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

Until the Last Plane Review

I want to start off by saying that I really want to like Until The Last Plane (UTLP moving forward), it has a lot of spirit and I really like what it wants to be. I have a big fondness for the subject, covering airfield management during World War 2 campaigns, and the concept, but unfortunately, the execution just isn’t quite there. It’s a tragedy! And I feel bad for not liking it! Fortunately, I feel like it can be tuned up into a winner, but for now… well, let me explain.

The gist of UTLP is that you are the commander of an airfield during WW2 during various notable campaigns. The three factions represented are the US, the USSR, and Germany. My first chief complaint is that inexplicably, we don’t have Great Britain as an option, which strikes me as bizarre. The game is about managing your resources and pilots, deciding if the cost of performing a task is worth the reward, which seems to really speak to the spirit of the Battle of Britain, but that was omitted from the game.

Anyway, the three factions have differences largely in their planes, which all have different stats, their “bonus”, which is a passive buff to the player, and in currency. The currency is the main way the “meta” of the game will change between the three factions. The Americans, capitalist pigs that we are, get cash for clearing missions, and can use that cash to buy new planes/pilots, and resources to equip those planes with. The Soviets have a system of “political influence”, in that all resources, that being fuel, ammo, spare parts, AND planes, are sent to you depending on how many “points” you have of political influence. Get enough SovietBux and you’ll be living large on your airbase (but as well all know, living large is counterrevolutionary). Lastly, the Germans have a hybrid of the American and Soviet systems. They have “command points” which, depending on the amount in the player’s bank, will trickle in resources at certain speeds. The player can also spend these points to purchase new planes with. Ther German system feels the most well-thought out, with the player needing to balance the need to purchase new planes with the influx of resources. 

I haven’t unlocked every scenario yet, but I can say that the Easy scenarios (the only ones unlocked for each faction when you boot up the game) are pretty dang easy to breeze by with the resources present. Most of the time, your planes will relatively easily avoid being shot down or not need many repairs, and the resources are plentiful so when you do need new stuff, you can afford it with relative ease. I did find that it was a bit more difficult to manage on the harder difficulties, but at the end of the day, resource management generally boils down to this: are your planes getting shot down?

Combat in UTLP is … interesting. The way any air encounter plays out is that you’ll get a notification at base that some kind of aerial encounter is occurring. There’s also a timer that you need to to click within X amount of time, or else your plane will take damage and return to base, which is in my opinion, pretty lame that you can’t opt-out of some encounters. Regardless, you click the card, and you will be taken to the encounter, which will either be air combat (defending), air combat (attacking), or a few different flavors of bombing runs. The air combat is decided by cards. You, as either the attacker or defender (you can tell who is who because the attacker will always start behind, the defender in front) alternate moves with your opponent, playing one of 3 cards that have various effects. These vary based on planes, for example, a BF109 gets a once-per engagement card that lets it move very far forward, whereas a P-47D has simpler “move slightly forward and to the right” or “move slightly backward and to the left” cards. The planes similarly get a set of 3 cards to use for defense; the goal for the attacker is to get close behind the defender by the end of the set amount of moves, while the defender has to put distance between them and the attacker. At the end of the “move” phase, a firing cone appears for the attacker at the front of the aircraft. If the defender is in it, they get shot down. If they don’t, they get away scot-free. 

The issue here is that it’s a bit simplistic. There aren’t many options for you to take, and neither for your opponent. While this does model certain planes being more agile/ having better firepower interestingly, I feel that it could be expanded upon. It can frequently feel very deterministic, whether your plane will win the combat or survive. There are some planes that only have 1 card that can be used repeatedly, so they’re basically SOL if the enemy positions themselves well, because they are forced to use cards that can put them in a worse position.

As for bombing runs, there’s a mix of different bombing missions you can carry out. For static buildings like factories or airfields, you have some crosshairs on your screen that you must click to stop as they align over the target. It’s okay enough, but what’s frustrating about these is that you can choose a height to attack from. The higher you are, the less likely you are to be interrupted by a fighter, but they can just appear and damage your plane with pretty decent consistency even at the highest altitude. It’d be nice if this started a defensive air combat encounter instead of just having RNG say “your plane is broken now.” Other bombing run missions are more fun, but very similar. There is an artillery emplacement mission that you have to line up your plane to hit as many targets as possible, and a simplified version of the factory attack mission but for moving vehicles, which I found more engaging overall.

If I could sum up what would make this game better in one thought, it’s that the player should be allowed to “pass.” This too when it comes to the missions you carry out. After you begin a mission from your airbase during a combat day, a progress bar steadily fills, and you must meet a quota of “kill x amount of planes” or “bomb y amount of factories.” And the quota is generally not too tough to meet, but once you meet it, you can’t stop. Sure, there’s an incentive to complete more combat sorties after your quota is complete and before time runs out on the mission, but you may not want to, due to the risk of your planes being intercepted during bombing runs, using up more fuel and ammo, or occasionally just crashing due to pilot fatigue. But the game forces you to still play these sorties, lest you let the timer on the encounter card run out and your planes get damaged. My solution to this is a bit cheesy, but when my aircraft return mid-mission with damaged parts or empty ammo reserves, I just let them sit and don’t maintain them until the mission is over to avoid more damage. I shouldn’t feel like I have to do that in order to keep my squadron together.

I have a fondness for UTLP, I really do. There are several bits of it I like, such as the maintaining of aircraft on the base, and I think some of the combat missions are at least fairly decent. But the game forces you to engage with parts of it that have a heavy risk-to-reward ratio, and the lack of player choice in that bothers me. I feel that a lot of these issues can be fixed through patches, but for now, I unfortunately can’t endorse UTLP. I will be happy to revisit it when patches come around though, because I want this game to be better. I’m rooting for it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull