Unity of Command 2: Moscow 41 Review

Been awhile, huh folks? Sorry for the delay getting this review out, it’s been a really crazy chunk of time. Speaking of crazy chunks of time, I’m here to talk about the crazy point in time during the defense of Moscow in late 1941, where the Soviet forces were constantly being pushed back, throwing haphazard globs of units into the lines to slow the advancing Germans down (more or less, anyway).

You as the player will be taking the fancy hat of Soviet Marshal, seeking to halt the German advance or at least provide speedbumps, made of lots of conscripts. It’s grim stuff, with many units bearing the “1” tag on their unit cards, signifying they will not return in future battles, likely meaning that the unit in history was wiped from existence. In practice, this means that a LOT of your units, particularly during the early part of the campaign, are expendable. It’s a strange thing to wrap your brain around, after a base game and 2 DLCs worth of campaigns based around keeping core units alive, but you will become hardened, and give nothing more than a curt nod to your conscripts as you toss them into a combat with the projected result of “5:0.”

Note the amount of reconstituted units.

All that being said, you do need men to man the lines, and can’t get too crazy with throwing bodies under tank treads. While some of the missions involve counter-punches to over-extended German lines, a lot of them are “hold these cities or else, Comrade.” Defending is an interesting change of pace from the rhythm of “attack attack attack” in the other campaigns, and I’m not wholly sold on defending in the UoC2 model. Sure, you can protect your supply lines and use your limited command points to tell your guys to pile up sandbags or use that nearby concrete truck to build a fort, but it’s a lot more passive than being on the offensive. Obviously.

Perhaps it’s because of the largely replaceable and ineffective nature of your units, but I wasn’t grabbed by this DLC like I was with the other ones. Where we had daring rushes across large stretches of steppes to seize a railroad checkpoint, we have several hexes of units twiddling their thumbs, waiting for their turn to have the German army quite literally drive over them. The places where Moscow 41 shines are where it encourages you to push back against the attackers, though frequently doing so is a fool’s errand. A particularly cunning general can take advantage of extended German lines to sneak around and cut them off, and there are a fair amount of opportunities for this, but doing so is damn hard.

120% losses, folks.

Speaking of difficulty, there’s been a bit of hubbub regarding how hard Moscow 41 is, compared to the other campaigns. I think that Moscow 41 is pretty tough, but not unfair (lest we forget Unity of Command 1). While I gripe about the passivity of sitting on the defensive, holding points is generally straightforward and attainable. The bonus objectives, which are meant to be tough to nab, are indeed very tough to capture, due to your inferior position in most of these scenarios. It’s not a campaign you should try for a “perfect” score on, by any means.

CONCLUSION

Moscow 41 is an interesting and intermittently fun diversion from the other campaigns, though more hit-or-miss in terms of standout scenarios. The focus on defending can mean a more passive gameplay approach, and this coupled with many expendable units can result in an exercise in using human molasses to stop a tank, which isn’t always fun. But when it offers chances to strike back, this is a great sample of wargaming. Also, Soviets are always fun in WW2.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Unity of Command II – Barbarossa Review

Ah, Unity of Command 2, my old friend. I’ve written about Unity of Command 2 before, as well about Unity of Command 2’s first DLC, Blitzkrieg, and I was very pleased for the chance to play more of this excellent WW2 turn-based wargame. Bottom line up front: if you didn’t like Unity of Command 2, there’s nothing new here that would change your mind (unless you’re a really big Wehraboo, gross). If you did like Unity of Command 2, you should definitely check out Barbarossa, as it’s a better realized German experience than Blitzkrieg, while still delivering a similar style of action to what fans are used to.

Barbarossa’s premise is familiar to any WW2 gamer at this point: the Germans launched the largest land invasion in history into the USSR, using surprise blitzkrieg tactics to punch holes through Soviet forces with the goal of reaching and seizing Moscow (as well as other key points) before winter came around. Barbarossa follows the historical path here, with the goal in the most of scenarios you face being to push hard against the defenses of the Red Army and seize key logistical points, generally by exploiting weaknesses in their lines and shoving mechanized units through the gaps.

Unity of Command’s logistical system is the star of the game, and that continues to be the case in Barbarossa, even moreso than in the base game, I’d argue. So many of the cities and other objectives you need to capture are very, very far from your forces at the start of the scenario. Your forces need to maintain a supply network in order to remain fighting capable through their stampede across Eastern Europe, and to do so, need to seize rail lines across the maps. I really can’t emphasize enough how important this is, keeping the railways open, because the terrain is not conducive to supplying units far from the railways, and you don’t have time to waste. Many of the maps are designed that it can be extremely difficult to get infantry units to the end objectives by the time limit, even without fortified enemies to slow them down. You’ll depend on your armored units smashing paths clear, and your infantry running behind them to keep things clear and finish off encircled opponents.

This gameplay loop is very satisfying, and the maps are designed in such a way to encourage envelopments of enemy forces, with many natural chokepoints enabling a sneaky general to cut off the enemy’s supply easily… but you can also get cut off easily yourself. Like I said, maintaining the supply lines is vital, so you’ll frequently find yourself playing maneuver games with enemy forces on rail lines, both of you trying to keep it open for your side. Managing to overcome an enemy armored division to complete the encirclement of an enemy army is one of digital wargaming’s best feelings in recent years, and that is Unity of Command 2 distilled.

On the campaign layer, Barbarossa plays largely similarly to the Blitzkrieg campaign, albeit with much more army groups than I remember in Blitzkrieg. You’ll end up juggling points between seven different Army HQs, all of which need investment to achieve peak efficiency. The HQs are slow, and should be prioritized to increase range for your units, given the size of the maps and the speed of your armored columns. There’s another big wrinkle in the addition of the new “Blitzkrieg Command” card, which refreshes the command points for an HQ on a turn. Handy if you’ve invested in your HQs, but it’s easy to overlook them and to have largely ineffectual HQs.

This can be a bother after the initial scenarios, and particularly on any ahistorical scenarios; these tend to be more difficult than the historical scenarios, and it’s somewhat easy to achieve bonus objectives that unlock the harder scenarios in the early missions. However, going down these routes, you will then end up facing some really tough situations, in my opinion. The ahistorical routes, as in the other campaign, provide stiff challenges to the player. I recommend sticking to the historical route on your first play of any Unity of Command 2 campaign, Barbarossa included.

I don’t actually have any negative things to say about Barbarossa, any reservations I have about the game are limitations from Unity of Command 2’s engine. My chief complaint is that units are still unable to travel via rail, which would be realistic and provide infantry units a way to catch up to the quickly advancing armor columns. This small gripe, however, is the only thing that bothers me about Unity of Command 2. The game and its DLCs (Barbarossa included) continue to be some of the best and most accessible games for the wargaming crowd of late. If you like turn-based strategic games, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull