Old School Wargaming is a very nebulous concept. It is a mistake to think that all its members do nothing except march simple Spencer Smiths across an elegantly plain table, though some of us occasionally do. Each to their own, surely?
In its purest form, it is epitomised by the two games put on by The War Gamers at partizan 2006 and 2007: Sittangbad, from Brigadier Peter Young’s book Charge! or How to Play Wargames; and Mollwitz, from Charles Grant’s The War Game. You can read about these games in issues 4 and 8 of Battlegames.
The point is not to say that anyone should throw away their gorgeous dioramic figures and terrain. Quite the opposite. OSW members admire skill in painting and modelling as much as the next man and, here’s the thing, the two are not mutually exclusive. I personally have a large collection of Spencer Smiths that I use for my fictitious 18th century campaign, but also collect gorgeous, modern castings, in several scales, from many manufacturers that fight across the most ‘realistic’ terrain I can muster. These armies demand a degree of attention to detail in their painting to do them justice which is always a challenge.
What OSW did for me personally was rekindle my enthusiasm for the hobby after a period when I had become pretty depressed about the trend towards over-complex rules and the level of bickering that seemed to have become prevalent during what should have been relaxing games! It reminded me that we’re supposed to be having fun, and talking to each other. The irony is that the retro-nature of OSW gave me enough enthusiasm about the future to start a new magazine and feel evangelical (in a moderate kind of way) about wanting to do everything I can to bring new blood into the hobby, whilst recognising the contribution of our illustrious forbears.
Another factor has to do with your age, and how you first got involved in the hobby. For me, it was Charles Grant’s The War Game, Charlie Wesencraft’s Practical Wargaming and Don Featherstone’s Advanced War Games, all in the very early 1970s. People who read these books at that time, and some of Don’s stuff even earlier, or Brigadier Peter Young’s Charge!, have happy memories of the style of games they produced, at a time when you often had to cast – or certainly convert – your own figures. Naturally, if your wargaming started later, or with different rulesets, these things won’t mean as much to you, which is fair enough.
What is OSW? You’ll have to ask everyone for their individual opinion. So far, the only consensus arrived at is ‘simple rules and a fun game’. I might also add that I want a game where the participants work together and play fair to have fun, rather than going out to win at all costs at the expense of friendship and good company. What’s wrong with that?
The Old School Wargaming Yahoo! group site has extensive photos, files and polls sections for you to browse, as well as a friendly and lively chatroom. Naturally, like all online groups, it has grown far beyond the original, evangelical membership who mostly began their wargaming in the early days of the hobby, to become a forum with more than 1,500 members, though activity has dropped off in recent years compared to its 2005-2009 heyday. As a result, the original purpose has become somewhat diluted, with many members who weren’t even born when the key works the group is based upon were written and published! As a result, I tend to think that a distinction needs to be made between the Old School Wargaming group, which often discusses matters that have little or no relevance to what I am discussing here, and the pursuit of what Phil Olley calls ‘classic’ wargaming, with its simple and elegant design aesthetic, of which I am very much a fan.