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Designer Diary: Undaunted: North Africa, or Taking the Fight to the Desert

Board Game: Undaunted: North Africa
Greetings, all. July 2020 marks the release of Undaunted: North Africa, the second game in the Undaunted series. We thought it would be a good idea to post a design diary to share some background info, design decisions, art, and more.

The Initial Concept

Undaunted: North Africa's origin is directly tied to that of its predecessor. At SPIEL '17, Trevor and I met with the folks from Osprey Games to officially sign Undaunted: Normandy. During that same meeting, we were asked to start thinking about a sequel. In fact, the design for the sequel needed to be completed before Normandy was even released in order to have the sequel ready for mid-2020.

We tossed around a few ideas. We knew we wanted a different theater and preferably different nationalities. There were tons of great options, but ultimately we settled on North Africa. It seemed like an interesting topic with lots of room to explore new thematic elements and gameplay concepts.

But What Role Do the Players Take?

Once we had chosen the setting, we needed to decide what roles the players would take. In our earliest discussions, which dated to February 2018, I had proposed to Trevor that we use either the Special Air Service (SAS) or the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). The SAS had the benefit of being better known, but the LRDG were interesting in that they were more closely linked to their vehicles, which we knew we wanted to be part of the game. The LRDG was also a more interesting Commonwealth melting pot, including Brits, Scots, Indians, Southern Rhodesians, and New Zealanders.

We also briefly considered basing the game almost entirely around tank-on-tank combat. That would have meant a rather significant change in scale, and it would have also meant shifting the focus from people to vehicles. More important, the wide open tank battles in the North African campaign weren't an especially good fit for the Undaunted system. In the end, we came back to the LRDG as our focus — but now we needed their adversary.

During the North Africa campaign, the LRDG encountered both the Italian and German armies, but most of their skirmishes were with the Italians and their Libyan allies. After researching all the main LRDG engagements, we settled on the Italians as our second faction in the game.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
Men of the LRDG


From the beginning, we knew vehicles were going to play a critical role in the game. This is an excerpt of an early email discussion Trevor and I had about the vehicles. Here Trevor is laying out his vision for how vehicles should work:
Here's the basic picture: There are no cards directly mapped to vehicles. Instead, vehicles are objects on the board which soldiers (Scouts, MGs, etc.) can use. Each vehicle has one or more positions: Driver, Gunner, Radio, etc. Soldiers spend an action to enter a vehicle, picking an unoccupied position in it. They can then spend a card to perform the action associated with that position — move, attack, etc. — or to leave the vehicle, or to switch positions. I have some more ideas around vehicle damage/repair, cover bonuses, and around position-based bonuses/restrictions (some soldiers could be better drivers than others), but that is the basic picture. It's super flexible, not too complex, and it allows us to maintain our thematic, narrative focus on the soldiers.
What's remarkable about this is that it almost perfectly describes the way vehicles ended up being used in the final design. Typically Trevor and I work through countless iterations of ideas before finally settling on something we're both 100% happy with. In this rare exception, the initial conceptual sketch proved spot on.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
Early art by Roland MacDonald

An Issue of Scale

Unlike in Undaunted: Normandy, players do not have symmetric decks in Undaunted: North Africa — far from it. Both the LRDG and the Italians feature individuals, each with their own unique set of actions. In Normandy, tokens on the board represent small groups of men, with each man (generally speaking) tied back to a single card. In North Africa, each token on the board represents an individual soldier, and that soldier has four associated cards. The cards represent everything from the soldier's morale to their health.

We discussed this issue of scale for a long time during the design process. It was important because it tied back to our concept that each member of the LRDG was an individual with unique characteristics, but it meant that the two games would be a different scale and would not be compatible. In the end, we decided a better experience for North Africa was more important that trying to force compatibility across the two games.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
LRDG soldier art by Roland MacDonald

From Design to Development

The actual design process for Undaunted: North Africa moved fairly quickly due to the fact that it was based on an established core. For the second half of 2018, we researched LRDG and Italian army skirmishes and crafted scenarios that evoked those battles. We pushed the Undaunted system in new directions, incorporating new victory conditions (such as escaping from the board) and new ways to claim objective points (through demolitions). Of course, introducing tons of new asymmetry required even more testing, but it was worth it in the end.

We delivered the initial design to Osprey in early 2019, then we shifted to the development process. Filip Hartelius and Anthony Howgego — the lead developers at Osprey — began putting the game through its paces and making suggestions for gameplay improvements. During this time, we primarily focused on getting the balance right for vehicles and soldiers who had an anti-tank capability, as well as improving the synergy for the Italian's tank crew.

Board Game: Undaunted: Normandy
The Finishing Touches

Trevor and I delivered the final version of the design to Osprey in the middle of August 2019, right as Undaunted: Normandy was launching at Gen Con. It was awesome to see Normandy received so positively just as we were putting the final design touches on the second game in the series.

So that's the story of how Undaunted: North Africa came to be. It was a joy to see Roland MacDonald's gorgeous art throughout the design process, and it was great working with Filip and Anthony on the game. For more details, you can take a look at the rules in this video from Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules!

David Thompson

Board Game: Undaunted: North Africa
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