Unity of Command is a turn-based, hex-based strategy game set on the Eastern Front of the Second World War. The scale of units depends on whether you play as the individually superior Germans, organised into divisions, or the numerically superior Soviets, organised into corps. Battles occur along what were historically organised as single operational fronts by the attacker. This game has an incredibly functional and elegantly minimalist UI, which makes planning and manoeuvring simple to execute.
Strategy heavily focuses on logistics. Instead of drowning players in a sea of minutiae and micromanagement, the mechanics elegantly strip away all the non-essentials for this scale of warfare. All players need to be concerned about are maintaining supply lines—and how to cut off those of their enemies. Resupplying your own troops is done automatically at the beginning of each turn. Terrain features that support or hinder logistics, such as railroads, bridges, mountains and rivers, are the most important strategic points on maps and are furiously fought over. Although weather rarely becomes an issue for most maps due to the corresponding historical dates, the Russian winter at its fiercest can seriously limit your supply and unit movement range.
Unlike almost all other games of this scale, the presence of logistics means that encirclement attacks work realistically, where you surround enemy units and cut off their supply (e.g. food, fuel, munitions). After being out of supply for 2 turns, a unit's combat effectiveness is incredibly compromised. After 4 turns, enemy units are unable to attack. In other games, encirclement merely increases the surface area from where can an attack enemy unit (i.e. multiple friendly units can attack the same enemy). As with German strategy in the first half of Operation Barbarossa, sometimes it's better to bypass large enemy formations and hit their rear supply lines using more mobile divisions (e.g. armoured, mechanised, motorised or cavalry units) than to fight a grinding battle of attrition focused on the complete destruction of the enemy.
Despite deceptively simple mechanics, this game is quite realistic at portraying the effectiveness of strategies of the period. There are three main realism problems: (1) No fog of war, though formations at this scale are almost certainly known to enemy reconnaissance; (2) No command structures, which assumes that command delay is less than 24 hours; and (3) Air supply is not subject to anti-aircraft attack. There are far more complex and detailed games that achieve greater realism, such as Gary Grigsby's War in the East (Matrix Games
), but the overall effectiveness of those strategies is largely the same as in this game but include far more micromanagement.
The singleplayer AI is very well crafted, but there is a serious caveat: it's limited to planning one turn in advance. This makes the AI devastatingly effective at conducting defences, launching counterattacks and striking at supply lines, but unable to follow through strategic attacks. This is why in singleplayer you can only play as the attacker. To increase the difficulty, instead of simply achieving a marginal victory, you can take your chances at achieving a brilliant (i.e. perfect) victory by reaching all the objectives in record time.
The multiplayer community is small, but you should usually be able to find at least one or two games every day through the following Steam group (Unity of Command Multiplayer
). Unfortunately, there is no matchmaking service, which is why people use this group. Be careful though, as strategies that work against singleplayer AI are usually unsuited to facing off against infinitely more crafty human players.
Posted: December 4th, 2013