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  FOR WHAT REMAINS: BLOOD ON THE RAILS   OUT OF THE BASEMENT from DVG In looking at the first of the three "core" boxes of For Wha...









In looking at the first of the three "core" boxes of For What Remains, I was most concerned to give you a strong idea of the quality, systems and mechanics of this game.  In this continuing exploration, the focus will be on the background and player Factions covered in the course of all three games.

As I explained, the timeline behind the game begins in our known world in 1957 and culminates in the not too distant future of 2035.  Apart from providing a narrative arc solidly derived from historical events and places, this timeline is important in introducing us to the alt-history beings that emerged over the course of time to challenge our world and led to the post-apocalyptic landscape and future/present in which For What Remains plays out.

The history of 1957 did not just witness the first wholly underground nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site in the USA, but also opened a gateway to the Netherscape, an alternate dimension commonly called the Basement.  This provides us with some of the more eldritch creatures that you may find yourself controlling or battling against, especially in the third game, Out of the Basement.  A nice touch in the narrative is the explanation that infrequent chance alignments between the two dimensions had occurred throughout earth's history leading to many of the foul things temporarily emerging that led to our beliefs in demons, ghosts and monsters!  However, the most important and deadly beings encountered were the humanoid Nethermancers, possessed of telepathic powers.

It's no surprise to learn that while we were focused on the nuclear escalation above ground and the space race, the real race was taking place beneath our feet to unravel and take advantage of the creatures, minerals and powers of the Basement!  With echoes of the intentions of the Corporation in the Alien films, proposals to gene-splice human and Nethermancer DNA were proposed, but initially rejected.  

However, later events shifted attitudes.  In particular the growing influence of North Korea as a nuclear power linked with Algeria, Pakistan and Iran [make of that what you will!] and their alliance with the Nethermancers led to the formation of an opposing and counterbalancing World Alliance.  The bedfellows here are very familiar - the US, Canada, Australia and most of Europe, plus one very unexpected member, China.  

So, this polarisation of the world into two major antagonistic power blocks [I wonder why?] is postulated.  So far, so familiar, but in a very distorted image. By the way, it's not without some amusement/horror that the date reached in the timeline at this point is 2022!

Meanwhile within the World Alliance, a semi-clandestine group of the USA's Homeland Security, Department B [not the nicest bunch!],  grows ever more influential, culminating in the development of a humanoid race built out of a fusion of human, organic and mineral matters, named the Earthen.  These along with highly developed robotic systems piloted by humans and featuring cyborgs too [who will ultimately provide the game's Combine faction] become the frontline World Alliance forces in the growing confrontations with the denizens of the Netherscape and their human allies in this polarised world. 

At much the same time, Department B had established a Tactical Response Unit Echo whose members were being worked on to develop psychic powers in them. To further add to this lethal mix, a universal religious movement rises to condemn and blame both this dependence on technology and the world's abandonment of God.  Inevitably, a militant element develops out of this religious ground-swell and so are born the Soldiers of Light.  It is these two groups - the smaller off-shoots of the larger human alliances - that oppose each other in the second game. Blood on the Rails.  Though technically all are of human stock, the Echo faction members are signally unusual in their range of psychic abilities and also include a number of the strange hybrid human/Netherscape beings called chimeras.  While the Soldiers of Light, though themselves human too, have established domination over some of the beasts that have been mutated by the effects of the Basement.  

Soldiers of Light units from Blood On The Rails

The fifth faction is the Order of The New Dawn.  These creatures you will meet in the third game Out of The Basement and they will be battling in their scenarios against the Earthen faction, whose origins I outlined earlier.  The Order are almost entirely creatures of the other-world dimension, the Netherscape, though they too have an element of humans degraded and transformed by the effects of extended exposure to the Basement.

In the final period of the game's narrative history from 2022 to 2035, the clash between the two conglomerations of global rivals comes to a head with initially a major victory won by the Earthen against the creatures of the Basement.  However, the pyrric decimation of these winning forces leads them to turn against their human masters of the World Alliance.  Eventually, as time moves on, by 2030 a resurgence of the Nethermancers allied with North Korea looks to be on the point of total victory, causing the unleashing of all out nuclear weaponry leading to a world in post-apocalyptic ruin.

... and thus, we arrive at the "present" day -  an exhausted and depleted  world of splintered factions locked in a subtle and murderous interplay.  The Combine nominally rules with a repressive martial law over the varied remnants of mankind, fighting as often against humans as against Netherscape creatures, in particular the specific rebel faction, the Freemen. who make up the sixth faction. These confrontations provide the Campaign scenarios in the first game Streets of Ruin.

Having established the narrative setting for the games, this next section will explore the geographical landscape over which the various scenarios and their linking Campaigns are fought.  All three Campaigns are located in an area of Russia [physically about the size of Wales] called Semipalatinsk.  This is a real location in which between 1949 - 1989, hundreds of nuclear tests were conducted. 

Diagram of Semipalatinsk Region

A factor I drew attention to and praised in my initial review was how each Rule book, though inevitably containing parts that were identical, tailored the presentation and additional details and all illustrations to reflect the specific and original elements in each game.  These Campaign booklets show the same attention to the individuality of each game.  They all start with the same diagram of the area, but accompanied by totally different photos of the landscape, as well as individual aerial photos!  This adds greatly to the convincing feel of each game.

  Aerial shot from Streets of Ruin Campaign Booklet

This is matched in the text by starting with the same one page overall description, but then each booklet branches off into the very particular geography of this game.  Streets of Ruin takes us to the town of Kurchatov, while the second game, Blood On The Rails pinpoints the railyards on the outskirts of Kurchatov.  Finally, Out of The Basement moves south-west to area "G"  and the Degelen Mountain, where true to its game title, all the scenarios play out underground in the tunnels and dwelling areas established by the Earthen and infested with creatures of the Netherscape!

Location shot from Out of The Basement Campaign Booklet

After these open pages establish the background geography, each Campaign booklet then progresses through five linked scenarios  Because each game is meant to be able to stand alone, the first scenario in each game is identical in victory conditions, relying on a combination of your opponent's units and pick up scavenge tokens.  A gamer intending to buy all three games might feel this repetition a little unrewarding in novelty, as well as the fact that other scenarios spread across the three games have marked similarities.

However, when you consider the hundreds and hundreds of scenarios developed for the myriad boxed sets of ASL [Advanced Squad Leader], the number of scenario types probably boil down to about five  or six: [1]eliminate your opponent, [2]occupy more locations than your opponent, [3]attack/ defend a location, [4]get your troops from one side of the map to exit the other edge/prevent your opponent form doing so, [4]an ambush situation, [5]hold out until reinforcements arrive - which in itself is a variation of number 3 and [6] a rescue mission - which often mixes elements of several of these preceding stereotypical actions!  This in essence is what all wargames can be reduced down to.

What we have in For What Remains reflects just the same generic situations.  Like all wargames, what brings the differences are the particularities of varying units and varying locations, how to get the best out of the units at your disposal and their skills.  The final variety comes from the structure that the five scenarios in each Campaign build up in a sequence with two or three being linked so that the outcomes of one influence some factor in the next scenario.  

As with most skirmish style games, units divide into two over-riding basic characteristics - units that are best operating at range and those that flourish in close combat or at least close range.  The typical example of the first type is probably the sniper, of the latter perhaps a type of flamethrower operative.

Because of the scope that the other world/sci-fi element brings, we have several distinctly unusual skills and their combinations to enrich the game play and, of course, art work to match whether in the booklets or on the counters.

Death Vine from the Earthen Faction

Above is a typical illustration from one of the six Faction booklets.  Each booklet starts with a specific introduction to the Faction, followed by at least a single page dedicated to each type of unit with details of their particular skills and how each affects the rules.  With the much larger units [called "huge"], whose counters occupy 4 squares, there is a also a full page illustration to exemplify the rules for their weapon/ability.

Here's a typical example of a "huge" unit - in this case a dragooner from the Sons of Light Faction.

All together, each faction embraces 5 or 6 types of unit, usually with at least one in the "huge" category.  Typically these units cover such generic roles as Leader, Medic/Healer, Basic Combatants and Specialists.

Obviously the appeal of each game lies not just in the specific campaign. Even with just one of the "core" boxes, you have abundant map tiles and counters for you to create many skirmish encounters of your own and the ability to develop multi-player scenarios.  Investing in more than one set multiplies the potential enormously - especially for the multi-player involvement.  

Should the decision be taken to provide future material what I would personally love to see are encounters occurring at critical points in the timeline and finally, as I know others have suggested, the whole design is ripe for RPG treatment!

Anyone fancy being a Wraith as seen here on the box art for the final game, Out of The Basement?