Unity of Command: Red Turn: Gotterdammerung and schwere Panzer

, | Game diaries

Red Turn feels like a late-war Eastern Front game. The distances and the size of the armies in each scenario are mind-boggling. The scenario pictured above, To The Dniester, has 816 steps between the two sides. I had to manage multiple fronts in many of the scenarios. Often the battles began with Soviet units stacked 4 or 5 deep against thin German lines. Playing the campaign feels like the multiyear ordeal that it describes. I spent as much time on Red Turn — if not more — than I did on Stalingrad Campaign. Officially, 2×2 Games calls this DLC. That merely embarrasses every other game developer that releases DLC. They’d probably release three challenge maps, a few new costumes, and charge 1600 Ruble Points for it. Well, it does sound pretty great when I put it like that.

During the hefty campaign in Red Turn, I picked up on two themes. One was the tipping point I noticed partway through the campaign. After that, the Soviet advance felt inevitable. Or was it? The other theme was how the Axis still had some punch left. Nimble veteran armored divisions impeded my plans at every turn. It took a lot of work to eject tough units from key positions.

After the jump, play along for a history lesson.

The campaign in the original Unity of Command started with a bit of a shock. The first battle was 2nd Kharkov, listed as a “hard” scenario. Modern videogames don’t normally start like that. You’ll be happy to know that Red Turn begins with an easy one, Rumyantsev. It’s a good warm-up. The Germans eventually put up a good fight in some of the other scenarios. Kiev, for example, is an intricate slog that makes it difficult to take the objectives on time. Historically, the Germans counterattacked after the Soviet advance at Kiev. Red Turn represents that with an independent scenario outside of the campaign, called Zhitomir.

It all feels like the original game, Stalingrad Campaign. That changes in the Rovno-Korsun scenario. The Soviets attack on two fronts and flood through the breach. The German Panzer divisions can’t be everywhere at once.

This is the tipping point in the campaign. After that, the gameplay takes a different turn. I have overwhelming numerical superiority in most of the scenarios. The Axis have limited options. It’s still challenging. But the challenge is achieving objectives on time. I have to think ahead to make sure I have troops near the final objectives on the last turn. At Bagration, I left too many units to take Minsk and sent too few to take the last two objectives. When I fail to achieve a decisive victory that way, I can almost picture my Soviet commander screaming at me for cowardly holding back my best units: We gave you our best corps to drive forward, comrade! The infantry are there to throw their lives away for the objectives in the rear. Achieving major victories takes a shrewd understanding of the units, a dash of boldness, and a little luck. I suppose military leadership is like that sometimes. But it still sucks to get that sinking feeling when I know I won’t make it in time.

Eventually, the Soviets reach Berlin. The final German defense looks like a chaotic hodgepodge of defenders rather than an epic clash between equals. The analogy I’ve seen for this collapse is the Wagner opera, Gotterdammerung. It translates as Twilight of the Gods. Red Turn demonstrates this theme to me throughout the campaign. In each new scenario, I push the Axis back at a steady rate. Joking aside, it’s clear that Germany won’t get to take another turn.

That’s not to say they’re powerless. The Germans still sting. Nothing represents that better than the theme of schwere Panzer divisions: elite heavy tank units that quickly maneuver and smash my best troops. Red Turn includes many scenarios with strong armored units bolstered by heavy attachments. Kiev, for example, seems easy until the cavalry arrive. I have to carefully screen these elite units to avoid bogging down my advance or leaving myself open to a counterattack. I still have a lot to think about as I push across Europe.

The Germans still know how to dig in, too. The snowy weather, entrenchment bonuses, and city defense bonuses make it difficult to roll over important objectives. Sometimes city hexes contain their own supply point, so I can’t cut them off and wait a few turns. It makes sense: I don’t expect to starve major cities in merely a few days. As I mentioned yesterday, taking key points is a multistep process now. I move my artillery into position, use it to suppress the enemy (at great loss to myself) and finally use my best units to work down the remaining defenders. Taking objectives in Red Turn feels like a team effort.

In my previous diary series, I learned that many wargamers discover the genre from their enthusiasm about military history. I’m just the opposite: I become intrigued by the history after playing the games. Unity of Command doesn’t try to explicitly teach me history. The few sentences in the scenario briefing barely set the stage. But I’m impressed how Red Turn communicates history implicitly through gameplay. All it took was a few offhand comments from other wargamers — who already know and appreciate these themes — for me to connect the dots. I think context like this will feed back into my appreciation of wargames.

Up next: a behind-the-scenes look at the design process
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Aside from writing about Unity of Command, Tim James is also an aspiring amateur cheerleader. For Unity of Command, that is. He’s excited to find this gateway into wargaming and wants you to feel the same way.