Undaunted: Battle of Britain (or BOB to his friends) is the latest installment in Osprey Games’ much vaunted World War II series. It covers the period of fighting between the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the German Luftwaffe in the Spring and Summer of 1940.Like the other games in the Undaunted series, Undaunted: Battle of Britain is not a simulation, it is a tabletop, card and counters based game that intends to invoke the spirit and feel of combat in a playable manner.
It does this rather well.
Who’s A Pretty BOB Then?
First of all the game is visually stunning and the top class Osprey production qualities are well to the fore. The terrain tiles, in particular, are a delight with beautiful, clear artwork and a clever design that enables the maps for all eleven scenarios to be reproduced.
There are 26 of these tiles each consisting of five 2” diameter hexes in a row of 3 and a row of 2 and labelled A-Z. They are double-sided with coastal scenes, countryside, harbours and airfields on one side and all sea on the other. There are also a further five, 3-hex in a line pieces to tidy up the edges. The two-sided printing of these tiles means they can be put together to pretty faithfully represent chunks of either the English or French coast and the English Channel. In addition there are another 20 full hex-sized markers that can be overlaid to denote further features. These are : 6 Clouds, 4 Barrage Balloons, 4 Anti-Aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries and 6 Ships. here are also 7 smaller markers to represent target structures.
The combatants consist of 11 RAF planes, all fighters – Mk I Spitfires and Hurricanes and Boulton Paul Defiants whilst the Luftwaffe has 15 planes (plus 4 decoys ) fighters Messerschmitt Bf 109 E and 109 F, fighter bomber Messerscmitt Bf 110 C, dive bomber Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and bomber Heinkel He 111. These are all presented on teardrop shaped counters which gives the indication of their facing. There are also red dotted lines showing the direction in which their guns fire. For all of the fighters this is just straight ahead with the exception of the Defiants with their rear gun turret which can fire in any other direction except straight ahead!
The artwork on the counters is accurate and attractive with the necessarily small picture of the plane sitting on a broad stripe of the colour of its section : Yellow, Red, Green, Purple or Blue whilst the German bombers are Grey. This stripe sits on a background colour of White for the RAF and Grey for the Luftwaffe. Whilst this is adequate, sometimes, in the heat of battle, when there are opposing sections of the same colour in conflict it can be confusing as to who is friend or foe.
BOB A Job
Battle of Britain follows the pattern of the other Undaunted games the units are activated and fight via your hand of four cards. The scenario you are playing will list the cards that go into your Starting Card Deck. These will be your combat aircraft and their relevant Section and Squadron Comms (HQ) plus, possibly, AAA and ships on the British side plus some Discord cards. There are further cards that are in your Supply deck and these are additional copies of your fighting aircraft plus more Discords. Your Starter deck is face down but your Supply stays face up for both sides to see.
Each player takes 4 cards from the top of their Starter deck and then choses one to try to gain the initiative. Each card has an Initiative number on it with the better cards having a higher number from 1 on the useless Discord cards up to 9 on the overall Squadron Comms. You do not get to use the actions on the card you chose to vie for the initiative so you have to weigh the advantage of going first against the cost of the loss of the corresponding actions.
The actions are movement and attacks and for the Luftwaffe bombing. The difference here to other Undaunted games is that each turn a plane is activated it must move forward or else it would fall out of the sky!
The 1st hex must be straight ahead and then, if you are using a Manoeuvre action you can turn as you move further. If you are Attacking you can do this before or after you move, at any target that is in the direction of your red line or in the same hex as you, but you can not turn. This system entails a degree of forward planning to get your plane where you want it.
You can’t crash into other planes and there are rules to cover what must happen if you would fly out of the map area but if you fly into a barrage balloon it’s curtains!
If an attack is successful a corresponding aircraft card is removed from the player’s hand,deck or discards but not the supply. If there is no such card available the plane is “neutralised” and removed from play with any of its’ cards remaining in supply. Thus it is wise to move plane cards from supply into your hand early doors. (personally I’m not happy with the euphemism “Neutralised”. 1542 RAF airmen lost their lives in the battle and I feel it is disrespectful to term them “neutralised”)
If all the copies of a plane are in the playing deck we can end up with a situation where all of the plane’s cards are removed but it is still hanging in the air unable to take actions on its own but only being moved by HQ with Guide. I felt this was when a plane was truly “Neutralised” and should be removed so I queried it with the developers. They disagreed.
Come In Please, BOB!
The other significant difference in this Undaunted game of Battle of Britain is the concept of being in “Comms”. Each Section has two aircraft and they must be separated by no more than 1 hex to be “In Comms”. being out of Comms has various negative effects from the possibility of picking up an extra Discord card in the initiative phase or when taking certain actions to the inability to perform some actions at all.
Note that if one plane in a section is shot down, “neutralised”, the other will be automatically Out of Comms for the rest of the scenario. This can justify a plane with no cards hanging about (see above) to provide Comms to its wingman but it seems a bit artificial.
BOB & Weave
The play goes along at a tidy pace and the duels can get quite intense with much focus on manoeuvring. You get an extra attack dice if you attack through the enemy’s 3 rear hexes. Note if you are attacking a plane in the same hex as yourself, which is allowed, it is always counted as a frontal attack and thus no extra shot.
There are eleven scenarios provided with the game (and there are already fan-generated ones about). These are all based on historical events from 23rd May 1940 to 15th September 1940. I haven’t checked their accuracy but given Osprey’s reputation for historical accuracy I’m sure they are all spot on (saying that, they have chosen to put a Sikh pilot on the box art and as far as I know there were none in the RAF until the end of 1940!)
The scenarios start with a straight dogfight over France and gradually introduce additional elements: Bombers, Ships, AAA, Airfields, Ground targets as they progress.
There are scenario specific objectives for each side which can be eliminating enemy aircraft or targets and/or escaping unharmed. In scenarios I played the final outcome can be on a knife edge. For example Scenario 6 based on an actual raid that resulted in the bombing and loss of the destroyer HMS Codrington saw the outcome hinge on who got Initiative on the last turn. In my case it was the RAF and the destroyer was saved but if the Germans had gained that Initiative they would have successfully sunk it!
Worth A BOB Or Two?
Yes. Undaunted: Battle of Britain is a good-looking game that is straight forward to play and gives a good feel of aerial combat. It is not a simulation, bogged down in a lot of technical rules but it is redolent of historical detail and the spirit of the time.
It is also competively priced for such a quality product. One thing that could enhance it is to have actual model miniature planes. I have seen these available from a 3rd party, built on special stands that hold the tear-shaped markers. I’ll probably get these at some point although it will take some patience to paint them nicely.
My father, Cyril “Carl” Duncan Watson-Bartlam, was a pilot for the RAF right from the outset of the War. He was a bomber pilot, the Captain of a crew of three flying a Bristol Blenheim. He was shot down in early June 1940 after the evacuation of Dunkirk over the coast of France between Le Havre and Dieppe.
His Navigator/Bombardier was killed but the Wireless Operator/Air gunner and my father parachuted safely and were captured. They spent the next four years in POW camps including Stalag Luft III the scene of “The Great Escape”.