You keep trying to recall how long it’s been since you were brought to this world, as you labor to wedge the gap in the ductwork open just a little wider. A year perhaps? Maybe two? It was hard to figure out; this planet’s orbital period was markedly shorter than where you came from, and it wasn’t like you had the know-how to figure it out anyway. You probably should have paid more attention in school. But that building was decimated, much like the rest of the region you came from. You let out a chortle at that dark thought.
The vent finally wide enough, you slink through the opening. You peer into the dim path ahead of you. Occasional light shone in vents here and there, but this wasn’t your first time navigating these patchwork crawlspaces. It was a great way to avoid the patrols, and anyone else who came looking for that matter.
You turn and grab your bag off the ground before disappearing into the poorly-lit maze. Forgetting its contents would make this whole trip pointless, and Kr’ik wouldn’t be all that happy either. This is your life now, so you might as well get on with it. In six hours, the fireworks will start, but you’ll already be long gone. The Yugai won’t know what hit them, and, hopefully, neither would the others…
The Yugai, a race of aliens bent on conquering the galaxy (because there’s always at least one race bent on conquering the galaxy), have invaded many worlds. The lucky survivors are relocated to refugee worlds to live out their lives in squalor performing slave labor.
Players represent various rival gang factions on one such world who have decided, out of equal parts necessity and ambition, to carve out some space for themselves, and these gangs don’t appreciate the Yugai – or other gangs – cutting in on their territory.
City of Remnants is an area control game, and the first area players will need to manage is their table space. Players will need to make room for multiple sets of cards, tiles, and other items. They also will want to consult the full rules for detailed explanation on how each of them work.
To start, each player (either randomly or by choice), selects one of four gangs. Each player receives the appropriate player mat, starting deck, figures, and some money (called ARCs). Then, the top four cards from the Gang Member and Black Market cards are revealed. Next, Development cards (three of each color) are chosen randomly. Lastly, the starting player is chosen at random.
The game is played over a series of rounds, divided into four phases: Reset, Player Turns, Yugai Patrol, and Award Renown. In the Reset phase, players collect income and are able to refresh their hand. Any Gang Members or Black Market cards that were not acquired are discarded, and new sets are revealed.
The bulk of the game takes place during the Play Turns phase, wherein players in turn order will select one of six available actions:
- Recruit: The player selects one of the available Gang Member cards, and players bid on it.
Buy: The player purchases a Black Market card for the cost listed, and then can optionally buy Renown (aka VP).
- Produce – Develop: Some Developments have abilities that provide goods or money, and those resolve first. Then, the player may purchase and place a new Development tile.
- Sell: The player can sell goods on Developments they control for the amount stated, limited to their Influence level (which starts at four).
- Refresh: The player can discard, shuffle, and draw cards as in the Reset phase.
- Move: The player can move units (up to their Influence level) up to three spaces each. If, at the end of movement, a player’s units occupy the same space as a Yugai patrol or another player, a battle ensues.
Turns continue in this manner until each person has taken four actions. Playing cards does not count as an action, and unless labeled as “Battle” or stated otherwise, cards can be played at any time on a player’s turn.
Then comes the Yugai Patrol phase. In that, two YCU cards are revealed, stating which spaces patrol units appear for that round. If one or more lands on a player-occupied area, the player must either bribe them or fight them.
Lastly is the Award Renown phase, where players receive Renown for Developments and certain spaces on the board they control.
The game continues until the end of an Award Renown phase when the pool of Renown is empty. The person with the most Renown becomes the undisputed Gang Leader in the city. The rest now owe them protection money.
An Exercise in Xenobiology
Initially looking at the simple game board, you may not feel that there is much depth to the world encompassing City of Remnants. We know, because that was our first inclination upon seeing it as well. As we came to find out, we were quite mistaken.
Beneath the gridded board lies an intricately crafted world. The more you read the lore or the flavor text on cards, the deeper the theme gets. Each of the four gangs is a distinctly different species with distinctly different tones to them, although they are all nicely balanced with one another. The card artwork and player figurines reinforce that feeling. We particularly enjoyed the attention to detail on things like the various Yugai patrol card proclamations and custom combat dice.
City of Remnants hints at the larger universe it’s part of and easily could lend itself towards expansions with larger maps and more players, or, at the very least, exploring other gangs and different species. We go so far to even suggest a tabletop port. World-building Immersionists will not be disappointed. Make no mistake, flavor drives this game more than any of its mechanics. All of these visual components, when combined with the actual gameplay itself, ties City of Remnants together in a very coherent and palatable way.
With all it offers, City of Remnants could have easily inundated players with too many options. But it doesn’t. It’s strategic and intriguing, with deck-building, resource management, area control, dice-based combat, and auction mechanics all rolled into a turn-based game, and yet it remains pretty intuitive to the average gamer. Players can generally learn City of Remnants fairly quickly, unlike other games in its weight class.
Part of that success is because it uses only as much of each mechanic as is needed. For instance, while City of Remnants often has combat, it’s quick, simple, and linear: players play cards, then roll dice for hits, then the numbers are totaled and compared. The higher number wins.
There are not a lot of extra variables added in to obfuscate the process. This design decision, among many, makes City of Remnants very approachable.
Another aspect of its efficacy is a finite pool of Renown for the win condition. Unlike games that require you to hold a certain number of territories, hoard the most resources, or wipe your opponent out, City of Remnants is won through attaining VP – something usually seen in lighter games (Twilight Imperium aside). Sometimes that VP will be at the end of a rifle barrel, and sometimes it’ll be through acquiring lots of Developments or amassing large amounts of wealth. How you choose to acquire Renown will be up to you, but opting for the VP approach keeps the game from dragging on longer than it needs to be.
Citizens! Halt and Submit to Processing
Mechanical preferences aside, how receptive you will be to City of Remnants will largely be dependent on the level of conflict in the game. That, in turn, is dependent on which gang you have and how aggressive players want to be with one another. Regardless, Tacticians will enjoy it. There may be some reticence on their part being pushed to play a gang the way the game prefers – Jara’s Lentree gang (Green), for example, prefers to make lots of money while Garius’s Iggaret (Red) gang prefers to accumulate Renown through player vs player combat. However, players are not strategically bound to those preferences to win, and it’ll entertain Tacticians all the more to be creative in their maneuvering. This is useful, since routinely playing the same guild to their strengths in the long run could cause min/max issues or a drop in overall replayability, which would be a shame.
As for the aggro level of fellow players, that will determine how Architects and Strikers feel about the game. In 2-3 player sessions, for instance, you can go the entire game without actually fighting. In those scenarios, City of Remnants becomes more of a cold war of rival factions trying to outfox each other. This path allows players access to non-combat or defensive postures, which Architects prefer. After all, why chance wasting perfectly good henchmen if you don’t need to?
By contrast, in four-player games, or games where players won’t let others sit back, conflict is inevitable. Here, Strikers will do what they prefer to do: advancing their own agenda while actively weakening their opponents. There aren’t a ton of moves you can do to throw off another player’s actions, and they’ll be appreciative of this. Indeed, aside from the randomness of the Yugai patrols, how you proceed is largely in your own control.
What makes City of Remnants widely appealing is that both strategies are equally viable; they can even occur in the same game. Any game that can reward both civ-builders and high-tempo players is always a plus.
That said, this is a game about rival gangs on an alien world. It’s easier to understand than other tactical games of its kind, but that doesn’t make it simplistic. Or super short. And you’ll want to keep an eye on what other players are doing. Socializers should sit this one out.
As for Daredevils, their interest will depend on the degree of freedom they look for in games. You won’t get bonus points for building three Strongholds next to one another, but there is enough variety in the game to try out multiple paths to victory. Or they can just attack everyone with reckless abandon and see what happens. It’s likely they’ll prefer the more confrontational model, since it’s the biggest area to gamble in. If they can tolerate small bouts of downtime between player turns, such as when another player is facing down the Yugai, they’ll enjoy their options.
There is a tendency for area control games to end up mired in complexity or tedium, going from simply gaining and holding a specific region into a full-blown tactical war game without meaning to. City of Remnants does not follow that pattern. Instead, it keeps the rules concise, and the game largely avoids complexity creep. It maintains being a medium-level strategy game throughout. Considering the array of items and locations you can obtain, the play styles of each gang, the use of multiple game mechanics, and the level of competitiveness it can evoke, that’s saying something.
All of this is done against the evocative-yet-grim picture of a distant world, where you and your crew are simply trying to assert some kind of control over your own lives. (And maybe a few others.)
There is some minor concern that experienced players could have an upper-hand with proven gang strategies, but that can largely be mitigated in-game or with gang selection. Still, if that’s the largest area of concern, it shows how worthwhile City of Remnants is. When you’re out on patrol for new games, by all means keep this one on your radar.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 4.5
Replay Value: 3.5
Physical Quality: 4
Overall Score: 4
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Photo Credits: Yugai and Iggaret Gang by John Ariosa and PlaidHat Games.