19 April 2023
Relive World War II’s bloodiest battle
Having thrown us into the desperate maelstrom of the Normandy invasion, then the dust and heat of the North African theatre, designers David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin now transport Undaunted players to the Eastern Front of World War II and one of the bloodiest and fiercest conflicts in modern history: the Battle of Stalingrad.
Between late August 1942 and February 1943, as the Wehrmacht focused its formidable artillery and air force on the Volga-hugging industrial hub named after the Soviet leader, more than 2 million people perished (both civilians and combatants) in a critical struggle characterised by brutal close-quarters clashes and urban devastation. It was the turning point of the entire war.
As in their previous Undaunted games, Thompson and Benjamin take their heavy subject matter seriously and treat it with respect, while also filtering it through a light and easy-to-learn deckbuilding system that makes for fast-paced and exciting gameplay. You do not need to be a camo-plastered World War II nut or an avid wargamer to enjoy this series. However, while Undaunted: Stalingrad maintains the same slick and engrossing gameplay (with a few necessary and gradually revealed tweaks and embellishments), it requires a little more commitment, edging it away from the ‘casual’ end of the spectrum — as its considerably bulkier box and much higher price suggests.
Unlike the Normandy and North Africa instalments, Stalingrad’s scenarios can’t be played individually as stand-alone games with whomever you choose. It is strictly conceived as a campaign for the same two players, who must fully commit to a side and play it across a maximum of 15 scenarios. During these, not only their decks, but also the urban landscape itself permanently transform – the latter neatly represented by iterated map tiles which you’ll switch out as the campaign progresses.
While giving Stalingrad a distinct ‘next-level’ feel, this is entirely in keeping with the weight and grit of its setting. After all, the real battle stretched over months during a gruelling winter and saw the city reduced largely to rubble by the German onslaught; a tragedy that the Soviets turned to their advantage, as the shattered husks of buildings provided the ideal battleground in which to resist and pin down their overconfident invaders. That said, it’s hard not to lament the permanent destruction of your strongholds during a battle. Even if you don’t ultimately lose the territory, it will never again provide the same degree of protection from the enemy snipers.
Victories in this game are often pyrrhic, and the consequences of a hard-fought win – as much as a disastrous loss – will be felt throughout future games. Especially through the permanent casualty mechanism, whereby certain members of your platoon will be lost to your deck forever, including those you may have managed to upgrade (yes, even your greatest heroes can die). Hence the inclusion of the “Withdraw” option, where you can concede to the other player, should you reason that it’s better to lose this battle than permanently damage your precious deck. Or rather, continue to risk the valuable men and women fighting for your cause.
As you might expect from previous Undaunteds, the gameplay is finely tuned, perfectly balanced and appropriately nuanced, and its transposition to an even more epic arena makes Stalingrad feel like the series at its peak, particularly when the unfolding campaign throws some surprises – both narrative and mechanical – at you. This is, without a doubt, one of the most thrilling tabletop gaming experiences of 2022. Our only complaint is, due to its two-player/long campaign nature, it’s not easier to share with more people.
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
Put simply, Undaunted is one of the best deckbuilders out there. And Stalingrad is the best Undaunted yet.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY…
Or indeed it's North Africa-set sequel. If you already know the rules, you can dive straight in (taking note of a few small differences, while preparing yourself for some new rules to be revealed) and get into the action quicker.
Designer: David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin
Publisher: Osprey Games
Time: 45-75 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 1 Rule book
- 1 Map book
- 1 Soviet scenario book
- 1 German scenario book
- 375 Cards
- 129 Map tiles
- 204 Tokens
- 4 Dice (10-sided)
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