Review

Unity of Command Review (PC)

When I was first given Unity of Command to review, I made the mistake of glancing at a few screenshots before playing. They worried me. A turn-based strategy game with large numbers of units, lots of buttons on the UI, and a list of stats longer than hell’s reservation book for investment bankers. Oh no, it’s going to be one of those games isn’t it? One which is so complex and unintuitive it assumes that if you even try to play it, you’re clearly the sort of person who will be able to work everything out yourself.
 

It doesn't look like much, but strategically it's a very compelling game...
My assumption proved to be completely wrong, and I’m very glad for it. Unity of Command is a rare thing indeed – a deeply tactical turn-based strategy game that is also fairly easy to learn and willing to teach you.

Some introductory blurb – Unity of Command focuses on the German campaign to conquer Russia during the Second World War, also known as Operation Barbarossa. The two campaigns, German and Soviet, consist of multiple individual scenarios that focus firstly on the German push into Russia and later the Soviet.

Unlike most turn-based game campaigns, which are usually enormous, lumbering, incomprehensible things, Unity of Command’s scenarios are short, small-scale and punchy. What you see in the screenshots is what you get – bar the occasional reinforcement. There’s no colossal army or economy that’s waiting to be tediously managed off-screen.

Instead, you’re given a set number of units (usually around twenty) and a set number of terms in which to complete a set number of objectives. The German and Russian sides are always fairly equally balanced through a variety of advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Soviets tend to have a greater number of units, but German units are considerably stronger.

Each unit has a pool of movement points that depend on things like weather, terrain, and whether it is a vehicular or infantry-based unit. They also have a pool of attack points that are dependant upon experience, position, supply and any available upgrades you’ve given them like artillery or anti-tank weapons.

The relatively narrow focus of the game means you can concentrate entirely on the battle, and the tactics required to emerge victorious – the tutorial and introductory scenarios gradually introduce the game’s core concepts to you, from basic movement and combat to supply lines and territory ownership.
 
Push too far into enemy territory, and you risk being cut off
These last two are the primary tactical assets that are going to be explosively squabbled over during a battle. The dynamic front-line and territory ownership are marked by red areas that represent Soviet territory. Anything left over is German territory. Concealed beneath this is a board of hexes that represents the current state of supply. Dotted around the map are supply stations that can be controlled.

The supply depots have a massive impact of the game. Your entire army can grind to a halt if one plucky enemy unit can take control of one of your supply depots. After two turns without supply, units won’t be able to attack, and for each successive turn after that their movement pools will shrink. Also, it’s possible to cut-off units from supply by surrounding them or pushing forward and gaining territory around them. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your front-line is as watertight as it can be, lest an enemy tank unit nip through a gap and snip your army’s umbilical cord.

At the same time, however, you only have a few turns in which to complete your objectives. The longest scenarios in Unity of Command are around fifteen turns, with the average being nine or ten. So you’ll often be happily inching your front-line forward only to discover you only have two turns left, which results in a frantic, incredibly risky push to capture the objective before your turns are up. It’s a brilliant method of keeping the tension ramped up. It also means that games are fairly short, between thirty minutes and an hour, which makes it perfect for multiplayer, either online or in the hot-seat mode with a friend.

If you’re content with single-player, the AI provides a decent challenge without being overly aggressive. It’s clever, preferring to keep you at bay by breaking your supply line and harrying your flanks rather than simply attempting to steamroll you.

The AI also makes full use of the available special abilities. These are abilities which vary per-scenario, and are replenished each turn. So you might get the ability to expand your supply lines or drop in supplies to an isolated unit. There are a couple that are disappointing, the ability to call in an air attack, for example, is rather underwhelming, sometimes having no effect at all. Rather than giving you two or three of these per-turn, the game should give you one and make it a little more powerful. Also, the partisan ability – which allows you to cause an uprising deep in enemy territory, is only effective if left unchecked.

In addition, a couple of idiosyncrasies in the control system annoyed me. It’s quite easy to accidentally move a unit in a way you didn’t intend, and as far as I could see, there’s no way to undo an unanticipated move. I can understand why the game wouldn’t allow you to undo a whole turns’ worth of moves, otherwise multiplayer games would likely take years to complete, but the ability to go back one move would negate this problem.

Finally, while the game is certainly one of the better teachers in the turn-based strategy genre, there’s still a fair amount of stuff that isn’t sufficiently explained. As you go deeper into the game, more and more symbols appear beneath individual units, symbols that are so small they’re sometimes difficult to make out. Fortunately, you don’t need to know what they mean in order to play, even to win, but it does help.
 
A single unit in the right place can make all the difference...

These are minor quibbles though. Unity of Command is one of the most refreshing turn-based strategy games I’ve experienced for some time. It’s clever and deeply tactical, yet also manages to be relatively quick-paced and exciting. Most importantly, it isn’t bogged down by any non-essential gubbins that plagues so many other turn-based games. It feels like a game rather than a commitment. I recommend it.

Top Game Moment: As with any strategy game, seeing a plan come to fruition is always gratifying.

Comments

By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 09, 2011
Kres
A good turn based WW2 strategy game! When did we had that the last time? I can't recall...
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 09, 2011
V4ndall
Hmm actually Panzer Corps is pretty solid, but games like that are always welcome. It's a shame they're usually about WW2 in Europe, but still... In this one though I'm not too much into those cutesy unit icons.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Nov 09, 2011
nocutius
Looks very interesting, i quite like these games. Too bad it doesn't have an economy behind it, but that probably also helps it to be a bit more focused as well. I might check it out if i find it on a sale somewhere.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 09, 2011
herodotus
I read it was based on a "Panzer General" styled gameplay, and that's not such a bad thing. Never 'into' the "HoI" scene, though I've played them all and liking "Panzer Corps" very much I've been following this awhile.
It reminds me of the classic boardgame "The Russian Front" and I'll be picking it up once the bloated price that Slitherine and Matrix Games always carry is reduced.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 09, 2011
Kres
I like those icons/graphics hmm oh well
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Nov 09, 2011
nocutius
The art style really works wonders considering how simple the graphics actually are.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 09, 2011
Kres
I wonder how animations are. We got no vids meh :\
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 09, 2011
herodotus
There is a video both on the Slitherine and Matrix Games sites.
By Gyorn (SI Core) on Nov 10, 2011
Gyorn
Sounds interesting :)
By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Nov 10, 2011
bosnian_dragon
Wow! This looks like a really interesting game. It immediatelly reminded me of Panzer General, I played that game a lot, and I always craved for some similar but newer game (with better graphics and stuff). I just hope that this one is at least a good reminder of the old classic, but I bet it's worth trying.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 10, 2011
Kres
I was really looking for something like this not so long ago.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 10, 2011
herodotus
I have been playing "Panzer Corps", the spiritual and practical successor to "Panzer general II" and so am alredy hooked on the whole "PG" thing again. This is a mus-buy in my books and will go well with "PC" (now with two, soon three EP's).
By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Nov 10, 2011
bosnian_dragon
I also saw that they have re-released Close Combat series with updated maps and modded content, that will be worth buying! :)
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 10, 2011
herodotus
Not at all Bosnian. I own "Wacht am Rhein" the upgraded version of "CC4 -Battle of the Bulge". As with all of the other "CC" games that Matrix has redone, the graphics have not changed since "CC5" despite claims to the contrary and really it's the addition of new maps, and a campaign for a couple of the older titles that is the main selling point.
I bought "WaR" on special last Christmas as it is the one (aside from "CC2") that I strongly identify with. The games are way over-priced and if you really are looking for a complete make-over of the beloved originals, forget it. On today's monitors (particularly anything at 1680x1050 upward) you'll need a magnifying glass to see your units. AI is still a problem as is the ever-present path-finding for armour. "CC3" is probably the worst of the bunch.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 06, 2012
herodotus
Well it was on sale on GameStop yesterday so I collected my copper coins and bought it. Wow! This is such a simple game on the surface, but wil take a long, long time to master. Can't wait to try Hotseat when I've practiced enough alone.
By the_fourth_horseman (SI Veteran Member) on Jun 25, 2012
the_fourth_horseman
What a perfect little game this is, a real gem...

If you're fan of the Panzer General series, turn your eye on this one in stead of Panzer Corps. I just played it again after a few months and ... boy, this one really sticks. Simple to start off on, yet very hard (and very rewarding) to achieve well. The extreme focus on supply lines is not a different, quirky, perspective, but surprisingly realistic. I don't ever get the satisfaction I got from tactical plans coming to fruition in this game: decoy and pinzer moves, penetration tactis and of course the climax: cutting of supply lines and catching unsupplied weaklings in their thousands. I'd recommend this one to anyone who likes WW2 and/or strategy games.

When will there be a sequal, or something similar from these guys ???
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 25, 2012
herodotus
I have both this and "Panzer Corps" and if you can I'd say try to get both - they are that different ("PC" being the true sucessor to "PG" in every way). Haven't spent as much time as I'd like with "UoC", but having been now reminded of the game after your post Horseman, I might attempt to make up for it.
By the_fourth_horseman (SI Veteran Member) on Jun 25, 2012
the_fourth_horseman
Good luck and don't be too shy to retry Herod! Brilliant victories are not as easy to achieve as in the PG series...

Panzer Corps is the official successor to my beloved PG 2 (which I must have played through a gazillion times) but, truth be told, it is just a bit too slow and lumbering in comparison to its predecessor (though of course I played it a lot and quite enjoyed it).

But for its combo of fast pace, tactical depth and a crisp feeling, I think the makers of UOC better understood how to follow up on PG 2. This game actually shows evolved game mechanics and not just better graphics and more content. Hence, IMHO this is the real next gen Panzer General. I SINCERELY hope we see some follow-up on this franchise. I'll be awaiting eagerly.