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Combat Mission: Black Sea launches amidst real-life tensions in Ukraine

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

On Sunday, Feb. 15, a hastily negotiated cease fire will, hopefully, ease tensions in Eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed forces have been engaged with that country's military for many months. The conflict was, strangely enough, predicted years ago during the development of Combat Mission: Black Sea, which was released to the gaming public just over two weeks ago. With NATO forces already repositioned in the region, Black Sea is as close as video game aficionados can get to truly modern warfare.

A violent engagement between Cold War superpowers, as portrayed in the game, would be no laughing matter. The real-life fighting so far, fought largely by irregular forces, has created a mounting humanitarian crisis in the region. Nearly a million civilians have already been displaced the U.N. says, and an escalation of that conflict would be a tragedy.

Black Sea is a fictional story, and will remain so unless our leaders collectively lose their minds

The developers at themselves are clearly frightened by the near-future conflict, set in 2017, that their own game portrays.

"War in real life is a terrible, horrible thing," the game manual reads, "that should only be embarked upon as an absolute last resort. Combat Mission: Black Sea is thankfully still a fictional story, and likely to remain so unless our global leaders and populace collectively lose their minds."

The realistically-modeled weapons systems on display are nothing short of terrifying, and made even more horrible by the fact that many of them are, more than likely, currently deployed in the region. In Polygon's time with the game so far, engagements are hide-and-sneak affairs that flare up in seconds before ending in a dramatic, explosive exchanges of fire. For anyone interested in the tactical scenarios between conventional NATO and Russian troops that are possible in the region, this game is as informative as it is sobering.

Take, for instance, remote weapons systems like those shown in the video above. While not fully autonomous, systems like those employed on the M1A1 Abrams allow warfighters to unload .50 caliber ammunition from the relative comfort of their nuke-proof tank via remote control. Airburst munitions, like those fielded at the squad level with NATO forces in the form of the XM25 counter defilade grenade launcher (pictured above), mean that even hiding inside a hardened bunker, soldiers and civilians alike are not safe from harm.

Other modern-day weapons of war modeled in Black Sea include the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile (shown in the video above at the six minute, 30 second mark) and precision-guided artillery rounds (shown below at the one minute, 30 second mark) create a new and frightening battlefield. When those kinds of weapons are deployed on both sides, the danger is only increased.

The game also features unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, in both offensive and reconnaissance roles. Defensive munitions include active protection systems for armored vehicles, or computer-controlled guns that literally shoot incoming missiles out of the air as shown below (at the one minute, 30 second mark).

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