my review of UoC
II picked up UoC from the dev several months ago, and now I see it's popped up on steam.
So if you're reading this you've probably watched the video on the store page, maybe even read a review or two but I figured I'd get my 2 cents in.
UoC is a brilliant game, but it is not for everyone. If you have a copy of Avalon Hill's Russian Campaign gathering dust in your closet replete with fond memories, are familiar with the concept of "step loss", can list off the expansions for Advanced Squad Leader or know who GMT Games are then stop reading now, slap down some shiny sheckles and buy UoC. You won't regret it. Heck, if you still have Panzer Generals II installed on your computer, then the above advice applies too. If you're a hardcore wargamer you might be disappointed by the lack of an option to use NATO unit markers but the game is good enough that you shouldn't give a damn... That'll also be the extent of my comments on the graphics, because... well... graphics... not a focus.
If that does not apply to you then a bit more of an explanation is an order. Unity of Command is based on the old "hex and chit" style of wargames that were 'popular' in the 60's and 70's. To be more specific Unity of Command is is an Operational level wargame set on the Eastern Front during the Stalingrad campaign. Operational level means that you're dealing with corps and divisions as the 'pieces' and each hex represents about 20 sq km with each 'turn' representing 4 days.
Now, like most operational level games there is no 'economy' to speak of. You're a military commander and your job is to fight, not worry about how much grain is being produced in Belarus or whether or not the factories are building Panzer III's or Panzer IV's. That said, there are resources in the form of "prestige". This is basically a measurement of how much your bosses (either OKH or STAVKA) like you and can be used to purchase extra units or specialist steps. It's a simple system, but one that works well and you need to be really really careful with how you spend it since it carries over through the campaign, and trust me, you don't want to be in on of the later missions and run out.
The campaign consists of a series of linked scenarios based (to an astounding level of detail) on the actual battles that took place. The units that you start with are 9 times out of 10 exactly the units that were actually involved in the battles. The devs elected to go with historical accuracy rather than campaign persistence, so if for example you get the 12th panzer division wiped out to a man in one game the next scenario might have them back at full health and raring to go.
The gameplay itself couldn't be simpler. You select a unit, hover the mouse over an adjacent 'bad guy'. The computer gives you an odds calculation and predicts how much damage each unit will do. Then you right click and the units fight and most of the time the odds calculation the computer gave you is right on the money.
Now wait you say! What's the point of even playing a game if the computer tells you how a fight will end before it even starts?! Well, that is the point. The challenge in UoC is to massage those odds and try to get them to work in your favor. For example, in the very first scenario there is a line of entrenched Russian infantry that will slow your panzers to a crawl. Yes they'll be able to deal with them, but it'll be a slog to try and bust through those lines. It'll take too long, and you'll suffer a lot of unnecessary casualties in the process. However, you have airstrikes available, as well as some specialist engineers through OKH that you can attach to your panzer divisions. Engineers are very, very good at dealing with entrenched enemies. A few Stuka's later and suddenly your tanks are rolling through the countryside without a care in the world. Of course spending prestige on those engineers might hurt you in the long run, but damnit, there's a trench to be taken!
The other major component in most Operational level games that I haven't touched on yet is supply, and it plays a huge role in UoC. Like the remainder of the game the supply system is relatively simple. Supply dumps have a given range, and rail lines extend that range. Units that are in supply are happy. Where it gets far more interesting though is when a unit goes out of supply. Say for example the Russians manage to punch through a weaker section of your line and run a unit onto the rail tracks. Oops! Now every unit that was relying on that rail line for supplies is in trouble. They're OK for the first turn, but after that even the most elite SS Panzer divisions start to get to the point that Russian conscripts can overrun them. Generally speaking unless you've really buggered up you can fix your supply problems fairly quickly but it still diverts attention from the front line, slows your advance and generally mucks with your plans in a pretty major way.
This brings me nicely to the AI. First off, the AI doesn't 'cheat'. It knows the exact same information as you do, and it plays by the same rules. That said, the AI will smack you around like a redheaded stepchild. There is not "easy" setting. If you leave Romanian conscripts guarding your flank (trust me, don't use Romanians to do anything but kill Partisans) at Stalingrad you can bet your last penny that the Russians will be sending Tank Guard divisions circling around your font lines and blasting those poor Romanians into kingdom come as they sever your supply lines, and leave General Paulus to freeze to death.
At any rate, if you're still with me after that wall of text, then I'd give UoC a serious look. It's a simple game from a mechanics standpoint, but there are so many layers of strategy built on it it'll keep you busy for a good long while.