“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat… oh and dice!”
This is a sensitive one. I find it somewhat awkward to “play” a war game when it is based on historical events. Star Wars: Rebellion for example, I have no issue with as that happened in a galaxy far, far away. Not 80 years ago, to people who I knew. There is a risk with any War game, that you could trivialise, mock or avert historical facts. Undaunted: North Africa does neither. It honours the past. The story told is factually accurate and the focus is on the remarkable feats of strategy that occurred in the battles in Libya between the autumn of 1940 and 1942. And I could not recommend this game enough.
Undaunted: North Africa is a stand-alone sequel to the brilliant Undaunted: Normandy. You do not need one to play the other, nor must you play in sequence. The rules and gameplay in both are very similar, but the stories told, very of course very different. Undaunted: North Africa will feel very familiar to players of the first game but does add a few changes to the rules; namely there is no more respawning, the game is far more asymmetric, and you can now drive Tanks!
“Without victory, there is no survival.”
Each scenario you will play as either the Italian patrols defending their bases and troops; or the plucky Long-Range Desert Group (LRDG), desperately trying to ambush, capture and destroy the Axis infrastructure.
You are given a mission objective to try and complete. Generally, for the Italians, you are looking to defend and control your bases. And for the LRDG, you are looking to destroy them. There are also missions where you are looking to neutralise specific opponent troops or get vehicles and certain combat counters off the board in a valiant escape. This takes you back to all the War films you watched as a child. It feels strangely romantic, although of course, the reality was far from it.
In both Undaunted games, you are following a set of battles in a campaign scenario. Using modular tiles, you set up the game board for each situation adding units, vehicles, structures and objectives. You are then given a mission specific set of cards for your deck and supply. You draw 4 cards from your deck. Each player picks one to determine who has the first turn, the initiative. Both players discard the card they chose for this and then play begins. Each side is left with three cards to, amongst other things, move, attack, scout, command, bolster, conceal and inspire their troops.
Players play their cards in turns; making the initiative, the chance to play first, very important in some missions. You could have a plan to move your tank to a certain part of the map to defend a base or attack a certain soldier, but by the time you get to your turn, the LRDG could have disabled or worse, destroyed your Tank. This is exactly what happened to me in an early game, and after that, both myself and my wife, with whom I ran these scenarios with, took a lot more care in how we looked to seek the initiative.
It became a wonderfully engaging military tactical battle. Which is what this was in real life of course. We both became absorbed in the roles we were playing and the battles we were re-enacting. This wasn’t a game anymore. The fate of who got up with the children the next day resided in this!
If ever I, as the Italians, managed to scrape a narrow victory, I would delight in the history I had just changed. My wife would celebrate her victories with the joy of knowing, she had just edged the Allies one step closer to victory and ending the war. Of course, we hadn’t. We had sat late into the night in our kitchen, playing board games; again! But the way this game pulls you in, was for me like no other.
I think it is because what you are doing happened. And this brings me back to my first point. It did not feel trivial or callous to enjoy these experiences. Yes, the death of a cardboard token is obviously nothing, and the real-life sacrifices were horrific. But the stories must be told. We should never forget the acts of courage and military strategy that bought us all our freedom. I am not the kind of person who will sit and watch a two-hour documentary on the history channel or read a large volume of books about the War.
I wish I was, but at 40, I just know I’m not. But I will play Undaunted: North Africa until 3am on a school night when I know my two kids will jump on me in four hours with zero consideration to my grumpy tired state! That is just me. And if you are like that, if you also love board games and want to have a wonderful experience in a two player game that will immerse you in a gripping story; that happens to be true and teaches you something about one of the most significant moments of the 20th century; then this game may be for you.
All of this leads to an incredibly thematic, tense and, dare I say it, fun experience.
“This was their finest hour.”
Osprey games and designers Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson are on to a winner with this series. I can see this running for many more years. There are so many stories to tell, and this mechanic does justice to not only the stories that unfold, but also the genre and industry. This game has done, and will continue to, open modern tabletop gaming to many more players over many more years. And in doing so, will keep alive the memory of the many people who made the ultimate sacrifice. I for one will follow this series closely and hope to play them all in their entirety.
We went through the campaign in two nights. We were gripped. Initially, I expected us to change sides each time, almost without consideration. But we stuck with our “sides” throughout. We became quite attached to our troops. It made each loss that little harder to take.
When we finished, I felt drained. It was a mighty battle, and we talked for hours afterwards about what we had just done. What it must have been like. How we were astounded how little we both knew about this part of the War. And how we really wanted to just play again!
“This is a war of people and causes.”
We are now running through the scenarios again. Do you think we are trying it from the other side to see how that plays? No, we have stuck with our previous alliances. For me, it does feel somewhat odd. I am playing the “baddies” as my children say. But I am trying to see it from a simple human perspective. That Italian soldier was probably not thinking about the wider political, social, geographical or demographical natures of the war, they were just following orders and trying to stay alive another day. There is so much replayability in this game, not just from the scenarios in the box, but the stories and emotional connections you make with the little bit of cardboard within it.
One day, I am sure we will switch sides, and then I will pay as the devilishly smart and roguish LRDG and will do my best to serve them too. But for now, we are locked in battle going through the scenarios a second time, trying to find new ways to out wit our opponents.
All the game does is set you up for a battle. It does so in a satisfying deep way, using historical moments or military genius. What happens next is up to you. Playing through each mission feels fresh and exciting. I do not see us growing tired of this for a long time. I would heartily recommend this game to anyone who enjoys two player games. People who enjoy games with tight tough decisions. People who are looking for something with a story, be that ongoing with the campaign, or simply on the individual missions. I would recommend this game to anyone who wants to teach their children something about what those who lived before us, so bravely fought for. This game is a wonderful experience that seems to transcend similar games with a fantasy setting.
The Long-Range Desert Group were honoured in New Zealand with a permanent memorial located in the Air Barracks and there is a LRDG truck at the Imperial War Museum in London. If you are not near these two locations, you can learn more about this amazing story simply by clicking add to basket. You are not buying just a game here; this is a piece of history. Lovingly re-told and kept alive for generations to come.