Have You Played… Unity Of Command?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Proving that sometimes the simplest games are the most effect, Unity of Command distilled the wargamer’s love of hexes and history to create and Eastern front game that is all about the cold number of war. Strange, then, that it should be one of the most emotive and compelling strategy games out there.

Released by tiny 2×2 Games back in 2011, the game instantly captured the attention of the strategically minded. This is a turn-based front-holding exercise, with the greatest attention paid to supply lines and territory that we can remember in a game of this simplicity. And it’s beguilingly easy to play, with just a few variables for each unit, and an outcome indicator which will tell you what to expect if you try, for example, to fight an German tank column with horses.

What’s perhaps most fascinating about this game is that it is so difficult to master. The short campaigns available for it demand constant replay, and that works because it’s so quick: just a few short turns per game to make your moves and win the day. In bold opposition to the strategy games which make their mark with arduous hours of planning and management, this is more like a puzzle game you’d play just to fill up and empty lunchtime. Once you’re engaged, however, it becomes hard to stop thinking about… if I’d just held the line at Kalingrad.

61 Comments

  1. Shar_ds says:

    Are you taking recommendations for this Jim or will the Hivemind dig through it’s collective repositories?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Absolutely taking recommendations, please fire away.

      • Shar_ds says:

        I would happily nominate both Sanctum and Mount & Blade!

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        Jarmo says:

        Suggested subjects: Armageddon Empires and Aquaria.

      • souroldlemon says:

        Old games with depth which are good not because they were impressive/innovative at the time but would be recommended if they came out for the first time right now, unchanged and competing with any later games they inspired.

      • jonfitt says:

        Space Chem
        AI War
        Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
        Spec Ops: The Line
        Crusader Kings 2

      • Cross says:

        I’d recommend The Binding of Isaac (doubly relevant because of impending remake), Killing Floor and Terraria.

        • gnodab says:

          not sure if you are serious… those games are not exactly hidden gems.

          my recommendations would we
          IVAN (iter vehemens ad necem)
          Ascendancy (the DOS game)
          brogue (really Roguelikes in general, maybe Adam wants to do a regular thingy? bi-weekly real roguelike news?)

          and +1 to
          Armageddon Empires and whatever happened to vic davis in general

        • David Bliff says:

          I’d recommend Half-Life 2 and the Far Cry and Call of Duty games. u might not have heard of them

      • jonahcutter says:

        Cargo Commander.
        Shelter.

      • Banyan says:

        Suggestions for games that I think deserve to be remembered or played more widely: Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim; Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten; Theme Hospital; Zeus; Waking Mars; Geneforge (or Avernum as another option for Spiderweb’s oeuvre); Warlords 2 (the 1993 strategy game, not the new MMO), Battle for Wesnoth (the light of rock-hard tactical fantasy turn based strategy when it seemed that the industry had abandoned it a few years back)

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        tigerfort says:

        Moonpod’s excellent-but-sadly-little-known games, Starscape and Mr Robot (I suspect Word Pirate is worth a look, too, but I’ve not really played it enough to comment).

        Defender’s quest
        The Gemcraft series of TD flash games
        DROD
        Spiderweb’s excellent turn-based RPGs

      • Skibron says:

        Startopia
        Majesty (the original, none of that sequel garbage)
        Disciples 2
        Cave Story

      • Frank says:

        ShellBlast
        Sean O’Connor’s Slay
        Aerena: Clash of Champions
        NOLF 2

      • Wedge says:

        Valdis Story, which tragically got no coverage on RPS despite being one of the best Metroidvania RPGs I’ve ever played.

      • mpOzelot says:

        Arx fatalis, mdk 2, commandos 2, oddworlds strangers wrath

      • Charles de Goal says:

        Donna: Avenger of Blood.

    • dare says:

      Freedom Force

  2. Gap Gen says:

    Unity of Command is a great strategy game lite. It’s an oddly grim setting for a breezy, cartoony thing, but the game itself is compelling with a minimum of faff – cutting off supply lines or figuring out where to direct the armoured punch is great, except for the next turn when you forgot to secure an infantry unit that cuts off your tanks from fuel. Achieving a “brilliant victory” is pretty satisfying. And yes, I’d agree that the limited possibility space means it’s often quite puzzly, which is possibly good or bad depending. It’s currently my go-to game for when I’m travelling and want to burn 15 minutes on something on my laptop.

  3. Stellar Duck says:

    I have!

    And it’s really, really good!

  4. WiggumEsquilax says:

    Next time, put men on the backs of those horses.

    • Gap Gen says:

      It’s fine, they’re up against a huge pillar of armoured vehicles, which presumably has limited manoeuvrability.

      • Shiloh says:

        Remember, a horse can kick pretty hard – my friend is an equine vet and he told me it hurt like all hell when he got a hoof in the chest.

        That said, he’s never been blown up by a Panzer, so I’m not sure you can draw too much from that.

  5. Shiloh says:

    I have! Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I suppose I prefer the fussier end of the spectrum if I’m honest (TOAW, PzC Smolensk and their unit-laden, TO&E-obsessed ilk)…

  6. Turin Turambar says:

    I played it, and while it seemed a good game, it was too hard for me (I don’t have previous experience with operational wargames). I think I got stuck on the fourth or fifth scenario.

    • Gap Gen says:

      It takes a while to get into the right headspace. The trick is to protect your supply and not overextend while punching through enemy lines to cut them off. One tip is to press O to see the objectives and figure out what the game wants you to capture first (you don’t have to if you’re not chasing a Brilliant Victory, but it’s a helpful guide for how the puzzle is laid out in the eyes of the devs). Tanks and motorised squads are lethal linebreakers, German infantry are solid and all other infantry should be treated either as mob troops or to hold lines because Romanians aren’t breaking through anything.

    • JFS says:

      Same thing for me. Played it, admired the execution, but couldn’t get really into it. The Krimea tutorial scenario was as far as my skills would go. It’s just too tricky for me, and requires too much thinking. In principle, I know what to do, but it’s just too much to actually do it.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      I bought it because the hivemind bang on about it so much and bloody hell was it hard for me. I’m perfectly comfortable with difficulty but I just couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong. I guess I need to try it again now. Any more advice?

      • Jeremy says:

        It’s been a while since I’ve played this… but I remember often employing my tanks or jeeps(??) to punch a hole in the infantry, then closing the supply lines behind enemy tanks to cut them off. A unit that’s gone gray has run out of supplies, and an infantry can 1 shot an unsupplied tank (if I remember correctly).

        • SuddenSight says:

          Another important point: the effectiveness of units can vary wildly, even when they look similar. Always check the stats. For the German campaign you typically have a number of “elite” units that are much better than any other units available: use those to punch through the lines.

          • JFS says:

            Yeah, as long as you have German elites and Stukas, things are okay. The problem: they’re not always there. Sometimes you even have Hungarians. Shudder.

      • tobecooper says:

        It’s simples.

        – Don’t play the campaign. It’s historically-accurate, so the difficulty is all over the place. The trick is to play the single missions in order from the easiest to the hardest and learn the game that way (plus enjoy yourself along the way).

        – Support lines are the most important thing ever. If you push in the wrong place you may cut yourself from the support.

        – Many enemy units start digged in, many have armor. Find the weakest ones – that’s your way to break through the enemy lines.

        – Check weather occasionally – rain and snow are death.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Huh, is there actually a forecast I was missing? I know occasionally I get mud/snow and my attacks grind to a halt.

      • overthere says:

        You need to identify the points were you can concentrate your attacks. An assault all along a front is generally pointless but by careful maneuvering of your forces you can generally get multiple attacks in on a single unit per turn.
        This leads to enemy units rapidly retreating / being destroyed giving you space to maneuver and cut off supply lines.

  7. BathroomCitizen says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Jim.
    It’s about time I try this one out, it’s been sitting in my Steam games list for ages just begging to be played.

  8. Volcanu says:

    It sounds a bit like Shenandoah Studio’s surprisingly (very) good iOS titles like ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and ‘ Drive on Moscow’. Would I be right?

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      teije says:

      Similar, but this is closer to Panzer Corps. I actually think those games are better designed – perfectly hand-crafted challenging scenarios with a great mobile UI. Best tactical wargames available on iOS I think.

  9. killias2 says:

    This was actually on sale on Steam last week. I think it was like.. 8 bucks for the game and both expansions? Something like that. I was actually playing my old GamersGate (the website not the stupid movement) copy, wishing the expansions would be put on sale, when Steam had the sale.

  10. jackflash says:

    One of the best games of the past five years, and probably the one I come back to more than any other. It’s that good. Support these devs.

  11. SuddenSight says:

    Hurray! Another centuries old tradition RPS invented yesterday and will forget tomorrow!

    In a less sarcastic tone, I certainly hope RPS will continue to recommend interesting games.

    I bought Unity of Command after the WIT way back when it came out. I still haven’t made it through the first campaign (I am not very good at this). The interface is incredibly slick, though. I suppose my biggest complaint is that the clarity of the game mechanics makes it so much more obvious that I am just not very good at it.

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    Bluerps says:

    I played it, but I couldn’t get into it. It’s not the game, it’s the scenario: I hate WW2. Stupid World War. :(

  13. Gothnak says:

    I got it in a Humble Bundle. I’ve played a lot of mid-level wargames over the years and it looked nice and presentable, but i found the gameplay a little bland. The supply system was pretty good, but the combat and tactics were a bit meh…

    I’ve got to the 4th mission winning the first 3 pretty easily and haven’t really felt pushed to try the next one.

    The wargame i have played the most in my life is Steel Panthers 3, that was a great game with shells pinging off armour and exact % hit chances…. The Close Combat series are a close second…

  14. Synesthesia says:

    I love it, I really want to love it, the game systems are excellent, but the AI is just ridiculously OP. Every decision it makes is perfect, it cuts you off at every chance it gets.

    It’s hard to have fun when your only choice is to make a perfect run, or get annihilated. And you can’t go slow and safe, because of the turn constraints. A random error here and there from the AI that i could exploit would be beautiful. As far as i know, the only way to win getting the best win conditions is to watch a play by play video of perfect runs. Not fun.

    • Banyan says:

      That is not true. On my third try at Stalingrad, I got a Brilliant Victory, and I don’t think it was perfect play. (Though I was pretty stoked to pull it off.) The standard victory is precisely for sub-optimal (but not actively awful) play. I never finished the campaign, but once I figured out that I had to make myself strong in places that were important and weak in unimportant locations, I had a much easier time than when I tried to fight everywhere. A really good game for players who don’t want to deal with the complexity of actual wargames.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Yeah, eventually get the hang of punching holes in enemy supply without stretching yours too thin. Sometimes you just have to grind if the enemy supply network is too secure. One thing is to try the easy missions a few times to try new things in not too hard a setting.

  15. DantronLesotho says:

    This is a good idea for a feature. Have you played Iji? I tried searching on the site to see if anyone’s ever written about it but I don’t think so. It’s a good’un

    • Wedge says:

      That’s some fine (relatively) old school freeware. Just checked and I still have a copy in my dusty old freeware game folder.

  16. TC-27 says:

    Its good fun and very challenging.

    Its more of a puzzle game than a war-game though.

  17. secuda says:

    Have it and computer beat me every time :(

  18. Bobtree says:

    No. A decade ago I bought Korsun Pocket and didn’t play that either, nor TOAW 5 years before that.

  19. jonfitt says:

    I have played it. I fell out of playing it before I should have and keep meaning to go back. This is a good reminder!

  20. Cross says:

    I tried it out and thought it awful and unintuitive after getting stumped by the first flippin’ scenario, whereafter i left it to rot in the pile of shame (for buying).

  21. cptgone says:

    I like the concept of this new “Have You Played” series of articles. Reviews are often premature, and focused on the new and shiny. Why not show gamers the best way to scratch some particular itch instead? And remind us of nearly forgotten gems, and games that have improved over time through patching and mods.

    • Continuity says:

      Yep, I like it too. So many games out there these days its very easy to miss some gems.

  22. fawstoar says:

    This series is an excellent idea. Would you consider posting music suggestions as well, like in your old Sunday Papers columns? Graham’s been doing an excellent job with those, but I miss your recommendations of all kinds of doomblasty/ambient music.

  23. tasteful says:

    man what is going on in that first sentence

  24. Mr Bismarck says:

    I like this game, but I’d upgrade it to love if I could play it without the turn limits. I enjoy the mechanics, but if I want to take nine years to capture a Hungarian milk wagon then you should let me.

    Just give me a “Glacial Victory” at the end or something.

  25. yoshiku says:

    Somewhat offtopic, but holy shit!

    link to twitter.com

    Pyro just announced a new Commandos game. But for mobile and tablets… I think I can handle it.