Unity of Command Black Turn10 Dec 2013 0
?The panzers are fueled. The Stukas are warmed up, the artillery dumps are stock-piled and the Landsers have cleaned and oiled their weapons. One kick and the whole Bolshevik structure falls. We?ve been waiting for this.?
If the above overstates the mindset of some of the German High Command, it should reflect the attitude of adherents to Slitherine/Matrix?s and 2x2 Games? Unity of Command series. The Barbarossa add-on, Black Turn, is here with all its might.
Plain But Working
This second series add-on doesn?t change the mechanics or graphics so well described in Wargamer?s review of the base game, http://wargamer.com/article/3127/Unity-of-Command . Suffice it to say that the map graphics are still utilitarian with colors showing control very important to play. Equally helpful, given the small font, is the option to show a description of the objectives via the menu bar or a hotkey. The crucial factor of weather is displayed the same way as objectives. Map navigation is clumsy with no zoom and scrolling only available by arrow keys. Unit icons of infantry busts and vehicles are a bit abstract and stuffed with hard-to-see information, a problem alleviated by a toggable info sheet and mods. The information is the usual combat and movement value with very small icons for special attributes. The scale remains at four-day turns and twenty-kilometer hexes with German divisions and Soviet corps. Combat results are still presented as steps suppressed or lost followed by possible retreat or annihilation. Supply and other logistics remain the key to success with a hotkey showing supply sources and lines on the map. Players should use this feature regularly.
Note in the south how supply points dwindle away from railroads.
They say it never rains in eastern Poland but it pours.
Objectives can seem unobtainable.
Same Play But Way Bigger
Most Barbarossa games can seem overwhelming given the scale of the map and huge number of units, even on a corps level. Black Turn?s campaigns adjust for this by dividing play into the three historical German fronts: North, Central and South. Since all three jumped off at the same time and had different objectives, the options to choose are at first not locked to be played sequentially as in the first add-on, Red Turn. However, the following scenarios for each army group is locked until the corresponding scenarios for the other army groups are won, thus giving a sense of progress for the entire Eastern Front. Scenarios become increasingly difficult, not only tactically but for the level of victory needed to advance. The initial scenarios are short with limited objectives. Army Group North has nine turns to clear Lithuania and Latvia before taking Estonia on the way to Leningrad; Army Group Center has six turns to capture Minsk after which it can go onto to Smolensk then Moscow and two ?what if? scenarios; Army Group South must clear Lvov and capture Rostov while finally grabbing Zhitomir in nine turns to go to the Uman Pocket. Achieving goals before the time limit results in ?Brilliant? or ?Decisive? victories and yields more prestige points.
After winning the first scenarios for each army group, options open.
Army Group Center starts with lavish resources.
Although advances appear great, the Germans didn?t quite reach Minsk.
Army Group South is something of a unloved child and the Romanians are not a great help.
Each scenario can also be enjoyed individually. The eleven historical Axis scenarios include Hungarian and Rumanian units. When played with a timeline of the 1941 campaign in hand, players can attempt to duplicate the better part of the fighting. The two ?what ifs? could be tense. The Soviets crash back with two scenarios of their own depicting their winter offensives.
Compared to earlier games in the series, the Soviets seem relatively weak. This perspective is correct: the Red Army had not yet recovered from Stalin?s purge of the officer corps, the embarrassment of the Finnish war and Stalin?s deep depression for the first ten days after the German invasion that left STAVKA leaderless. The front received few resources or operational directives. Moreover, critical weapons such as the T-34 were just beginning to enter service. Yet Black Turn?s AI plays a crummy hand as well as possible in the early scenarios. The AI?s units will exploit gaps in German lines to disrupt supply, defend objectives with the few elite units available, use river as defense lines, slow German thrusts by throwing units at panzers and pick off weak units. The problem is the AI tries to do all this at the same time, thus weakening all its efforts. Later on, better positions and weapons improved the Russian?s lot, culminating in the avalanche of Siberian troops in December 1941.
The Russians attempt to disrupt supply; the predicted combat results aren?t set in stone.
At first glance, the Germans appear unstoppable. Their infantry blows holes in the Russian defenses through which mobile units using extended movement race toward objectives. These actions are aided by bridging and air assets. Players can deploy new units from their army?s force pool and rack up prestige points to ask OKH for replacement steps, specialist brigades to be attached to divisions and even more units. Nevertheless, the men in field grey don?t have things all their own way. Attacking across the many rivers against any Soviet unit is slow and costly. The Unity of Command system allows a procedure to help with this problem: units that attack without moving can use extended movement to go to rear areas and allow fresh units to take their place and continue the attack. Players need to plan for such shuffles. The sheer amount of space required to be covered in a short timeframe to reach the last objective is enormous. Supply points plummet as units travel further from supply sources. Hence, those mobile units that streaked into the enemy rear with no resistance may be utterly useless because they outran supply. The remedy for this is railroads. Railroads basically extend the supply chain to units close to a friendly railroad hex. Players need to detail a few mobile units to sweep up swaths of railroad corridors to support forward units and then have infantry secure them against disruption. Players who ignore supply may come up a few kilometers short of victory, giving another meaning to ?one more turn?.
The orange limes mark where units can move and attack.
The black lines show extended moves where no attack is possible.
As hard as it may seem, victory is always possible ? after a few reloads.
Eye-straining icons and font aside, Black Turn has the hallmarks of being the flagship of the series. Weeks of replay are assured by a scenario editor and the desire of players to get ?Brilliant? victories in all scenarios. Studying previous games via the history mode will improve performance. Internet and hotseat play with other enthusiasts will increase the challenge. 2x2 has taken the series to a peak of excellence with a difficult subject ? a truly sterling accomplishment.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.