Twelve rapt hours of Early Access Undaunted: Normandy have failed to dull my appetite for this moreish if uncomely board game port, or alter, in any meaningful way, my early positive feelings towards its silicon foe. However, there are thoughts that have ricocheted around my skull during the past few days that are probably worth sharing.
When I realised I could beat La Raye (scenario #1) almost 100% of the time at ‘hard’ difficulty, as either the US or Germans, I did begin to question Richard Berger’s AI. It took systematic tests of more complex missions such as Streets of Tessy-sur-Vire and Night Owls to restore my faith in the artificial adversary.
Bar a few minor criticisms about the way the computer approaches initiative, and sometimes uses scouts and suppression, I’d say the CPU plays a pretty mean game. In Undaunted, players blind bid for initiative at the start of every turn by playing one card from a four-card hand (every card has a numerical value). In certain situations, going first can be highly advantageous so it pays to sacrifice a valuable card in the hope of gaining that privilege. Right now (Build 30-07-2023), the CPU rarely chases initiative. If it has a Fog of War card (face value: 1) in its hand, it much prefers to play that than gamble. A less predictable, more aggressive approach, would, I think, benefit the solo game.
I’d also like to see the computer employ its scouts a little more offensively after it has used them for their primary purpose – opening up new areas of the map to friendly troop movements. As, slightly counter-intuitively, scouts are just as good at cutting down foes as riflemen, leaving them in quiet corners of the map – an occasional AI failing – makes little sense.
Few tactical wargames communicate the power of a well-appointed LMG better than Undaunted. Machine gunners have two fire options available to them – attack and suppress – and, more often than not, I find myself using the former. The computer, on the other hand, is a pretty keen suppressor, a tendency that sometimes lets me off the hook.
The more I play, the more I admire David Thompson’s and Trevor Benjamin’s talent for combat distillation, and approach to scenario design. In other wargames, tactics that work in one mission often work in others. Here, however, it’s absolutely vital to customise your approach to suit your environment and assets. After playing and winning ten games of La Raye on the trot, I really wasn’t expecting to struggle in Streets of Tessy-sur-Vere as much as I did. Over-reliant on scouts and riflemen and too eager to take VPs, the defeats came thick and fast.
It’s not uncommon to lose a scenario because you’ve been ‘pinned’ – reduced to zero deployed riflemen. Currently, avoiding abrupt, out-of-the-blue defeats like these requires absent-minded players to manually check multiple decks for riflemen cards at regular intervals (as long as there are such cards in your hand, or discard or draw deck, you are safe). If Richard ever decides to augment his deck display with a toggleable riflemen counter, I know I’d use it.
Judging by the state of the game at launch, the fixes and improvements delivered thus far (Since Friday, a rules-related issue has been attended to, ugly 2D counter art has been replaced, and lighting slightly enhanced), and the presence of an ‘experimental AI’ tickbox in the options menu, Undaunted: Normandy has a bright future ahead of it. Exactly how bright may depend as much on Richard’s attitude to modding as his bug squashing abilities and AI intentions. With moddable graphics and a map and scenario editor, this already-likeable £12 port would be special indeed.