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Play Matt: Undaunted: Reinforcements Review

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MT Updated January 31, 2022
 
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Play Matt: Undaunted: Reinforcements Review

Game Information

Publisher
Players
1 - 4
There Will Be Games

It’s not normal to find an expansion box that dwarfs the original like Undaunted: Reinforcements does. But like everything in the superb Undaunted series of tactical military deck-builders from Osprey Games, there’s method in the madness. The expansion box will fit in everything from the first two games in the series, Undaunted: Normandy and Undaunted: North Africa. It’s also easier to access them, with terrain tiles flipped to one side and new dividers to divvy up the contents of the two games.

I’m so excited to pack everything into its new home that I start out placing the terrain tiles in bottom-first, like in the original boxes, and bend one of them. No matter. Much like the slight mismatch in card backs between new and old decks, the game effect is minimal. If the card backs prove bothersome they can be covered with the hand during initiative bids or the publisher has promised replacements for those that ask.

However, it’s not the new cards that are the real draw in Undaunted: Reinforcements. Rather it’s the unassuming set of AI routines that allow solo play of any scenario in the first two games, plus the new ones included here. What I’d been expecting here was a bot-like chart akin to something you might find in a COIN game. Instead, to my surprise, I discover that there are multiple routines by unit type and scenario. So a Rifleman unit in scenario 1 of Undaunted: Normandy will play differently from the same unit in scenario 2 and differently again in scenario 4. I worry this will slow the game down since there are too many variables to learn by heart.

Hope springing eternal, I set up the first scenario from Undaunted: Normandy, dreaming of playing through the whole campaign solo. In Undaunted, tiles are used to create a map and units placed in starting positions. Your starter deck contains cards for each unit that get activated when you play them. It’s a brilliant system, with smooth rules, strategy in the deck, tactics on the map and a lot of simulation around command and control provided for free as you add cards or remove them when taken as casualties.

First on each turn, though, players decide play order by bidding a card each to take the initiative. For obvious reasons, this is a big hurdle for a solo system. The design sidesteps this impossible challenge by instructing you to draw the top card of the bot’s deck then compensates by giving it an advantage. If it wins initiative, it gets to keep the drawn card as an extra play. This proves a smart method since it keeps the pressure on the player to bid high, often denying me my most useful cards each turn. Deciding when to risk bidding low is a nerve-wracking choice, and losing is downright scary.

For most of that first game I pull out all the stops to win initiative and it pays off, with my keeping control of play. But even on turns when it loses, the bot proves a revelation. Its Scouts fan out and home in on critical objectives tiles, while its Riflemen follow up, prioritising taking and protecting those tiles over aggression. There are a couple of turns in which a luckier initiative draw or dice roll could have seen the bot claim victory. If it had, its table presence is such that I could almost imagine it punching in the air in celebration.

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My fears about it slowing the game were unfounded: it clipped along at a decent rate. Moving on to the second scenario it has a new card to play with: machine guns. My recollection is that this is a very tough scenario for the US to win, as they need to creep forward and claim an objective under withering fire from that gun. The bot card for the machine gun instructs it to suppress if the target has a defence value of 8 or less, or attack if the value is 6 or less. For the first time, this seems over-cautious and, combined with some bad luck for the bot dice rolls, it allows me to take a second win. Reading the cards for the US bot in this scenario it also occurs to me that the bots have been designed to take an optimal approach to each encounter: they’re almost a tactical spoiler to the puzzle.

There’s a rapid turnaround in the next scenario in which the AI rips me apart in record time, confidently snaking out from its river base to secure the needed objectives. It’s a wake-up call I fail to heed, as I make a drastic error in scenario four. My Sniper tears the enemy infantry to pieces and, after creating a breach I rush my Riflemen in for a quick win, forgetting there’s a machine gun on each side of them. They’re duly torn to pieces in turn. 

This is where things get weird. The bot has no options that give it an effective reaction to my inept display. What it still has is a lot of machine-gun cards that spring into action, suppressing my remaining counters. In turn, all I can do is unsuppress them and take the odd pot-shot, hoping for a hit. The scenario bogs down into a repetitive stalemate and I give up, handing the win to the bot as it controls the most objectives. The casualties on each side are murderous. 

In order to give Undaunted: Reinforcements a good workout, I switch gears and try one of the new Undaunted: Normandy scenarios with tanks. They’re beefier vehicles than those presented in Undaunted: North Africa, but they use the same system of crew cards added to your deck which let you take actions with the vehicle. Pushing them around the map gives you a real sense of power, and the AI handles them well. The scenario runs quite long though, which isn’t Undaunted’s forte.

It’s no secret that I adore Undaunted, but it’s not gone down that well with my gaming contemporaries for various reasons. Some don’t like the theme, some find the static firefights a turn off. If that’s you, or you’ve only dabbled in the system, there’s nothing in this expansion that will change your mind. But a solo system is something I’ve learned for, allowing me to enjoy one of the top games of recent years whenever I choose. That I’d get the best solo system I’ve ever seen in a board game is beyond my wildest dreams. 


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
4.0
Undaunted: Reinforcements
Undaunted: Reinforcements doesn't bring much new to the table apart from the solo system: but what a superb solo system it is.
MT
#1 Reviewer 286 reviews
Matt Thrower (He/Him)
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Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.

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fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #330296 31 Jan 2022 11:33
I feel torn about the Undaunted series. It's clearly one of those "war-themed" games (rather than an actual wargame) so if you view it through that lens & play it like a deckbuilder then you might get by. Otherwise the goofy d10 die rolls are super-swingy, the art is all pastoral watercolors on the level of a childrens picturebook, and the setup time is more than I like for such a basic game. I might have enjoyed it more minus the WW2 theme, which feels weird and doesn't come through 100% for me. Have not played the expansions though, maybe they help.

And maybe the hype didn't help it in my eyes either. I expected a lot going in (I remember it being termed a "Memoir 44 killer" which it certainly is not) and so my bar was kinda high.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #330301 31 Jan 2022 14:48
I’m reviewing this too and I agree completely with Matt- the solo system is stunning. It does not replace a human player of course but you can play Undaunted solo and that counts for a lot.

I also agree with the Mayor. The WWII theme is suuuuuper yuck. I’m not crazy about the art, which is oddly inconsistent across the product (the style of the cards/counters doesn’t match the tiles/typography). Setup is a PITA.

But I love it- the mechanics are great. I like the D10 roll. I like everything about the way it plays. The scenarios are good. The rules are clean and smooth.

But WWII…vomit. I’m done with WWII gaming and in fact this is the only WWII game I own now. It’s non-specific enough to just barely skirt by.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #330302 31 Jan 2022 16:33
I played the base game several times and was rather let down. The biggest miss for me was the utter lack of differentiation between the two sides. Both German and American decks had the same values and ability for each unit type. For example, a Conscript could have one less card to show their lower resilience.

Why not introduce some differences - down the line, this would open up the system to nationality specific expansions with differentiation for each nation. I am not sure if the North Africa or Reinforcements added this or not. There were other issues I had ( overpowered Scouts for instance ) but this was the biggest one and regardless of whether its WWII, Napoleanics, or Terrinoth, this sort of thing was some low hanging design fruit that was missed IMO.

I get that I wasn't the targer audience .
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #330304 31 Jan 2022 17:08
IIRC, the most talked-about positive aspect of the North Africa version was that the two sides do have variable abilities/values. I suspect that the WWII veneer was just a marketing tool. There's always an audience for that stuff, just like the game I reviewed earlier this year that has an unusual mechanical framework, but put in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge because that's the way the KS would get attention. But the two sides (Germans and Americans) were identical in ability. The only variance was secret objectives and goal cards for completing 1/3 of the victory condition.

I'm with the crowd on this one. The WWII stuff just isn't interesting to me anymore, no matter how solid the gameplay.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #330305 31 Jan 2022 17:41
I think you are right- WWII still sells for some godforsaken reason and without greater specificity the game may as well be red versus blue. But I’d like that better, because then I don’t have to be the Nazis or think about Nazis or watch Nazis win the game.

WWII fetishism is a lingering turd clinging to the ass of Boomer America. Younger generations have inherited this turd from aging and now elderly gamers. It’s time to cut it loose and move on. Virtually all of the really interesting, compelling, and successful war games of the past decade + have either NOT been about WWI or about some underexplored niche subtopic.

My tastes as you all know run hot and cold and I’m always moving on to something either new or that I want to reassess…but like Lovecraft, WWII is on my “never again” list. I allow for exceptional games, and I think this is one despite the subject matter.

I mean FFS they do 2000AD games. This could totally be a Block War game. Or Rogue Trooper. Fucking anything but WWII.

Besides, it’s time for all the Boomer Rommel stans to just admit they love playing as Nazis and they love Nazi stuff.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #330309 31 Jan 2022 20:37
Serious question — would you all be more at ease if it was set in the Pacific or China?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #330314 01 Feb 2022 00:45
Not really. Maybe a touch just because no Nazis. But same conflict. I’m not interested in games about real world conflicts right now at all regardless of theater or time period TBH.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #330315 01 Feb 2022 04:32

fightcitymayor wrote: I feel torn about the Undaunted series. It's clearly one of those "war-themed" games (rather than an actual wargame) so if you view it through that lens & play it like a deckbuilder then you might get by. Otherwise the goofy d10 die rolls are super-swingy, the art is all pastoral watercolors on the level of a childrens picturebook, and the setup time is more than I like for such a basic game. I might have enjoyed it more minus the WW2 theme, which feels weird and doesn't come through 100% for me. Have not played the expansions though, maybe they help.

And maybe the hype didn't help it in my eyes either. I expected a lot going in (I remember it being termed a "Memoir 44 killer" which it certainly is not) and so my bar was kinda high.


Everyone likes their own thing, of course, but I really don't see much of this. Sure it's not a "wargame" as such but the way the deck mimics things like suppression and command confusion make it feel more realistic than, say, something like M44 (which takes as long, if not longer, to set up). It feels like a good halfway house to me, between light war-themed titles and more serious consims, but totally with the rules weight of the former.

I do get the art. I felt that way for a while but it's grown on me, maybe just because I like the game.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #330316 01 Feb 2022 04:39

Michael Barnes wrote: Not really. Maybe a touch just because no Nazis. But same conflict. I’m not interested in games about real world conflicts right now at all regardless of theater or time period TBH.


I genuinely struggle with why I can't put my interest in WW2 away, despite all the horrors of conflict and Nazism. But I can't. Sorry. It makes me feel like a bad person. I've spent very many long hours trying to reconcile my thoughts on this, and the closest I've come is summed up by this quote from Dispatches:

One day a letter came from a British publisher asking him to do a book whose working title would be "Through the War" and whose purpose would be to once and for all "take the glamour out of war". Page couldn't get over it.

"Take the glamour out of war! I mean, how the bloody hell can you do that? Go and take the glamour out of a Huey, go take the glamour out of a Sheridan...Can you take the glamour out of a Cobra, or getting stoned at China Beach? It's like taking the glamour out of an M-79, taking the glamour out of Flynn." He pointed to a picture he'd taken, Flynn laughing maniacally ("We're winning," he'd said), triumphantly. "Nothing the matter with that boy, is there? Would you let your daughter marry that man? Ohhhh, war is good for you, you can't take the glamour out of that. It's like trying to take the glamour out of sex, trying to take the glamour out of the Rolling Stones." He was really speechless, working his hands up and down to emphasize the sheer insanity of it.

"I mean, you know that it just can't be done!" We both shrugged and laughed, and Page looked very thoughtful for a moment. "The very idea!" he said. "Ohhh, what a laugh! Take the bloody glamour out of bloody war!”

Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #330318 01 Feb 2022 08:42
I don't think it's anything to regret or be ashamed of. You like what you like. As long as it's not hurting anyone else (unless, y'know, they want that), do what you like. I have a couple friends who are hardcore Eastern Front fanatics. I have a piece for TWBG in the queue looking at my collection overall and one of the largest categories, by theme or mechanics, is "wargame". I'm a fan, as well. I'm just no longer a fan of WWII, because I've just had my fill. But that doesn't mean anyone else should feel bad about enjoying the topic. I'm a sucker for Roman history of all kinds and will basically try any game that uses Rome as a theme. I did that with Pandemic: Rome, much to my regret for the next two hours...
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #330320 01 Feb 2022 09:32

Michael Barnes wrote: WWII fetishism is a lingering turd clinging to the ass of Boomer America. Younger generations have inherited this turd from aging and now elderly gamers. It’s time to cut it loose and move on.

I'm always interested in whether or not hex-&-counter wargaming (of the "serious" kind) survives the decade. In some ways it does seem like a relic of a bygone boardgaming age (in blissful lockstep with the boomer romanticization of WW2 in general) but there are still an ocean of wargame publishers out there surviving on what has to be an increasingly niche audience.
blarknob's Avatar
blarknob replied the topic: #330324 01 Feb 2022 11:06
I really love undaunted.

My brother and I played a lot of the first two during the height of covid. The theme is great for a couple of history buffs like us, and the mechanics are fantastic. New mechanics applied to a tried and true theme can be a real breath of fresh air.

I don't have any problem setting games in real world history, I find it much more engaging than some generic magic realm.

It's one of the best uses of the deck building mechanic I've seen in a game.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #330325 01 Feb 2022 11:07
It’s not even World War 2. It’s Eastern Front, Bulge and Market Garden. Normandy gets some attention (including this title here.). Other parts of the war get occasional titles but I’d wager those three account for two thirds of all new materials in the last 20 years.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #330326 01 Feb 2022 11:31
People have been predicting the demise of hex and counter wargaming since the late 80s when computer games started to proliferate. And yet they still endure. What has happened is that non hex and counter wargames have become a larger presence whether it be Card driven games, area impulse, or stuff like NEVSKY . Those approaches have often proven to be more approachable for people new to conflict simulation.

The other thing that has happened is that with better research materials a lot of older games have been revealed to be much less accurate in terms of history than originally thought. So new designs using these materials are coming out .
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #330329 01 Feb 2022 13:08
WW2 is NEVER going away. As a conflict it is ripe for conversion into any number of simulations or games. It has it all. Global strategic conflict down to individual tactics. It is so well known, so well documented, and has an extensive visual database. Plus it allows for plausible symmetric forces as well as wildly lopsided asymmetric ones up and down the range of focus from rifles to battleships and nukes. It has bad guys EVERYONE can hate and good guys some folks can chose to hate. But it is here to stay. I can't imagine any conflict coming close to rivaling it for collective wargame mindshare.

I agree it would be nice to diversify the engagements but most of these games don't have the fidelity to really make it matter.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #330338 01 Feb 2022 17:00
I don't think people are saying WWII games are going away, just individual people are tired of the theme. Which is their prerogative.

I'm not really tired of it myself, to the point of avoiding it, but I'm not really seeking it out either -- at this point it has to be attached to a really revolutionary or interesting system to get my interest.