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  FOR WHAT REMAINS : STREETS OF RUIN FROM DVG I  have to declare a special interest in this game as will become clear shortly.  ...





I have to declare a special interest in this game as will become clear shortly.  Its designer, David Thompson, first came to my attention when Pavlov's House was still in the early stages of being produced.  What I saw of that design made me search out any information that I could find about this relatively unknown designer.  Amongst what I did discover was a long-standing design project nominally called Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse [STA] that immediately intrigued me and fired my imagination.  This was something I wanted to see happen!

Subsequently, in 2018, I was able to review Pavlov's House for AWNT.  This led on to the pleasure of an interview with David Thompson in which I raised the hope of one day seeing STA professionally published.  Back then the prospects of that seemed remote and highly unlikely and that I would now be writing a review of that very game design, with its new title For What Remains, a mere dream.

Reviewing Pavlov's House was followed in due course by reviewing Castle Itter and then to my immense delight news of the dream came true.  DVG had plans to produce For What Remains and so it's many, many thanks to DVG for their willingness to provide review copies of all three "core" boxes, plus the bonus pack of faction dice and the transparent templates for the various "big guns" in the game.

What came as an even greater surprise and a personal thrill was when I came to read in David Thompson's Final Thoughts in the game's Rule Book that my comments and wishes in that interview article had led to DVG asking to be shown the details of this long-planned design!  The rest, as they say, is history.

In this review , I'm going to focus on the system and the typical contents of all three boxes and in a subsequent review I'll look more closely at the other Factions and the continuing story that each game unfolds.  Altogether there are six Factions, with two factions presented per game. In Streets of Ruin, the Factions are the Freemen and the Combine.  


12 Double-sided map tiles 
Rule Book
Campaign Guide
2 Faction Guides [one for each Faction]
An AI Reference Sheet for each Faction
An Ability Reference Sheet for each faction
10 Character Reference Cards 
10 AI Activation Cards
60 Character Counters
60 Action Tokens
2 Faction Action Tokens
2 Ability Tokens
4 Scavenge Tokens
1 EMP Artifact Token
2 Ability Templates
5 Dice
1 Action Bag

The quality of all the contents is excellent, with the Character Counters and their associated Action Tokens continuing the style and appearance of those seen in both of David Thompson's previous designs published by DVG.  They are substantial, strong, chunky pieces.

They are also remarkably clear and uncluttered, carrying solely the name of the unit, its abbreviated quality letter[Recruit, Veteran or Elite] and as there are two of each type of unit, a skull or radiation symbol to distinguish them.

Next come the 12 detailed, double-sided terrain tiles that you'll use to build up your battleground.  These are very thin card that have an almost plastic feel and flexibility to them and all the scenarios provided in the Campaign Guide are based on a 3 x 3 layout, though there is nothing to stop you creating your own scenarios with substantially different layouts.
There's been some discussion about this thinness and the fact that the tiles will slide about unless you either place them on a surface that gives sufficient drag or you cover them with plexiglass.  Personally, I like them as they are, as I would always overlay any game with plexiglass where the terrain is constructed from tiles.  One thing's for sure that the art work for this post-apocalyptic world  is superb creating totally the right atmosphere.  What I like even more is the way in which types of terrain have been depicted for both movement and levels. At the moment there is only ground level and higher terrain, but future tiles could easily cover several levels.

Like so much in this game the solution is remarkably simple and easy to understand.  A combination of different coloured edging surrounds either terrain that is impassable or at a higher level or difficult terrain, with 2 movement points being the cost to enter both of the latter two types.  For those with any colour vision problems, apart from the colours avoiding those that cause the most familiar problems, there is an identifying symbol also placed in one square of the terrain type.

This basic simplicity signals other features that place the game strongly at the entry level with the emphasis on ease of understanding, ease of recall and ease of play and a fairly swift action-packed encounter ensues.  This is reflected in each Rule Book that follows an identical pattern, but is not just an identical reprint!

The sequence is as follows - a pictorial guide to all the components and the game layout on your table: a 2 page narrative extract; brief statements about each of the six factions: the range of elements that characters can possess with explanations of how to read the counters and the Character Reference cards: how to set up and read the terrain: details for a simple learning scenario: a gameplay sequence and description of the four key actions [Ranged Combat, Area Combat, Close Combat and Movement] and a special section on what are termed Huge Characters.

What is most significant about all that I've just outlined is that, though virtually all the text is identical, the substantial number and size of illustrative examples are totally different in each Rule Book.  I admire this decision, as I'd expected what most series games do which is to include the same Rule book, examples and all.  Instead every single illustrated example draws purely from the Factions presented in that specific game.
So above, this is Ranged Combat in Streets of Ruin and you can see just how substantial the illustrated example is and this is typical of every example.  While below, you can see the same rule, but the tailor-made example from Blood on The Rails.
The information supplied up to this point in the rules allows you to play the five Scenarios, in each game's Campaign Booklet, as individual Skirmish Scenarios crafting each one to your own chosen number of Character points to make them as large or small as you want.  Obviously, it also gives you all you need to know to create your own Scenarios.

Each Rule Book next explains how to play the five Scenarios as a Campaign using the photocopiable Force Rosters to build your initial troops and personalise them by giving them names, if you wish.  As the Campaign progresses, you will gain points to spend on upgrading the quality of individual characters. This is followed by a Section detailing how to play the game solo - something essential in the current situation.

The penultimate part is a five page time-line for this post-apocalyptic world which I can best describe as alt-history.  I say this because the substantial back-story begins in 1957 and ends in 2035.  In its course, historical events and equally factual geographical locations are melded into a disturbing vision of what might have been.  It begins with the only too real series of U.S. nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site called Operation Plumbbob and especially one test called Rainier that was the first totally underground nuclear test.  This test opens a gateway to an alternate dimension called the Netherscape, more frequently referred to as the Basement.  From this point on we are firmly into the alt-history of planet Earth.

Personally, the details of this type of sci-fi/dystopia has very little influence on my enjoyment of a game, though I have travelled in the past through Warhammer 40k with my son and have quite a partiality for Deadzone 2 which bears some similarities to For What Remains.  But for those who value and appreciate the creation of narrative, this is sustained consistently through the counters, the tiles and the artwork of all the booklets and in particular in the Campaign booklet for each game.

In these, a finely detailed and crafted part of the story is played out, once again located in a genuine historical time and region - the massive Russian test site at Semipalatinsk.  David Thompson has certainly done his research, incorporating photographs and aerial reconnaissance pictures linked to the location of each Scenario in the three Campaigns to achieve a very realistic setting for these dramatic engagements.

Turning from the background and story, I want to consider the elements that make this game work so well.  Obviously, the simple and easy rules are the starting point, but more significant for me in valuing this game is the Activation system.  Each turn you will be able to place as many Activation tokens in the draw bag as you have units in the skirmish.  So with five units, five tokens will go into the bag, along with your opponent's tokens.  As a token is drawn, the unit can take one action.  This in itself produces the continuous thrill of anticipation, especially as the game progresses and which side and which unit is drawn to activate becomes more and more important! 

In addition each unit possesses 3 Activation tokens, so you can activate a unit up to 3 times in a turn, but only at the expense of other units not being able to be activated at all. The next consideration is that those Activation tokens used this turn are set aside and cannot be used on the next turn.  Right from the start you're faced with this simple, but vital decision: which units will you choose for potential activation and how often in a turn?

 Above you can see the square counters which are the units you place on the map, while below them are the corresponding Activation tokens for each unit.

Though the choice of Actions may seem very limited: just Movement or Combat, more variety comes from each character having one or more predesignated Special Abilities.  This aspect of the game relates to the quality of unit that I mentioned earlier.  As you'd expect, the better the quality the more Abilities a unit possesses.  

Typically, the Freemen Medic has the capacity to heal one hit for herself or heal one hit on an adjacent character.  The opposing Combine unit, the Harpi, has the same ability, but also improved movement through difficult terrain.  As you move to the increasingly stranger units in the other "core" games, those Abilities become equally stranger!! 

Instead of trying to crowd these distinctive differences into the Rule Book, they are handled through the individual Faction Guides. Each unit has a brief description that adds to the narrative element of the game, an explanation of any special ranged weapon [these usually involve area style effects with blast templates] with accompanying full page illustrated example and details of the Special Abilities and variations according to unit quality.

Also relating to the units, each type has its separate Character Reference Card which covers in chart form the different stats for Movement, Range, Ranged Combat, Close Combat and Defense and Abilities cross referenced with Unit Quality.  These I've found very easy to use, even when having to handle up to ten separate cards when playing solo.

Two Combine Faction Character Reference Cards
Which word "Solo" neatly takes us to the final rules section: Solitaire Play.  This too is handled initially in two very quickly assimilated pages and then in game play by a Reference Card for each type of unit.

These are very simple to use and provides a system that must rank as one of the easiest to understand and put into operation of any I've come across.  A simple die roll on the Reference Chart gives an A.I. unit its order which will be carried on from turn to turn until accomplished or some intervening event causes a change and the need to roll for a new action.  

Above all, it seems to generate just the same type of authentic game narrative as ftf place, as may be instanced by a typical example from one of my games.  An A.I. unit tasked to move and pick up the nearest scavenge unit was just about to reach its objective when it was hit by my fire.  Forced to roll on a different table for being hit, it rolled to move toward the nearest Harpi [which possesses the ability to try to heal it!].  Good thinking soldier! But, of course, the roll might have made it continue on to its objective.  In which case - brave soldier grits its teeth and forces itself to risk trying to carry out  its order

Obviously trying to remember exactly what each unit has to do may seem perhaps a little confusing.  Here I'd suggest a coloured cube as a marker on the Reference Chart is all you need to cover most situations.  Just occasionally, you may need to make the odd written note.  However, if you've laboured over the intricacies of the time-consuming flow charts of many bot supported games, this is a breeze.  So too is the mechanism for ramping up the difficulty of your A.I. opponent: for an easy game just allow the A.I. to add 1 extra Action token to the drawbag, for moderate add 2 extra tokens and for really difficult add 3 extra tokens.  May I suggest that you can adapt even this by varying the number of additional tokens from turn to turn.

Inevitably the question of price and the decision to produce three "core" boxes, rather one "core" and two expansions needs to be raised. Typical prices in rounded figures are $40 and £50 per game. Considering many board wargames weigh in at £60+, you'll spend far more [and I have] for games of less quality and far less "bang for the buck."  So, I have no hesitation in saying that buying one game is value for money.  For those who've expressed the concern that they might like the game enough that they'll want the other two games, all I can say is take the risk. 
Scenario 1 ready for some solo action!

To sum up, For What Remains is a major qualifier for introductory level skirmish gaming, while giving a life-time gamer like myself a great dose of action that can be off the shelf and on the table in minutes.  Face to face play is a wonderfully cat and mouse experience, where the more you play with the same opponent the more what happened last time is going to feed into how you play the next time.  Solitaire play is equally rewarding, easy to run and adaptable.   
A final close-up of the action

On top of that, this is a major sand-box design that has scope for considerable personal input.   It's already provoking, as I expected, enthusiasm to produce home-grown scenarios and couldn't be a better supported game, as David Thompson and team are some of the fastest responders to questions and suggestions from gamers that you'll come cross.