2 players, Competitive, WW2 Tactical Deckbuilding
Designer: Trevor Benjamin, David Thompson
Artwork: Roland MacDonald
Publisher: Osprey Games
Release Year: 2019
Undaunted: Normandy blipped on my radar a few months back when I was perusing through some of my favorite reviewers and happened upon one about it. Suffice it to say they loved the game, which of course intrigued me as I also adore deckbuilding games and WW2 history as well. Seeing how this is a smaller game I was interested to play it and see just how well it would grab me.
Overview of Gameplay
This game takes a couple of interesting game mechanics and blends them together quite well. You have deckbuilding combined with a tactical skirmish feel on the board. Plus there is a “campaign” of progressing scenarios you can play through, although you can very easily just pick any one of them to play as nothing carries over from game to game.
The general setup has the Americans pitted against the Germans in this 1 vs 1 match-up. Each side will have a small starting deck of cards they will be drawing from to form their hands and a side “market” of cards setup which can be acquired during play to beef up your deck. On your turn you will be playing through your entire hand of cards one at a time performing the action the played card/s allow you. Doing this allows you to move your soldier tokens around on the board, make attacks, control areas, etc. Once your turn ends you place your cards into your discard pile and draw up another four cards, and once your draw pile runs out you will shuffle your discard pile to make a new draw pile adding in all the new cards you may have acquired. This is the basic idea behind deckbuilding. The big catch with this game is as your soldiers are killed, you will actually remove one of the particular cards completely from the game. Over time your deck will become thinner and thinner from lack of soldiers so you must continue bolstering up your forces.
Ultimately the goal of the scenarios is to control a certain number of control points on the board which are created during the scenario setup. This is where the game gets strategic as not just all your soldiers can take control of areas. Only your rifleman can control areas so you MUST keep them alive BUT rifleman cannot move through unexplored areas…..so you need your scouts to explore those areas first then you can move them in. But you scouts are rather weak on the attack…….better bring in the machine gunner to lay down some fire on those approaching enemies. Ugh, there is a build-up of troops planning to move in…..better unleash your mortar team.
It goes on and on with different style of soldiers that all need one another to accomplish to ultimate goal of winning. And winning is only accomplished by both capturing and controlling a certain number of control points first or if you are able to kill off all your opponents’ rifleman, which of course prevents them from “controlling” anything. That will also end the game but bringing victory to the team that currently holds the most control points. So be careful when plucking off the enemy’s rifleman, especially if they are holding more areas than you.
The game is small and lite but the components are excellent. The tiles are all nice and sturdy with no warping to be seen and the cards and tokens are all of a nice quality as well. There are also four 10-sided dice included for combat encounters, they have a nice weight to them but are pretty standard dice in every other regard. The game board is comprised of square double-sided tiles that you will use to create the different scenario maps for each game. They are numbered and easily discernible and do a good job of creating a pretty decent strategic map for battles. The maps created from these tiles are also on the smaller side so you can easily fit this game on a smaller sized table.
The box is also very small and it comes with an excellent plastic insert that holds both deck of cards separately. It also has dedicated spots for the dice, tokens and game board tiles. Everything fits in the box nice and snug and looks great. I go on and on about inserts with games but I feel that a proper insert REALLY improves the overall presentation of a game and this one is no exception. Undaunted: Normandy doesn’t take forever to setup but this insert greatly helps when opening the box and getting going for the first time after not playing for a while.
Visual Appeal /Theme
I really love the art style they went for on the cards in this one! Each card has this almost, water paint style look to it which you really don’t see much of in games. The game tiles themselves have a more realistic art style and it also looks very nice and detailed with some building, farms and forests dotting the landscape. The theme is a pretty standard World War 2 theme with the Americans and Germans battling it out. They do go so far as naming each different soldier card with a unique name which does add a bit of thematic element to the game since cards get removed once killed.
The rulebook is ok as it has a nice layout and for the most part good explanation. However, there are a few random things that made it a tad more difficult to learn from. The “How to Play” section is excellent, just a single page detailing the three steps in a typical round. However the very next page has seemingly four random things being explained that seem very out of place. I feel like those things could have been more adequately placed within the rest of the rule set to make them easier to understand rather than bunched up like that. The actions are all explained very well and clearly for the most part as well. The biggest miss would be the inclusion of a couple of reference cards that each player could have handy for the actions. I did find myself flipping back to the book every so often as I would forget what one of the action words on the cards did. There is a quick reference page on the last page of the rulebook which is nice BUT it would have been better printed on the VERY back of the book instead of the inside page at the back so I could easily just lay the book flipped over to reference.
There is also a separate Scenario Book that is used to setup the 12 different scenarios the game has to offer. This guide is very well laid out with good explanations on the board setups and starting cards. Super easy to read and understand and also has space to keep track of ongoing campaign stats if you wish.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Lots and lots of interaction being another 1 vs 1 game. Players will take turns playing their hand of cards which usually involve attacking the other player. This causes the attacking player to roll a certain number of d10’s to see if they can beat out the other player’s defense total on whatever unit they are going after. Beyond the attacking, you are also always watching the movement of the opposing player which will also affect you in how you want to position your own troops.
The fun does begin to wane after a few game I won’t deny. After you play the very first scenario you itch to play another game right away, if only to try out the other units that were not in the first game. That said, once you do play a game with all the units it does become rather apparent that the game is pretty, dare I say, thin. Most games boil down to trying to take a number of objective points using the same old units over and over again with no real variety. I mean, the scout is the only one that can open up land for movement and the riflemen are the only units that can control objective points. But at the end of the day the attack is just rolling a single die for each of those two to try and match or exceed the defense number on the enemy token. And for those matches that run into a standstill of trying to capture that LAST objective point you need, the game devolves into a dice rolling fest of trying to take out the opposing sides riflemen first.
There is strategy to attacking other units however. For instance you can see what cards the opposing player still has in their “market” pile. So if you know they haven’t added any extra scouts to their deck it might be worthwhile to target their scouts if only to remove their token from the map to delay them further. Some scenarios/maps are much more fun than others though. The maps that are not perfectly even for your market of cards or asymmetric starting positions I enjoyed much more. I personally didn’t mind the dice rolling for combat. I found it added a nice layer of tension to the game and really altered your choices. “Do I attack that scout with a total defense of 8 with the terrain and distance OR go for that machine gunner with a total defense of 6? If I kill the scout it will probably remove the token though…..UGH and I only have a single die to roll with…..”It’s those kind of decisions that really make the game exciting and I think the dice combat really enhances it.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Replayability kinda goes back to what I was saying earlier about the “same old formula”. There are 12 different scenarios available to play and each one has a different setup based around tile placement and card selection. That said, once you have experienced all the different soldier cards the different map setups don’t really excite that much. You will find different defense values on certain tiles which for sure alters the tactics you will employ and there are some maps that change from the standard “capture objective points” to “destroy all opposing riflemen” but again, that’s all that is on offer here. I would LOVE some more exciting and fun objectives and perhaps some interesting terrain modifications rather than just the defense number. There are some river tiles and a bridge even, wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow the river affected movement?
Positive Final Thoughts
I really love the interesting deck building that they incorporate and how cards actually get removed from the game when you lose them. This combined with the way the board state plays out really keeps you on the edge of your seat when your opponent attacks you. After your first play you will be watering at the mouth to setup and try another scenario and it’s a very simple game to get into and play with the combat doing a good job of making it easy to see how risky it might be to press an attack.
Negative Final Thoughts
The game play does get a bit stale after a few games though due to the simplicity. Once you experience the game play with all the units you don’t have that same amount of excitement anymore. The battles start out exciting but end up becoming rather dull as each game basically boils down to trying to kill off the riflemen to stop players from taking control points.
The Bottom Line
I REALLY liked this game the first couple of times I played it but less and less every time after. I can see the potential here though and still love the deckbuilding aspect. If only the game had more interesting objectives and a few more units to implement I think this would be THE WW2 deckbuilding game to beat.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence