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"Is Modern Gaming Stuck in the 80s?" Topic

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14 Sep 2020 12:36 p.m. PST
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TGerritsen Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2020 10:04 a.m. PST

I don't really consider Vietnam modern any more (it's been 50 years), so this doesn't really count Vietnam.

Back in the 1980s I got into miniature gaming as a high schooler after playing a session of JagdPanzer at Gencon (back when it was in Kenosha).

I wanted to game really modern wars, though, and bought a Russian force from CinC while my friend bought a West German force (which eventually was given to me) and I used the now long defunct Leopard II rules set.

A year later I got to play Harpoon at GenCon with Larry Bond himself and bought a bunch of modern Soviet and American ships.

Back then, 'ultra modern' gamers were trying to game the very latest technologies and try to model how such battles would go. There was a lot of speculation then on Soviet systems that we still didn't know a lot about. Anyone remember the rumored T-74 tank? We didn't even know about the Su-27, and new next to nothing about the MiG-29. There were all the speculative systems that were supposedly leaked by a Russian defector that all turned out to be untrue. It was a fascinating time to be gaming.

Now, 35 years later, we have a slew of games that all re-fight the same cold war set in the 1980s. We have better knowledge now of the systems that were fielded then, and in a post-Soviet world, we can verify real orders of battle.

Team Yankee is set then, Harpoon is still fighting battles then as it's primary focus. Air Combat is even further behind, with the most rules set in Vietnam up to perhaps 1980. There are stacks of miniatures from the 80s era and scores of rules set in that era.

We even have a re-release of Twilight 2000, which was created in the 1980s and the new version (which I am backing) is based more on the original version of the game built back then.

While you can get ultramodern miniatures, there are very few rules that even attempt to model the changes in warfare since the 1980s. There just doesn't seem to be the same interest in potential conflicts that there was in the 1980s. Also, any discussion of potential conflicts gets super political very quickly. Back in the 1980s, it just didn't seem to be the case. I remember intense discussions of Soviet capabilities and tactics, but I don't recall it getting political the way it seems to now if you speak of a potential conflict in China or the Middle East or even modern Russia.

There's very little exploration or discussion of the tactics of ultra modern warfare and the potential impact of new technologies- even on a speculative level. Stealth rules in air games are few and rare and usually terrible at representing how they actually work. Is that due to complexity? Lack of a desire to speculate? Or something else?

It seems that people are most comfortable playing the great war that never was. Is modern war miniatures gaming stuck in the 1980s?

On a side note- if there were truly ultra modern rules, the miniatures are there from select vendors. Would you buy a truly ultra modern set of rules and miniatures for land warfare, naval warfare or air warfare? Or is the 1980s the latest people want to really play?

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2020 10:30 a.m. PST

Personally, due to advances in weapons systems, I find ultra-moderns to be simultaneously boring and complex except at the skirmish level.

Also, possibly, at some level, those of us who were in the military during the Cold War have the resources to collect and game the biggest what-if of our service time.

Stryderg14 Sep 2020 10:43 a.m. PST

Add to the above that advances in technology are coming so fast that by the time you publish an ultra-modern set of rules, it's obsolete. I don't have time to keep up.

Garand14 Sep 2020 10:54 a.m. PST

To be fair, back in the '80s there was a lot less disagreement about whether the Soviets were a threat or a menace to our well-being. At least in the US it wasn't a left-or-right issue, it was a question on which political party was going to look "tough" enough against the Commies.

Also, while Vietnam was certainly traumatic, the US could re-focus on the looming Soviet threat to unify the country. After the Cold War the US embarked on a number of military endeavours that were much more open to a difference of opinion, & does not have a monolithic threat to focus on anymore (CHina notwithstanding is not the monolithic threat the Soviets were). There is far less the unifying force for both sides of the political aisle IMHO, so politics can quickly come up.


Garand14 Sep 2020 12:03 p.m. PST

Well, I guess Romney was right about this.


Personal logo martinjpayne Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2020 12:21 p.m. PST

…but I don't recall it getting political the way it seems to now if you speak of a potential conflict in China or the Middle East or even modern Russia.

I guess back in the 80's the majority of people understood what the threat was and stood together, unlike now where every third person is Deleted by Moderator

Striker14 Sep 2020 12:43 p.m. PST

I'm of the same gaming era as you TG, and even made it to Kenosha where I got Assault from GDW. I still have my UK and USSR companies and Challenger II rules from GenCon. I'm still looking to game 80's conflicts but after Desert Storm my interest in ultramodern outside of skirmish level is low. At least in the 80's there was some wiggle room as to what would be effective and what was hype but now that we've seen some of the gear in action I think it puts some games up on the shelf. Missile ranges and electronics especially. Even playing games on the PC (TOAW, SP) aren't very engaging when it comes to 1990+ scenarios.

Garth in the Park14 Sep 2020 12:57 p.m. PST

There's something odd, or at least counter intuitive, about using little lumps of lead to represent warfare that is being fought primarily by computers, drones, and satellites.

It would be like using lead figures to game a moon landing.

Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2020 1:10 p.m. PST

Having played Harpoon all the way from version 1 to 4 as well as games such as Air Superiority, Air War, and the Speed of Heat, about 1990 is as far as I'm willing to go. The advancement of weapons systems, sensors, countermeasures, etc., makes gaming anything in today's world a non-starter for me. Too complex, tedious, and you need to have your rules/charts updated about every day.

For example, who would want to play a game where 4 F-35s escorted by 2 F-22s are penetrating enemy airspace to knock out some air defense sites. You have to keep track of the F-22s advanced sensors and what they're seeing, they're passing targeting info to the F-35s, drones are sending back SAM frequencies, then there's info coming in from satellites, AWACS, and more. That's just on one side! The other side is trying to figure out what's going on, where to send interceptors, etc., and we haven't even launched a missile yet in the game. There's a 95%+ or higher that the F-22s knock down any intercepting aircraft that gets off the ground and the F-35s knock out their target without a loss. Doesn't sound like fun to me.

Garand14 Sep 2020 1:15 p.m. PST

There's a 95%+ or higher that the F-22s knock down any intercepting aircraft that gets off the ground and the F-35s knock out their target without a loss. Doesn't sound like fun to me.

I think this is the other part of the problem. Not the sensors or stuff like that -- that can be abstracted out with some die rolls. But the disparity between combatants. It isn't much fun of a game if the sides are so imbalanced that you might as well not play. I remember playing some of those computer wargames (I think it was Panzers III or something like that, by SSI), playing vs Iraq & the US. If I played Iraq I had no chance despite how big my army was. If I was playing as US there was no challenge whatsoever. One trend I have seen so far is that anyone that plays ultramodern doesn't do so above skirmish level. At least there there is some parity between combatants. But above that level history has not shown this level of parity, At least not yet…


14Bore14 Sep 2020 1:29 p.m. PST


Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2020 1:31 p.m. PST

Nope, I'm doing the 1950s 1970s too, just for grins.

I'm also planning on doing the Ukrainian Conflict with Russian separatists. Not much has changed there, other than the initial denial of "little green men" AKA Russians "on vacation", or lost over the border, with their weapons in tow.

Not much difference from the 1980s there, other than the odd vehicle, and more reactive armor on the tanks, which appears to work well. Aerial drones of course for the Russians, and/or Russian separatists, so they can plan moves against the Ukrainians and/or artillery barrages with deadly effect.

Force on Force, and Ambush Alley would seem to work well for adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan at the tactical level, for the 1990s and 2000s+.

1990s+ air battles are easily doable.

As mentioned though, USA is pretty strong here, and opponents generally don't/won't let their pilots and aircraft take off to play. Still, it is possible to set up small, interesting scenarios to play out, since other nations have opponents, skirmishes, and conflicts too see Asia primarily here, though there could be others Turkey and Greece going at it again, as one example. Perhaps Libya/Turkey vs. the Egyptians, and/or other Euro nations too there as well, like France coming in on the Egyptian and other Libyan side.

Russia/China vs. Vietnam, South Korea, or Japan, with the occasional US aircraft too, just to make like interesting, not to mention Taiwan.

Note, you can bet that all that latest/greatest US tech may not work as well as advertised, when/if the balloon goes up. Also, serviceability and sortie rates for the advanced US aircraft will be appalling if it does get hot, since they're only about 40% 50% during peace time, now.

Throw in heavy rains, and those stealth coatings get negated or damaged, and things change rather quickly.

AirWar:C21 for the air war, since the rules there can be used easily, and tweaked as needed to reflect some of the above.

Pan Marek14 Sep 2020 1:36 p.m. PST

On the LeadAdventureForum, they call 1945-1990 the Cold War Era. Seems appropriate, and includes hot wars of the time.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2020 1:58 p.m. PST

I agree with Garand.

When you can have an M1 Abrams moving at 40mph and hitting targets at 3k firing a round about every 6 seconds with a 90% chance to hit it's pretty unbalanced. Add to that MRLS launches with sub-munitions and drones with Hellfires it's not much fun to play the enemy. Some of the weapons being planned will be even scarier. Let's play a skirmish game with this: link

However, if enemy armor can disguise themselves as civilians they may have a chance.

However, modern-current SpecOps combined with cyber-warfare could be very interesting.
Game Over!!!


Legion 414 Sep 2020 3:19 p.m. PST

All I do is 6mm Sci-fi now … so I'm stuck in the future ! 👽🛸🛰🚀

FusilierDan14 Sep 2020 4:22 p.m. PST

Well there is this.


Fred Mills14 Sep 2020 6:03 p.m. PST

An excellent discussion. Two additional related thoughts:

1. Before the mid-80s, it is hard to imagine a NATO-WP major clash that does not escalate to nuclear warfare in short order. The raw numbers are also heavily in the WP's favour. Simulations of this tend to be nasty, brutish, and short. Out-of-theatre wars, without (major) escalatory threats, are easier to imagine (Nam, Korea, Middle East, etc.). Not impossible, but harder.

2. The West has more than a fighting chance in the mid-80s, making it a fairer contest and one we fancied could be fought through successfully without a massive nuclear exchange. Lots of new tanks and kit, and not a Soviet walkover anymore. WP superiority we now know was somewhat overestimated, further making the 'game' more interesting for the NATO player.

Before the '80s, in other words, it is hard to have a balanced, credible game without nukes. After '89, there is no credible WWIII scenario at all.

Well, except for right now, versus China.

ScoutJock14 Sep 2020 7:48 p.m. PST

Yes it is and I'm perfectly OK with it.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2020 3:19 a.m. PST

Yes, I think mass battle wargaming stays in the '80's or earlier. There are reasons.

During the Cold War we had an idea of what "high intensity" warfare with a peer would be like. (We might have been wrong, of course. But we had an idea for gaming purposes.) I'm not sure we do today. Unless it's China, we don't know who the enemy would be, and even with China I'm not sure we have a good idea of how our high intensity land warfare weapons and doctrine would interact with theirs.

Now, we DO understand skirmish-level stuff. And really, at a skirmish level, you could take a set of "banana wars" rules, bolt on air support and drones, and play out Iraq and Afghanistan. So I think the moderns people are sticking to what they understand. Nothing wrong with that.

Jeffers15 Sep 2020 4:20 a.m. PST

I'm stuck in the 70s.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2020 9:11 a.m. PST

A Cold War 1960-1985 WP battle would be very interesting. However, to get the real experience you'd need to fight it as Legion described in several battles.

The WP has overwhelming numbers but the first stage of the battle is air-air with the winner getting to perform air strikes on the enemy. Then the WP gets hit with artillery and scatterable mines to slow them down and obstacles to channelize them. While they are contending with this the NATO helicopters are popping up and firing ATGM's and both sides recon units are sparring. The Spetznatz and NATO specOps units are doing their dirty tricks behind enemy lines making C&C difficult.

The NATO troops keep giving ground and avoiding a real tank-tank clash unitl the WP is weakened and they can counterattack.

Sounds like a project for Just Jack.


KSmyth15 Sep 2020 12:04 p.m. PST

I dunno, I've done a reasonably modern naval game using David Manley's Bulldogs Away rules. It was based on an incident in the Persian Gulf featuring Iranian missile boats and included US Littoral Combat Ships. There was a political side to the scenario that encouraged avoiding conflict if possible. It was fun, but once things got out of hand, quite bloody.

Tac Error16 Sep 2020 12:09 a.m. PST

Perhaps a little nostalgia factor is in play? The 1980s was the last time we could think of the next war as a large clash of mechanized forces with entire divisions and army corps…wargaming modern NATO battalions against the Russians in the Baltic doesn't have the same level of excitement as playing out a Reforger scenario:

UshCha16 Sep 2020 1:36 a.m. PST

Post 80's its becoming more of a digital data war. Personally not as interesting as a general rule but that a personal view.

Also our rules go to at least 2010 and by then some players are alredy finding it much more difficult. By definition as in the real world the data flow increases the more complex the decision making, some players simply sink into confusion too many options available. Even with our basic simple mechanics some players struggle even with deciding things such as where to go if the distances are large enough, so complex decisions on targeting where the target options are far more extensive gives them "Analysis paralasis", in the real world that is a real life thretener..

Making excuses and just adding more die roles renders it just more implausible as a simulation and far less interesting (for us) as a game hence 80's is generally a good place to stop for a fun simulation.

Many Si Fi games are more like say Warhamer 40K are Napoleonic games with a different dress code so to me are SI Fantasy not SI-Fiction.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Sep 2020 6:14 p.m. PST

First, less than a month ago … TMP link

Second, I think it depends on what type of battle you want to play. We don't fight extended, large mechanized force on force battles today. So if you prefer that type of battle, you don't play ultra-modern rules. In general, you don't play games with rules that represent a milieu you don't want to play. You don't go looking through rules that represent warfare in the 1980's if you want to play smooth bore, black powder games, either.

There's nothing too complex about current warfighting that you can't put into several different modalities and levels of war for a game.

Personal opinions are personal opinions, but when I fought and otherwise supported warfighting post-80's, I found it neither incomprehensibly complex or boringly simple. Same goes for wargames about those conflicts.

Legion 417 Sep 2020 7:17 a.m. PST

so to me are SI Fantasy not SI-Fiction.
I agree … As I have said, we play Epic/6mm Sci-fi as more of a retro-high-tech versions of WWII, plus a little higher tech and aliens[demons are just aliens AFAIK!] added in.

Dropped much of the GW absolute silliness, cartoony, etc., aspects of it. Modified the rules to make it more of a "war" game … than a game with bright shiny things trying to pull off being weapons of war ! 😁😎🤩

I served in '80s, in the US Army, I "played 1 to 1 scale wargames" from '79-'90 while on active duty. So my POV may be a bit biased … old fart

UshCha17 Sep 2020 7:22 a.m. PST

your link indicates cards. I feel it unlikely it would reasonably simulate for instance the various levels of battle managements systems and for instance there LOS limitations to say the least. Over generalizing to me makes the makes the game unrepresentative of the strength and weaknesses of systems and thereby minimizes the fun.

Our own rules are relatively simple but like chess that does not make the game simple. I the game is not more complex with the digital dimension with new systems them by definition you have oversimplified it somewhere so the game is in some way degraded and in my personal opinion had the fun taken out of it. Thing is what you define as fun is a near impossible to agree on, much past having you head cut off is not fun.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Sep 2020 9:31 a.m. PST

Over generalizing to me makes the makes the game unrepresentative of the strength and weaknesses of systems and thereby minimizes the fun.

But not actually reading the rules or playing the system is enough for you to make a judgement? I understand the basis for your perspective.

catavar17 Sep 2020 3:39 p.m. PST

Unless it's a skirmish I think the ranges involved put me off to gaming post 1950's.

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