Taking a Sideways Step

Lets start with the Too Long Didn’t Read: I’m no longer going to play my Ultramodern games using real world settings or real world events. Going forward, all ultramodern games will be set in an ultramodern setting that shares similarities with the real world but bears no direct connection to the exact situation in the real world.

Now let me explain why.

As you may have noticed, things have gone a little bit quiet around here regarding the main focus of the blog for a long time, Ultramodern Wargaming. I’ve managed to play a few games, paint a few models but nowhere near the same level as I once did. As well as The Ongoing Situation, I’ve definitely felt myself losing interest in pushing around tiny figures representing the real world. Like many of us, I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year bouncing between being incredibly angry at the world and the politics that have brought us here and chewing through a reading list that contains a big chunk of analysis and personal accounts of the last 20 or so years of war. And frankly, the combination has made me increasingly uncomfortable with directly linking playing games for fun and using the current ongoing events as a background.

The latest additions to the library

Wargaming is fundamentally about taking humanity’s worst features and turning it into something you play with for enjoyment. And people have different points where they draw the line – for some it’s nothing Historical, for some it’s no go post WW2. I’ve always found myself to be pretty loose in my no-go point – nothing super Nazi (so no SS), nothing too extreme in Iraq/Afghanistan and nothing over the top gruesome. But time changes us all and I’m definitely feeling that unease creeping in.

I will also say, like with many things in the last year, I’ve definitely felt the tone of a lot of places where Ultramodern wargames have been discussed shift slightly and in a direction I don’t feel 100% comfortable with. A lot of terms and opinions are thrown around that can make it hard to think of it as a simple game. Even something as innocent as troop experience levels can lead to frantic disagreements. And frankly? I just don’t have the energy to give a damn any more.

This whole situation reminded me of a comment from Richard Clarke of the Too Fat Lardies when asked why he’d stopped working on Fighting Season. At the time, I was a petulant child a little annoyed at not being handed a favourite toy. But now? I 100% can understand where he was coming from.

Now, there are tens of hundreds of figures in cases in my house which are going to top me from simply dropping Ultramoderns and taking my ball to play elsewhere. And frankly, I don’t want to stop Ultramodern gaming entirely – I get too much enjoyment out of some of it. (Also if I stop buying Spectre Miniatures, I get worried messages from the team there).

This lead me to sit down and really think about Why I wargamed Ultramoderns. Why did I spend hours painting things various shades of tan? Eventually, I realised that the things that have interested me the most can been split into three elements:

The tactical and moral challenges squad and platoon leaders on the ground have faced (on both the BLUFOR and OPFOR sides) in the wide variety of situations that the ongoing conflicts have provided

The moment I always knew a game I was running at SESWC was going well was when a player would pause, step back from the table and actually genuinely consider what to do next. Realistic situations where players need to think like the soldiers on the ground rather than an uncaring god rolling dice is what gets me excited about these games.

The correct application/experimentation/evolution of force organisation, weapon systems and supporting technolgy in the modern day.

As wargamers, we all enjoy getting our toys on the table. Ultramodern Wargaming is jam packed full of toys, from NVGs to armed drones to the latest in protected vehicles. I also found the progression of troop organisations fascinating, seeing weapon systems and numbers of forces change from year to year as the situation changed, and then seeing how they affected groups on the board.

The telling of stories, both to setup the games and using the outcomes of the games to influence future events.

This is the main thing. “You bring your 1000 points, I bring my 1000 points and we’ll play a scenario from the book” is boring as hell. Wars don’t happen between equal forces, or equal situations. Using the fiction to setup events makes for more interesting gameplay. Add to that the campaign element and suddenly the merging of game and fiction leads to some very exciting games or sudden plot twists as things don’t go quite as expected.

After sitting down and thinking about it, I realised that none of these elements required me to specifically use the current conflicts. As far as my enjoyment of the tactical challenges and stories, it didn’t require me to reference Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, it didn’t even need to map to the exact events we know of.

And this got me thinking about the Strange-Real.

For anyone who doesn’t play video games, the Strange-Real is where the Ace Combat arcade flight sims are set. In many ways, the world matches ours – armed forces are equipped with real-world weapons (mostly), the landscapes you fly over and fight in are based on the real world and nations act in ways very similar to our own. There are some original elements and some which are just the real world with the trademark filed off but overall it’s a mostly accurate world that works.

This setting means that you don’t have to deal with the issues of the real world intruding upon the game. Referring to the Belkans as a bunch of terrorist assholes who blew up their own country causes 0 issues as they don’t exist. But at the same time, the number of people who declare that Belka did nothing wrong shows you can still make a connection to them.

So what’s going to happen next? Well, I’m going to do some world building, set up some nations and then return to game playing. Honestly, I really enjoy writing and designing things so this part is going to be some fun events all by itself. I’m also aiming that it won’t just be the real world but flipped upside down, but that there will definitely be some of the same dynamics at play. And don’t worry – Bazistan and Aden will still be here.

I’m also going to take a look at Chain of Command and see how best I might update it to Ultramodern gaming. There has already been several attempts covering modern conflicts like Vietnam and Mogadishu and although these things are very close, there are still little tweaks I’ll need to make. Of course, many of the forces I’ll be assembling will be fictional, but there will once again be similarities to the real world and there will be a focus on realistic elements to them – no dual wielding 249 gunners here.

I appreciate that these changes won’t be what everyone wants or is interested. But I feel like it’s something I need to do, if I want to keep playing this time period or these rules. Hopefully, you won’t find it too much of an obstacle when it comes to reading my after action reports

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