"You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics."
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ike knew a thing or two about the machinations of war. He knows a lot more about it than most video game developers, whose efforts to replicate warfare are normally obsessed with the sexy side of things, like direct battlefield tactics.
You can't even fight a war without supplies, let alone win one, but unless you count harvesting units in an RTS as a representation of a realistic line of supply (they're not), most games come and go without much thought put into logistics beyond simple tokens for things like fuel and ammo.
This is where Unity of Command, just released on Steam (but a game which I've dabbled with previously), is different to most games. In Unity of Command, supply is everything.
A turn-based, hexagonal strategy game set on the Eastern Front during the Second World War, Unity of Command's heart lies in the protection, and assaults against, lines of supply. It was the defining factor of that part of the war, so it's great to see it made so important here.
While your overall objectives on both sides are standard fare - usually capture objectives within a time limit - battles are normally won and lost based on who can crack their opponents supply lines. These logistical arteries, displayed on the map at the press of a button (see below), are what fuel your forces. Get too far away from them and your tanks slow down. Let an enemy unit disrupt them and suddenly your units are frozen. Let them stay there too long and your units can neither move nor attack.
It's a simple idea, and one that's executed almost perfectly within the structure of a surprisingly simple and accessible game. Sure, the genre may sound like a grognard special, but this is more Panzer General (or even Advance Wars) than Hearts of Iron, with a gorgeous art style and concessions for quick play like prediction counters before every attack.
As far as these kind of games go, it's one of the best I've played in years, probably since the first Advance Wars game on the DS. The AI can be ruthless, the maps are challenging without being impossible, and you never get the feeling there's a crucial feature or setting lurking beneath a complicated interface. Getting around the game is just so damn easy.
The only problem I ran into with my time with the game is that, while the whole supply line thing is a neat centrepiece, sometimes it's too vital to progression; I'd have like to have seen a little elasticity in how quickly your units are rendered useless, because with a persistent campaign it can be disheartening to see your best-laid plans undone in a single turn of inattentiveness.
Then again...that's war for you, I guess.
Unity of Command features singleplayer campaigns for both the Axis and Soviet forces, while there are also a few multiplayer modes as well (which I sadly didn't get a chance to try out). In addition to these, there are a number of individual scenario missions.
Those looking for a "simple" wargame with a surprising amount of depth and strategy should definitely look into it, while those who already have a copy - or were hoping there'd be more content - there's an expansion on the way which adds a massive new Soviet campaign, as well as a free mission editor.
Unity of Command's supply line system in action