I joined the “Old School Wargaming” group on Yahoo a few weeks back, drawn in by the lure of larger battalions and simpler rules. The basic premise of the group is to reconnect wargamers with the rules that they encountered when they were kids, or when they first entered the hobby. From what I can tell, the leading lights of this group are mostly British gents betwen 40 and 60 years old or so, and they wax poetically on the lure of Charles Grant, Peter Young, Don Featherstone and their games.
These “old school” games seem to feature large figures arrayed in large units using rules that have a few common features:
- The D6 is supreme.
- Morale rules tend towards the simple end of the spectrum.
- Command/Control rules are usually non-existent.
I was excited to join the group because I had read most of the core books of the Old School canon when I was a kid. Our local library had several Don Featherstone titles including the essential “War Games”, and I was also able to check out Grant’s “The War Game” and Young & Lawford’s “Charge!” on a regular basis. Back in the early-mid 80’s there was no internet, so most of the gaming information I got was through these books, at least until I was able to start giving all of my hard-earned after-school-job wages to the local game store. I was well-versed in the lore of Old School games, and thought that I’d find a lot of inspiration from the group.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the case at all, for while I read and re-read these books many times over, I never played games like this. I’m in my late 30’s and entered the wargaming hobby in the mid-1980’s, so the games of Grant, Young and Featherstone aren’t the games of my youth. Know what game was?
Being a history geek in junior high is never easy, and it gets worse when you’re obsessed with little lead soldiers as well. That was me, however, and I dutifully carried the Empire III rulebook around in my backpack for a month or two at school, pulling it out to take a furtive glance at it whenever possible. Empire is the antithesis of “Old School” rules in many different areas. It’s basically the Advanced Squad Leader of Napoleonics and has as many detractors as it has proponents. Still, as I got a little older and started to play and understand the rules, I remember many fun days spent in a cramped basement with 8-10 others pushing 15mm troops around in massive Napoleonic bloodbaths. We crammed way too many figures on the table, and the games dragged out interminably many times, but the games fueled my imagination and launched me on another hobby of trying to research the Napoleonic era versus just pushing figures.
Here’s my list of “Old School” rules:
- Empire III – Not for novices or occasional Napoleonic players. With the right group of dedicated players it can be a blast.
- Rally ‘Round the Flag – An old, relatively simple ACW set of rules that I played regularly throughout the 1980’s. I had no clue about ACW OB’s so I just painted up figs and gave them bogus names, but the games were fast, usually fun and the rules are still being played.
- Tank Chart – The old classic set of Micro-Armor rules for WWII. Artillery and infantry were afterthoughts, as the game was all about armor and penetration values. I saw nothing wrong with a force of Sherman 76’s fighting Panthers & Tigers as a ‘normal’ WWII battle. Having worked at both GHQ and CinC in the past, I’ve sworn off micro-armor altogether, but I played many, many games of Tank Charts at the old Little Tin Soldier Shop back in the day.
- Clear For Action – An old set of WWII Naval rules that I remember little about to be honest. I did have a small collection of 1/2400 ships for the US & Japan, though.
So that’s my list. Most “old-schoolers” would probably shudder at the thought of playing such rules, but these were what was in vogue back when I was an impressionable youth, and as such are the kind of games I still think about playing, even if the memories in my head are better than the real games were.