Unity of Command: unbalanced history

, | Game diaries

Most games start the campaign slowly. They introduce concepts and situations at a deliberate pace to keep you from being overwhelmed. Unity of Command, on the other hand, starts with the Second Battle of Kharkov (pictured). It’s listed as a “hard” scenario. Wait a minute, that’s not fair!

After the jump, German high command could learn something from videogame design

The beginning of the real German campaign in ’42 was relatively easy, but the campaign in Unity of Command starts a little later. I decide to back up a bit and play the tutorial first. I learn how to move and attack using the intuitive interface. Now, just like after every strategy game tutorial, I’m ready to conquer the world!

Not so fast. The tutorial suggests I play the introductory scenario first. It’s a small battle of attrition on the Crimean Peninsula without a lot of maneuvering. I capture the first objective without much trouble, but then I run out of time before I crack the fortress city of Sevastopol. Game over. I’ve quickly learned a key wargaming concept: the importance of time. Without this time limit, I may win the battle but lose the war. I’ll need to keep that in mind later in the campaign.

I’m still not ready to conquer Russia. The introductory scenario suggests I try one of the easy individual scenarios next. I pick Voronezh. This time I need to do a little maneuvering and I have to keep an eye on my supply lines. (More on that in another entry.) I’ve done all this without cracking the manual. I figure I should do that now if I hope to do better than the Germans on the Eastern Front. The manual is a brisk 40 pages. If I were a German commander riding the train to Kharkov, I’d have plenty of time left to write a letter to my mistress.

All my training pays off. I win a decisive victory in the Second Battle of Kharkov on my first try. I’ll need to achieve decisive victories like this to unlock scenarios later in the campaign. That’s another way history becomes a problem for game design. To play some of the hypothetical scenarios, I’ll need to do better than the Germans and Russians did in real life. For now, I’m happy just to be on the right track. Unity of Command has a gentle learning curve, but I didn’t find it by clicking “New Campaign.”

Up next: elegant mechanics
Click here for the previous entry.

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