Undaunted: Normandy is a World War Two game about combat on a very small scale.
While there are loads of WW2 board games, too many to count really, this one somehow manages to find room to stand out from the crowd thanks to its elegant game design and focus on the war’s smallest battles.
A game for two players, Undaunted has one person taking control of a single US infantry platoon, and the other a German adversary. These platoons are made up of three squads each, containing a mix of riflemen, scouts, snipers, machine guns and some officers.
It’s very intimate. These aren’t unnamed plastic figures, or generic designations of “US Infantry” or “German Sniper”. Everyone in Undaunted is a single soldier with their own name and face, meaning you’re not ordering units around, you’re ordering individual men.
This microscopic scale makes combat feel less abstract and consequential than other World War Two games you’ve probably played. Rather than smashing entire divisions together then removing losers from the board entirely, the fact you’re controlling individual men and firing at others means Undaunted is rarely (if ever) about climactic, game-ending encounters.
It’s a game about potshots and constant jabs. Probes at the enemy lines, not a blitzkrieg straight through it. Much of your time spent playing Undaunted is taken up exploring the battlefield and gently probing for weakspots, and you’re rarely (if ever) decisively on top in an encounter. Every game I’ve been played, both sides have been in it until the very end.
Undaunted is played with both cards and tokens. The tokens, placed on a modular battlefield made out of cardboard tiles, represent the squads at your command. Cards, meanwhile, represent the individual men making up those squads. At the start of every game you’re able to deploy a wide variety of men, but can only directly command those drawn in a four-card hand at the beginning of every turn (something Memoir 44 players will be familiar with)
When two units clash and casualties are taken, the loser doesn’t remove the entire token. They just remove a card from that squad, representing the loss of a single man, which serves not only as a representation of “damage” the squad as a whole has taken, but deprives the loser of a future possible move.
See, Undaunted’s deck of cards doesn’t just contain shouty men with rifles, it also has a number of cards called “Fog of War”, designed to slide into the game’s design and simulate the chaos of battle. Like Flamme Rouge’s stamina system, these are “dead” cards that don’t do anything, and are only there to slow you down. You get one every time you explore a map tile (something you need to do), and so the more you get as you advance across the map, the more they clog up your hands, potentially depriving you of key opportunities during a draw. If you draw four soldier cards at the start of a turn, great! Draw two soldiers and two Fog of War cards, though, and you’re a lot more limited.
This sounds bad, and is bad, especially as you lose men and find yourself drawing more and more Fog of War cards as a battle drags on, but that’s war. The longer a battle rages, the messier it gets. It’s also not a permanent malaise, as you can never have more than eight in a battle, and you can remove them by using one of the actions available to your Scouts.
Undaunted has an expected but wonderfully flexible range of unit types, all with very specific skills. Riflemen make up the bulk of your forces, able to move, attack and take control of tiles (which is needed to secure victory points). Machine Gunners can lay down enormous volumes of suppressive fire, pinning enemy units to the spot. Snipers can roam the map freely taking potshots. Squad Leaders aren’t used for fighting; rather they provide extremely useful support actions like drawing more cards or repeating actions. Scouts are needed to move out and explore the map, and Mortar crews are devastating but also difficult to employ properly.
Like the best wargames, each unit type can be extremely powerful (or vulnerable) to other types, and either necessary (or useless) for certain situations, so the key to winning is to make the best combined use of your forces, something the game’s limited card system makes fascinating. Sure, it’d be easy to just move two Riflemen up each turn, but if everything goes to shit (again, like a real battle!) and all you’ve drawn is a Scout and a Squad Leader, you need to get creative.
Another cool thing about Undaunted is its victory system. Battles aren’t just about facing off and seeing who survives. Most encounters here are about securing (or denying) victory points, which are placed on certain tiles on the map (you can see some in the picture above, they’re the flags with “1″ on them”. Each battle has been designed so that where these tokens are placed determines the flow of the battle, signalling that OK, this one’s going to be about the Germans holding that area, or that one’s going to be a mad dash to the middle of the map.
This makes every scenario—and the game ships with loads of them, each individually crafted—a unique challenge, some better suited to certain unit types or approaches than others. The game’s elastic nature also makes each of these challenges incredibly satisfying, as you don’t just get to bumrush a victory point, you need to edge and work your way there in the smartest way possible.
I can’t praise Undaunted enough. It takes two different types of wargame—tabletop tactics and card battling—and seamlessly marries them in a game that’s as intimate as it is refreshing.
Best of all, a short playtime (you can get through some of the smaller scenarios in around 30 minutes) means there’s always time for another round.