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Things I love, and a few others...

Posted: Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:44 am
by sourdust
I just played UoC original German Campaign through again. Somehow this game still pulls me in, even after I've gotten a BV on every scenario at least 6 times. Latest re-discovery of UoC prompted the following thoughts:

Things I love about UoC:

- User interface. Everything is just so well-considered and plain beautiful. The UI is effortlessly intuitive, and pretty much all info is right there where you need it.
- Extra-loud boom when you score a better-than-anticipated attack/overrun. So satisfying! I think that's actually what keeps me coming back.
- Deceptive simplicity. There are only a few game systems - move, combat, supply, and prestige/campaign - and each is simple, but not simplistic. The game doesn't try to simulate everything. The systems interact very nicely together.
- Differentiated play. I absolutely love how different the German and Russian sides are to play. It's the best "feel" if not the best precise "simulation" for East Front combat I've come across. The Soviets have to use prepared assaults with horrible infantry losses to win, but they have to do so in a very calculated fashion. Germans have to be exquisitely surgical in their attacks to reach objectives on time, while leaving clean-up to follow-on infantry.
- The map. It's gorgeous - detailed, but not excessively or obtrusively so. Clean 2D, wonderful overlays and front line indicator, smooth transitions. And above all, well-designed. It feels like every hex is placed deliberately in a way that really strengthens scenario design.
- Scenario design. Just top-notch. Very well-considered puzzles, often with multiple strategies that can work to achieve the desired BV.
- AI. Great, a tough opponent in general. Impressive that the AI can "cycle" attacks to make a breakthrough at a key point.
- User community. Mature and kind community, with lots of energetic scenario designers hard at work for years after this was released.
- Developer. Responsive, engaged with the players, just great.

And the not-so-much:
- Prestige system. In common with Panzer Corps and other games, I don't think the system of earning prestige, which then can be used to "buy" additional units or other perks, really works. In practice it means I never to get buy any of those fun-looking additional units, because I am generally aiming for "perfect" max prestige games. I think it would be better to have 2 different "currencies" - one that is strictly score, and one that is used for bonus units, extra replacements etc. Or maybe each scenario should allow you to choose one or two bonuses for each battle, let's say you can choose an extra panzer division, OR an extra 3 air strikes, OR an extra 8 infantry replacements, OR a certain bridge starts already in your control - but you only get one pick.
- Weather. A love/hate relationship here. I do think the weather system is essential in an Eastern Front game, of course. On the other hand, the randomness can utterly hamstring you, no matter how good you play. I once lost a game of Uman Pocket for cripes sake, because every turn was full mud over the crucial parts of the battlefield. And in some scenarios a muddy first turn means auto-restart, at least if you're me. (lookin' at you, Terek...) Maybe the weather should be turned off for some battles, where it usually isn't a factor ... except for the odd times when it is? Or at least turn it off / make it fixed for certain turns, tame it a bit.
- Recklessness with casualties. The victory conditions encourage the player to be totally reckless with their troops in some cases. For some scenarios this feels right - eg, Stalin orders you to take Berlin by turn 4 regardless of casualties - but many times (especially as the German player) it doesn't feel quite right. Taking Stalingrad on turn 10 with minimal losses is surely better than taking it on turn 7 with massive losses. So some flexibility with winning conditions would be good, and can be adjusted for different scenarios. For instance, maybe you have turn thresholds as well as casualty threshholds for some battles. Eg, take Voronezh by turn x for a BV, but victory level gets downgraded if you take more than x infantry hits and/or x panzer hits.
- Wipeouts. Some scenarios play out a bit like this: a) wipe out the enemy front lines in turns 1-3; b) have some boring turns where you're covering lots of terrain but not doing much fighting, the AI is pretty passive because it has few units left, and it's a crap-shoot whether you get the final victory hex in time for the BV. Having destroyed units get reconstituted (at lower strength and/or experience) is one solution to this. The time delay, reconstitute penalty, number of reconstituted units per turn, and entry location for reconstituted units could be scenario-specific. (eg, entry location could be anywhere NOT within 2 hexes of the front for some scenarios, or in specific hexes for others). This would keep a lively enemy opposing you throughout the longer scenarios. The final Shenandoah game, Desert Fox, had an interesting system along these lines - units would keep coming back time and again, losing one permanent strength point each time. It worked well for that game.