In case you didn’t know, David Thompson has been putting out some really good and entertaining wargames over the past couple of years. One of his finest has been the 2019 hit Undaunted: Normandy which is a card based small squad tactical game that uses deckbuilidng and a modular board with scenarios to tell the story of the 30th Infantry Division as they marched across Europe following their landing on D-Day during World War II. Due to that game’s success a new expansion has been designed and is imminently ready to release soon. Undaunted: North Africa adds in several new elements, including new abilities, new cards, new terrain and scenarios but most importantly vehicles. We contacted David to ask him about this new game and what makes it new.
Grant: Have you been surprised with the reception of your first game in this series
David: Oh absolutely. I had hoped that Undaunted would be a game that could appeal to wargamers and a broader board game audience at the same time, but there was also a
very real danger that neither group would really accept it. We’ve been ecstatic with the
positive response for sure.
Grant: How many print runs has that game had? What do you owe it’s popularity
David: The third printing of the English version just arrived, which is great for a game that’s been out for less than a year. And the other awesome thing is that it already has quite a few translations, with more on the way. I think the game manages to find that sweet spot of having a relatively light ruleset but with some depth of play and interesting decisions. It’s being played by “proper wargamers” but also spouses, moms and dads with their children, etc.
Grant: Do you feel these type of “Waro” games are bridging the gap between
wargames and the Euro/board gaming crowd? Is this a good thing?
David: Absolutely. Waros are my favorite types of games to play. Give me a war-themed or historical game with Euro-influenced mechanisms, and I’m a happy guy. I personally
love them, and I think they serve to bridge the divide between wargamers and Eurogamers.
Grant: Where is the setting for your newest entry in the Undaunted Series? Why
did you feel North Africa was the right next step?
David: The North Africa theater of WW2 serves as the setting for the next game in the series (titled, appropriately enough, Undaunted: North Africa). We actually decided on North Africa as the sequel before Normandy was even released (design on North Africa
started in late 2017, a full two years before Normandy was released). We ultimately
chose North Africa because we felt it would give us the opportunity to explore new
thematic and gameplay concepts that weren’t present in Normandy.
Grant: As Undaunted: Normandy focused on the 30th Infantry Division what
Group does this game follow?
David: The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) is the focus of the game, with the Italian army and their Libyan allies taking the role of the adversary. There was a period early on where we considered using the Special Air Service instead, but ultimately the close
linkage between the LRDG and their vehicles won us over. Vehicles play a huge role in
the game, so it made sense to go with the LRDG.
Grant: What did you want to make sure and model in the design from the history
of World War II in North Africa?
David: Well, there are elements of the North Africa campaign and the LRDG that just aren’t represented well in the context of the Undaunted System — overland resupply and
logistics, which was critical to the North Africa theater just don’t translate that well.
Instead, we wanted to really focus on the “beat ups” performed by the LRDG — the
skirmish-level engagements they participated in, wherein they would attack airfields,
fuel dumps, and the like. We wanted the game to keeps its focus on the people, but also
to showcase the mobility of the LRDG.
Grant: What type of research did you have to do and what were some of the
sources you used?
David: We dug pretty deep to find inspiration for the game’s 11 scenarios. There are some fantastic books on the LRDG, such as Gavin Mortimer’s “The Men Who Made the SAS” and “Ghost Patrol” by John Sadler. Of course we used the typical Osprey titles such as “Long Range Desert Patrolman” and “Desert Raiders” for a high level overview with some nice visuals. But the best resource by far was a book called “Incident at Jebel Sherif” by Kuno Gross. This book served as the inspiration for the fifth scenario in the game, which features a skirmish between the LRDG and their Italian counterpart: the Auto-Saharan Company.
Grant: What did you have to sacrifice from history to make the game more
David: The main sacrifice was not representing the vast distances the LRDG traveled during their operations and not including the “road watch” operations they are often associated with. The LRDG would often travel hundreds of miles to reach their destination. And they performed critical road watch work, where they would monitor Axis troop movements far behind enemy lines for days and weeks at a time to provide critical intelligence. Neither of these elements are represented in the game, because they don’t really work with the Undaunted System.
Grant: The game uses cards and is a deck builder. How does the deck building
work? What role do Command Cards play in this deck building?
David: Deck-building really is at the heart of things like command and control as well as fog of war (and really denial and deception too). Over the course of the game, you use your unit’s command elements to help shape what you want to focus on. For the LRDG,
you’re relying on your lieutenant and warrant officer. For the Italians, it’s the platoon
sergeant, squad leader, tank command, and a reconnaissance aircraft. These
command elements add cards from a wide variety of different soldiers to the deck. The
more cards you add for a soldier, the more effective and resilient the soldier will be. If
you want to concentrate fire from a machine gunner, then bolster all that machine
gunner’s cards into your deck so you’ll draw him frequently.
Grant: What happens when a unit is attacked and killed on the battlefield? How
does this effect your deck and your future prospects in battle?
David: Each time a soldier’s counter is successfully attacked, you lose one of the soldier’s
cards from your deck. If your soldier is ever attacked and all the cards have already
been removed, the counter is permanently removed from the game.
Grant: What different unit types are represented by the cards? Can you please
show us a few examples and explain their abilities?
David: There are two broad categories of cards: Command and Combat. Command Cards
represent the command elements of the unit as mentioned above, while Combat Cards
represent the other soldiers on the battlefield.
A couple key card abilities:
Bolster: This allows you to take cards from your supply and add them to your deck,
thus increasing the effectiveness of the matching counter and improving its resilience.
The Italian squad leader and tank commander can only bolster their associated squads. The LRDG’s lieutenant and warrant officer and the Italian platoon sergeant can bolster across the entirety of the units.
Inspire: This is the key ability for providing synergy between the commanders and
soldiers. It allows the Italian squad leader or tank commander to effectively give a
second action to anyone in their squad during a turn.
The LRDG’s warrant officer can
use it to give a second action to any LRDG soldier.
Control: This is the key to most scenarios. Only certain soldiers (and the Italian tank) can control objectives.
Grant: What new Leaders are included in the design? What differentiates them from the Leaders in a Normandy?
David: The Italian platoon sergeant and LRDG’s lieutenant operate just as the platoon sergeants did in Normandy. Similarly, the Italian squad leader and tank commander and the LRDG’s warrant officer operate like squad leaders in Normandy, except that the warrant officer can inspire any soldier. The real difference is that the Italians also have a
recon aircraft. The recon aircraft is based on the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli, which was used extensively by the Italians to monitor the vast expanses of the North African desert. These aircraft were the bane of the LRDG. In the game they can strafe soldiers on the ground and surveil the area. This allows them to scout any location on the battlefield.
Grant: What new content is included in this volume?
David: The game is a completely stand-alone experience from Normandy. It has everything you
need to control the LRDG and Italians (82 command and combat cards, 6 vehicle cards, counters, etc.). There are eleven scenarios, which should keep players busy for quite a while. There’s also a campaign option which is designed for you to track the results across all eleven scenarios.
Grant: The biggest addition have been Vehicle Cards. What are the new cards and what vehicles do they represent?
David: Vehicle cards are used to track the position of soldiers within vehicles, the additional actions available to those soldiers, and the damage vehicles have taken. Unlike other cards, vehicle cards are never placed in your deck or supply. Instead, they are placed face up in front of players during setup. The LRDG has access to patrol, pilot, and gun trucks, while the Italians have a M13/40 medium tank, a scout car, and a light truck.
Grant: Can you please show us a card example for each and tell us the anatomy
for those cards and their abilities?
David: Here are images for the LRDG’s Gun Truck and Italian Medium Tank. You can see the cards’ title and the vehicle make (which have no game play effects), the different
location for soldier counters and their matching actions, as well as the area for disable
and destroyed thresholds. If a vehicle takes three damage, it is disabled and cannot be
used for its actions. If it takes five damage, it’s destroyed.
Grant: I notice there are several new markers including Escape markers, Damage
markers and Structure markers. What purpose do each of these serve?
David: Escape markers are used in certain scenarios where the goal is for one side to escape. They indicate tiles from which you can escape the field of battle. Damage markers are used to track damage on vehicles. Structure markers represent buildings, assets, and infrastructure of tactical significance. Each scenario will tell you which structure markers to use and which board tiles to place them on. They are typically targets that the LRDG must destroy in order to win the scenario.
Grant: What different type of Structures are included? What ability do they grant to
soldiers located inside?
David: The game includes aircraft, truck, fuel depot, roadblock, and hanger structures. They don’t directly affect soldiers, but they do have their own inherent defense, which is
used as the target for their LRDG’s demolitions actions.
Grant: What are the three new Support Actions and how do they work?
David: Navigate, Repair, and Surveil are all new support actions in North Africa. Navigate is similar to the Scout action from Normandy. It allows you to place scouted markers in spaces on the board, which then allows you to enter those spaces with your soldiers.
However, the navigate action is tied to vehicles rather than specific soldiers. The Repair
action allows you to remove damage tokens on a vehicle. Surveil, as mentioned above,
is used by the Italian recon aircraft to place scouted markers on the board.
Grant: What new terrain is introduced on the Map Tiles? What benefit do they
David: Some of the tiles in the game now include rough terrain. Rough terrain is impassable for vehicles, which means they need to be avoided altogether or only traversed by dismounted soldiers.
Grant: How many different scenarios are included? Can you list them?
David: Eleven. Here are the titles, locations, and dates for each. They are all based on actual skirmishes conducted by the LRDG (or its predecessor, the Long Range Patrol):
1. Landing Ground 7, eastern Libya, September 1940
2. The Hammer, southwestern Libya, January 1941 (introduces the Italian tank)
3. And the Anvil, southwestern Libya, January 1941 (introduces LRDG vehicles)
4. Threat from Above, southwestern Libya, January 1941 (introduces the recon aircraft)
5. Desperate Escape, southwestern Libya, January 1941 (introduces escaping)
6. Vulnerable Encampments, northeastern Libya, April 1941
7. Libyan Taxi Service, northeastern Libya, June 1941 (introduces roadblocks)
8. Town and Fort, northeastern Libya, November 1941
9. The Ambush, northeastern Libya, November 1941
10. Operation Caravan, northeastern Libya, September 1942
11. The Great Escape, northeastern Libya, September 1942
Grant: What scenarios are your favorites?
David: Scenario 5, Desperate Escape, is my favorite because it is based on the rich
background material in Kuno Gross’ book “Incident at Jebel Sherif.” I also enjoy the very
asymmetric roles the two sides play in the scenario (the LRDG is trying to escape off the
board, while the Italians are trying to neutralize the LRDG).
Grant: How do you feel the art by Roland MacDonald has helped to create theme in
David: Roland’s art is inextricably linked to the game. It is just as much part of Undaunted: Normandy and Undaunted: North Africa as the game design. I can’t imagine ever working on a game in the series without him doing the art. He’s brought the game to life in a way I never dreamed possible. And if you’ll indulge a rant here for a moment…I get that art is subjective. But I’ve seen a few people dismiss his work as too “cartoony”. I
can’t disagree more. I love it and think it’s perfect.
Grant: Why isn’t there a solitaire variant included? Who do we need to speak to in
order to get this added?
David: No – there’s not a solitaire version in North Africa unfortunately. In truth, we had no idea that the solitaire community was going to embrace this game in that way that it has. I was blown away that Undaunted: Normandy won the BGG 1 Player Guild’s award for best multiplayer game played solitaire. That is a really, really cool achievement. Folks
have done an amazing job to come up with systems to improve the solitaire experience
in the game already. And remember, the design for North Africa was complete before
Normandy was released, so we never had a chance to include a solitaire option in North
Africa in response to the positive reaction that Normandy received. But I can say that we have heard the solitaire community!
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?
David: That it’s a wargame designed for everyone. Wargamers can play with their wargaming friends, Eurogaming friends, spouses, and children.
Grant: What is the next entry in the series going to cover?
David: Are you trying to get me in trouble?!?! But seriously, I can tell you that we just delivered the design to Osprey. But I can’t tell you what it is. Let’s focus on North Africa for now! 🙂
Grant: What other designs are you currently working on?
David: Well, a few of my designs are about to release in the near future. In addition to
Undaunted: North Africa, I also have For What Remains (DVG), By Stealth and Sea
(DVG), and War Chest: Siege (AEG) set to release later this year. Sniper Elite (based
on the video game series) should hit Kickstarter in the summer. Currently I’m working on the next game in the Valiant Defense Series, which is called Soldiers in Postmen’s
Uniforms (which follows Castle Itter and Pavlov’s House). I’m also working on a project
with my co-designer partner Trevor Benjamin for the Sadler Brothers (best known for
their modular deck system games Street Masters, Brook City, and Altar Quest)…but I
can’t talk specifics. And of course Trevor and I have started on another Undaunted
design — and it’s going to be good!
Thanks David for the great information on the new volume in the series. We really have enjoyed our plays of Undaunted: Normandy and look forward to the experience in North Africa and to see how it differs.