Undaunted: Stalingrad

Undaunted: Stalingrad

A marvel of deck building.

A marvel of deck building.

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15/12/2023 toolmxh.com

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Review game Undaunted: Stalingrad, A marvel of deck building.

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Unfazed: In 2019, Normandy appeared out of nowhere and gained enough popularity to inspire a follow-up and an expansion. It’s another game in a long list about the battles fought in northern France during World War II, as the title suggests. The way that Undaunted depicted officers and soldiers using a deck of cards that players could add to during the game to adjust their strategy was what set it apart. We included it in our lists of the greatest board games for war and deck-building because it was that good.

Unfazed: Stalingrad arrives in a large, weighty package with a large, weighty price tag. The cityscapes the players will battle for throughout the campaign are constructed from two enormous stacks of cardboard tiles. In fact, you can create a rough map of the ancient city by arranging all the tiles in rows in numerical order. One set of tiles represents the map’s initial state. If the original tiles are destroyed or fortified during the action, the other set serves as a set of replacements.

For the decks of cards that comprise the remaining weight, the narrative is similar. The German player has one lot, and the Soviet player has another. The starting decks have the same functionality. However, as the game progresses, your deck will lose cards permanently and gain access to new ones. These additions address a common criticism of the original game; they are not the same for both sides but rather reflect operational and material differences between them.

It goes beyond a simple reskin. With an innovative, focused campaign system, it’s a completely new game.

The contents are completed with some 10-sided dice, sheets of punch-out counters that depict various squads, vehicles, and scenery, as well as battlefield markers. Given the weighty subject matter, the somewhat cartoonish style of the cards and tiles used in all of the Undaunted games is a bit of an acquired taste. However, artist Roland MacDonald has achieved the perfect balance between realism and caricature for this fourth installment. The Soviet forces’ realistic diversity, which includes women and a range of ethnic backgrounds, is also encouraging.

Deck-building is a well-worn design concept in which players begin the game with a core set of cards and use those cards to purchase additional cards. But in the majority of deck-building games, that’s all there is to it. The way the deck represents elements of morale and unit cohesion without the need for extra rules is what distinguishes Undaunted. Of course, the card draw has a fair amount of chance, which may or may not help you accomplish your goals on the board. However, there is also a lot of strategy.

Each turn, players begin with four cards: they play one in a thrilling bid to determine who goes first, and then they play the remaining three during their turn. The majority of cards depict combatants and grant the player the ability to perform an action with the corresponding counter on the board, like firing or moving. These actions are decided by rolling 10 dice. A matching card is taken out of the deck upon a hit. Because their cards are less likely to be drawn, units that are under constant fire are therefore less likely to act and less dependable.

There are non-commissioned officer cards in decks as well. These replenish your deck or draw additional cards from it instead of activating units. This translates to motivational speeches, fearless leadership, and patching up wounded forces with reinforcements. However, if you attempt to coordinate too many different units, the confusion will prevent your key cards from appearing. Fog of War is the last kind of card, and it just clogs your hand. These are earned by scouting out new tiles, which is a requirement for moving, and they stand for battlefield uncertainty.

Adding cards to your hand and moving pieces around the board are your levers to try and accomplish the scenario goals. Compared to earlier Undaunted games, which primarily involved a race to control particular victory tiles, these are far more varied. That’s still there, but thanks to a wider selection of tiles and simple scenery rules, desperate demolitions and frantic timed defenses have improved it. In certain scenarios, you may even use secret intelligence that you keep hidden from your opponent until it is necessary. Because of this variety, each battle can be approached in a different way, with strategic nuances that you might not discover until it’s too late. Additionally, you’ll have to adapt your plans quickly to the changing circumstances on the ground.

This system consistently forces you to make awkward compromises. For example, the only cards that can control tiles are riflemen. However, you are unable to move and take control in the same turn unless you have multiple matching cards. Alternatively, you run the risk of them moving forward at a slow pace, narrowing their visibility and making them a more vulnerable target while giving the enemy room to advance and challenge the tile directly. You must weigh the special actions of most units—such as engineers shooting smoke or machine gunners laying down suppressing fire—against the necessity to move, shoot, and accomplish objectives. It’s a painful, never-ending sequence of difficult compromises.

Based on the outcome of the previous battle, a branching structure determines how scenarios are set up. Every side has a scenario book that contains the preliminaries and a synopsis of the upcoming fight. Numerous scenarios add new cards to your deck, from on-map tanks to off-map assets like bombers. You always gain something when you win; it could be an additional promotion or control over a portion of the city. The campaign may end abruptly or may culminate in a titanic struggle for ultimate control of the city, depending on how events pan out. To keep things balanced, the loser of a scenario frequently receives a small starting advantage in the setup for the following one.

The campaign may end abruptly or may lead to a titanic struggle for ultimate control of the city.

Thus, Undaunted: Stalingrad pushes you to adopt a long-term perspective. Depending on how many cards you lose, you take casualties at the conclusion of each battle. Should these prove to be line soldiers, they are replaced with less competent reserve cards, and specialized personnel such as engineers or snipers are lost for good. Additionally, you promote two cards that are replaced with better ones. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to send in the army with great enthusiasm to conquer goals. Every choice you make is a compromise; you may win by taking a chance, but it may also weaken your hand for the duration of the campaign. This turns giving in into a calculated move rather than a way out, adding a brilliant frisson of danger to even the most straightforward decisions.

Conclusion

Modifying a well-established system is rarely a winning strategy for board games. Undaunted: Stalingrad defies this trend, though, with adjustments that improve the superb original in every way. The campaign rules are excellent, the scenario design is far more captivating, and the two forces are more varied. Its main issue is that it requires a lot of dedication to get the most out of it; you’ll need to play through at least a dozen games to finish it. It’s uncommon to find that much time these days to devote to a single game. However, this game is the one that should motivate players to persevere and truly extract strategic, tactical, and emotional value from a single game.

 

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