Well, it’s happened. After about ten years, I’ve played my first milsim game. So what was the experience like?
I have to say my personal experience was mixed. Partly because I’d originally planned to stay the whole two days and bivvy-up overnight, but a back injury rendered my hors de combat on day one. (One of the perils of near-geriatric airsoft.) And partly because I’m still not sure milsim is my thing.
The good stuff
Let’s look at the good stuff first. The event was brilliantly organised on a huge and varied site by a bunch of people called Okto Eight Milsim. The scenario involved an East European state (more Ruristan than Ruritania) riven by a political dispute over natural resources.
The bases and props were brilliant, with vehicles, professional pyros and almost alarmingly convincing role-players.
The players too were very up for it. I was on the government side, together with one near-newbie and several hardened regulars who naturally emerged as SNCOs. Plus there was one young ex-cadet who manned the radio brilliantly, using flawless radio procedure throughout.
As a bit of a military historian, I found the whole thing very illuminating, for two reasons. First was the vulnerability you feel when patrolling. Compared with a regular skirmish, the quiet is truly unnerving. My nerves were further put on edge by the fact that everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. I really did feel like the expendable replacement soldier.
Contacts on patrol were comparatively rare, but when they happened, it was just like the first person accounts you read in military histories. I had next to no idea where the fire was coming from. In fact I only managed to sight a target and shoot once during one of these ambushes.
The scraps tended to be short and vicious, the violence accentuated by the very authentic groans from the wounded and the taunts shouted by the attackers as their quarry received aid, or more usually, bled out in agony.
The less good stuff
The other historical truth that came home to me was the old saw about war being 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. In milsim, there can be a lot of waiting around while the scenario evolves. And on such a big site, walking back to the respawn point can take an age.
For much of the time, my team’s dead milled around our base, unsure about where or how to re-enter the action. This is the bit where I part company with dedicated milsim enthusiasts.
All the same, when they were around, the experienced players organised us well, and during these literally ‘dead’ spells encouraged us to take up defensive positions to protect the base from the (admittedly remote) threat of attack.
I found this role-playing oddly fun, even though it only meant digging in behind a fallen tree and keeping my eyes peeled for sneaky buggers in the undergrowth.
The relative dullness of the game could well have been due to the fact that I was on the government side, a choice dictated by my preference for western camo and weaponry. The rebel guerrillas played a more mobile game and were on the attack more. As they say, if you want action, join the pirates not the navy.
In fairness, from the reports I read later, the game really got into its swing on the second day, with more frequent and longer contacts.
What did you do in the war, daddy?
Towards the end of the day came my one moment of glory, when I think I might actually have scored a kill. A friendly squad radioed-in requesting assitance on the other side of the site. They were pinned down and desperately needed more warm bodies.
After a 15 minute tab, three of us arrived on the scene and decided on a flanking attack through a field of tall grass, which almost came up to our shoulders. Moving in skirmish line, we headed towards a treeline behind which was the enemy flank.
We more or less surprised the rebel scum. I managed to chuck two thunderflashes. The first was a thin Mk5, the second one of the fatter TLSFX ones. There was a distinct difference in the amplitude of the bang.
After the second explosion, there was a gratifying scream from the treeline. Whether it was the effect of my grenade or someone else’s rifle fire I don’t know, but either way it felt good to be on the offensive.
Suffice to say that once we were into the treeline, chaos reigned, and this was where I slipped down a bank into a rabbit-hole and did my back in. Undeterred, I gathered my wits (if not my dignity) and rejoined the action, but the enemy’s fire was too accurate and I was soon on my way back to the safezone. Shortly after this, endex was called.
The scores on the doors
The verdict? From my point of view, as I say, it was a mixed experience. As a milsim newbie, I felt a little out of my depth. This was compounded by a fear of doing something stupid and letting my side down.
I had some people ask me if I was enjoying myself. I was, but this fear of embarrassment was always there. Though there’s also the Secret Airsofter thing. I tend not to be the most gregarious of players.
But the main thing was the relative lack of action. To use a bizarre analogy, milsim is like a three-disc opera recording. You get lots of dull bits and plenty of incomprehensible dialogue between the well-known tunes.
Skirmishing is like the highlights disc. It’s more accessible and familiar and there are plenty of tunes to hum along to. The former is harder to get into, but I suspect it’s more rewarding in the long run.
Will I do it again? The answer is a definite maybe. I was incredibly impressed by the Okto Eight team and the enthusiasm of the players. These factors might just tip me over the edge into trying it again. Especially now the back has recovered.