COMPARED TO WHEN I STARTED PLAYING WARGAMES 40 YEARS AGO, today’s wargames can be very different. Case in point is one of my newest acquisitions, Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020). Undaunted: North Africa (henceforth UNA) is nothing near a classic hex & counter wargame. In wargame terms, UNA is a skirmish-scale game of raids in the North African desert in 1940. One side is the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the other is the Italians. A scenario is a single raid where usually the LRDG is trying – using the terminology of UNA – to Claim a structure or location through demolition or control, or to Neutralize a part of the enemy force. The Italians usually seek to Claim by control objectives or to otherwise Neutralize LRDG forces.
Undaunted: North Africa is unapologetically rooted in the Eurogame-centric portion of hobby boardgaming. UNA it is a card-drafting deck-builder, as designers David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin tell us in their Historical Note:
Note, however, that this title is not a simulationist game. The core mechanic of deck-building is an obvious abstraction from the individual agency of the soldiers involved. The exact composition of the squads in the game has been tweaked in favor of gameplay. The soldiers depicted might not look exactly like the LRDG [Long Range Desert Group] or Italian soldiers did. Throughout the development of the game, historical accuracy was one value among several, and the core aim was always to create a game that might emulate the experience of being in command of a military unit, rather than the exact reality. Should you rush forward to take out a vital objective, or is it better to suppress the defending forces first? Should our scouts focus on your lines of communication, expand your effective range, or engage in deception tactics? Should you engage your opponent’s troops or try to avoid them entirely? These are the decisions forced upon you in Undaunted: North Africa. (Rulebook, p. 21)
I like the use of the deck-builder mechanic in Undaunted: North Africa to represent the friction of combat. Leaders need to Bolster (move cards from Supply to your Discard) or Command (take cards from your Deck into your Hand) or Inspire (act again). Leaders can be used for Initiative but at the cost of not being available for any other actions. Other soldiers have their jobs and getting them to effectively work together (i.e. build your deck) is literally the game. At the same time, the Fog of War (again literally a card in the game) clogs up your deck, slowing you down or making your actions inefficient.
In many ways, Undaunted: North Africa is a family-friendly wargame title. Just look at the language; “claim” instead destroy or control and “neutralize” instead of kill or destroy. Not that the language makes it a bad game. Quite the contrary; the language almost certainly will make this game more appealing to the anti-wargame, Eurogame-centric members of the hobby.
Unfortunately, Undaunted: North Africa is not without a few minor problems. I personally dislike the Beyond All Hope rules of the game:
It is possible, but rare, that you can no longer complete your victory condition.
If your opponent’s victory condition is to neutralize enemies, they immediately win.
If your opponent’s victory condition is to claim objectives, count how many objective points you each have claimed. If your opponent has claimed more objective points than you, they immediately win. Otherwise, keep playing until they have claimed more points than you (at which point they win) or until they are unable to claim the necessary objective points. In the second case, the player who has claimed the most objective points wins. In the case of a tie, the player with the initiative marker wins.
In one of my games of Undaunted: North Africa as the LRDG player, the Italians were able to
kill neutralize my Scout before they had scouted more than one objective. As a result, my Engineer (demolitions expert) was unable to get to the second (or third) objective because the rules do not allow most units to enter a tile unless it has been scouted. Seeing that the rules restricted me from winning, I chose to withdraw my force…but I can’t because the rules don’t let me. You cannot withdraw from the board unless you have the express scenario objective of Escape. So, instead of withdrawing and preserving my force to fight another day, I had to fend off the Italians and simply try to kill neutralize or suppress them long enough to let them get their second objective before they killed neutralized too many of my force. This blind, lock-step approach to satisfying game objectives is very irksome.
A second minor quibble I have with Undaunted: North Africa is the cards. There are several threads on BGG talking about the card backs. Personally, my Italian cards are horrible.
I could probably take care of most of the issue by using some type of matte-backed card sleeve BUT WHY SHOULD I! I paid for the game and it should be in good condition when freshly opened. I have reached out to Opsrey Games and asked about their intentions since the problems is seemingly widespread. As of the posting of this blog they are yet to respond.
Irksome rules and horrible card backs aside, Undaunted: North Africa will still get played. The campaign approach to the scenarios makes this a good game to play against RockyMountainNavy T as we usually play against each other when RMN Jr. is otherwise occupied. In some ways this makes me fearful because RMN T is good at games with cards. I just need to be a good wargaming father and remain…undaunted.