We’ll have a full chat about the game on the podcast later, I’m sure, but right now I want to state that Unity of Command is the intro wargame that Panzer Corps should have been.
In many ways, Unity is the anti-War in the East. Both deal with the Eastern Front in WW2, but Unity keeps things very simply with only a handful of easily distinguishable units. You can customize your infantry and tanks by spending the prestige you’ve earned to add auxiliary forces (engineers, recon, artillery) but for the most part you are pushing men and machines across a map and you don’t have to linger long to figure out what bonuses are attached. Reinforcements are handled the same way. Air power is played through actions (you get a certain number of special actions per turn) as is the expansion of your supply zone and other key factors. Blowing bridges, even, is as simple as “select bridge” and then hope the odds are in your favour.
But it’s not a puzzle game, like Panzer Corps, even in the scenarios which are the same “X turns to get to Y” model you find in that game. There are better and worse approaches, but the idea is to use your brain and your movement to get your weaker units off the front line and your fresher ones into battle. The interface is clean, the look is appealing, but there’s never a sense that this is just a simple game that happens to be set in WW2, which was often the feeling in Panzer Corps.
Unity of Command walks that very fine line between being a good and clear abstraction of the Eastern Front without either forgoing its approachability in the name of history or throwing up its hands and suggesting that there’s no point in teaching people wargames. There is never any sense during a battle that you are losing because of some mysterious thing you didn’t think or know about. The rollover tooltips are excellent, especially clear for things not mentioned in the very brief and slightly interactive tutorial. Supply and logistics – that great bugbear of wargame design – is intuitive and its effects noticeable; attacks can weaken supply – not just manpower – so there is an incentive to beat on units just out of supply range, knowing that if they don’t retreat they will be useless.
Later, I will want to talk about other things – the campaign structure, the scenario design, how it deals with fog of war and air combat, prestige as a currency…There is a lot of real game design going on in this game that looks a little bit cute with its toy tanks and giant heads fighting in the Ukraine.
But for now, I think, I’ve found the gateway wargame I’ve been looking for for some time.