Unity of Command: Red Turn: designing the wargame

, | Game diaries

When I first learned about Red Turn, I was surprised to hear the scenarios were designed by a member of the community: Pieter de Jong, better known to most wargamers as ComradeP. And as a new wargamer, I’m still intrigued by the history behind the games. Like art appreciation, it feeds back into my appreciation of the game. So I decided to go right to the source and ask Pieter a few questions.

After the jump, add some perspective to Red Turn.

I knew your name from the excellent AAR you wrote for the Fall Blau scenario in the original Unity of Command. How did you end up working for 2×2 Games on this expansion?

Tomislav Uzelac, from 2×2 Games, contacted me after the beta for Unity of Command: Stalingrad Campaign was completed. I had provided a fair amount of feedback and the team was surprised by how quickly I had learned the system and “beaten” the game. Tomislav asked me if I was interested in becoming their new scenario designer. I was…well, a mixture of surprised and flattered I think, and I was more than happy to take him up on his offer.

That made you a good player, but what qualified you to design scenarios? What was your exact role on the team as scenario designer?

I study history, and I’ve been wargaming for about 13 years now (starting with the Great Battles series: Alexander, Caesar). That’s not a lot, but I’m only 25 years old. I have an interest in military history in particular, primarily 20th century warfare.

2×2 Games has a fairly young team in general, with most of the guys being in their mid to late thirties. Tomislav worked on the code, the editor and the map, whilst I did the research for the scenarios and placed everything on the map.

As someone new to wargames and military history, I’m intrigued by the scenario design and how it relates to actual events. What kind of maps, historical accounts, and official histories did you use to create the scenarios?

For the expansion, I used a bit over a dozen books, mostly for the maps they contained. German books in particular proved to be very useful. There are not many books in English that cover some of the more obscure operations. For the Soviet side, I used online references and maps: at rkka.ru, for example.

I’ve tried to include all of the major Soviet operations from mid-1943 to mid-1945 except: operation Kutuzov, the battle for Smolensk in 1943, the battle for the Crimea in 1944 and the fighting in the northern part of the Carpathians and Slovakia. These could not be modeled properly due to timescale concerns and/or lack of unit stacking in the game engine. The operations in Finland and Yugoslavia also could not be modeled due to scale concerns.

Unity of Command is an excellent introductory wargame. But it doesn’t try to be a good introduction to the history of WWII. Tell us what you see are the high-level themes of the Eastern Front from 43-45, and how you integrated them into the Red Turn scenarios.

Gradually, the Soviets learned to make much better use of (local) numerical superiority than in the previous two years and by mid-1943, the Soviets already had a more powerful army than in June 1941. Better command and control, more mobile and “mature” (in terms of equipment and doctrine) Tank and Mechanized corps, the introduction of larger infantry formations in the shape of Rifle corps and the rebirth of the Soviet air forces after the initially high losses and declining pilot quality (at a time when they were facing a Luftwaffe with a significant edge in pilot quality, which seriously limited the operational to strategic level effect of Soviet air operations). However, by 1944 the timetable the Soviets wanted to stick to was quite ambitious, so they needed every advantage they had. Soviet logistics were also a permanent problem.

The Wehrmacht and the other Axis armies faced declining manpower figures and, primarily later in the war, fuel problems. Full strength German mobile divisions were still more than a single Tank or Mechanized corps could handle, but the Panzer divisions couldn’t be everywhere at the same time and in many cases the formations were understrength to the extent that they were little more than a reinforced brigade.

As a result, in Red Turn the Soviets will usually have 1) a superiority in step numbers, but inferior individual unit quality 2) more mobile units or at the least more reinforcements/replacements than the Germans 3) some air support 4) not a lot of room for mistakes, due to having to capture objectives in a hurry. Without a clean breakthrough in the opening turns, you can forget about a brilliant – or even decisive victory.

The Axis face their typical late war problems of not having enough mobile units to prevent or stop every Soviet breakthrough, not having enough units to cover the entire frontline in depth and being forced to use understrength divisions.

Logistics for both sides are quite generous, mostly because operations tend to be short. The historical delays due to Soviet logistics needing time to catch up with the spearheads are modeled by the break in time between scenarios.

How did you balance the historical layout of the battles with the need to create an enjoyable scenario? In the same way, we already know the Soviets won. How do you create a challenging game out of that?

Like in the original, the challenge in many of the scenarios comes primarily from only having a limited amount of time to capture objectives. It can be easy to demolish the initial Axis line in scenarios like the Lvov-Sandomierz operation, but getting to all objectives on time will be challenging. There are some scenarios, such as operation Rumyantsev (which, in our case, has a focus on recapturing Belgorod and Kharkov) or Bagration, where the Wehrmacht will cease to exist as an effective fighting force after a few turns. Those scenarios are obviously easier than others where the Wehrmacht can fight back, such as in the Kiev-Zhitomir operation and the operations in the western Ukraine.

The operations in the western Ukraine look like they were easy Soviet victories when you look at a map like the one above. However, the German line only collapsed in some sectors (north/northwest of Proskurov and east of the Bug, where the Germans were withdrawing after previous Soviet operations nearly resulted 6th Army being encircled again), which then created sort of a domino effect. Lack of reserves, poor decisions by Hitler and the speed of the Soviet advance threw the Axis out of the Ukraine at a pace that was as impressive as the rate of advance during operation Bagration. It also lead the Axis to reinforce the “wrong” sector of the front in spring 1944, which allowed Bagration to be as destructive as it would be in June.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the design of Red Turn?

To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of designing the scenarios was learning about the less well known operations in this crucial period of the Second World War. Most wargamers have heard of battles like Bagration and the battle for Korsun, but the operations that took place at the same time or within a few weeks, such as the advance against Army Group North or the attacks towards Rovno and Kirovograd are less well known. I’m hoping that, after playing Red Turn, people will have a greater understanding of the way the more well-known operations were often linked to smaller operations that were also crucial, but which are rarely covered in English language books.

Thank you for your time and your insight into the design process.

ComradeP can be contacted through email.

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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.