07 October 2006

So, what is "old school" wargaming anyway?

A good question and one that has been mentioned several times over at OSW for the last few days with regard to “what” is appropriate for posting at that group and what should be addressed elsewhere. Can anyone provide a fairly succinct answer to the question though? Many at OSW have, no doubt, pondered the subject already. Mike Siggins offered his take on the matter of the “old school” approach in a recent issue of Battlegames. And many of my own questions are similar to his.

For example, what is it about the idea of “old school” wargaming that so many find attractive? Dissatisfaction with recent/current wargaming trends (rules, figures, behavior of gaming opponents, etc)? Why exactly? And why are wargaming authors/personalities like Bruce Quarrie or Paddy Griffith (prominent, at least, in my wargaming library and milieu) not necessarily considered old school and largely omitted from discussion in forums like OSW or TMP?

Continuing along, what constitutes an "old school" approach to one's wargaming anyway? Is it limited solely to a fondness for big battalions? Perceived simplicity of rules? Attainable painting results? An 18th century focus? Imaginary combatants? A love for all things Young and Grant? Minimalist terrain? Must one, instead, simply love 30mm or larger figure sizes by manufacturers like Tradition, Willie and Suren, or RSM 95? Could we consider WRG's 1685-1845 rules, 1979 edition “old school” just because more than 25 years have passed since that rule set was first issued? ;-)

Is it, instead, simply a matter of the ages of OSW members, almost 40s-50s for most of us, combined with nostalgia for the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s in wargaming terms? Or is it an aversion to computer, fantasy, and sci-fi gaming, which seems to be gaining ground at the expense of our own branch of the hobby? Is it a preference for Charles Grant Sr's "the look of the thing" and distaste for tiny units of 12-16 figures that purport to represent, say, a unit of 800 soldiers and strange (to my mind) basing regulations?

I realize that much of this is like trying to pinpoint an emotion like love. In other words, it’s very difficult to nail down and slightly different for each person. But the litany of questions above is interesting for us to consider in any case.

For my part, I enjoy virtually every discussion topic over at OSW -- from battalion guns, to plastic (and metal) Spencer Smiths, to painting methods and painting challenges, to cartography software. Bill Protz's, Jim Purkey's, and others’ photo postings are great too. Sure, it can be a bit dull reading everyone's excited reports every two months on the arrival of their latest copy of Battlegames. Most of the time, though, I feel like each discussion topic has something interesting to it -- and I've even gone all the way back to the early OSW postings to read through those, much to the dismay of my wife, for hours at a time!

I can't quite put my finger on it, but the OSW group and its associated discussions are, to me anyway, much more interesting than those on, say, The Miniatures Page, which I also look at from time to time. No attack intended on that group -- It's just that, somehow, the topics, and tone, of most discussion at OSW resonate more with me and my particular wargaming, miniature, historical, and creative interests.

My approach to “old school” wargaming is chiefly a visual thing. I enjoy the appearance of large units on the table. Figures are reasonably, though by no means expertly, painted with interesting standards and guidons. Rules are fairly easy to figure out and use, and figures are unbased. And yes, I realize this means that moves take a bit longer. In addition, terrain is simple, yet it is also visually appealing and has been given some imagination and forethought. Admittedly though, a green blanket thrown over a few books doesn’t quite do it! Finally, I am enchanted by the idea of imaginary combatants, perhaps a throwback to the days when I enjoyed designing my own countries and personalities for the highschool-era D&D games that I dungeon mastered in the early 80s.

I’m not quite old enough (turning 40 on November 06, 2006!) to have actually seen or played games like this in the late 1960s or 1970s. I'm not even British or a citizen of a commonwealth country! But I certainly learned the names of the Grants, Young, Featherstone, Guilder, Wesencraft, and others quickly enough when reading through my first couple of Miniature Wargames issues (#6 and #7) in late 1983! No, the paperback reprint of Charge! that I purchased on a whim from Caliver Books in the summer of 1994 is the chief reason for my entry into the realm of “old school” wargaming.

Like many fellow OSW’ers, no doubt, I was immediately captivated by accounts of battles between the Emperor and the Elector. I’ve wanted to do something similar myself since then but left those ideas smoldering on the back burner until stumbling onto the OSW group in December 2005. Now that I think of it, though, small black and white photos of the Grants’ battles that accompanied an article “Fighting in BUAs” in one of the above MW issues, plus another article on 18th Century wargaming in a 1983 Military Modeling's 1983 Battle supplement issue have a s much to do with my nostalgic interests as Charge! And how I wish now that I had followed through on my vague desire to order several bags of the plastic Spencer Smith mid-18th century figures from the U. K. back then!

Anyway, I’d be interested to hear similar or differing voices on the matter from anyone who views this blog. To paraphrase Peter O’Toole in What’s New Pussycat -- What in the name of all that’s great is “old school” wargaming? How do you approach it? Why is the concept appealing to you? And what is appropriate for discussion under the umbrella of the movement?

Happy Painting, Collecting, and Gaming!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think simple terrain is a definition of Old School - Peter Gilder had some wonderful modelled terrain at the Wargames HQ back in the 70's. Something that inspired the Grimsby club to sculpt all their terrian onto boards.

Big battalions (or units) are certainly part of it - although the 1685-1850 rules from Wrg (which are viewed as Old School) have a 1:50 ratio making small battalions. I prefer battalions at 1:20 or even 1:10 ratios.

Dice and buckets of them. I like that. None of this D10/D20 single rolls. Lets have buckets of D6's with plenty of spots!

Simple rules. Definately. Less pages = more fun for me!

Overall though I think it is trying to recapture that spirit of fun and enthusiasm that was there 30 years ago when the hobby was young. all of us eagerly waiting for the new magazine to come out (Battle in those days for me), going to the shop to buy a half dozen figures and get them on the table as soon as. And FUN with a capital F.


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