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.
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.