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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

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.

Legacy elements.

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.

The other reason why this is such a hard question is the amount of variables. So many things will change across the campaign that will have an affect on how things play out. It’s difficult to say definitively that you’re going to have a balanced experience with this because there are so many factors that will go to shape that experience. The cards in your supply/deck, the state of the tiles and even which units you bring in on a given scenario and much more will go to determine how it all plays out. But since most of those decisions are player driven, it's really down to them and their tactics that determine how it all goes…….except the dice, dice will be dice.

All of the above is why I think this game has a massive replay factor. The scenarios themselves are fun tactical puzzles with some great options to explore. How the game changes leading up to them will give you a wealth of different decisions to make and a wealth of options to explore. For example, choosing to level a building in one scenario could have a massive effect in a later one. On another playthrough it could be a different building or even none at all, which again could change your tactics later on.

At the time of writing I’m five games into my second playthrough and I’m just as excited at the prospect of getting a game played as I was with my first playthrough.. I’m already seeing things change and different decisions being made, different units being used and scenarios play out in a different way to before. I’m almost more excited by this one because I want to see how things change compared to the first one. I can quite easily see this being a campaign I pull out at least once a year and playthrough again.

It’s only as good as the sum of its parts.

Now I have a confession to make when it comes to the story. I didn’t really get invested in it at first. That’s not a knock on the story but more my excitement to get to the next scenario. I was reading it and taking things in because I’d have a rye smile as it mentioned things that were to come in the scenario to come, but my eagerness to get playing again meant I did rush reading each section. After finishing the campaign I did go back through the scenarios we played and read through the story again. I have to say that for a game that is basically a big choose your own adventure style narrative, the story does hang together well. I think anyone who can construct a cohesive narrative around something like this deserves all the applause. My only worry is that the story could easily get lost depending on the length of time between plays. This isn’t a knock on the story, just a downside of how we consume this style of game.

It wouldn’t be an Undaunted game without Roland McDonald’s fantastic art. I don’t The landscape on the tiles pulls you in with its dark colours giving the impression of an already hard fought war zone and the individual character art on all the cards give this a more personal touch than if there had been one character type for each type of unit. It’s as much a part of this series as the game mechanics.

It ended with an “oh, right”

There are a couple of misprints in the books (that I’ve seen anyway). One is more of a slight annoyance and we easily found the solution on BGG. Designer David Thompson has been a constant presence there to answer questions. The other one did put a bit a dampener to the ending of the campaign. Without spoiling it, it meant that we didn’t know that the scenario we were playing could have ended the campaign depending on the outcome. So when we found it was the end it gave the whole campaign and “oh…right, that’s it”. It’s a shame, because had we known that the campaign could have ended based on the outcome it would have really raised the stakes. It would have upped the tension and given those last few moves and dice rolls so much more meaning and excitement and made every point gained and casualty taken even more crucial. I will say that this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the campaign as a whole or even this last scenario. This is again resolved on the board game geek forums so if you have an earlier printing it’s worth looking this up when you get close to the end just so you’re aware but hopefully this is fixed in a future printing.

Undaunted: Stalingrad is my favourite Undaunted game hands down and has now moved swiftly into my top ten games of all time. It doesn’t mean I’m getting rid of the others though. If I want to dive into a campaign then this is my preferred way to go. But if you want to get in a quick game of Undaunted then the others are on my shelf ready to go. Undaunted Stalingrad for me is the pinnacle of an already fantastic series of games.

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