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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...

FOR WHAT REMAINS: BLOOD ON THE RAILS & OUT OF THE BASEMENT FOR WHAT REMAINS: BLOOD ON THE RAILS & OUT OF THE BASEMENT

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

post-apocalyptic

 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 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?




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

FOR WHAT REMAINS : STREETS OF RUIN FOR WHAT REMAINS : STREETS OF RUIN

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

post-apocalyptic

 FOR WHAT REMAINS : STREETS OF RUIN
FROM
DVG

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.  

CONTENTS

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.   
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