Monday, February 18, 2013

Definition of "Old School"??

old school  (Noun); Used, usually approvingly, to refer to someone or something that is old-fashioned or traditional.

Lots (and lots) of discussion among my fellow bloggerati about the merge of Miniature Wargames and Battlegames - which in the grand scheme of things (ie. anyone other than a wargamer) is of little (errrrr.... no??) interest... but among the many brilliant posts and comments there seemed to be a theme developing that Battlegames equalled "Old School" TM () which in some cases was a good thing, and in some cases was a bad thing...

Now I've considered myself to be an "old school" wargamer for some time, but it gave me cause to think about what that actually meant...  so here for your delectation is my definition. It'll be interesting to see if I'm close, as for what it's worth, I don't think there is a clear definition of "old school" - it's many things to many people..

So let's start with what it's not...
Picture courtesy Ilkley Old School blog
1/. It's not "Imaginations" - setting up you own 18th Century country set in some small German state-let, with a back story containing characters of your own invention, home designed maps, and wargame units wearing uniforms of your own design does not make you an Old School wargamer - what it makes you is a wargamer with a vivid imagination... 

I've always taken the view that real history is fascinating enough, but some of my fellow wargamers enjoy campaigning in an alternative 18th Century central Europe - we're a broad church - but their desire to do that doesn't necessarily make them old school... they could be, but it's not a foregone conclusion

2/. It's not Stadden/Tradition/Prince August figures - nope...  a number of wargamers seek to recreate the look of the games that featured in "Charge" or "The Wargame" - their figures are sourced from the original manufacturers, they are painted in faux toy soldier style, gloss varnished, single based, on plain bases painted "that" green (see picture above for what I mean!).. Their desire to do that doesn't necessarily make them old school what it tells me is that there wargaming hobby started in a particular period, and that the impact of those early books was such that it has informed their wargaming ever since...

3/. Featherstone/Young/Grant or nothing.... a number of wargamers came to the hobby via the seminal works of these august gentlemen - I count myself among them - but that doesn't necessarily make them old school... they could be, but it's not a foregone conclusion, because the key lesson one learns from the classics is a mode of thinking not a mode of doing. If the only thing one picks up from the books is that the rules and ideas outlined in them are the only way to do it, then the crux has been missed - because the original giants who helped shaped our hobby were all about guiding their reader to their own path, be it scale/period/choice of terrain/choice of paint/choice of rules etc. not telling us that theirs was the only way.. Old School wargamers are original thinkers.... which is a positive......

So how about a few more things that it is???

~ Old School wargaming is about the enjoyment of doing original research into the history of the period that you choose to wargame - our history doesn't come from the latest Annexe, or Supplement to our chosen rule set. The Osprey is not seen as the be-all and end-all - just a helpful starter, a pointer to other books we want to read....  Old School wargamers like to do research..  they like to read weird and interesting facts about our favourite periods in history...  an Old School Wargamer will have large bookshelves full of military histories, books about uniforms, tactics, organisation and strategy....
They look Old School... My thanks to Donogh for
this piccie of one (two?) of the grand masters at play
Ties/cravats no longer de rigeur by the way

~ Because of their research Old School wargamers understand that what happens on the table top bears no resemblance to the horrors of what happened on the actual battlefield - it is not just a game, it is a representation, and while bearing no resemblance, the Old School wargamer will attempt to model some of the specific historical or military elements he has read about

~ By and large, old school wargamers are not tournament players (I've found) or rules lawyers - I prepare to be corrected but on the whole the tournament rule jockeys, and Old School, simply do not co-exist....

~ Old School wargamers would not think twice about taking the weaker side or playing an unequal scenario, they have an interest in seeing if they can turn the tables, or come up with a result that is not expected - and if they don't, then they enjoy the game for what it is - an intellectual exercise between two or more like minded people....

~ By and large, old school wargamers behave in a courteous/gentlemanly/ladylike manner (I've found) - playing a wargame with an Old School Wargamer should involve copious libations (hopefully alcoholic), lively good natured badinage,  and an agreement to meet each other half way - disagreements are quickly resolved with the D6

~ Old School wargamers have a practical, do it yourself, ethos...  if the thing you want can't be bought, or is too expensive, we make it ourselves - we write our own rules, make our own scenery, and get great enjoyment from it....


...but most of all, Old School is a way of life .... you just....    are.... 

55 comments:

  1. One might perhaps argue that Old School wargamers are sometimes seen at tournaments, but if so it's largely to meet up with folks they don't otherwise get chance to :D

    Mike, who probably borders on Old School a bit.

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    1. The whole post was a bit tongue in cheek to be honest - but clearly you have a view - what makes you not old school?? :o)

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    2. Actually...

      ...looking at the small stack of books on the topic of the the English landscape I own, purely to write a better set of terrain rules for Dux Britanniarum....

      ...and the notes I have for a piece on the concept of Context in Wargaming...

      ...I probably am :D Even if I am a little prone to collect-the-supplement-itis for my favourite rulesets.

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    3. That comes under "research".. :o))

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    4. Linked from my blog - too good not to share :D

      http://troubleatthemill.blogspot.com/2013/02/oil-school-wargaming.html

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  2. By and large I have to agree with both of your "is" and "isn't" points. The tournament aspect is interesting. I don't think of them as being particularly OS but they date back to the 60's at least so there is a "traditional" aspect but I suspect it was originally an excuse for wargaming weekends, a recognizable format from other indoor sports.



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    1. Ross - I think they were a victim of their own success - they started out as basically a meeting place for like minded people, of whom at the time there were very few, but human nature being what it is as the hobby began to grew then competitive elements would have appeared.....

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  3. Steve,

    I think we've looked at some of the same blogs over the last several days since the announcement by Atlantic of the merger. Those readers of BG who have labelled it 'old school' because of occasional articles about imaginary campaigns and photos of large (sometimes 18th century) are way off frankly. There has been much else besides since the magazine hit the stands seven years ago. How anyone could think otherwise is baffling to say the least.

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Stokes - bravo - "old school" can best be described as an attitude of mind - open, questing, interested. You can apply that to ANY wargaming activity - I know people who play Warhammer, or Flames of Fury, who I would describe as old school purely because of their approach...

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  4. On reading your post I can identify myself as an'old schooler', much prefer gaming for fun, doing a bit of research. Never had much fancy for tournament gaming

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  5. I'm in agreement with Heinrich, that people who aren't regular readers of Battlegames mistakenly assume that it is all old-school. It's definitely not although it does carry occasional articles on that theme. Although Henry is definitely and old school proponent, his tastes are far more eclectic and you're just as likely to find him enjoying a game of Saga, a TFL game, Warmaster or Wild West using modern commercial rules. He's also just as likely to publish an article about them.

    I agree with much of what you've written about old school in this post. It is more of a mindset than anything else - the desire to have fun games using rules that are well-researched but not overly complicated.

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    1. Tamsin - mindset has it in one... all of Posties Rejects are old school for that very reason...

      PS. Gob smacked at your painting output! :o)

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    2. Well, I'm only an Honorary Reject but I guess I am old school in my mindset. I love researching the history and armies. However, I do take part in tournaments, mainly for the social aspect of meeting other gamers and playing against different opponents.

      As for my painting output, I'm gob-smacked too! The number of figures I've painted in the last 2 months is insane.

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  6. I think you've exactly hit the spot with your analysis in this posting, especially with all the positives. And one is "old school" mainly because you grew up that way because there was no other path to follow. However, discussion of the original tournaments does make me think that might have provided some sort of divide. My group participated in the first "National" in 1966 because it was organised by Don F. in Southampton and was the first convention we had a chance to attend. We then joined in the London one in 1967 but by 1968 the feel was that it had got taken over by the win at all cost types and we lost interest......to go our own way. But so much water under the bridge since then means so many more influences and hence my blog is not-just-old-school.

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    1. Chris - exactly... I think old school gamers have a tendency to independence of thought because of that early grounding.... I remember one of my lecturers telling me that his biggest worry was that his new students had never been taught how to research a subject - apparently I was a pleasant surprise (possibly the only time I was) because I knew my way around a library catalogue system - purely because of that reading I'd done at an earlier age...... there in a nutshell is the difference between old school and "the others".. :o)

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  7. You forgot to mention "has watched every episode of Callan"! Otherwise spot on methinks!

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    1. Matt - comes under "research" (which is turning into a nice catch'all!)

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  8. Excellent little post, and I'm definitley an old school wargamer, despite my relative (ahem) youth!

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    1. AKI - I've followed your blog for ages and there's no doubt about it - in fact, you're a good example, old school and a Warhammer Fantasy player foresooth! :o)

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    2. True, squaring the circle on that one (Warhammer) means I have to be very choosy about my opponents for it nowadays...

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  9. Recently, I was proudly declaring myself to be a Space Marine. Does that make me 'old school' too? ;)

    Oh, and don't forget to make the destinction between 'Old School' (card-carrying member of the OSW Yahoo group, which I no longer am) and 'old school' (which seems to boil down to an independent-minded gamer who enjoys a bit of fun based on their own research, with a severe tendency to tweak rulesets if not writing their own from scratch). Of course, the behaviour of either should be beyond reproach.

    Thanks for -- as ever -- a thought-provoking post, Steve.

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    1. I wholly accept your distinction... I too am no longer a card carrying member, by the way, as a result of a minor disagreement some time ago about whether rugby could be consider old school or not.... :o)

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    2. A very good point which I probably had not appreciated.

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  10. Old school for me means 'historical' in 28mm. Anything else is a step away from the true faith.

    I'm a 6mm addict so i'm off the beaten path straight away!

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    1. Ah Phil - my work is incomplete - old school is many many things, even 6mm (shudder)... :o)

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  11. A very interesting read Steve, made me smile. I used to be 'old school' I think, but I'm most definitely 'new school' now having fully embraced 6mm figures and hexes! I recall your tongue in cheek comments when I first fell under the spell of the 'tiny men' especially your description of my bases as 'board game playing pieces'. I thought "why not, that's just what they are" and I was sold on it, and thus it has evolved!

    But that said I still love those old Spencer Smiths.

    Great blog,

    Lee.

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    1. Lee - scale and playing surface is immaterial - old school is an attitude of mind and trust me you have it (having read your blog for some time!) - in fact as I said above to Tamsin all the Rejects are....

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    2. Being a bit tongue in cheek, there's an argument that says the difference between Old School and not is their reaction to a table full of figures:

      - Old school reaction: What's that? What period? what ruleset?, etc etc
      - non-old school reaction: Oh. It's not Flames Of Battlehammer HordeWar. Not interested.

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  12. Personally I say that most of that simply makes you a wargamer ... Only in one area do I disagree with your definintion
    here
    Because of their research Old School wargamers understand that what happens on the table top bears no resemblance to the horrors of what happened on the actual battlefield - it is not just a game, it is a representation, and while bearing no resemblance, the Old School wargamer will attempt to model some of the specific historical or military elements he has read about

    though I suspect it is semantic rather than intent. I'd argue that the more you research and attempt to model what happens in battle- always minus the nasty bits of course- the closer- in some strictly defined areas and periods- you come to an understanding of how battles and campaigns were carried out.
    Its the current- mostly rom the 90s omwards - "dehistorification"(though it was always present) of Historical wargaming that I tend to stand out against- in recent time its part of the "thick is cool" culture that we now have to endure.

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    1. Andy - you have high standards though (which is OK) there are plenty of gamers (as opposed to wargamers) whose idea of history is an army list from Flames of War, and how to get maximum fire power from 300 pts. With regard to your comment - yes, it is semantics as I was trying to say what you said... one of the joys of wargaming is trying to represent/recreate the difficulties the original commanders faced so as to better understand the choices they made.. I remember particularly a campaign DG and I played around Rommels first offensive in North Africa - that was an eye opener.....

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    2. Steve- I don't consider my standards particularly high- maybe I just find those of the "Osprey and Army list" brigade a bit low .!! Mind you I do like your distinction between Wargamers and Gamers- or indeed "mere gamers2 as I have referred to them in the past.
      However I do wonder how many of them are 2mere" when you get down to it. A lot of the chaps I talk to at shows- including customers are far from mere gamers. Thouh as a generalisation the louder they are about a given rulebook the more "mere" they become .

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  13. I seem to be coming a bit late to the party here but for me Old School is just that - I started wargaming in my early teens with my school friends. Our games were always historical (you couldn't buy an Orc back then), we devised our own rules (by and large) and did minimal research - most our info came from the films "Waterloo" and "Cromwell" and from my copies of "Miniature Warfare" magazine. We did have a real laugh though and to this day I only play games that capture that same spirit.

    Just to pick up on Matt's point about Callan (and yes, I did watch them all!) the other criteria of an Old Schooler is that they must have had a subscription to "Miniature Warfare" Magazine!

    Good post Steve...

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  14. For mine, I am largely in agreement with your ... description, Steve. I think if on a scale of 1 to 10 in which 10 is your OS as describes, I'd come down as an 8 or 9 - not having a hugely large library. I do think about the historical side, though, and on occasion draw my own conclusions - which might not be congruent with prevailing wisdom.

    I seem to be very OS in terms of my taste in rule sets. I've never ever played Charge or Charles Grant or Featherstone's rule sets as such, but my own rule sets owe a very great deal to all three, with borrowings from other sources as well. Other designs I can respect for how they go about presenting a battle on the table-top (e.g. Fire & Fury and derivatives; Volley & Bayonet; General de Brigade; Shako...) but as a rule I find their mechanics dry and artificial-looking, with occasionally odd, not to say counter-intuitive effects. But that's just me.

    On a completely different matter: 'bloggerati': brilliant!
    Cheers,
    Ion

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    1. Cheers Ion - picking and choosing the elements of different rules sets that you like, and then bashing them together in to some coherant hole is a real indicator that you are "os" .. :o)

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    2. "...in to some coherant hole...".

      I do so very much hope you mean "whole", old bean.

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    3. Henry - who would have thought that spell checker could be so deeply Freudian....? that made me chuckle...

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  15. "There is not time in which a tie is not important."-Jeeves.

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    1. :o)

      "A well-knotted cravat is the first serious step in a man’s life".
      Oscar Wilde

      "A cravat, a pipe and a robe define a man’s elegance".
      Clark Gable

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  16. Anything that has a points system to generate the forces is not Old School. Old School to me is when somebody creates a scenario with forces that are not necessarily equal in strength. The leveling of the battlefield is accomplished with terrain, hidden set up, and/or victory conditions. The forces involved don't even have to be historical.

    For instance, an largely outnumbered force fighting a desperate delaying action while engineers attempt to blow a bridge, with victory determined by success or failure, is Old School. 1500 points per side of Germans and British on a table with a bridge on it is not.

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    1. Nick - with the proviso that this is purely my attempt at a definition, and what I see as being old school (small o, small s) then largely I agree - my only point would be that "1500 points a side" can be old school - it's purely down to the manner in which the game is played... the game/scenario/rules/scale/period are largely immaterial if two 'os' gamers meet across the table...... :o)

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    2. Yes. Now that you mention it, it really is more the players than the game itself. I can get behind old school being a state of mind.

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  17. Your description of "Old School" seems more to be in line with "people who are enjoyable to play against." I think the other aspect of "Old School" you left out is "Byzantine rule systems written in tiny, cramped text with potential modifiers for everything." Whilst I do miss detailed written orders, I do not miss 2 hours per turn....

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    1. Dartfrog - I would say old school gamers are enjoyable opponents, but I consider myself 'os' :o) One correction, just because they are old doesn't make something old school - we're a broad church and regrettably often sidetracked..... Byzantine rule systems can be old school, usually aren't though, as we erudite/learned types soon realised that if the rules are good then most decisions can be made with a D6 or maybe 2D6... :o)

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    2. I think what Dartfrog describes is what I'd call "middle school", all the Quarry-Newbury-WRG malarkey of the late 70s/early 80s. Mind you, at the time, I played them happily and didn't blink.

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  18. I agree with Henry - 'old school' rules or 'old school style' rules are concise, simple and playable; original 'old school' rules may reflect out-dated ideas about historical combat, such as the emphasis on numerous volleys of musketry, rather than a quick volley and bayonet charge (as demonstrated by Paddy Griffith in The Face of Battle), deciding infantry clashes in the Peninsular War, but they remain fun to play; 'old school style' rules can incorporate modern thinking with rule simplicity. Any system that has a 200pp rulebook, a QRS of more than 2pp and requires an internet discussion group to resolve interpretation thereof is not, IMHO, 'old school'.

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  19. There's probably a danger that we lose the 'simplicity' of approach with OS gaming and end up with a 200pp explanation, so I had a scout around for a pithy definition and found an interesting one in the 'Urban Dictionary":

    - A positive appellation referring to when things weren't flashy but empty of substance, were done by hard work, didn't pander to the lowest common denominator, and required real skill. Labour-saving devices, shortcuts that reduce quality and quitting before the task is done are not characteristics of "old school."

    Now I'm quite happy with this, but I suspect the great unwashed view OS wargaming as the personification of the three characteristics you've defined (and we've agreed) as not OS.

    Maybe a marketing job for Henry in his new publication?

    ;O)

    BTW OS wargamers don't quit before the task is done, they simply have an expanding list of projects that are work in progress . . . .

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    1. Crazy Joe - "when things weren't flashy but empty of substance" - I like that very much....

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  20. Late to this post due to being north of Hadrian's Wall for a bit but I think by your definition I am old school too (or maybe just old).

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    1. Legatus - indubitably (and that's an "os" word if ever there was one)

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  21. Very interesting post, I've been thinking of commenting in a similar vein. There seems to be a growing trend in the hobby away from the values you have outlined, particularly expressed by the Games Workshop generation. Or perhaps it's just because I'm getting old!

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  22. I would be honored and proud to consider myself an "old school" wargamer, but in keeping with the gentlemanly aspect of the theme of the definition, I would suggest that it is a distinction which is bestowed upon a person, rather than one presumptuously assumed upon oneself.
    That being said, I can in all truth say that I have been referred to on a number of occasions as running Old School games.
    No Army lists or point values are overtly evident, but far in the background, there was some basis for creating my pseudo-historical campaigns, set in some portion of the Napoleonic wars, where forces clashed, but the results were not the decisive action of the overall greater (unseen) campaign.
    Think of the many diverse clashes where Napoleon was NOT there, defense of France in 1814, Wallerchen (sp?), the northern thrust in 1812, or the Austrians during the Invasion of Russia, as examples.
    But to require that one must have viewed all (or any) of the exploits of Callan would unjustly rule out many North American 'gamers, who have not access to that much-lauded British series.

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