Unity of Command
Developer: 2×2 Games
Publisher: Matrix Games / Slitherine
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: 11/15/2011
One of the joys of writing for a site is the odd forwarded email I receive about a previously unknown title that ends up wrecking my schedule. The email offered a download link and a polite invitation from developer 2×2 Games to give their upcoming title a try, a turn-based strategy title called Unity of Command. Despite being absolutely swamped as it is—this time of the year is always busy for gaming—I figured I would give the beta a shot. After a quick jaunt to the game’s official site, I unzipped the download, ran the installer, and jumped into my first scenario—and then exited the program three hours later. “Ah, hell. I’m going to have to talk about this.”
Unity of Command is set on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. As either the Axis or the Soviets, players will take part in timed scenarios that offer Prestige for the victor and a bitter return trip to the campaign map for the loser. While the game looks absolutely charming, with colorful busts representing soldiers and model-like units for air and armor, its inviting demeanor only serves to create a false sense of security as the easy early scenarios lead to humbling defeats that tax patience and skill.
Going by my Panzer Corps review, it’s no shock that I enjoy a good, inviting wargame. Unity of Command follows a similar approach as Panzer Corps, as well as the latter’s (spiritual) predecessor Panzer General, by offering an attractive, straightforward interface that contains easy-to-understand information and a combat system that’s painless to get into but opens up due to its being augmented by common-sense modifiers that are easy for non-grognards to understand while still adding numerous variables to contend with. Not that hardcore wargamers won’t find something to like with Unity of Command. In fact, I think it hits a rather nice mark: its short scenarios offer excellent coffee-break fodder for the hardcore, while the rest of us won’t mind clawing our way through the campaign and having to replay a few scenarios. The action is kept at a brisk pace, with enough concessions made to keep things rolling, such as the ability to build or demolish bridges, that it never feels like a slog.
Well, not like a bad slog, anyway. There are a few times when it felt as though my little units really were up against it, trying to punch a hole through a human wall. Those slugfests also give the game a dash of grit—those fist-pumping moments after the tanks push through and the troops pour in.
So, what makes Unity of Command so special? For starters, it’s unbelievably accessible. Chits are bold, unit information is presented clearly, and combat predictions are easy to understand. Then there is the limited battlefield, with each scenario offering only a small chunk of the overall engagement. These areas are dotted with clearly defined objectives, cities, and railways. Terrain is easy to see, and natural obstacles are known from the get-go—no fog of war—and both terrain and weather (dry, mud, and snow) can be further illustrated via options that toggle hand-drawn-style icons indicating hexagon modifiers. Not enough can be said for a wargame that presents information clearly and intelligently, and for the scenarios included with the beta, Unity of Command is already impressive.
All of this would make it seem as if the game is a breeze. That’s not the case, though. What makes Unity of Command so challenging is the underlying acknowledgement of the limited battlefield, the abundance of information, and the confined unit set by some restrictive victory requirements. Many maps only offer a handful of turns, and these turns aren’t for an optimal victory, but for victory period. That five-turn count means the objectives are either taken in five turns or the campaign map will need to be restarted on that scenario in five turns. Most of the scenarios were seven to ten turns long, and for those who can actually win a decisive victory within the designated limit, I salute you.
Working in tandem with this time limit is a clever use of supplies. Each supply depot has a set radius where their goods can reach, with railways offering extended lines. Units can only go a few turns without being supplied until they deteriorate into cannon fodder. Push forward too quickly on even the smallest of maps and watch hardened vets succumb to green soldiers flushed with resources. The temptation to push forward is also increased by the ability to transform Action Points (AP) into Extended Movement points, which will leave the unit vulnerable to attack but also closer to the objective. Another factor to note are the Zones of Control that stronger units exert, which stop approaching enemies in their tracks. Go for an extended move and accidentally end up in an enemy’s zone, and the unit will be a sitting duck.
The interplay between the time limit and supply lines is done wonderfully: one isconstantly pushing the player forward while the other is pulling them back. Added to this are the Theater Assets, such as the ability to extend a depot’s radius, parachute a supply drop onto any troop, encourage partisan resistance, or have dive bombers suppress entrenched soldiers and chip at tanks. Units will run out of the ability to attack while still be capable of moving, which presents players with the gamble of rushing a weakened unit forward in the hopes that a supply drop will allow them to grab an under-defended objective before being intercepted and wiped out. Despite the many pressures, the game presents a relaxed atmosphere that makes even failures more bearable.
There are all sorts of little touches, too: bridges with enemies nearby will have less of a chance of being demolished due to interference, river crossings require a full turn to complete and also lock APs from being used towards extended movements, units gain experience, reinforcements can be purchased during combat, units can have specialist types for greater effect, and so on. There isn’t too much to overwhelm but still enough to keep combat engaging. For someone who stays on the lighter side of Matrix Games’ library, the mix is just right.
There’s no telling what tweaks remain—AI, unit positioning, etc.—during the final weeks until release. What I do know is that things are looking very good for 2×2 Games.
Official Site: UnityofCommand.net