28mm Ultramodern Wargaming in 2022
Look, I know I’m in the middle of packing up to move but it’s close to the end of the year, I just had the new BPRE box arrive in my hands (more on that this week) and Spectre earlier this week sent me an email talking about how they are no longer selling their ruleset. It’s a lot all at once and it’s got me thinking a fair amount about the main wargaming genre I spend my time in (even if fantasy is chasing up behind it at a concerning speed). So I’m going to throw words into this blog post and see what comes out of it.
Also, I just need to stress – the thoughts in this post (like everything on the blog) are my opinion. If you disagree, I’m interested to see what other people in the community are thinking.
First up, the big news from Spectre. As you can see above (or in the original email here), Spectre will no longer be selling their ruleset (Spectre Operations Version 2) come January 1st 2023. The reason for this is simple – the license that Spectre has with the original author of the rules (who left Spectre several years ago) is expiring and they aren’t taking it back up. I guess if you want to play Spectre version 2, you should probably get your book ordered now. Good luck, you have basically a week so jump to it.
So, what the heck does this mean for Spectre? Well for one, I’m very intrigued to know what the poor guys who picked the “Rules only” in the Patreon are going to do until the new rulebook comes out. Already receiving a pittance every month, I’m pretty sure there is going to be a drop in motivation to make any more seeing as there is a lack of new players coming in.
I think more interesting is the fact Spectre has dropped from “Figure Manufacturer with Rules” to just a Figure Manufacturer. Spectre jumped into its dominant position for so long because it was a one-stop shop, a double hit – you got both your rules and your figures in one place and you were good to go. Until they get another rulebook online and can offer that again, they have lost their unique position. Combine this with the slower pace of releases, stock issues and a Patreon that is… SOMEWHAT lacking does not paint a healthy look for a company
I’d also like to point out once again that communication on this (once again) absolutely sucks. Literally the only place this information was provided (just over a week before the deadline) was via a newsletter, the oldest possible way of communicating online aside from a webpage. What makes this sting even more, was the fact Instagram and Facebook were updated at the same time EXCEPT these posts merely advertised the covert packages that are now sold out and then mention that Spectre is closing for Christmas soon. I’m not a business expert, but pretty sure information about you sunsetting a major product you sell (and presumable are trying to sell out any remaining stock of) is kind of important. It’s also deeply concerning that any news of a replacement is just “TBA” which makes me really think that nothing much was actually planned. As a company in a niche hobby, communication and planning should be a number 1 priority, something that alternatives such as Echelon absolutely nail.
All in all, I have genuine concerns about how much longer we’re going to have Spectre as a company existing. Everything about them at the moment just feels good enough, just getting the homework done the night before – the Patreon is full of promised items being either delayed or released at the last minute, the webstore still has multiple sections of placeholder text in obvious places and full figure releases have some frankly baffling choices about the new multiple part process. There just doesn’t seem to be the same level of care we once had with Spectre, the same level of excitement over the releases. No part of me wants them to fail, but it’s definitely reaching a concerning point.
Right, let’s talk about the other old hands I have on my list.
Empress has gone very quiet on the Ultramodern releases. Very quiet meaning we haven’t had any releases since November 2021 (that being the single part Russian Infantry), and the last “new” release was the Insurgent sniper back in July 2021. It’s obvious that Empress has bigger fish to fry – both their Cold War Gone Hot and their Vietnam ranges have been cranking out new stuff for this year and the rather fantastic WW2 figures are getting a Kickstarter in the new year covering British Airborne at Arnhem. We may see more next year (and their current stuff is all available) but we’ll have to wait and see.
Similarly, White Dragon Miniatures has also gone very quiet since they released their Russian troops back in January of 2022. Not surprising that nothing has added to that particular range, but there is general radio silence on stuff coming up next. I’m hoping we might see something soon, but I know WDM does plenty of other stuff behind the scenes so I’m less worried about them suddenly disappearing.
Radio Dishdash are in the process of finishing off the Ultracombat Modern KS after a very long delay. I received my figures but I know some people were refunded due to a variety of issues. There has been no further movement on Sangin 2.0 on the group, outside of someone putting up a few battle reports. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see more next year. At the moment, their store is down but you can get PDF releases from Wargames Vault.
A bright spot in all this however is Anthalonica. Despite their store currently being down for maintenance, the owner is very active in the community and we saw several releases from them throughout the year. It seems like they have big plans and it wouldn’t surprise me if out of everyone, we might see a new ruleset from this company to fill some of the gap Spectre is about to give up.
In general, however, I think that in many places in the community, especially in Europe, there has been a drop in general enthusiasm about playing Ultramodern games. This is not to say a total loss – I’m still happy to play and I know every time someone mentions this phenomenon, people will appear from the walls to angrily disagree; we have also seen plenty of Ultramodern or modern games at the wargames shows that returned this year. But it’s the quieter people, the ones who maybe don’t shout and scream “that yeah, perhaps having a major land war only a few countries over is dampening their experience slightly”. From talking to several rules writers and makers, there has also been a cooling in willingness to stock Ultramodern wargaming stuff, with one UK company going so far as to say there isn’t a market at all. There are whole academic papers to write about why a war in Ukraine affects us more than 10+ years of war in the Middle East, but that’s not my space to jump into (I need a few more letters after my name before I’ll do that). All I can say is that the ongoing situation is definitely having an effect.
Heading across the pond though, I think Ultramoderns might have a slightly brighter future, one that may cause the centre of Ultramodern wargaming to shift out of the UK and into the US. This mostly comes down to two companies with their rulesets – Enemy Spotted Studios (with InCountry/INX) and Echelon (with BPRE 28mm).
Echelon has made something incredibly exciting with BPRE 28mm – something that knows exactly what it is and does it incredibly well, attracting its own market and providing a well-balanced, fast-playing game which is both easy to learn but still with a great deal of depth and variety. It’s probably the Ultramodern game I have spent the most time thinking about this year, drawn in by the incredible presentation, lovely models and enthralling gameplay. I’m also incredibly happy to hear how many non-wargamers are picking it up, which is always.
But, BPRE 28mm is very definitely its own thing. It’s ultra-realistic, street by street, with pretty much every mission ending with the incredible brutality of a close-quarters gunfight that leaves barely anyone standing on either side. If you go in expecting the sandbox/systems approach of many other rulesets (or want to play anything that, you’re going to be disappointed. The counter to this however is that because it’s so focused, it’s awesome at what it aims to do – the classic specialised tool vs multi-tool idea.
The economics I think is also a great barrier to its growth, especially outside of the US. As a UK wargamer, I’m finally getting hit with the great postage bullshit that US and Australian gamers have complained about for years. And, with the game mostly being sold in one large box (or two if you get both the starter pack and the new expansion Phaseline), it’s a big chunk of change you drop. That said, I think a lot of the issue with saying it costs too much is that we’re comparing to other Ultramodern companies – BPRE’s pricing is maybe closer to Games Workshop (not an entirely positive comparison but still worth bearing in mind). Additionally, it feels worth it once it’s in your hand- a great amount of care and attention has gone into making the product the best it can be, while sticking to their principles about sourcing materials and the content contained within. Having spent a lot of time chatting to John Chang about the game and the company (we talked for 3 hours in one go for a future project), this feels like a labour of love and passion. And if that’s something you want to support and it’s in your budget, I think the Core game, while an upfront investment, has the potential to be an incredibly good one.
Slightly larger in scale, let’s talk InCountry (or INX). Enemy Spotted Studios already released their game Killwager last year but I think among the Ultramodern groups I keep an eye on, INX has had a lot more buzz around it (mostly due to its Ultramodern focus rather than “yeah you can do it just don’t use these elements”). The other reason is that InCountry fills a space in the rules library that not many other games do – that where you can have multiple teams and squads on the board per side without the game starting to struggle every time the Militia horde decide to open up. I haven’t yet had a chance to properly sit down and play the rules (or paint the figures I’ve printed as you can see above) but from a read through there is a lot in there to be excited about. This is definitely going to be something to keep an eye on and hopefully, I’ll be talking more about it in the new year.
That said, ESS’s customer interactions are… Look okay, I get this is such a personal thing, but being greeted with “BOOKS ARE IN HOG DADDIES!” in a Killwager KS update did definitely set the tone. Every message from ESS in both Kickstarters and via Discord has made it very clear that they not only disagree with the old adage “the customer is always right” but in fact, the customer is probably an idiot. There is a lot of block capital warnings in pretty much every post related to the Kickstarter fulfilment (a usually complicated process) and the addon survey for pledgebox included some questions which I looked at and wondered why exactly they needed my phone number for an entirely digital release but hey ho. Nothing that stops me wanting to use their products but I do pause a little bit every time an announcement pops up and wonder what I’m about to read.
On the other hand, the side of ESS that I’m on board for is their Tribe over at MyMiniFactory. As someone with a 3D printer, this tribe is getting me 6 figures every month (plus a few bonus ones). For all the issues with how the figures look in the slicer, they print beautifully. Based on what we have so far, I’m interested to see how many of the INX figures from the Kickstarter eventually see a digital release. Mostly I just want the Quds Force guys for reasons I have mentioned previously.
There are also some other exciting things coming out of the US. Ambush Alley Games has returned with a development version of NextWar to bring the Ambush Alley/Force on Force gameplay up to date. Similarly, Modiphius has picked up Battlespace for a deluxe release next year, bringing the solo-play, RPG close-quarters battle game to a wider audience. SASM is also around, having released a set of 15mm items for the War In Ukraine.
Stepping back to the talk of Tribes, let’s finish by talking about a positive thing coming out of 2022 – 3D printing. This is definitely the year where we’ve got several options of places to get 3D printed models from for Ultramodern wargaming. Combat Octopus has managed to continue releasing excellent work despite the ongoing international situation causing issues with getting paid but people like Turnbase Miniatures (who massively stepped up their game in the latter half of this year), Black Hill Games and even Austin Miniatures (who previously released physical models) are all now producing 3D-printed figures. Hell, even Wargames Atlantic has started releasing kits via MyMiniFactory. Annoyingly not everyone has quite worked out to release sets that work for list building (I’m begging you, please release figures with a mix of weapon systems so I can build squads) but the general quality and amount are on the rise.
I genuinely think that 3D-printed figures are the way forward for Ultramodern wargaming. I don’t think this niche of a niche will ever be anything close to settings like WW2 or Napoleonic – it’s going to continue being a niche filled with smaller companies releasing their ranges. 3D printing will remove a lot of the barriers that smaller companies need to deal with (such as maintaining stock, handling postage and dealing with damaged/lost models) while still letting you get sculpts out there and in people’s hands. Even if the prints aren’t being sold directly to the end user, setting up agreements with local printers cuts out international shipping (a situation that is to put it mildly Fucked at the moment) while still keeping a close eye on the STLs themselves and limiting piracy concerns. Now, I don’t want that to happen (I like being able to print on demand in the warmth of my home less than a day before I need new figures) but it is at least an alternative for figure sculptors.
And with that, I’m going to return to packing up my house and resisting the urge to play more DMZ. I’ll see you all in the new year with some updates, may you all have a good holiday season filled with wargaming fun.
Okay, there might be one more thing before the year ends.