Undaunted: Battle of Britain makes one big change from the other games in Osprey’s two-player WW2 series, and it’s plane to see what that is. The boots on the ground have been lifted up into the skies. The game contains 11 scenarios, letting you play out scraps between the pilots of the Luftwaffe and RAF during WW2. So get ready for some deckbuilding dogfights!
In case you’re unfamiliar with Undaunted – perhaps you missed our Undaunted: Normandy review? – I’ll quickly cover the basics. You each have a squadron. Each turn you’ll draw four cards representing members of that squadron, cash in one of them to determine who gets to go first, then spend the rest of them to zoom around and fire, rat-a-tat-tat. There’s a tangible feel to the combat, as successful hits let you shoot crucial cards right out of your foe’s deck, or even their hand.
See, your cards not only provide your soldiers (in this case, planes) with actions, they’re also their ‘health’, getting catapulted permanently out of your deck whenever you take a hit, until the unit is as dead (and flightless) as a dodo.
To avoid that eventuality there are other cards representing commanders, which you can use to bring new cards into your deck – more actions and lives for your guys, huzzah! It’s an elegant and entertaining formula, which is why there’s so much buzz behind the Undaunted series. Now Undaunted: Battle of Britain is here, and it changes up the game in a few intriguing ways.
At times, Undaunted Battle of Britain feels more like a racing game than a war game. That’s because it’s all about positioning and movement. See planes, unlike humans, don’t really have the option to stop and take a breather; that tends to lead to plummeting. In Undaunted, what that means is whenever you play a combat card representing a plane, that plane has to move as well as any other actions it takes. You don’t get a choice.
This has a dramatic effect on gameplay and makes it so much harder to plan out your turns. You’re forced to guess what you’re likely to draw, and what your opponent has left in their deck. Planes aren’t able to both turn and shoot with just one card, so if you misjudge and end up out of position, your plans can turn to ruin in hilarious fashion. The emphasis on movement and sight lines means bidding for who goes first is absolutely crucial – it could mean the difference between all your planes getting to shoot, or none of them.
There’s some great difficult decision making and risk taking here. Do you fire at a distance, hoping you’ll get to move in closer and take another shot before zipping by, or get right up close now for the best chance of hitting, knowing that by doing so you’re putting your own plane in a vulnerable spot?
Calling for help
How you use your communications cards is another key factor. These are the ones used to add cards (lives/actions) from your supply to your deck, but they can also be used to draw more cards in a turn, or reuse a card you just spent, giving a plane a sudden burst of speed, and usually enabling an extra attack. The issue is, these cards are also the highest scorers in the bidding phase, so at times you’ll need to use them up just so you can properly leverage the rest of your hand, or dodge total disaster.
A final factor is provided in the comms mechanic. Using communication card actions when your plane squadrons are split up forces you to take useless Discord cards (which do nothing except take up space) into your deck.
So, you can choose to keep your formations tight, or let a plane abandon its wingman and go zooming off after a kill, not minding that by doing so you’re bogging up your deck with useless dreck. It reminds me of Flamme Rouge’s exhaustion mechanic – and some of the unpredictability surrounding movement and positioning also puts me in mind of that game.
Discord is a key part of the deckbuilding, which is definitely otherwise the lightest part of the game. Typically, you’re more concerned with moment-to-moment strategy, and deciding when you can afford to spend a communication card to replenish. Undaunted diehards might be disappointed in how there’s not much variety in what planes can do – they can move, and turn, shoot, or bomb – but that’s okay with me, because the inherent unpredictability gives you plenty to think about.
Picture the scenario
There’s not an ounce of fat to Battle of Britain, which is simple and easy to learn thanks to a very well-structured, orderly rulebook, complete with handy diagrams and all. The only fly in the ointment is the section on flanking, which seems to have a pretty serious misprint. (It says the opposite of what it means.)
Helping Undaunted: Battle of Britain’s core systems to shine is the scenario book, which comes with a variety of highly interesting set ups. In some fights, clouds or lethal barrage balloons dot the landscape. In some, the RAF’s planes are still on the runways, and can be bombed to bits before they get into the air, while in others the Luftwaffe just wants to get their bombers off to safety.
The main negative I can say about it is that I can’t imagine bothering with the campaign rules, which are as light as anything. They basically amount to adding up points, with no actual mechanical changes to the gameplay. Still, it’s better to have them than not.
Overall, I’ve had a great experience with Undaunted: Battle of Britain. It’s a perfect balance between simple and strategic. Casual enough that anyone can have a great time playing, but deep enough that you can spend a while pondering over a decision. It’s a great couples’ board game, providing laughter and frustrated gnashing of teeth in equal measure, and will probably be my go-to when I need a two-player board game for a good long while.
Offering tense, unpredictable battles with a mixture of strategy and luck, Undaunted: Battle of Britain is a wargame that’s lighter than most, but highly entertaining!