Dale's Wargames

My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

A First Look at Undaunted Normandy

Undaunted: Normandy (UN) is a card, tile, and counter game of small-unit infantry combat in Normandy 1944. It is called a "deck building game" by the publisher Osprey Games. When most people hear that term they think of something different than what it really is. You do not pick and choose your cards from a large pool of options. Rather, the scenario defines what cards are available because the cards are the soldiers in the fight. If you have ten "Rifleman" cards you have ten soldiers with rifleman qualities.


The box contains all that you need for a game. It is smaller than a standard Letter size page and about 3-4" thick, so the game is very compact. Inside is a nice plastic tray to hold the game tiles, four 10-sided dice, and the two decks of cards (German and U.S.).


Underneath the plastic tray there is more than enough room to hold all of the counters in the game.


The game includes a rule book, which contain more than enough examples of play, and the scenario book. The rule book is very thin as this is really a fairly simple game. Don't let that fool you, however. The gameplay is very thought-provoking.


This is what the first scenario setup looks like. Each tile has a number and a side A and B. The map shows you which tiles to use, how to place them, what units are in play, and what additional markers to use (such as objectives, control, scouted, and spawn markers).


This is why I say it is not really a deck building game. Half of the fun of the game is building a deck and tuning it over time. In UN the scenario specifies which cards are in your starting deck (black circle with white D), which cards are in your reserves (white circle with black S), and which are not in play at all.


In the beginning scenario both sides start with two squads of five riflemen and two teams of three scouts – represented by four unit counters on the board – one platoon sergeant, and two squad leaders – represented only by cards.

Here is the board, set up and ready to go.


First thing to notice is that each area of the map is a square tile. Note that the squares are offset so each square is surrounded by six adjacent squares, much as a hex grid would be, rather than four adjacent orthogonally and four adjacent diagonally as in a square grid.

Each square has a white number inside a black shield at the bottom center. This represents a defense value given to any unit in the square being shot at. Values in this set of tiles range from 0 to 3.

In the upper-right I have placed the light brown objective markers, which look like guidons. Each has a value from 1 to 3, indicting the number of objective points allotted to the player that controls the square. In this scenario the German player starts with control of 3 objective points (last column, middle row square). In this scenario, the first player to reach 5 objective points immediately wins the game.

In the upper-left corner of the square I place the control markers. A control marker for your side can either show binoculars, indicating you have scouted the area, or an insignia, indicating you control the area. If you control the area then you claim the objective points in the square. A square can have scouted control markers from both sides, but only one side can claim control of the square (have the insignia side up).

In the early scenarios there are two basic unit types: riflemen and scouts. Scout units move through areas, placing scouted control markers in each square they pass through. Riflemen units can only move into areas that have scouted markers for your side. Once in a square they can attempt to control it, earning the objective points if successful.

That is pretty much the game. Use scouts to scout out areas then move riflemen in to control them and score objective points. Whichever side scores enough objective points first wins.

Turn Sequence

Your cards exist in one of six places: the deck; supply area; your hand; the play area; the discard pile; and the dead pile. Here are what the cards look like.
The number is the upper-left corner represents an initiative value. Each turn both players draw four cards from the deck to the hand. They will pick one of those cards in the hand to use to bid for initiative. The card with the higher value wins the bid, gaining initiative. (In the case of a tie, the player with initiative retains it.) That bidding card is then placed into the discard pile.

The player with the initiative plays one card from the hand at a time into the play area, taking one of the actions indicated on the card. For example, looking at the card for the Rifleman in Squad A (second row, middle column), you can see the actions below the green stripe: Move 1; Attack 1; and Control. This allows the unit to move one square, attack once, or control the current square.

The player plays all of the cards in their hand, one at a time, until all of the cards are played and none remain in the hand. All of the cards in the play area are placed in the discard pile. The player that lost initiative now does the same, playing each of the cards from their hand one at a time until done, then moving the cards in the play area to the discard pile. The turn is now done and a new turn is started.

  • Draw Cards
  • Bid for Initiative
  • Initiative Winner Plays Cards
  • Initiative Winner Discards Played Cards
  • Initiative Loser Plays Cards
  • Initiative Loser Discards Played Cards

Note that there is no "check for victory" phase. As soon as one player fulfills the victory conditions, play immediately stops; it does not continue until the end of the turn. Thus holding initiative has an inherent value.

Once a player's deck is exhausted, their discard pile is shuffled and then becomes their new deck.

Command and Control

The cards represent your command and control ability. You can only act with the units that were drawn into your hand that turn. Because you only have three cards to play, your ability to act more than once with a unit relies on the luck of the draw. But, there is a way to change the odds.

You have several cards which represents soldiers on the battlefield, but not on the board as a separate unit: the Platoon command staff (Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Guide) and the Squad command (Squad Leader). These cards have special abilities like Bolster, Command, and Inspire.

Bolster

The Bolster action, available to the Platoon and Squad commands, allows the player to move cards from the supply area (think of them as reinforcements) to the discard pile. This is how you increase the number of cards in your deck of a certain type, increasing the odds of drawing that card and of drawing more than one of that card.

Command

The Command action allows the player to draw additional cards from the deck to the hand, thus changing the number of possible actions a player can play in one turn.

Inspire

The Inspire action allows the player to take a card from the play area, i.e. a card already played this turn, and place it back into the hand, effectively allowing a player to play a card more than once a turn.

Hunker Down

One final action a player can take – although it is not listed on any card – that impacts your card composition is Hunker Down, which is done with a unit card. This means that the card is played from the hand back to the supply area.

The Fog of War

There are a specific number of Fog of War cards that are placed in your deck and supply, dictated by the scenario, that represent the loss of command and control. These cards effectively clog your hand, allowing you to take no action. Scouting an area will transfer a Fog of War card from your supply to your discard pile, a Conceal action will transfer a Fog of War card from your enemy's supply to their discard pile, and a Recon action will transfer a Fog of War card from your hand to the dead pile. Note that all of these actions are only available to Scout units. Also note that you cannot Hunker Down with a Fog of War card as it is not a unit card.

Combat

As discussed previously, the square tile that a unit is in indicates it defense value. Each unit also has a defense value, indicated on the unit counter in the lower-left corner inside the shield. Finally, the farther a unit is from the target it is shooting at increases the total defense value.


To resolve combat, a unit takes an Attack action and adds the square's and unit's defense value to the number of squares from the firing square to the target square. In the example figure above, the German Rifleman Squad A fires one square at the U.S. Scouts Team B. The range is 1 + 5 defense value for the unit and 0 for the square's defense value for a total of 6. The attacker then must roll a '6' or higher on a D10 to score a hit.

If a hit is scored one card of the type in the squad indicated by the unit counter must be removed. The card is removed from the hand, discard pile, or deck (in that order) to the dead pile, and if no card is found, the unit counter itself is removed (even if there are still cards of that type in that squad remain in the supply area). Continuing with the example above, if the German scores a hit, a Scouts Squad B card must be removed as indicated above, otherwise the unit counter will be removed.

Each scenario indicates a spawn point for each side. A unit counter can be returned to the board at the spawn point if a card for that unit type and squad is brought into play, such as with a Bolster command.

Note that there are other types of combat such as suppression (requires discarding a card in lieu of taking an action) and HE attacks (called blast attacks). This covers the attacks by two other types of units not represented in the first scenario, machine guns and mortars. The final unit type is the sniper.

Final Note

There is no variance between the cards of a single unit type, other than the name of the person and a squad designation. So one Rifleman card always has the same initiative value and actions available as every other Rifleman card in the game. The variance is between the card types, i.e. Rifleman cards are different from Scout cards which are different from Mortar cards, and so on.

Sample Game

Here is the first scenario at the start. The Germans start with 3 objective points under their control, but only one objective point between the German and U.S. starting positions. In order for the Germans to win they must either take the objective in front of the U.S. starting position or one beyond the U.S. starting position.


By turn 2 the U.S. forces were able to push their rifle squads into the farm, capturing the first objective (worth two points), making the score 3-2 Germans. The U.S. Scouts are contesting the objective to the north. Given that the defense value of that square is 2, it will be hard for each side to dig the other side's Scouts out.


By turn 5 the U.S. have controlled another square, making the objective point score 3-3. In the upper-left corner you can see the face down U.S. cards. That represents the dead pile, meaning that the Germans have been scoring casualties while the U.S. have been scoring objectives.

In the north the Germans have doubled up to try and dig out the U.S. Scouts, which is largely where those casualties came from.


By turn 7 the Germans have eliminated four U.S. cards and removed the U.S. Scouts Team A unit counter (which spawned back on the board by the end of the turn). This allowed the Germans to take back the lead in objective points, 4-3.

Meanwhile the U.S. has been causing German casualties of its own (two) while U.S. Riflemen Squad A is poised to control the final objective for the win. Despite the Germans blazing away at the unit, it has not been able to take it down. As you can see on the left side of the image, all of the supply cards for units have been added to the U.S. deck, save for a few Fog of War cards.


By turn 8 – despite not having the initiative – the U.S. secured the last objective, putting them at 5-4 for the win. Overall the U.S. lost five men to the German two, but the U.S. kept their eye on the objective and prevailed.


This was an interesting scenario to start with as the Germans have to either attack close to the U.S. reinforcement (spawn) point or attack across an open field (square 3B in the second column, bottom row) to control the farthest objective (square 6A, first column, bottom row). The objective to the north (square 7A) is a distraction to the Germans, and should the U.S. challenge it, it will be slow for the Germans to control it due to the good defense value of the square.

Overall Impressions

One of the hardest decisions to make when gaming solo and using rules where you do not have full control, i.e. not every unit can act in a single turn, is decided which unit should act. UN solves that problem for a solo gamer as this decision is taken away as a core mechanic.

That said, having hidden information in a game is generally the bane of the solo game and it has two: card hand management and hidden bidding. I talk about how to deal with that in a post over on my Solo Battles blog. Some say that any randomization of the bidding is detrimental to the game as initiative is core to the game, but I did not find it so. There were turns in which I intentionally gave up the initiative in order to get rid of a dead card in the U.S. hand. But then again, I need to play it a lot more to really get a feel for the true importance of initiative.

The rules are very simple and there was nothing I had a question on. I can see that might be a problem with a future scenario in that there are no explicit canal rules that I can find.

The concept of dividing cards into a deck, representing forces actively engaged, and a supply, representing temporarily ineffective members of a squad, or even off-board reinforcements that enter at the reinforcement (spawn) point, is a really slick concept. If playing a campaign game, say with something like Platoon Forward, you can easily assume cards in the dead pile as simply rendered ineffective for the remainder of the battle. After the battle is over you can roll to see if you find them cowering in the rear, at the first aid station, wounded and out of action for awhile, recipient of a million-dollar wound, or in fact dead.

I can easily see myself playing Undaunted: Normandy again, and I have already pre-ordered Undaunted: North Africa, which is the sequel pitting Britain's raiders from the Long Range Desert Group against the Italians in North Africa. (I can foresee playing the Italians as the non-player side.) My hope is that this game will introduce light vehicles.

Recommended.

Miniatures

I can easily see using 15mm miniatures with, say, 6" square tiles. For each unit card in the deck initially you would have a miniature by the corresponding unit counter. As more cards are added through the Bolster command, you would add more miniatures to the units. As cards are sent to the dead pile, so would the corresponding miniature.

Would this be necessary? Of course not. But nor are miniatures necessary for practically any miniatures rules out there. (Well, maybe the skirmish ones that take true line-of-sight and figure silhouettes into account. But you know what I mean.) I could see using this sort of ruleset to play out miniatures games the same way people use Command and Colors (Ancients or Napoleonics) for the rules, but use miniatures instead of blocks for the units. It looks much more glorious, but plays with the rock-solid rules that board games tend to have.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").