My own personal collection of board games falls roughly into two halves. On the one hand, there are the dozens of titles that I have clear memories of playing with my family and friends. On the other hand are all my wargames, and very occasionally I dust them off. That’s why Undaunted: Stalingrad it has me perplexed. It’s a war game that those closest to me can enjoy playing because the mechanics are light, fun, and incredibly fast. But it’s absolutely a wargame: a gritty little thing with nifty mechanics, the rare tactical gem that requires planning to succeed. I just don’t know which side of my collection it should go on. Maybe in the middle?
Undaunted: Stalingrad is the fourth game in the Undaunted series created by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson. It uses a deck-building mechanic, whereby players start the game with a small stack of mediocre cards and work to tailor that deck over several rounds. The game board itself is made up of a series of tiles, on which sit a series of circular tiles representing military units such as riflemen, machine gun teams, and snipers. Players use the cards in their deck to activate those units, moving them around the map to take objectives and earn points to win the scenario.
The mechanical system itself is brilliant, one that has been slowly refined since the release of Undaunted: Normandy in 2019. After drawing four cards, players must use one of those cards to bid on who goes first. The remaining three cards can be used to activate units. Roll two cards for the same unit, and that unit can move Y shoot on your turn. Pull out the fog of war cards, on the other hand, and your troops will sit in their trenches while the enemy passes them by. The result is a tense, tactical matchup that lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, tops.
Undaunted: Stalingrad does a lot of cool stuff. Tiles in the game can be damaged, which means that the concrete building you used to cover your progress in game one could be flat as a pancake in game four. Each soldier has a name, giving you a personal connection to every card in your deck. And, just like a good XCOM game, when those soldiers are killed in combat, they are permanently removed from the game. Additionally, the game benefits from a singular, branching campaign that slowly builds the tension and deftly adds more units to your reserve pool over time. What initially started out as small fire crews fighting battles in the streets quickly turns into a combined arms operation, complete with tanks and artillery that will fill the dining room table.
But, while the mechanics themselves are top notch, the theme of this game is a very hard sell. Undaunted: Stalingrad is a faithful recreation of the historic battle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, a fight that lasted for more than five months and resulted in approximately 2 million combat casualties and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Fighters literally crawled through damaged sewer pipes to beat each other to death with their frozen and empty rifles. Many later starved to death.
For lovers of war games, Stalingrad is a sacred place. It’s a place we’ve fought for in dozens of different titles, even seen firsthand in video games like battlefield 1942, THE 2nd SturmovikY red orchestra 2. But while something like axis and allies gives players a cool detached feeling, a god view of a massive world at war, everyone gets their hands dirty in Undaunted. And that means fans of traditional board games will have a hard time choosing between the two absolutely deplorable factions in this game. But if players can hold their noses long enough, they’ll find surprisingly compelling historical narrative and rock-solid strategy gameplay, and a fast-moving campaign that they can easily wrap up in a single weekend.
Undaunted: Stalingrad It will be available from December 6. The game was revised using a commercial copy provided by Osprey Games. Vox Media has affiliate associations. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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