Captain Kursk: Unity Of Command – Red Turn

General Gillen dropped the turn-based strategy goodness of Unity Of Command behind RPS lines and hoped that it would conquer hearts, minds and hard drives: “PC-gaming everyman Alec would like it. I suspect Adam has already played it, and I equally suspect he likes it. But I suspect its poise isn’t enough to get the Jims of the world on board.” Well, hear this – upon the flip-side of this hastily composed billet-doux to my lost love, I have composed a charge of two unfounded suspicions, General! Jim hopped on board later in the year and I was entirely ignorant of Unity of Command, although I did later learn to love it. The Red Turn DLC came out in December, but I noticed that it had cropped up on Matrix Games today, priced £6.99, so I took a look.

Going back into Unity of Command after a few months is sobering. I have memories of tanks punching through enemy lines, mechanised infantry spilling through the gap and distorting the front into a tangle of opposing forces and disrupted supply lines. The surface simplicity of the game is its great strength and, upon returning, I was deceived by that surface. I have conquered you, I thought, as I prepared to ride the red wave of conquest all the way to Berlin.

Oof. The AI is still a right sod. It has a fantastic habit of noticing the slightest mistake and capitalising on it, which allows it to provide precisely the sort of challenge I enjoy in a wargame. My mistakes are my undoing because the AI is an opportunist rather than an tricky puzzle. The scale is operational but the decisions sometimes feel much more personal – “HANG ON, WHY ARE YOU THERE, INFANTRYBLOKE?”, I yell at a small man-token that represents thousands of men that are about to die, cold and without supplies.]

I haven’t finished the seventeen new Soviet scenarios but I’m enjoying them more than the base game content, which is strong praise indeed. Because the Red Army is in the ascendancy, the opposing forces aren’t always the greatest threat. The temptation to roll over everything that retreats and cowers is strong, but that way lies doom. Patience and well-organised lines of supply and offence are key to victory, and this creates new strategic considerations. Your armies may be mighty but whatever uniforms your troops wear, you are not Russia, you merely fight for Russia, and the country will consume you as readily as it consumes the invaders. Slow and steady is the way.

The patient approach doesn’t detract from the joy of shattering a defensive line, or replaying the turns of a scenario after completion and watching the give and take, as every potential weakness is teased and worked on, like the strapped joint of a wrestler. When a breakthrough happens, the joy or anguish is as visceral as that felt during any headshot or kill streak.

If you have played Unity of Command and knew the DLC was out, you may well have purchased it already. If you haven’t done either of those things, I strongly recommend that you at least try the demo. We haven’t spent enough time telling you how clever, well-presented and cunning this game is, and following the DLC and the addition of a scenario editor at the end of last year, it’s easier to recommend than ever before.


  1. tigerfort says:

    The link at “Jim hopped on board” is certainly interesting, but I don’t think that’s what you meant to do, Adam :)

  2. Luringen says:

    Bought it a few weeks ago, looked easy to understand. Stuck on level 3, game abandoned.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’d recommend trying the scenarios in the original first. It takes a while to get the hang of, and I think the DLC assumes that you’ve got this hang from the original.

  3. shishkarobert says:

    The surface simplicity is what makes this game unplayable for me.

    • bob. says:

      Could you explain what you mean? Because to me, that doesn’t make any sense at all…

      • Jason Lefkowitz says:

        I can’t speak for shishkarobert, but for me the surface simplicity is off-putting because it promises something the game doesn’t deliver. It feels like it’s going to be a simple little beer & pretzels game, but the game itself is actually pretty brutally unforgiving — as Adam noted, make the smallest mistake and your session is pretty much hosed.

        Others may feel differently (and probably do, given the glowing reviews the game has gotten here on RPS), but I was really taken aback when I first tried it by the dissonance between the simplicity of the interface and the difficulty of the game.

        • Luringen says:

          Urgh, this made me buy the game and abandon it shortly after.

        • Ernesto says:

          But…but this is what makes it so great!
          Would you rather scroll through endless menues and lists just to get the same result? A good game doesn’t need to hide behind complicated UIs just to look ‘deep’ or whatever you want it to be.

          • Jason Lefkowitz says:

            I think we’re confusing two different things in this discussion: UI and art style. I would agree that, all other things being equal, a simpler UI is always better than a more complicated one. My beef is more with the art style; the cartoony soldier-head icons for units, the stylized map, etc. It feels like it’s all for a game that’s much closer to, say, Advance Wars than Unity of Command. But Advance Wars is very forgiving where Unity is not.

          • Ernesto says:

            I see what you mean now.
            I don’t find it very cartoony, however. And the music makes it quite serious. But that’s an opinion, not fact.
            There is also no reason to buy and abandon it, cause there is a demo ;)

        • kaliper says:

          A beer & pretzels game doesn’t have to be easy. Personally I’d rather the difficulty come from the AI instead of an obtuse user interface. I have gotten stuck in this game many a time but for me it’s fun to try out new approaches.

        • Gap Gen says:

          I think the game is reasonably forgiving, as far as it goes. My biggest issue sometimes is that you make a mistake that causes you to miss the turn limit, like letting one enemy slip behind your lines and cut your entire supply (which is usually entirely your fault). But the game warns you of odds in combat, so you usually don’t throw away your troops needlessly unless you’re rushing for an objective, Soviet-style.

  4. ts061282 says:

    Sure, it looks good, but how does it taste?

  5. jonfitt says:

    I just started playing the base game a few days ago after picking it up in the Chrimbo Steam sales. I’ve been really surprised at how engrossing it is.
    I still don’t understand its complexities (the special steps are a mystery) and it will require me to read the manual (gasp!) to work it out, but you can get playing at a basic level really quickly.
    It shows you the predicted outcome, so you can make a decisions without really understanding how much of a boost a bonus gave.
    I haven’t been playing it long enough to know if I need the DLC though, so I’ll probably miss this sale.

  6. WHS says:

    Hey Adam, Kurtz was a colonel, not a captain, you n00b

  7. dmastri says:

    Any changes to the way prestige is earned (hoarded) and spent?

    Any changes to the campaign progress system, i.e. winning a battle but not by enough of a margin to proceed?

    These were the two big turn offs of the original. I like my games difficult, but there’s a fine line between difficult and frustrating.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    I’m pretty sure Tim Stone covered this on release in the Flare Path. And yes, it is rather good. I quite like playing as the Russians – their units are usually more fragile than the Germans but more numerous, so you have to punch holes in the enemy lines and then swamp the remaining enemies.