The world as we know has been shattered. Bands of roving marauders litter the landscape as the scattered remains of civilization eke out a meager existence in harsh land. But enough about the current world events. Let’s take a closer look at Remnants.
How it Works
In Remnants, you’ll control a group of survivors struggling to eke out an existence in a harsh land while fending off constant attacks from raiders and the environment. You’ll grow your compound, recruit more survivors, and build up your defenses over five rounds. The player that can collect the most ketchup packets (victory points) is the winner.
Every round begins with the Scavenge phase in which you will commit your survivors to either scavenge for resources in the desert or search the city for loot. Once all survivors are committed, you’ll gather your four resource dice and begin the real-time resource gathering. All at the same time, you will roll and reroll your dice until you have 3 of the same resource showing. Once you do, you will call out the resource, take it from the center of the board, and place it on one of your empty-handed survivors. If you roll 3 stars, you can claim a bonus token, but you must then stop scavenging. Once all bonus tokens are claimed, this phase is over.
Next, you’ll roll one die for every survivor you committed to looting. For each pip you roll, you choose which of the three loot tracks to increase: medicine, screwdrivers, or scrap.
Next, in turn order, you’ll spend your resources to purchase development cards from the face-up card display. Simply expend the resources indicated on the card and add it to your compound. These cards grant you weapons to fight off attackers, shields to protect your compound, and buildings to reduce costs or generate resources. In this phase, you can also recruit new survivors or upgrade them to specialists, which are better at gathering.
Depending on the round, you will be facing invaders. You will roll die according to the weapons you’ve accumulated and must hit a target number in order to defeat them. Shields will lower the target number, and there will be a reward for victory and a punishment for defeat.
Afterward, you’ll heal any of your injured survivors using medicine and reseed the board for the next round. In the final round, there will be a showdown with the big boss, and you’ll count up the points for the development cards you’ve collected, survivors still living, and any loose ketchup packets you have. The player with the most points is the winner.
There are three designers credited for the creation of Remnants. I’m sure they worked hard on the game, and I’m sure they thoroughly enjoy playing it. I wish I could say same. The basic premise of guiding a group of survivors through a postapocalyptic wasteland filled with pillaging marauders who are nearly as deadly as the environment itself is a good one. The elements of resource collection, base building, and real-time elements drew me to the game, but they failed to keep my attention past the initial attraction.
The first decision point in the game is deciding how many of your survivors to allocate to collecting resources or looting. What could have been tense, enjoyable decision is undercut by how it’s actually resolved. By committing more survivors to scavenge resources, you’re betting that you’ll be able to roll for the resources you want more quickly than your opponents. The problem is, it doesn’t matter how fast you roll if the dice just aren’t rolling your way. It’s an effort to interject tension and excitement into the game, but all to often I felt underwhelmed and frustrated.
Let’s say I’m trying to collect one more piece of cloth to construct a development card I’ve had my eye one. So I decide I’ll only reroll non-cloth dice results. Plans are all well and good until you get punched in the face. Either you just don’t roll the cloth you need or someone else snatches it before you do. So you roll more quickly, more frantically, more carelessly. Do you just go with the flow and change to a different resource, one you’re already closer to achieving? There’s a certain level of enjoyable panic that sets in, I’ll admit, but it’s a shallow one. It’s the fleeting thrill that comes with playing a slot machine, quick and sudden but not ultimately satisfying. There’s no amount of practice or planning that’s going to get you to be better at rolling dice. Not only is it frustrating when you’re stuck rolling and rerolling, it isn’t satisfying getting exactly what you want when someone else is struggling simply by chance. Winning is more satisfying when it’s earned.
But you trudge along and move onto the looting phase, hoping you’ll do better. If you do, it certainly won’t be because you’re skilled. It will be because you rolled better. Luckily, in this phase, the pips on the dice are limited to 1 through 3 so there’s less variance watch out for, but it still stings when you’re staring a pool of 1’s. Sensing a pattern?
So you’ve loaded up on loot and resources; now it’s time to improve your camp and to the portion of the game I found most enjoyable. Each development card you add to your camp flavors your game for the entirety of its playtime. Discover a grove, and you’ll have a steady supply of wood. Make a rucksack, and you can leave the scavenging phase earlier as you’ll gain an extra resource. It feeds into my hunger to make things grow. I like seeing something small and bare turn into something large and vibrant over the course of the game, and Remnants certainly offer that, but I’m still not entirely satisfied by it.
While it was a good design choice to have the development cards separated by tiers so you aren’t stuck with expensive cards in the beginning rounds, it’s still possible for the available cards to not offer you the options you need. In one particular game, I just couldn’t get a weapon card available on my turn. “That’s okay,” I told myself, “I’ll just load up on shields and deal with the enemies that way.” Good plan until you reveal the War Caravan, which greatly reduces your shields.
I’m not opposed to catastrophic turns of events. I actually think they can be quite funny in the right circumstances. The problem I have with Remnants is that I don’t feel like my failures are tied to my decisions; they are more a result of my circumstances. I was defeated by the enemy because I couldn’t build the right developments because I couldn’t collect the right resources because the dice didn’t roll the right way. The game tries to alleviate poor rolling with the ability to turn in screwdrivers or scrap, but getting them in the first place is reliant on dice rolls.
Remnants tries to bolster it’s appeal with variance. There are multiple decks of development cards and random events, and multiple enemies and bosses with various powers show up each game. It keeps things interesting from game to game insomuch as you never know quite what to expect. The fallout is that you never know what to expect. Trying to employ a small but upgraded scavenging force? Sorry, but a Sandstorm just injured three of them, causing them to lose their upgraded abilities. Working on a high shield strategy? Sorry, but the boss’s grappling hook just plucked them away. It makes for an amusing narrative picture, but stories are stories, and games that knock me around for the benefit of “fun story” don’t hold my attention for long.
It’s fair to say that I didn’t like my plays of Remnants, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s a poorly designed game. I think the goal of the design is simply counter to what I look for in a game. I play games to challenge myself, to test my decision-making abilities. All too often I felt like the decisions were being made for me and going with the flow of what’s presented to me was the best option. Instead of actively playing a game, I had a game happening to me. Some of the most popular games are basically amusement park rides in cardboard form. I don’t like them, but they certainly have an audience. If the thought of furiously rolling dice followed by finding out your fate over multiple rounds is appealing to you, maybe check out Remnants. But if you’re looking for a more nuanced game of decisions, perhaps looks elsewhere.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Fireside Games for providing us with a copy of Remnants for review.