Unity of Command: introducing the wargame for everyone

, | Game diaries

Unity of Command is billed as an operational-level wargame. That’s totally wrong. It’s actually a game about moving big heads around a map to rub an eraser over colorful enemy territory. That’s my first impression, anyway.

After the jump, wargaming with a kart racing aesthetic

The manual says each big head represents a division, and each hex is 20 km. Wargamers hear that and immediately understand what kind of game they’re getting into. I have to go to Wikipedia to see how many troops are in an infantry division (about 20,000) and think about what local landmarks are 12 miles away. All I can think of is, “that’s a really big head.” Whatever the scale, the presentation is undeniably charming. I’m tempted to go to one of those cosplay conventions dressed as the novelty-sized upper torso of a Romanian infantryman.

Territory control is just as delightful. The front lines form a boundary colored in by red or blue, depending on the opposing faction. Every time I drive deep behind enemy lines, I erase a path to form a new front line, cutting the enemy from supply. The 5-year-old inside me loves it. I can picture him saying, “I use my eraser to make the Russians combat ineffective and then crush them.” My inner 5-year-old is a cute kid.

I appreciate this presentation because I’m new to wargames. I’ve played games for decades, but I never dug into this genre. Most operational-level wargames seemed too esoteric with their low-fidelity counters and byzantine rules. I only dabbled with some of the classics, such as Combat Mission and the recent Panzer General Forever remake. I always wanted to explore the genre further.

Unity of Command is a painless way to start. There’s depth behind the cute presentation, too. In future diary entries I’ll show how those cartoony units contain details just like serious wargames, and erasing territory is part of an elegant and historically relevant supply system. It’s enough to make my inner 5-year-old furrow his brow in contemplation.

Up next: history doesn’t respect videogame design

Tim James is recovering from Mass Effect 3, which he reviewed here, by exploring wargames after decades of curiosity.