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Undaunted: Battle of Britain is a blast for airplane nerds and those who love them

Someone still has to play the Nazis, however

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A collection of cards and tokens representing air crews and ground support staff from the 1940s.
In a nod to historical accuracy, British flight crews include Sikh and Polish pilots in addition to white men from the British isles.
Image: Osprey Games
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

In video gaming circles, combat flight simulation tends to be an exclusively first-person affair. Developers have been fixated for decades on putting regular folks into the cockpits of historical aircraft and setting them loose, whether it be inside a World War I-era Sopwith Camel or a modern-day F/A-18. The same can be said of dogfighting board games such as Wings of War, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, and even Games Workshop’s spinoff Aeronautica Imperialis.

Undaunted: Battle of Britain, the latest board game from Osprey Games, is going in a different direction. It manages to simulate much of the nitty-gritty technical detail of aerial combat in World War II, but it may be a bit hard to parse for those without deeper knowledge of WWII.

In Battle of Britain, designers David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin are applying their award-winning Undaunted mechanics to the climactic air war between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe. There are two key components that make it different from other wargames. First, it’s a deck-building game, meaning that players must take strategic control over what cards they gather into their personal decks. Individual cards represent a singular unit on the battlefield — in this case, an airplane. Each card serves multiple purposes, representing both the way a unit is activated and that unit’s hit points. Therefore, gathering more cards from a given unit to your deck makes those units more robust and more capable on the battlefield.

A series of cardboard tiles representing barrage balloons, targets, and anti-aircraft installations among other targets for Luftwaffe aircrews.
Balloon deployments complicate attacks on British ports — as do gun emplacements and cloud cover.
Image: Osprey Games

Battle of Britain adds another wrinkle to that winning formula, however. That’s because airborne units must stay close together — within one hex — in order to retain their most powerful and synergistic abilities. The rulebook notes that this is to simulate the idea of radio and other forms of communications used to connect ground support units and pilots of that era. Stray too far from your wingman, and not only can the flow of the larger battle drift away from a given unit; their ability to get back into the fight will diminish as well.

This supremely clever comms mechanic does an incredible job of simulating the historical challenges of the air war in Europe. Players on both sides of the conflict must constantly choose whether or not they will combine their efforts on high-value targets or break off to cause a wider swath of damage. It flips the script of air combat tabletop gaming, placing the emphasis on teamwork instead of individual exploits — and it does so brilliantly.

While Battle of Britain doesn’t include the elaborate branching storyline or the persistence that made Undaunted: Stalingrad such a standout, it does include 11 thematic missions that cover various aspects of the air war. You’ll help evacuate the beaches at Dunkirk, fight off a brutal all-out attack on the Royal Air Force itself, and participate in the reviled London Blitz, which saw Nazi bombers attack both military and civilian targets in and around London. There’s no solo or cooperative mode, unfortunately. It’s strictly a two-player game, so someone is going to have to be the Germans.

Finally, I found the documentation a bit light on detail and historical context, of all things. That’ll leave it to old grognards like me to explain the finer points of the period aircraft and tactics in play. At least the 45-60 minute playtime means you won’t have to listen to me prattle on too much.

Undaunted: Battle of Britain is available at online retailers and from your friendly local game store.

Undaunted: Battle of Britain was reviewed using a pre-release copy provided by Osprey Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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