I first had the opportunity to play a new type of wargame back in the spring of 2022. It was when Undaunted: Reinforcements by Osprey Games was released as an expansion for their two games in the series, Undaunted: Normandy and Undaunted: North Africa. I immediately fell in love with the games. In addition to adding more units and scenarios, Undaunted: Reinforcements also added solo rules so players could play against the programmed AI using cards that determine the actions of the side not played by the human. I played through most of the scenarios using the solo mode since I could easily play it anytime without having to find another player who was available. A few months later, I learned that a digital version of Undaunted: Normandy was in development that allowed players to play against the computer as well as other players. I immediately got in contact with the developer and was provided access to the alpha version of the game. Now everyone can play the digital version of Undaunted: Normandy since it was released on Steam Early Access on July 28, 2023.
The video game is literally a digital version of the the Undaunted series, which was designed by David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin and published by Osprey Games, with illustrations by Roland MacDonald. Here is a link to my review from 2022. It explains the rules and gameplay of the tabletop version of the game. Bookmark Games developed and published the digital version. The video game was designed and developed by Richard Berger with music by Gabriel Berger. They have tried to make it just like the original. Players can play solo, hotseat on the same computer, or asynchronously against other players through a play by email system. The early access version includes all 12 scenarios from the physical game plus 2 additional scenarios.
For those unfamiliar with the Undaunted series, in this game players take on the role of a company commander in command of 2 or 3 squads and support units. Each squad is comprised of riflemen, scouts, and machine gunners. These units are represented on the battlefield by tokens or 3D figures. The game uses a deck-building mechanic to add soldiers to the player’s decks. Essentially each card represents an individual soldier. In most cases, at the start of the game, each team has one card or one soldier in the starting deck. Leader cards offer actions that allow players to bolster their deck by adding cards to it. As units take damage, the casualties are reflected by removing cards from the deck. During a turn, each player draws four cards. They then pick one to determine initiative for who goes first for that turn. The higher value cards for initiative are also the ones that are more useful. There are also fog of war cards which have the lowest value and no actions. They basically clog up a deck. Scout units can move into unexplored tiles and can also be used to remove fog of war cards from your deck. Other units can only move into tiles previously scouted out. Riflemen are the only units that can take control of tiles, which is necessary to secure victory point locations. Both riflemen and scouts have the same attack value, but scouts have a defense value 1 higher. Machine gunner can roll 2 dice instead of 1 when they attack. They can also suppress enemy units, which allows them to roll 4 dice. The suppressed unit then must play a card to become unsuppressed before they are eligible to take an action using a second card. Snipers and mortar units also come into play in later scenarios.
Undaunted: Normandy has the feel of the tabletop game. In fact, those who have played the physical versions of the game will feel right at home playing the digital version. The cards look exactly the same and use the same art. The tiles that make up the battlefield also look the same. I like the ability to turn the 3D graphics on and off. I usually play with them on, but sometimes it can be helpful to turn them off so you can get a better view of what units are on the map. Sometimes the trees in the forest tiles conceal the units. The standard AI is also challenging. It can be set at three different levels of difficulty. The solo rules from the tabletop version were already pretty solid with a paper AI and the digital version is also good. I am not sure if the digital AI is based on the paper AI or something different.
The developer has also been working on a machine learning AI to play against. It is still in development, but can be played against during the first scenario. I had the opportunity to converse with the game developer via email about the AI. Richard shared that while the programmed AI worked well, he wanted to develop an AI that learned to play the game and came up with its own strategies. Therefore, he turned to machine learning, which uses a technique called reinforcement learning. The game plays against itself and learns from its mistakes. Since the game did not know how to play, Richard put in 213 observations for the first scenario that the AI considers. These took into account on what tiles the units were located, what type of unit, was it a victory condition, etc. In order to get the AI focused on objectives, he would assign a reward point value of 0 to 10 for controlling victory point locations so it would learn the game. Eventually this changed to +10 points for winning the game and -10 points for losing. As of about a month ago, the AI had taken over 20 million turns and played around 600,000 games! Players can try out this machine learning AI while playing the first scenario. Just select “experimental AI.” I have played against it a few times, both winning and losing against it.
The early access version of the game is pretty impressive. The developer stated they are still working to improve the tutorial and implement a campaign system where the results of one scenario have an effect on the next scenario. There are some glitches every now and then, but overall the game works well. It is important to remember this is an early access and improvements will come, including the graphics. Players can choose between the traditional counters from the game or 3D models of the units. I am a big fan of the Undaunted series and own all of the tabletop releases, most of which I purchased myself. In fact, they are one of my favorite wargames. While the tabletop games are relatively quick to set up and play, having a digital version is great. Unlike many video games, this one does not require a fancy high-powered computer. It only requires a Direct X compatible video card, so just about any computer running Windows 10 will play it. I enjoying playing and highly recommend Undaunted: Normandy for those who enjoy the tabletop game as well as those who have not yet played it and would like to try it out. The game incorporates some unique mechanics and is fast paced. A typical game can last 10-30 minutes depending on the scenario. I hope the digital version of Undaunted: Normandy is successful so that the developer will release more titles in the Undaunted series.
Undaunted: Normandy is available for PC through Steam. The game sells for $15.99. However, it is currently on sale for $14.39, a 10% savings, through August 4, 2023.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.