The Undaunted series continues to tackle important arenas of combat through the continued scope of the second world war. While recent release Stalingrad found players face down in the dirt and mud in one of the bloodiest battles in human history, the brand-new Battle of Britain takes a different approach. Do designer duo David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin have another standout hit on their hands? Have they been able to transition from foxholes to blue skies and provide a new perspective? Let’s fire up the planes and see if Osprey Games newest two-player release can bring glory and victory to your gaming table.
At its core, Battle of Britain is firmly a part of the Undaunted system. As a deck builder, players draw a hand of four cards each turn, using one of them for initiative, and then in initiative order play all their cards to change the state of the board. I won’t go into detail on the system, as there have been plenty of Undaunted games reviewed on the site, but what I will explain is how the system has adopted a unique aircraft-only approach to war.
In Battle of Britain, players can partake in eleven different historical battles above the English Channel. The first thing to note is the end-game situation. Typically, the game is won by either the Royal Air Force (RAF) or Luftwaffe neutralizing a certain number of aircraft. There are other end game goals that require ships to escape the board, structures to be bombed, or a combination of these. Players compete until a goal is reached, or all their aircraft are neutralized.
While the card play remains the same as previous titles, specific cards represent new thematic elements. Rather than units comprised of different individuals, one pilot is displayed on multiple cards to represent their plane’s health. There is no unit routing in Battle of Britain. If a player runs out of a certain aircraft in their deck, they do not get the option to add more later. The aircraft is neutralized instead.
The biggest change here is the map which is now comprised of a hex-grid. This design allows aircraft to maneuver by adjusting the front of their plane to a new edge of the hex. As such, turning can take some time and players must navigate to a new hex to maneuver to the next edge. And aircraft must be in constant motion, so they must move forward to a new hex before they can even maneuver in a new direction. Ace pilots are the exception to this rule. Due to their expertise, they are the only unit allowed to maneuver prior to moving forward.
Each air force has a unique set of planes to work with, though both feature ace pilots. Some planes move faster, some can fire in combat only ahead of them, whereas certain planes can only fire behind them or to the sides. And there are certain Luftwaffe aircraft that can bomb as well when over a specific land- or water-based target.
When a card is played, players must move their aircraft, but they can only maneuver or attack, not both. Thus, positioning is key, especially considering the fact players roll additional dice with certain planes when they fire from one of the three hexes behind the target. Cover bonuses come in the form of cloud tiles and other aircraft between the attacker and their target.
A final new addition is the concept of communications. Certain aircraft sets have a comms card that allows them to bolster from the supply, inspire their pilots to take another action, or even remove discord (known as fog of war in previous installments) from the deck. The restriction here is that to take advantage of these comms, the pair of aircraft must be separated by no more than one hex. Otherwise, players add discord to their deck when using these.
There’s no denying that Battle of Britain is trying something new within the confines of the Undaunted world. The aerial combat is well designed with positioning and timing being of the utmost importance. One can almost hear the ticking of time via the Hans Zimmer Dunkirk score as they wait out an opponent’s move or pull on their plane’s controls as they maneuver around a set of barrage balloons.
Positioning is further enhanced with the inclusion of section comms. Making movement decisions based on proximity is quite thematic and engaging. It’s also worth noting that the comms cards have an initiative value of eight, but if your planes are not in proximity, then you must add a discord to take advantage of this. Ace pilots also add a wrinkle to positioning. Their ability to maneuver before movement conjures the image of these experts making daring decisions to overcome their opponent.
All that said, there is a lot here that did not work for me. Outside of stale scenario design, the necessity to shift from individuals comprising a single unit removes a lot of the emotional investment in these games. Sure, there’s a pilot with a name protecting our coastlines (or trying to burn them down), but every success in combat whittles away at health rather than sees a specific person you’ve grown attached to become a casualty. The disconnect removes an important layer and further abstracts the system.
I think the decision to move to a hex-based grid for aerial combat was brilliant. And yet, it also adds a new inconvenience to the game. As planes enter the same hex there is only room to stack them on top of each other. I’ve had games where four planes occupied one hex. Having to move tokens to remember defense values and units while also trying to keep positioning correctly is a drag. It’s a limitation to the map design and a constant stressor over the importance of positioning.
Along the same line, the aircraft illustration doesn’t do enough to distinguish between the two different sides of the war. The Luftwaffe have a darker token, but it does little to contrast with the RAF. As a comparison, it was very easy to know which units were yours in Stalingrad. Soviets were white, Germans were gray. Here, this is further muddled by units on each side sharing the same letter/number combinations. Did I just move your Y1 plane? Oh, I thought that was my Y1 plane. Now, where were we?
Arial combat enthusiasts will slowly circle this title with anticipation. The combat is well thought-out and unique to this series. Undaunted fans may even enjoy the change of pace. I’m certain the setting itself is a big draw. Unfortunately for me, and especially fresh off Stalingrad, the emotional investment is almost entirely removed and leaves this as a non-essential entry. Out of the eleven scenarios, there’s little variation in goals. Enough to make me wonder if this could’ve been a mini set of scenarios within a larger release. I do hope this finds gamers who are enthralled enough by the new twist. Kudos to the designers for trying something different. Despite not enjoying this release as much, I still cannot wait to see what they come up with next.
Final Score: 3 stars – Battle of Britain reenacts the fate of Europe from the safety of a bird’s eye view.
• Airplane art design
• Multiple tokens sharing hex
• Emotional investment