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Welcome to Swords and Chit! My aim is to focus on discussing and reviewing wargames. There are two primary reasons I wanted to start blogging about my wargaming experience: as a relatively new wargamer coming from a background of euro games, a lot of things in the wargaming hobby are going to be new to me and I hope to provide a fresh voice for those who might be on a similar journey into this area of gaming. Second, I have a very strong preference for games set in the Medieval period or earlier – although that isn’t where I’ll exclusively play, it is what I will focus on more than anything else. So I am glad you discovered this blog, and I hope you stick around for future posts!
In case you missed it, Undaunted: Normandy won the Golden Geek Award on BGG for the Best Wargame of 2019. My play of the game did come prior to that announcement, but it seemed like now is as good of time as any to get those thoughts pooled together from that first play and talk a little bit about this game. Because my Wargame experiences so far are few in number and I am fresh off a background in other modern board games, I believe this can provide some value for those somewhat curious about this game, even if they don’t have a lot of background in Wargames.
Insight #1: Deckbuilding is a comforting feature
Deckbuilding has always been one of my go-to mechanics in games, and so Undaunted: Normandy commanded my attention as soon as I heard it used deckbuilding in the gameplay. It sounded like a dream come true, being able to play a Wargame with a comfort mechanic in it. And, well, at least the first scenario definitely lived up to the promise of that premise. There’s a small deck where you can (but don’t have to) add in more unit cards along the way. There’s ways to earn “dead” cards into your deck, and ways to remove those cards from the deck. And your turn consists of drawing a set number of cards and playing them all, discarding any unplayed and drawing new for the next turn. All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised that the deckbuilding aspect was a strong feature of the game rather than a tacked-on gimmick to try and gain more sales or exposure. It also probably gave me a slight leg up on my opponent, as I believe I have far more familiarity and comfort in the deckbuilding aspect of gaming, so this one allowed me to play to my own strength as a gamer.
Insight #2: Plan for taking damage and construct accordingly.
Damage is really unique in this game. A unit takes a hit, and it doesn’t necessarily remove them from the map: you remove a copy of their card from your deck, checking the location sequentially until you find a copy (starting with your hand) and remove that copy from the game. The opening scenario has you start with a single copy of your units in the hand, meaning one hit and that unit is a sitting duck – unless you take the time to add more of those cards into your deck. Not only is it a good idea on a defensive standpoint, but it also means you’ll be able to activate a unit several times per deck cycle – potentially several times in a single turn. And let me tell you, there were a few times when I really could have used another copy of a unit in my hand to secure a position or objective without giving my opponent a chance to counter me. In fact, the only reason I won our scenario was by holding two copies of the card he attacked in a desperation attempt to delay my victory – had there been only one copy, I would have needed to wait another turn to draw a new copy of that unit or a copy of the other unit sitting at that final location.
Insight #3: Plan Your Objectives and Execute
One thing I believe I did well was to read the board in the opening turns and come up with a plan on how to get to my required number of Objective points. As the Germans, I began with a point advantage but needed to cross a lot of terrain to get more. There was a tempting single point within easy striking distance, set between both forces, but that would require me to hold two positions beyond my starting space in order to win. There was a 2-point objective in the far corner, away from us both, and that was where I planned my route. Since every movement into a new space gives a Fog of War card, planning out my route ahead of time saved my deck from getting too bulky with those. I made a beeline for that space and, for the most part, executed well in my attempt to take and hold the position. Except…
Insight #4: Don’t forget to keep someone back to defend
How easy it can be to forget this aspect, as you have only a few troops to move around the board and the impulse is an all-out offensive to take key areas. Especially when the enemy starts far enough away from you that it isn’t going to be easy for them to take a space. But sure enough, my opponent was a turn away from taking my starting space because I emptied everyone out of there, dumb move on my part in hindsight. Another turn, maybe two, and my opponent would have swung things drastically in his favor – and since your activations are dependent upon card draws, it becomes entirely possible that he could have stolen that victory from me.
Insight #5: Steal the Initiative Early
My biggest mistake of the game, I believe, was being complacent about initiative. It seemed like such a small detail early on that I was happy to bid a Fog of War whenever possible and just go second. At the time, there was minimal tactical advantage to going earlier than him, so I reserved my useful cards for playing as actions. I tend to play Euro games, where there’s an action to become first player, the same way – I avoid it as often as possible until I see a benefit to taking that action. And as a whole, it was sound reasoning, until it wasn’t anymore. In the final two rounds, I wanted to go earlier than my opponent and so had to bid as high as I could without ruining my plans. And wouldn’t you know it, both times he bid the same, which kept initiative with him while burning a more useful card that I could have kept for the same end result. It darn near cost me the game in the final round, too, as going first would have locked in the victory before he could react to stop me.
Let’s start with the easy thing here: is this my vote for the best Wargame of 2019? Unfortunately not, as I would rate both Nevsky and Peloponnesian War above this but those are far less accessible than Undaunted: Normandy. And that accessible thing is huge for something like the BGG Awards, which might get folks unfamiliar with a Wargame to try it, and this is definitely friendly for those types of gamers with enough here to please many seasoned Wargamers as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the play, although this was one we played via email and photos, with my friend dropping off a deck to me. I await the next scenario, where we can hopefully play it across the table from each other (although I wouldn’t object to another play-by-email in the meantime…)
And I really, really liked the deckbuilding aspect of this game, and I know there is an Undaunted: North Africa coming that should be just as enjoyable. And while I will never turn down a game of either of those (because they are that fun so far!), I’ll be in the quiet minority sitting over here waiting for – and wishing for – something like Undaunted: Hastings, Undaunted: Agincourt, or even Undaunted: Caesar and Undaunted: Alfred the Great. I know, I’ll just sit here quietly and go back to my Commands & Colors, Great Battles of History, and Men of Iron series of games. But I’ll be keeping a close eye on anything coming out using this same system as Undaunted: Normandy.