestige are varied, but the meat of the game is in encounter and mission cards. Encounters come in three flavors—Plains (normally easy), Mountains (normally medium), and City/Rad (normally will kill you if you’re not VERY well equipped), and can be taken to risk getting more gear (called spoils), and more characters, but also must be attempted in order to claim a resource. Missions are more difficult than even City/Rad cards, and usually carry very, very heavy consequences. It’s not unusual to pick a mission where the failure criteria involve the death or heavy damage of your party. This is deliberate—most missions give prestige bonuses, as well as really good gear.
SUM IT UP—BEST FIVE THINGS ABOUT THE GAME?
1. Immersive flavor/feel. This game is so goddamn American it bleeds bald eagles armed with M16s whose cries are nothing but the refrain to “Born in the USA” intermingled with F/A-18 engine noise. It’s so deliciously pulpy they’re going to need USDA inspectors to verify it’s not orange juice. It’s so two-fisted you’re going to spontaneously volunteer to take down a crime syndicate in a major city when you step up. This game captures my favorite things about action films, blends in horror and sci-fi, and sets you loose in it, with only your wits and as much firepower as your stolen dune buggies can carry. Your party may have survival experts, high-class thieves, Special Forces soldiers, washed-up sports heroes, shifty arms dealers, nearly-mad stunt drivers, and backstabbing businessmen. They may be armed with the latest rifles. They may be armed with all the accoutrements of a slasher film villain. The encounters you read are all mini-stories in and of themselves, and games will send you into secret government bunkers, cannibal-run carnivals, cultist abduction sites, and all over the decayed remains of the US. Every game is its own story of how survivors live, and die, in the Fallen Land. You will walk away from the table every time with at least one “Remember the time when…” story.
2. Replayability and variety. With so many cards, you’ll never play the same game twice. Your characters might mean you excel at solving missions, your faction might give benefits to town health, and the gear you’ve got might give you enough maneuverability to move halfway across the map. But you might play again later that same afternoon with a faction with benefits more geared towards survival and characters geared towards stealing from another faction and gear that can’t get you further than three hexes from home without breaking down.
3. Competitive dynamics. You’re going to need to bribe, ally, betray, sabotage, assist, and destroy opponents, and the reasons why will change from turn to turn, and vary from opponent to opponent. If you play this game in a vacuum, you will lose. If you play entirely cooperatively, you will lose. If you play entirely competitively, you will lose. The game forces inter-faction interaction on multiple levels, and it’s a lot of fun. It also means the game changes depending on who you play with. If you play with aggressive players, you may spend most of the gaming directly hurting each other. More peaceful players will spend more time completing missions and building up town infrastructure, but they’ll eventually come into conflict, too.
4. RPG elements. Your characters all have specific stats, and it’s challenging to manage them. Will you sacrifice survival-skilled personnel to get a bit better at combat? Will you take a second medic at the expense of your only mechanically-skilled character? Balancing the party takes some effort, but when it works, and the latest equipment shuffle combined with the guy you just swapped in leads to you passing a tough mission, it feels rewarding.
5. Easy to learn, hard to master. I was taught the rules in about 10-15 minutes. You can learn it very quickly. How well you do, at first, will be more luck than skill (I had an incredibly fortunate gear draw). But the more you play, you will learn how to offset the bad luck and make the most of your good luck.
OK, SO YOU LIKED IT?
I loved it. I haven’t had that much fun spending six hours on the same game in quite some time—and I play a lot of games. Everyone finds different things they like about games, and this one has a lot of things I like and that I prioritize for. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stuff, RPGs, and player interaction, you’re going to like this game. The guys behind this game have put a lot of time, effort, and love into this game, and it shows in everything from the artwork to the sheer amount of writing. My only disappointment is that I’ll have to wait until next May to play it again!
You can back it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/project...
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