In case you have just woken up from a 5 year slumber or don’t really get out much or seldom read this blog and just don’t know, David Thompson is a really talented designer who has been putting out lots of really playable and entertaining wargames over the past couple of years. One of his finest efforts has been the 2019 hit Undaunted: Normandy, which is a card based small squad tactical game that uses deckbuilding 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 there have been two expansions in the series released to date, one that is a stand-alone game called Undaunted: North Africa and a second that is called Undaunted: Reinforcements that adds cards and scenarios to both Normandy and North Africa along with a solitaire mode. Now releasing is the 4th installment in the series called Undaunted: Stalingrad. But this game is not just the same old same old reskinned and put out to make cash. This one is a totally new animal that includes some Legacy style mechanics, where conditions and cards change over the course of a campaign making each play a bit different. It is also a huge game, having well over 375 cards, 129 map tiles, 204 various tokens, 4 dice and 4 booklets, including the rules, a German scenario book, a Russian scenario book and Campaign book. I reached out to David and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions, and as always he was more than willing to share.
Grant: Where is the setting for your newest entry into the Undaunted Series? Why did you feel the East Front and Stalingrad was the right next step?
David: The next game in the Undaunted Series is set in Stalingrad, specifically in the northern portion of the city center, near 9 January Square, from September – November 1942.
The desire to make a legacy-style campaign game in the Undaunted Series goes all the way back to February 2018, six months before Undaunted: Normandy was released! Trevor Benjamin (my design partner) and I talked about the possibility of having semi-persistent effects in the game. In August 2019, just around the time Undaunted: North Africa was releasing, Osprey commissioned Undaunted: Stalingrad as a “destructive legacy” game (meaning components in the game would be physically destroyed). Stalingrad seemed the perfect setting for a wargame with such a focus on permanence.
Grant: What did you want to make sure and model in the design from the history of the Battle for the city of Stalingrad?
David: Undaunted: Stalingrad shares the same scale as Undaunted: Normandy (that is, each counter represents a small number of soldiers). We wanted the environment to reflect the cramped spaces of the Stalingrad battlefield, with real, lasting impacts. We based the setting for Undaunted: Stalingrad on actual locations around 9 January Square – many of them relatively unknown. And unlike former titles in the Undaunted Series which use modular tiles to abstractly represent an environment, the entirety of the tiles in Undaunted: Stalingrad can be laid out to accurately reflect the section of Stalingrad where the campaign takes place. So more than anything, we wanted players to really have the sense of battling over the streets of Stalingrad in this newest title in the Undaunted Series.
Grant: What type of research did you have to do and what were some of the sources you used?
David: Undaunted: Stalingrad is conveniently set in the same general area as Pavlov’s House (and, in fact, Pavlov’s House makes an appearance in Undaunted: Stalingrad). So I was able to leverage much of my knowledge from researching Pavlov’s House for the research phase of Undaunted: Stlaingrad. However, I did need to expand things like the visual cues for Roland MacDonald (the artist), when we turned the art brief over to him. For that purpose, finding as many photographs from the battle (both of the environment and the soldiers) was critical.
Grant: What did you have to sacrifice from history to make the game more playable?
David: Undaunted has always been more about trying to evoke a feeling rather than adhere to some strict simulationist model. In the game, the players take on the role of platoon leaders of a single platoon. We have to stretch realism a bit by asking those players (and their platoons) to stretch their actions across a region that would otherwise be covered by a company, or possibly even a regiment. Similarly, we had to slightly shift the geography of the battlefield to accommodate some of our scenario designs. Still, I would argue that the geography of the area where the game takes place is at least as accurate as any other wargame set in Stalingrad.
Grant: How has the Undaunted system changed? What is new to the system in this volume?
David: We changed the way units spawned. Instead of requiring extra tokens on the board during set-up to designate spawn locations, we simplified things by ruling that units spawned at Riflemen locations, which also had the added benefit of adding some interesting in-game tactical choices. In addition, we added a new end condition for routed Riflemen. This meant that we could remove the “Beyond All Hope” rule in the game, which was undoubtedly the most confusing and least satisfying rule in Undaunted: Normandy and Undaunted: North Africa.
There is a LOT that is new in Undaunted: Stalingrad. Some of those elements are fairly minor (new abilities for units, for example). But certainly the major change is the way the campaign system works. During the course of the campaign, you will play through up to fifteen branching scenarios, with each path driven by your successes and failures. With over 35 different scenarios in the game, every campaign experience will be different than the one before. Each player in Undaunted: Stalingrad has their own mission briefings, providing players with a story tailored to their perspective of the battle.
Grant: What new unit cards are available to both the Germans and the Soviets?
David: Oh we’re going to get into spoilers fast with this question! And I’m a little reluctant to do that, simply because it’s entirely possible (in fact, probable) that players will play through entire campaigns without unlocking all the different units (and certainly all the different special abilities on unit upgrades). At the beginning of the game, players start with the familiar units (Riflemen, Scouts, and Machine Gunners). But as early as Scenario 2, the players will start adding new units and those new units will be added asymmetrically to the players’ forces. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but some familiar types of units will show up (Engineers, Tanks, Snipers, etc.), and we’ll have some brand new stuff never seen before.
Grant: Can you please show us a card example for each and tell us the anatomy for those cards and their abilities?
David: Sure – here are a few sample cards, and you can see the complete details for one of the Soviet Tanks – the T-34-76 Mod. All cards have an initiative value (in the upper left), and most combat cards are assigned to a squad (“T” in this case). The soldier for this card has been upgraded through his actions in a prior scenario, so he has a red star in the upper right of the card and a medal on the banner for the card name. At the bottom of the card are the four actions the player can take with the card: Move (1), Attack (2, ≤0), Antitank (4, 4), and Suppress (3). In brief, this means the card can be used to allow the matching tank unit to move 1 space, attack infantry with 2 dice but only in the same space as the tank, attack armored units and buildings with 4 dice, and suppress infantry with 3 dice. You’ll note that the Antitank Ability is surrounded by a special border, indicating that it is an upgraded ability.
Grant: How do casualties suffered in battle weaken your forces for the entire campaign?
David: At the end of a scenario you check the number of casualties that you sustained. The more casualties you took (cards that your opponent removed from your forces during the game), the more your force will be weakened moving forward. If you lose casualties from a core unit (Riflemen, Scouts, Machine Gunners), they will be replaced by weakened reserve soldiers (who either have a reduced ability or lose abilities altogether). If you lose casualties from other units, they are simply removed from your force.
Grant: What new Terrain Types are introduced on the Map Tiles? What benefit to defenders do they provide?
David: The game introduces two new major Terrain Types: Buildings and Fortifications. Buildings provide improved defenses when you are attacked from another tile (and they also prohibit vehicles from entering a tile). But they can be targeted by antitank weapons, demolitions, and bombs. If they are damaged, you replace the tiles with a damaged version of the buildings. In addition, Fortifications are special tiles that provide improved defense to the force that controls the tile.
Grant: How does the game incorporate Legacy elements?
David: The game was entirely designed around the idea of Legacy elements. In fact, it was originally designed to be a “destructive legacy” game, though after the design was complete, Osprey made the (awesome!) decision to make it a resettable campaign. What that means is that it carries all the permanence and weight from a Legacy-style game, but is totally replayable.
At the beginning of Undaunted: Stalingrad, your platoon consists of Squad Leaders, Scouts, Riflemen, and Machine Gunners. Over the course of the campaign, you will be able to add many new troops to your platoon, and you will be able to outfit your soldiers with new weapons and equipment. As you command your troops in skirmishes, they have the opportunity to be rewarded for their valor. They can be promoted and take on new roles and responsibilities. But even though the Battle of Stalingrad offers your soldiers a chance to demonstrate their courage, it is extremely dangerous and many of the troops that you begin the campaign with will not live to see the fate of the city.
Your actions and those of your opponent will reshape the city of Stalingrad as you make your way through the campaign. Buildings will be reduced to rubble. You will have to use the environment to your advantage to be successful in your battles, hiding in the rubble left behind by a destroyed apartment building, navigating secret tunnels, and forcing your opponent’s tanks into your ambushes.
Everything that happens in one scenario will persist into the next. And each scenario will create a new branch in the campaign. It is entirely possible to play two campaigns of Undaunted: Stalingrad and replay only one scenario (the first scenario).
Grant: How many different scenarios are included? Can you list them?
David: There are over 35 scenarios (though you’ll only play as many as 15 in any given campaign). I can’t list them – spoilers! But I will say that you’re battling over 9 January Square in the first scenario, so Pavlov’s House will make a guest appearance early on!
Here is a look at a branching scenario graphic that was used in a designer diary entry on Osprey Games website that will give you a feel for the depth and breadth of the scenarios.
Grant: What scenarios are your favorites?
David: There is a LOT going on behind the scenes in the campaign that the players won’t ever directly know. One of those elements is a sort of assessment of how the campaign is going for each side. We know, based on the current state of the campaign, everything that has happened before, and which player might need a little help. To that end, there are a couple scenarios specifically designed to favor one side or the other. Those scenarios can be especially challenging for one player, but if you win it will be an incredible victory. I don’t want to get too specific, because I think these will be some of the most memorable scenarios. But ask me again after the game has been out for a while and we’re not worried about spoiling the game!
Grant: Do the scenarios change based upon what side won the previous scenario?
David: The scenarios themselves don’t change, though which scenario you’re playing does change based on what happened in the prior scenario (which is why we had to create so many scenarios – to account for every possible permutation). However, elements of the scenario (the geography, the force composition, etc.) will persist between scenarios. So it’s entirely possible for you to play the same scenario across two different campaigns and have a radically different experience because key buildings may have been leveled, units may have been upgraded or entire groups of soldiers may have been killed.
Grant: With the Legacy elements how did you have to change your paradigm about the series?
David: Previously we prescribed the exact supply (cards available to the player) in the scenario setup. We couldn’t do that in Stalingrad. We needed to let the players carry forward what they had, and have access to their full assortment of units (with a few minor exceptions). It was important for the game and players’ experience that we allowed this freedom to players, but it meant a massive additional burden on our parts for testing the balance of the scenarios because we had to account for so many additional variables.
Grant: How do you feel the art by Roland MacDonald has helped to create theme in the game?
David: Roland is an absolutely critical part of the Undaunted team. For sure, the game would not have had the success it’s enjoyed without his incredible art. Although the art is similar across the series, he also tweaks the style to fit each particular game. And Stalingrad is the true pinnacle of his creativity, as you’ll see individual soldiers grow and change across the art in the game, and similarly you’ll see the environment change over time as the battle wages across the streets of Stalingrad.
Grant: Who wrote the mission briefings? How have their talents assisted with the narrative?
David: For the first time for an Undaunted title, Osprey hired an acclaimed author, Robbie MacNiven, to provide a narrative for the game. Rather than just provide a quick background passage for each scenario, as had been done in prior titles, Undaunted: Stalingrad follows the action with a narrative tailored for each side in the battle, focusing the story on the commanders: the platoon sergeants and squad leaders. Over the course of the campaign, successes and failures are reflected in the narrative, and the personalities of the leaders for each side will emerge.
The decision to include the evocative story is one of the many reasons that I love collaborating with Osprey. They chose to go the extra step in hiring an acclaimed author to breathe life into the game that – when combined with Roland’s art – really helps set the game over others in the genre, in my opinion.
Grant: Why isn’t there a solitaire variant included? Who do we need to speak to in order to get this added?
David: The solitaire system for Undaunted was introduced in Reinforcements. It was created by David Digby and David Turczi, and is tailored down to the individual soldier level and optimized for each scenario. That approach could not have worked for Stalingrad, because there is no way for the game to know the precise state of every soldier. For a solitaire system to work for Stalingrad, it would have to be a much different, more generalized approach.
I’d say let Osprey know if you really want something!
Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?
David: Just the experience of enjoying the final product myself. I don’t usually play my own games unless I’m demoing them or playing with my kids. So, for example, I’ve only played the first scenario from my copy of the final, published version of Undaunted: Reinforcements. That means I seldom get to enjoy the final product. But with Stalingrad I’ve made a point of taking the time to play the final version myself, so that I can enjoy Roland’s art, Robbie’s narrative, and the emergence of what occurs over an organic campaign (not a playtest situation with placeholder art).
Grant: What is the next entry in the series going to cover?
David: The next game in the series is Undaunted: Battle of Britain. One thing that is very important for us is that every game feels fresh and special. Normandy was the first game and laid the foundation. North Africa changed the scale and introduced asymmetry for the units. Reinforcements introduced 4p team play and solitaire. Stalingrad is the massive, legacy-style campaign game. Now Battle of Britain is pushing the system is a whole new, exciting direction by adding aerial combat.
Grant: What other designs are you currently working on?
David: I have a few things in the works.
- Dire Alliance: Horror is a horror-themed (surprise!) miniatures skirmish game that shares some design DNA with Undaunted and War Chest. It’s being published by Blacklist and should be out in 2023. It’s a co-design with Trevor Benjamin.
- Another thing Trevor and I are working on is an awesome video game IP I was commissioned to design. That has been exciting!
- I’m working on a couple new titles for Osprey (one is a co-design with Trevor and the other is a co-design with Dave Neale). I’m super excited about both, as they are both wargame-adjacent and I hope will serve to bridge wargamers and non-wargamers in the same way that Undaunted has. I think one will be out in 2023 and the other in 2024.
- Geoff Engelstein and I are working on Zheng He for GMT, which is a solitaire-only game about the Ming Voyages where you take the role of Zheng He. Zheng He is on P500, but I’m not sure when it will be available.
- I have a game in work with Roger Tankersley (my partner for Sniper Elite and Resist!) that is in collaboration with Paolo Mori, who is one of my all time favorite designers. I think that game should be out in 2023.
- There are some other things on contract, but it’s probably too early to chat about those.
Thanks David for the great information on the new volume in the series. We really have enjoyed our plays of Undaunted: Normandy and North Africa and really look forward to how the experience is going to evolve in Stalingrad.
Recently, we posted a very quick unboxing video and to get a look at the components, without a lot of spoilers, check it out at the following link:
If you are interested in Undaunted: Stalingrad, you can pre-order a copy for $120.00 from the Osprey Games website at the following link: https://ospreypublishing.com/us/undaunted-stalingrad-9781472852670/
Yet another great interview with a master designer. I currently have Postmen in Soldiers Uniforms on my gaming table at the moment because of interviews with David Thompson like this and TPA reviews.
Really looking forward to TPA’s video review of Undaunted Stalingrad – I’m betting Alexander will win the campaign, and his advice to Grant will be “roll better”. 🤣 (sorry Grant 😉)
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So we did play the first scenario the other night and Grant won….barely but its a W! That is all that matters. My rolling was average until the end when I got some good rolls on hard targets. Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms is really excellent! A great addition to the system because it adds an elevation concept and there are some neat new tricks like the fire truck full of gasoline and the barricades.
WOW! Honestly, been taking stock of my war games, and am feeling slightly overwhelmed! I’ve seen a few pre-reviews on this game and it IS pretty exciting! I love the modular boards, the units, and the overall chaos such a battle entails.I have DVG’s version of Stalingrad, THE HELL OF STALINGRAD, and another one where you fight over a massive board…add in PanzerBlitz, C&C, and my old standby AH games. WHEW! I think this game will be very approachable and easier to set up and play, than many others I have. I sense a bit more GRIT to this game… which makes it even more exciting. I’ll be highly interested in BOB, when DT is finished with it. BOB was NEVER on of my favorite war subjects, but DT always has a particular spin on his games, and I’ll be interested to see how he spins it.Still looking to get the Africa campaign game.
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