Undaunted: Stalingrad Board Game Review
WBG Score: 10
Player Count: 2
You’ll like this if you like: Undaunted Series, Memoir ‘44
Published by: Osprey Games
Designed by: Trevor Benjamin, David Thompson
By Steve Godfrey
Since this is a legacy game I’m going to try to be as spoiler free as possible. I am going to be discussing how some of the basic legacy elements work in general but I’m not going to get into any specifics.
I’m also not going to get in to how the game plays, there’s plenty of great videos out there to teach you the game and if you already know how to play an Undaunted game then this works pretty much the same just with one or two changes.
Speaking of changes, let’s get into them now. Controlling a tile has changed from Normandy. You can control a tile regardless of if it’s occupied by an enemy counter. Once controlled the only way it can change hands is if the controlling player has no units on that tile.
Routing. When a unit of yours is attacked and you no longer have a card in your hand, discard pile or deck to add to your casualties pile, you place a white flag on it, it’s now classed as being routed and you get to push that unit to an adjacent scouted space. This will get removed once you bolster another unit of that type into your deck. If both of a player’s riflemen have been routed, they lose that game. Routed units can still be fired upon and any successful hit will let you move that unit back one space.
Last but not least is withdrawal. When playing the campaign a player can choose to withdrafrom the scenario and hand victory to their opponent. It may seem a weird rule, why would you just give up. Well it’s sometimes better to take a loss in the face of inevitable defeat rather than have the potential of more casualties.
Again this isn’t going to go into specifics, just a brief overview of how the legacy elements work after scenario one.
After each scenario, players will take their casualties and depending on how many they have, will draw a number of cards. These cards will be removed from the game permanently. Don’t worry, nothing gets destroyed, you just place it in a separate space in the box. They then get replaced with their equivalent reserve cards from the reserve deck. These cards are worse versions of the regular cards that could have one of a number of changes on them that’s now given you a disadvantage. These are there to represent untrained reserves that are being thrust upon your forces. Players will then take all the cards in your deck (not ones from their supply), shuffle them and then draw two. These cards then get replaced with upgraded versions from the upgrade deck and, as the name suggests, are better versions of these cards. As the campaign goes on you’ll see new unit types and map tiles will change as areas have the potential to be destroyed.
Depending on who won the scenario you’ll be told to read a certain section of story in your book. Each player will get their own campaign book from which they’ll read their own story elements to themselves. At the end of the section it will tell players which scenario they need to play next. Each scenario will then let you know if you’ve unlocked any new cards/ units, will tell you how to set up your deck and the win conditions for each side.
A legacy for all
So far we’ve had two and a half Undaunted games (reinforcements added some cool stuff but wasn’t a stand alone game) and one of the things I love about the series is how they manage to keep the core system, the thing that makes Undaunted such a fun game, in place in each iteration. They still give each one a unique twist but it just means that you could jump from game to game and just read up on the new stuff. What’s also clever is that, although functionally similar, they’re all worth owning (given that you like the new aspects of course). I mention all of this because the thing that fascinates me more with Stalingrad is that they’ve achieved all of this in a legacy game without sacrificing any of the simplicity of Undaunted. It’s so easy to take one look at that big box and assume that you’d need some foreknowledge of the other games in the series first. But of course the brilliance of all this is that anyone can jump into Undaunted Stalingrad regardless of if you’ve previous experience with the system or not.
If you’ve played an undaunted game before then all you need to do is flick through the rules for the changes and you can jump into your first game of the campaign. If you’re new to the series you can read the rules as normal and play the first scenario once through to get a feel for the game then play again starting the campaign proper. The campaign does a great job of starting you off on a smaller scale and then ramping up as you go along, but if you’ve played an Undaunted game before it never feels like “oh this is just here for the new players”. It’s actually quite a nice refresh if it’s been a while. It makes this huge box a little bit less daunting. (Sorry!)
All this works in its favour throughout the campaign as well since any new key words/ rules etc are never too overwhelming and are introduced piecemeal throughout the campaign. Some of these fluctuate in and out from scenario to scenario which is actually a relief if you’re only able to scatter plays here and there.
I love Pandemic Legacy season one, but the constant permanent addition to the rules meant that jumping back into it after a few months meant another big rules refresh before the next game could begin. It took a simple rule set and bloated it out. I do wish that all the rules regarding the keywords and attacking were a bit more consolidated into one section of the rulebook though. They were a bit scattered here and there. Whilst things weren’t hard to find, we did find ourselves flicking through the book a bit more than perhaps we would have liked.
Campaigns and consequences
So how does this work as a campaign? Quite simply, it’s fantastic, and one of the things that makes it work so well is, consequences! (Of course that could be said for any legacy game, I mean, that’s their thing). In previous games, having a card removed from your deck was more of an annoyance than anything else. Sure it hurt your game and potential victory but ultimately you knew that everything reset for the next scenario. That’s absolutely not the case here. Every hit you take is now a major blow, not only to the scenario, but to the campaign. Every casualty in your pile by the end of the fight has the potential to be cast out into that lonely space in the box and, potentially replaced with a lesser version that is almost certainly going to be an unwanted hindrance at the very worst time that could probably cost you a game or two across the campaign. There’s nothing worse than knowing that you’re a point away from victory, only to be left with a reserve rifleman who doesn’t have the ability to control!
It’s not until you get into the legacy element of the game that you start to realise why the “withdraw” rule has been made. Winning scenarios is great, but sometimes taking heavy casualties could be more detrimental to your campaign than taking the loss.
It also adds a really lovely thematic touch as it makes later games feel like a slog (but not in a bad way) As your decks and supply fill up with weaker cards, scenarios will draw out and you really get the feeling that you’re playing as an army at the late stage of a conflict. You’re tired, beaten down and you’re fighting to your very last.
The upgrade and reserve system gives your deck building some even tougher decisions. When making your starting deck and bolstering you get to choose which soldier you add to your deck. Do you take your regular rifleman, the upgraded one or the reserve? It seems like a no brainer, take the upgrade, it’s clearly better. But then you ask yourself the question, what if they get hit? Then they’re in your casualty deck and have a chance of being taken out altogether. You start to take on the role of a protective parent as you umm and ahh and weigh up your options. Go in heavy with your best people and hope to get the job done quickly, or send in the reserves and try for a last minute push at the end when you’ve hopefully worn down your opponent.
It’s a balancing act.
Considering this is a competitive legacy game that you’re playing over fifteen scenarios it’s fair to ask “is it balanced?” But here's the thing, it’s not an easy question to answer with a simple yes or no. Now I will throw in the caveat that this game has a branching narrative and I’ve only played this through once (and at the time of writing this I am already in the throes of a second) so I can only speak to my particular playthroughs.
Scenarios themselves depend on who won the previous scenario to determine their configuration, but most of them are usually weighted more towards one side. Which makes sense since this is a war game and how many wars do you know that are balanced?. It’s also thematic since it makes sense that winning a scenario will give you tactical advantage. Don’t let any of that put you off though. There were a few times that we looked at a scenario, looked at the other player and said “well you’ve won this one”, but it either went the opposite way or it went right down to the wire and could easily have gone either way.