WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 2
Published by: Osprey Games
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here
By Steve Godfrey
Whenever a new Undaunted game is announced I’m always really excited, and a little bit nervous. Excited because I love this series of games and can’t wait to see what they’ve brought to this series. Nervous because I've been stung before with drop offs. I was there when Green Day released the stellar trilogy of Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod before dropping the mediocre Warning. What I’m saying is that I’m nervous that at any point this next game could be Undaunted’s version of Warning. Don’t get me wrong, I have ultimate faith In David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin but let’s see if they’ve managed to skip their warning phase and actually made Undaunted’s answer to American Idiot? Honestly never thought I’d be writing Green Day comparisons in a review of a WW2 Aerial combat game but here we are!
How to fly a plane?
Set up by building the map and your decks per the scenario you're playing. You can play any of the scenarios or you can string them together as a campaign. If you’ve played an Undaunted game before then there will be some differences to what you're used to but are easily picked up and I'll mostly be going through the changes. But if you’ve never played an Undaunted game before then I’ll give the briefest of brief summary of how it works.
Both players draw four cards from their decks and will choose a card to determine initiative by comparing the number in the top left corner. These cards will both be discarded. In turn order players will then play as many of the three cards left in their hand as they want playing one action on each card. These will see you moving and attacking whilst trying to achieve your individual objectives. Throughout the game you’ll be buying new cards that will go into your discard pile and will eventually get shuffled into your deck.
If you’ve played an Undaunted game before then this will all be fairly familiar but there have been changes made so you may want to stick around for this bit.
Each card will have a number of actions on them, of which you can play one of them from each card. However a new thing in Battle of Britain is a compulsory move action. Each plane has a move total and you will have to move at least one of that total to simulate the constant movement of a plane. Each plane will then have at least two other actions that you can play in addition to moving. The manoeuvre action will let you rotate your plane once in a hex either left or right but you can only do this after you’ve made a move. So for example you could move, make a manoeuvre and then you’d have to move at least one more hex if you want to manoeuvre again.
One of the big differences compared to other games in the series is that this is a hex based map and you have to move the direction you're facing and manoeuvring is how you're going to turn your plane.
The other action you can do is attacking. Because this and manoeuvre are actions you can only do one of them, not both. When you attack you can choose to attack before you move or after you’re done moving. Another change in this game is directional firing. Each plane has its own shooting limitations. Most can only fire out of the front whilst some can shoot in multiple directions. When a target is in line add up their defence value, the number of hexes between you and add any obstacles in the way (clouds, other planes etc.) and throw the number of d10s for your attack. If one meets or exceeds that number then you hit. You also get more dice for shooting at the rear. Another difference from previous games is that if the above totals more than ten then you can’t take the shot. Previously a ten would hit regardless.
The previous games had the dreaded fog of war cards to, well, fog up your deck. In Battle of Britain these have been replaced with Discord cards, different name, same deck clogging effects. Fog of war cards were mostly gained from players scouting new areas but here you gain them by a different method which needs a lot more tactical planning to avoid. Your squadron leader cards and their actions all have a Wi-Fi symbol on them which relates to planes being “In Comms” If planes of the same squadron have more than one hex between them they are considered to be out of comms with anything else being In comms. If that squad is in comms then any of the actions on that card, including initiative can be played without penalty. Playing those actions when the squad is out of comms will net you a discord card. Trying to keep your planes in comms to avoid these can be half a game in itself, even more so when you're trying to juggle getting into position to take on your opponent.
Take to the skies.
One of the main draws of the Undaunted system is that if you know how to play one, then you pretty much know the fundamentals to play all of them. When this one was initially revealed I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about this one losing that familiarity and simplicity. Purely because the changes that were being made to make it feel like a game of aerial combat, could easily have added a lot of complexity to what is usually a pretty straightforward system.
It’s at this point I’d like to issue WhatBoardGame's first apology, from me, to designers David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin for ever doubting their ability to keep this instalment as fun and as simple as the previous games. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that this is probably the simplest game in the series in terms of ease of play. In terms of tactics though, I’d say that this is possibly the most tactical of the series so far.
The simple move, manoeuvre system keeps that sense of constant movement and pace that other games in the series wont have because of the type of warfare they’re depicting. Because of the compulsory movement, you’re constantly having to think at least a turn ahead to not only get yourself in a good position either for shooting or avoiding being shot, but to stop yourself being on the wrong end of a barrage balloon. Colliding with a barrage balloon will instantly neutralise a plane! But you're not just thinking of what you’re doing, you’ll need to try and predict what your opponent could potentially do should they get the right cards in their hand. It gives the game a chess-like quality as you're both trying to outwit each other. The whole thing is like a well choreographed dance or fight sequence similar to that of a John Wick or THAT fight sequence from The Princess Bride as planes weave in and out of each other trying to find the best time to strike. (yep we’ve gone from Green Day to the Princess Bride this review is a roller coaster!)
It will probably surprise no one to know that I don’t really know the first thing about the manoeuvrability of planes other than what films have taught me and I’m sure Hollywood won’t have taught me wrong…..right? But having to make those big turning circles to swing back around for another barrage of fire feel realistic. If you’ve just pulled off a successful hit and are coming back round for another go then they can feel like a victory lap. If, however, you missed your last attack then it can feel agonising and long as you work your way round for another pass. It’s like missing your turning on the M25 and having to go all the round again.
What elevates it is that you have to manoeuvre OR fire (you could of course choose to do neither) along with your move. It adds tension as you manoeuvre into position to take your shot and then have that agonising wait to see if they’re still in position by the time you’re able to take a shot. Shooting head on even has its own problems to throw at you. Taking the shot may seem like the obvious choice, but if you’ve lined up a shot, then chances are your opponent has one too, so maybe manoeuvring out the way doesn’t sound like such a bad idea?
Just when you think you’ve got enough to worry about through all the dodging and fighting you’ve also got to worry about keeping your squad together. The comms rule is a really nice way of implementing those deck clogging discord cards and gives another extra layer to your tactics. Splitting up a squad and taking a discord may be a good move at the time, but you’d better get them back together sharpish if you want to use the command ability to get those discords out of your hand. It’s especially fun if you can lure your opponent out of comms by cheekily flying past them and taunting them to get them to chase you.
It’s REARly not that confusing.
I said that this was the simplest of the series rules wise and it very much is, but there was one rule in the rule book that did have me scratching my head. The rule for determining rear attack was a bit confusing as it was written. Well, it confused me anyway. Luckily the accompanying diagram seems to explain it more clearly so hopefully this won’t be too much of an issue for people to get their head round.
It can also get a bit confusing when you’ve got two or more planes sharing a hex, especially if more than one is facing the same direction. The hex’s aren’t really designed to have a lot of planes on them so you may find yourself having to carefully lift up tokens to see who's where on some occasions. I do appreciate the size of the hexes, any bigger and this would easily turn the game into an unnecessary table hog and break from the uniform box size of the standard games. Whilst we’re on the nit picky stuff (which the above certainly is) is that the tokens between the two sides squads can be a little close in colour. For example, the RAF will have a yellow and white token for one of their squads while the Luftwaffe will have yellow and grey for the same squad type. For your first game or two you may find yourself picking up your opponent's tokens but you’ll easily get used to the difference.
It just works!
Of course the most exciting thing about this game is what it could lead to. Battle of Britain is a resounding success in the way it’s changed the format and because of that it opens up so many more opportunities for different theatres. I’d even say that this system could easily work if they wanted to turn their attention to Naval battles.
I really think both designers have taken a type of game which could easily get bogged down in complex rules and miniatures and boiled it down to its simplest form. It takes the feel and the pace of aerial combat and not only makes it work, but it’s easy to teach and a lot of fun. If you're a fan of the series and was hoping to save a bit of money with this one then I’m sorry, but you're gonna need this one too.