Review: Unity of Command

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Hex based war games have been around awhile. Back in the early days of PC strategy gaming, these turn based games could be found everywhere. Leading the way was SSI’s great Panzer General series, which released no less than seven games in a six year span.

In the late nineties, when 3D cards were impressing gamers with flashy graphics and real time strategy was becoming the hot new thing, these more traditional games fell out of the mainstream market. In 2011, however,  a small team of individuals who call themselves 2×2 Games came up with something that both hearkens back to the beginning of PC war gaming while offering something truly original. Unity of Command is that game.

30 Second Review

(+) Accessible, streamlined game mechanics

(+) Terrific Supply System

(-) Difficulty a bit too high in the beginning

(-) Mandatory turn limit can feel restricting

The Russian Front 1942

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Unity of Command is a World War II turn based strategy game set in the Stalingrad campaign on the Eastern front in 1942-43. As with many war games of this type, the focus is on the mechanics of the gameplay rather than pinpoint historical accuracy. I am not enough of a historian to critique the accuracy of what is presented, but fortunately the only thing the player need to know is that the Germans are fighting the Russians.

The first thing that most gamers will find is that this game is amazingly accessible. The interface layout is elegant, and the screen is never cluttered with unneeded information. The game does contain a brief tutorial which should take a little over a half hour to complete, and when finished, players will be equipped with almost everything they need to know to begin battling. Players can choose to play the campaign from beginning to end or any of the included scenarios  individually.

Oddly enough, the difficulty does not increase as the game progresses when playing in campaign mode. The first mission is classified as hard, and the difficulty then bounces around as you go. The AI is no slouch either. Even the easier scenarios have taken me several tries to complete. Personally, I would recommend playing through the scenarios individually, starting with the easy ones. It’s just too easy to get frustrated right off the bat before getting the chance to become truly familiar with the game’s mechanics.

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One thing that sets this game apart from most others in the genre is that it contains a very unique art style. Units are depicted in a near cartoon form that keeps them easily identifiable but isn’t overdone to the point of looking cheesy. The map itself is clean and readable with several optional overlays that let you see weather, terrain or supplied hexes as you may need them.  There is very little fluff, and the interface feels polished. Unity of Command is beautiful in both its art and simplicity.

Unique Mechanics

One of things that caught me off guard when starting my first mission is that Unity of Command does not use a fog of war mechanic. All of the units on the map are visible from the beginning of the scenario to the end. One of my biggest frustrations with hex based war games in the past has been that they end up feeling more like a puzzle to be solved by trial and error instead of requiring the player to make tactical decisions as the battle progresses. Even with the lack of fog of war, this game has never really felt that way. Much of that is thanks to the true heart of this game, which is the supply system.

In most war games, the supply system is something that is tolerated at best. In Unity of Command, the supply system will affect almost every decision made on the battlefield. Each side is given multiple supply points on the map at the start of the battle. Each point then supplies its region in a manner similar to how unit movement points work. If a unit is left on an hex with no supply points, it begins to become less effective every turn for up to three turns. By the third turn, the unit is more or less useless until it can be resupplied. This causes the player to never want to leave a unit in a hex without a supply point for more than a turn without access to a supplied hex. Making sure your units are properly supplied as well as using the mechanic to cut off your opponents supply lines is critical if you want to succeed.

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If there is one complaint that I have about the game, it is that it contains a rather restrictive turn limit. Each scenario requires you to complete the objectives within a limited number of turns, usually around a dozen or so. I understand the importance of creating urgency, but after your last turn, if you have not captured all of the points, the mission simply ends immediately. I would have liked to have seen an option to either play without the turn limit at all or at minimum let you continue after failing the scenario to find out how short you fell. This is just one small gripe, and while I don’t mind the limit itself, it does feel a little restrictive when trying to learn the nuances of the way the game operates.

Conclusion

Unity of Command is simply one of the best turn based strategy games I’ve ever played. War games this accessible that still contain a deep strategic layer only come around once in a great while. The game is also receiving great support with one DLC pack titled Red Turn already released. The developers are active on both the official Unity of Command forum as well as the Steam forums and have been more than helpful with players that have any questions regarding the game.

With the refreshing supply system, the cunning AI and a nifty art style I can’t recommend this game highly enough. Unity of Command gets a 8.5 out of 10.

[starreview tpl=14]

Unity of Command is available at www.unityofcomand.net or on Steam.

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