Unity of Command: Red Turn: Tim vs Bruce

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This game diary exists to make a joke about the name Red Turn. This multiplayer report exists to make a pun on Tom vs. Bruce.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. I enjoy reading everything Bruce Geryk writes about wargames. I’ve wanted him to write something about Unity of Command since it was released. I knew that if I challenged him to a game, he’d be unable to resist.

We’re playing the Korsun Pocket scenario. It’s a dynamic battle of encirclement and counterattack. Bruce, playing the Soviets, will use his superior numbers to cut off as much of my army as he can. As the Axis, I’ll use my veteran armored units to punish overzealous attacks. The scenario states that the Soviets need more than 150 points to achieve victory. But victory points start ticking down quickly, and the Axis can cut into that margin by taking their own objectives.

Click any of the images for an expanded view of the battlefield. Check the first image for the names of the objectives.

After the jump, maneuvering begins

Bruce, Turn 1: Every time I start a game of Unity of Command, I’m struck by one thing, and that’s how I immediately think, “Oh, look at all the adorable little fascists! How incredibly cute!” I’m sure a very strong argument could be made according to EU law which would find the developers guilty of a war crime for depicting adorable fascists. But the little busts of Antonescu and Ante Pavelic notwithstanding, Unity of Command is a wonderful throwback to the early days of wargaming in its simplicity. But the somewhat deterministic combat system (not a lot of variation in results) means you really need to arrange your units just so or you won’t make any headway. There isn’t any way to just roll the dice on a bunch of low-odds attacks, like you could in those early board wargames.

The game gives me its own timetable for capturing objectives, kind of like a STAVKA directive telling me, “Comrade, you will drive on Korosten and Kirovograd before pushing the fascist invaders out of Zhitomir, and then your shock armies will capture Korsun airfield!” I hear this in Russian in my head before I start playing the game, which some people would see as concerning. But with each objective’s victory points decaying after a given date, I have to keep to my schedule or it will be impossible for me to win the game after a certain point. Because we’re playing the beta, this scenario has changed a couple times while we were examining it, and currently has a Soviet margin of +150, which Tim tells me Tomislav tells him means I’ll need to score at least 151 points to win. Since there are no one-point objectives, this really means I’ll need to score 160. Stupid fascist math.

Although the Soviets have a lot of troops, getting the right ones to the point of attack can be tricky. Fortunately, Unity of Command is great at showing you exactly what to expect from combat. Soviet infantry is pretty much useless against German armor, and is only marginally less effective against German infantry, unless using artillery. Blasting the Germans out of Entrenched status and following up with armor to exploit holes is the way this game is meant to be played, but you have to do a little dance to get the units all in the right places.

I think that’s what I like best about Unity of Command — it’s a nostalgia trip back to my days of working out the exact number of combat factors I needed for a 3:1 attack in Fortress Europa. Unity of Command is really a wargame design circa 1975, with a crucial concession to the computer, and that is no unit stacking. I say concession because the thing that makes all computer wargames a pain is flipping through stacks of virtual counters. In Unity of Command, I just see adorable fascists.

So after shuffling some units around and taking Kirovograd, and pushing through south of Zhitomir, I’m looking good on my timetable for objectives. Comrade Stalin should be satisfied for now.

Tim, Turn 1: There’s a funny thing about multiplayer scenarios in Unity of Command. Most of them are based on battles from the singleplayer campaign. Korsun Pocket is really just the Rovno-Korsun scenario, minus the Rovno part. As the Soviets, I already smashed the Axis when they were played by the AI. Now Bruce gets to play the hammer and I’m stuck as the nail. But not only do I need to prevent Bruce from capturing key objectives on time, I’m also expected to counterattack and take my own objectives. Am I really so much smarter than the AI that I’m able to do both? The answer is yes. But I’m still not happy about it.

Since this is a turn-based game, I’ve just now woken up from a good night’s sleep. (I asked my orderly not to wake me while the Soviets attack.) To my great dismay, I’ve already lost two important objectives on my flanks: Korosten in the north and Kirovograd in the south. Although I definitely do not have a spreadsheet to tell me the relative worth of these objectives, I instictively sense that I’m already on the brink of defeat. That just makes it a great opportunity for promotion.

I judge the strength of my forces near these two objectives. I decide a counterattack is unlikely to work at this time. My best bet is to shore up my lines near Korosten and Kirovograd. I’m also threatened in the middle at Zhitomir and the Korsun airport. I could play defensively or set the stage for a counterattack to cut Bruce from his supply lines. I decide to park one of my elite SS Panzer units at Korsun airport. But I’ll use the rest of my heavy-hitters to push toward the Road to Kiev.

Bruce, Turn 2: Unity of Command has a beautiful supply system, and a more beautiful way of displaying it. Each supply source has a range, and you can see exactly what will happen to your units if a certain supply source is captured, for instance. In the campaign version of this scenario, Vinnitsa is an objective (and was in earlier beta versions of this scenario as well). For our game, it’s just a supply source. So I can’t earn any victory points for it, but by capturing it I can essentially split Tim’s army into a northern and southern force (the map is rotated) and minimize his advantage of interior lines. But I think there is also a psychological factor to having your opponent take your objectives, like Rommel’s race to the wire in Operation Crusader.

So as my mechanized corps drives west through the liberated Motherland, I can only imagine the look on Tim’s face. I’ll bet it is a horrible look of realization that the war he himself started in order to bring Europe under the heel of a horrific ideology is going to come to a terrible reckoning for him and his criminal clique, one that has brought European civilization to the verge of destruction. Either that, or he’s just going to go ahead and take his turn in the game.

The other thing I’d like to do is try and capture the northern German supply source, since that will paralyze half of his army and take the air out of any attacks he may be planning on the objectives I hold at the start (Road to Kiev and Cherkassy). But I haven’t played this game as much as Tim, and I’m wondering if this is spreading my forces too thin. You see, I’ve played this scenario several times against the AI, and the way the Germans manage to win is always through some kind of sneaky counterattack. I dig in near my supply sources and the objectives in the rear, hoping to dissuade Tim from this kind of thinking. It’s the late war, for God’s sake. The Germans never counterattack.

Tim, Turn 2: I should reconsider my beauty rest. It’s my second turn, and Bruce has already cut off supplies near Vinnitsa. This doesn’t threaten any objectives. But it will make it difficult to maneuver through the center of the map. Without supplies, I’ll be unable to use the one advantage I have: mobile Panzer divisions that can dash between crisis points. I’ll be seeing more of those soon. Bruce just called in multiple armored reinforcements from Kiev.

That’s nothing compared to the red alert north of Zhitomir. Bruce pushed a tank through the forests to threaten my rail lines. If he sneaks around there, my defenders at Zhitomir are finished. I counterattack with 1 Pz Div. I’m lucky enough to force a retreat — but Bruce’s tank corps has nowhere to go! Cornered units like that take full suppression. I overrun it with infantry, then bolster the line with one of my infantry reinforcements. I also decide to give up my entrenchment bonus and shorten my lines. I’m defending a forest tile, which provides sufficient defense against infantry attacks even without entrenchment.

I still can’t retake Kirovograd in the south. Instead, I use my superior mobility to take cheap shots at vulnerable units. I reshuffle some tanks to make Bruce work for every breakthrough. I’m well-supplied, so I decide to hold the line and wait it out. Maybe Bruce will get impatient and make a mistake. Just like Stalin.

The biggest question is what to do about the armies pouring through the breach in my lines near Vinnitsa. Because I’m commanded to defend Korsun, I’m overextended across the entire front. I also don’t know which way Bruce will turn: toward Zhitomir or Korsun. My counterattack toward the Road to Kiev looks absolutely hopeless now. I have four armored units in that sector. If I use them to attack, Bruce will have a clear shot to sprint behind my lines. There’s only one option that solves all my problems: I need to cut off Bruce’s supplies.

I see Bruce has two infantry units defending supplies west of Korsun. If I can destroy them, I’ll cut off nearly his entire armored forces. I advance my strongest unit in the scenario, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, and make the initial attack. I don’t inflict nearly as much damage as I had hoped. I have to finish it off with a Panzer division. But I’ve already spent two of my four armored units in the area. If I fail to destroy the other infantry unit, I’ll be caught with my pants down. I decide to play it safe.

That’s not to say my present position is any better. My lines are a mess. I maneuver infantry where I can to take advantage of zones of control. I dread seeing what Bruce has planned. I won’t sleep well tonight.

Up next: both sides conclude they’ve been dying for the sake of two squabbling wisecrackers
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