Grognards

In the vernacular of game lore, a "grognard" is one who plays board wargames (fn1).  "Grognard-capture" came along later as an apparent dilution (and a mildly derogatory one at that) to stand for hard-core gamers in general (fn2).   Perhaps the latter hijack is the better sense of capture.

I spent the last couple of weeks reminiscing (with help) about what the board wargame legacy is (or, as stated, perhaps it's obituary is premature).  Personally I look to the wane of this genre of play as a symbol of the larger demise of turn-based gaming in general.  Lazy RTS!  [humor].  Lazy, lazy First Person! [more humor!]  More seriously, I'd like to collect pointers to the recollections of others on this and related subject.

I list a number of essays/posts that I have that are in turn entry points to other resources (avoiding duplication).  In general I am somewhat disappointed with the quantity of commentary that I've been able to find.   I'm sure it is generational - every Tom and Sally MMORPG player is an online commentator in this age, but in that age...

I would be most glad for insight and comment from players - X or otherwise.

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fn1.

Grognard . (Fr. “grumbler” from Fr. “grogner” 1. snarl 2. grunt 3. growl 4. grumble [râler] 5. gripe [râler] and Fr. “grognon” 1. grouch 2. curmudgeon) may mean:

Napoleon Bonaparte’s name for old veteran soldiers; specifically the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard (Grenadiers à Pied de la Garde Impériale).
slang for someone who enjoys playing board wargames. This use is supposed to have been coined by John Young in the early 1970s while employed by Simulations Publications, Inc. Originally this term referred to the “old guard” of gamers who were playing military board games prior to 1969…

fn2. 

Via Greg Costikyan: "Grognard" was a slang term for members of Napoleon's Old Guard. Hardcore board wargamers adopted it as a term for themselves. By extention, grognard capture means capture of a game style by the hardest-core and most experienced players--to the ultimate exclusion of others.


Comments on Grognards:

Marty says:

When I worked on WWIIOnline we used Grognard to describe the hardcore sim players who would question every tweak we did to a vehicle or game play.

While I loved the WWIIOnline community (some of the most dedicated MMO players there are), it is also clear that if you cater your game to Gorgnards.. you will most likely only retain Grognards.

If we consider it, its not surprising that Grognard may adequately describe a large percentage of the population of small niche MMO's.

-Marty

Posted Aug 3, 2007 10:29:54 PM | link

Matt K. says:

You might be interested in my blog, Zone of Influence, where I write about grognardom and related matters on a fairly regular basis: http://zoi.wordherders.net

Posted Aug 3, 2007 10:41:23 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Heh -- brings back memories of playing Panzer Blitz with my older brothers 30 years ago. But also, strangely enough, of just last week on vacation with my brother and his two sons. The older one, aged 12, was completely immersed in Heroscape (rpg.net review here). He even GM'd a game for his dad and uncle with a board layout he poured his heart and soul into designing. I'm sure those more versed in wargames than me may have good reasons to include or exclude it here, but it rung all those old turn-based, tabletop hex-grid bells for me. And this is a game that he got into because all his friends resist playing the D&D he keeps suggesting! Just one case, and I haven't really looked into the game further, but it certainly seems to be expanding rapidly in add-on packs, etc.

Posted Aug 3, 2007 10:41:26 PM | link

nate_combs says:

Matthew>
You might be interested in my blog, Zone of Influence
-----------------

Oops. I added it to the resource list in the post.

Posted Aug 3, 2007 11:26:59 PM | link

Neils Clark says:

I just had to gloat...

In 1992 I totally cleaned up - buying about 30 different paper and dice books off of my aunt and uncle for $20. My cousin was none too pleased when he came home from college for the summer. I was 10.

While I was writing this, I couldn't help but think of the duct-taped armor, swords (boffer swords (sp?)) and shields that they would LARP with.

When the nostalgia bug bites...

Posted Aug 4, 2007 2:19:40 AM | link

Rob MacD says:

I've been writing a series of posts on the history of tabletop roleplaying games, which obviously involves the legacy of 1960s & 70s wargames. There's more to come, but you can see the first couple of posts at:
http://www.robmacdougall.org/index.php/category/geek-archaeology/

Posted Aug 4, 2007 11:36:14 AM | link

Rob MacD says:

Or, in HTML: http://www.robmacdougall.org/index.php/category/geek-archaeology/.

Posted Aug 4, 2007 11:37:28 AM | link

Shava Nerad/Shava Suntzu in SL says:

Back when my ex was community manager from Dynamix (of blessed memory), in their flight sim group, they referred to grognards as being those folks (esp. in the Red Baron series community) who would sent corrections like, "The decal on the tail of the 1912 Fokker was not centered as you have it. You need to adjust it so the bottom is about 10% up from the base of the tail rather than 15%."

(And for those grogards in the reading audience, I am totally making that up and have no idea if there was a 1912 Fokker...:)

Posted Aug 4, 2007 12:18:59 PM | link

Puzzled says:

I'm a little puzzled by this thread. The hobby goes on, is not going in circles, and continues to be an interesting one to follow. It's a niche, but it's not dying.

Try this: Go to boardgamegeek.com and do an advanced search of the games, looking for those in the wargames category, published between, say 2005 and 2007.

Posted Aug 4, 2007 3:22:23 PM | link

Matt K. says:

"The hobby goes on, is not going in circles, and continues to be an interesting one to follow. It's a niche, but it's not dying."

Actually I'd say that sums it up just about right.

"Try this: Go to boardgamegeek.com and do an advanced search of the games, looking for those in the wargames category, published between, say 2005 and 2007."

There are about 100-120 new board wargames published each year. Therefore, such a search ought to turn up well over 350 games.

FWIW, most board wargames these days see print runs anywhere from around 2000-5000. That may seem puny, especially compared to blockbuster Euros, but go ask your favorite university press what *their* print runs are like. ;-)

Posted Aug 4, 2007 6:46:59 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

@Thomas: I like Heroscape. A lot. I got it for my son when he was about 5. Too young to play by the rules (which are RPG-litest w/ everyone playing NPCs), but a good age to start learning concepts.

He loved (and loves) putting together those lay-outs. For those unfamiliar, the game is played on plastic hexes that snap together (quite easily), both horizontally, and vertically. So you can make hills, gullies, volcanoes, etc. There are expansion packs with lava stuff, ice, castle walls, etc. to add on with, and additional character sets, besides the really decent bunch that come w/ the starter set.

Yes, it's odd having army men, spies, dragons, zombies, robots and samurai all on the board at once. But it's not about deep. It's about fun.

What my boy likes to do is spend a couple hours on the board set-up, and then just free-form roleplay, with me, with the characters and environment. His rules are very loose -- you get to do one thing each turn. And he gets to play the robot/mech things, the big one of which is indestructible. ;-)

So we use the set to tell stories, basically. At 7, he's still not that interested in rules. And that's fine by me. I'd rather have him be creative at this point.

I remember buying blank hex-paper and blank punch-out chits and making my own games w/ my friend, Tom. We spent more time creating layouts, making up the rules and defining units than playing. So what my son is doing seems familiar.

My first memory of these kinda games was "Tactics II." And some kind of "Caesar's Legions" game after that. And LOtR, the boardgame. That was awesome.

My fondest memories of this type are of the Steve Jackson "Micro Games." I'd rarely play the same game more than a dozen times before getting eager for a new one. An Avalon Hill game could cost $30. A Micro Game was (if I 'member right), about $10. "Invasion of the Air Eaters" was great. And "Mele" and "Wizzard" (which became "The Fantasy Trip" and then "GURPS") were my intro to RPGs.

Oh, and RISK of course. The grand-daddy of them all. Played that while camping so much one fall in the Berkshires that I nearly got frostbit from sitting in one place.

I play "Settlers of Cattan" with some of my friends' kids at the beach every summer. That seems about as far as they want to go with "deep."

Although I think the game became diluted (and kinda "expansionized sad"), I was thrilled to see the attention "Magic the Gathering" got when it started out. No, not a board game. But differently the same.

Posted Aug 5, 2007 1:32:59 AM | link

Tom Hunter says:

I started playing 3rd Reich in the 70s. Then the GDW games of WWII that went down to the battalion level, they even had a specific peice for one of the monster German rail guns.

Later on I got into naval miniatures and even wrote my own rule set for WWI naval combat.

I'm a bit afraid to admit this, but within the last two years I wrote a long analysis of the naval gunnery combat system in a (computer) game called War in the Pacific.

I don't have enough time for these games any more so if I do play its on the computer. It has always been a niche, but I doubt they will go away. For a certain kind of guy (almost all guys in that hobby) they are just too fascinating.

I'm not sure what the connection between Grognards and Terra Nova is, unless a lot of contributors to TN turn out to be Grognards.

Posted Aug 6, 2007 9:21:05 PM | link

nate_combs says:

>the connection between Grognards and Terra Nova
---

Here are two questions that have rattled around here before on this topic:

1.) Do "virtual worlds" preclude turn-based 3rd person interaction?

2.) Matt K's question/issue (mentioned in Teenage Grognard) is the 800 lb one:


Perhaps most of all, though, wargames fed my interest in narrative, which in turn has something to do with why I eventually went to graduate school in English and not military history. Here, I realize, I’m treading on a raging debate in contemporary game studies (that may or may not have taken place according to the latest accounts), but my wargame experience compels me beyond a shadow of a doubt to believe that games can be, can become, narrative. A key move or assault, a well-played defense, a deft maneuver or a tenacious holding action: some badly-printed die-cut little cardboard square (labeled “Second Armored Division”; “Third Platoon”; “82nd Airborne”; “The Horse Guards”) would take on a life of its own as the rest of the game ebbed and flowed around its aura. I played the games solitaire and tried not to take sides—I never deliberately made a “bad” move or fudged the dice—but if a favorite unit was suddenly cut down by enemy fire or suffered an ignominious defeat I was shaken by it.


For those inclined to revisit the Ye Old Punch and Judy show - Timothy did it best:

http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2004/09/ye_olde_discipl.html

Posted Aug 6, 2007 9:43:02 PM | link

Ace Albion says:

"1.) Do "virtual worlds" preclude turn-based 3rd person interaction?"

Turn based 3d virtual car fighting thinger:
http://www.dark-wind.com/

Posted Aug 7, 2007 3:48:34 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

People who played virtual worlds in the early 1990s were called "dinos" by later generations (short for "dinosaur" - see 1.25 in the rec.games.mud FAQ.

Those of us who had been playing for 10 or 12 years before the earliest dinos were, of course, amused by this term. It's also amusing to note that only people who are themselves now dinos would ever use the term these days.

Richard

Posted Aug 7, 2007 9:20:45 AM | link

greglas says:

> I'm not sure what the connection between Grognards and Terra Nova is, unless a lot of contributors to TN turn out to be Grognards.

Check this out. I think there's a fair amount of overlap -- wargames are some of the earliest examples of simulative play and MUDs trace pretty cleanly back to table-top RPGs and cleanly forward to WoW.

Posted Aug 7, 2007 10:04:03 AM | link

John Rice says:

I don't know if I was ever called a Dino or a Grognard, but I do recall hours at Risk, and later entire weekends devoted to Axis & Allies. I know my wife would call it "Nerdplay."

What fascinates me in this discussion are the possibilities in playing with the abstract. The first football game broadcast between Texas A&M and University of Texas was radioed in Morse code. To audience members at the distant campus, tokens were pushed around a mockup of a football field to give them an idea of what was happening. Later, sports broadcasts went full voice, then were televised. It seems gaming is undergoing a similar transformation as technology progresses.

Posted Aug 8, 2007 1:03:20 AM | link

Dr. Cat says:

Actually, to be more precise, RPGs trace back to wargames, miniatures battles in particular. TSR, the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons, stood for something like "Tactical Simulations Rules" if I remember correctly. They were started as a company to publish miniatures rules products like Chainmail. When they invented Dungeons and Dragons as an elaboration of their fantasy miniatures battles system, with more story and with a continuation of the same game from one get-together to the next, the original rules booklets said that you had to buy a copy of chainmail so you could use it to play out and larger scale battles your characters became involved in.

Interestingly, they've branched back out into the miniatures battles genre again in recent years, and not for the first time. This time fueled by the whole "collectible miniatures" genre spurred by Wiz Kids and their various products (HeroClix, etc.) The map sheets for playing the D&D miniatures game on looked pretty cool to me, I need to get some of those. Um, purely for "research purposes" of course!

Posted Aug 8, 2007 4:55:35 PM | link

greglas says:

Yeah, actually "Tactical Studies Rules" if I got it right. It's at the link above. See this and and this. :-)

Posted Aug 8, 2007 5:07:38 PM | link

Matt K. says:

John Rice,

>possibilities in playing with the abstract

You might find this entry on my Zone of Influence blog of interest:

http://www.zoi.wordherders.net/?p=16

Posted Aug 8, 2007 7:01:50 PM | link

superchimp says:

I believe there will always be a niche for traditional turn based board gamers. There have never been a large number of these folks, and with all the competing forms of entertainment these days, there may well be less than before, but there will always be some.

I grew up playing games from Avalon Hill, SPI, TSR and Steve Jackson, but I also played "Wizardry" on the old Apple II with my pals. For me, it was just another way to play.

Nowadays we have consoles, handheld games, player-vs-computer single player games, and online games against live opponents. There is a lot to choose from. Computers can either provide an AI opponent who is always ready to play when we are, or provide an online gateway to live players -- both are terribly convenient and helpful to players who don't have a gaming group.

However, nothing replaces a game with a live group. When your last Russian infantry unit rolls to save Moscow from the invading Nazis, or your halfling thief survives a trap that wipes out the rest of the party, there is something magical shared when others are physically present.

Online play can be very fun, but it does not provide the same type of human interaction that being physically present does.


Posted Aug 15, 2007 3:44:55 PM | link

Amarilla says:

@ superchimp : excellent ! If i may add : because , the final goal is to have a human interaction, and a human is always " anything " + its physical body. This is the sole explanation of WoW's success : the real life ties existing in guilds. The difference between " peoples " and " populaces ".

Posted Aug 15, 2007 5:09:08 PM | link

Grog says:

One thing to keep in mind about grognards, is that if you feed them every once in a while they are extremely loyal. The kind of loyalty many a big business firm would just die for.

After all, how many of those wargaming publishers have been supported by nearly the same group of customers for years, or even decades? They're informed, willing to advertise, and many will gladly share most anything they know or have the time to find out for just a little recognition.

While you shouldn't let them run your business, learning how to keep and profit from your grognard market segment can be very valuable indeed. Especially if you can get them to do work for you.

Posted Aug 16, 2007 2:31:57 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Again, indeed :-) Valuable post, especially for the non-WoW VW's , considering how fast those VWs become very specialized niches. Because at the end ( of the food-chain ? ) , no matter how many godzillion accounts you claim, no matter how global and " human-cornishy " pretend your MMORPG to be , no matter the hype ....at the end, we pay you because we love your game and we respect your attitude. When it's the case , ofcourse. Fear more our indifference.

Posted Aug 16, 2007 2:46:42 AM | link

Endie says:

Funnily enough I was just thinking about the reasons for the decline of that most famous off-shoot of wargames, and perhaps the most famous turn-based game also: D&D (in the context of the new, hybrid on/offline version).

I have stacks of Avalon Hill and other similar wargames. I have painted miniatures. But I haven't played them in years. I have, however, played some of the excellent, if niche, turn-based computer wargames. The Panzer General series, particularly played multi-player, offered me everything that the paper version would have, but I could also play it single-player and always have an opponent.

Convenience, absolutely predictable rules, ease-of-setup, single-player potential: these all provide reasons for my own drift away from rolling two dice and checking the combat outcome myself. I just wish I could get a digital version of Imperium Romanum II ;)

Posted Aug 21, 2007 9:53:55 AM | link

Don MacVittie says:

I hear what you're saying, but I still prefer paper/cardboard/lead for all of the above. I play computer games, but face-to-face is more fun for me. I like to BS while playing, and I enjoy moving my little counters or lead pieces about. ;-) Break out one of your boardgames and play it - preferably with a friend who knows the game. You'll remember why both still exist.

Don.

Posted Aug 22, 2007 3:21:23 AM | link

Endie says:

No, we agree entirely: I would still break out my boardgames more often if I had the uninterrupted time and the similarly available opponents. But I don't, and the PC doesn't mind me playing for half an hour then coming back to a scenario the next day.

I play one PnP game every week - have done in that campaign world for 20 years - but that is odd, probably ultimately unsustainable and, sadly, increasingly anachronistic.

Posted Aug 22, 2007 4:47:37 AM | link

Don MacVittie says:

So if I were to say that I ran two table top RPGs, a Skype-Based RPG, and hosted a miniatures game, then that would make me truly odd? ;-)

We lost some players to WoW, but we saw it as a sad addiction problem, not as a choice for more options. In general, our players toyed with WoW, but prefer the table, and for most it's only a day every other weekend.

Am I arguing with you? No, I think the end of PnP games is inevitable, I just don't think it's imminent. We're still in the "The Web facilitates" stage, give it another decade or so.

Don.

Posted Aug 27, 2007 11:51:06 AM | link

Endie says:

I think that we just swapped positions. I don't think that the PnP game is doomed, I just think that it will change in appearance. It won't be pen and paper, but I do believe that the social, multi-player, turn-based wargame will revive. The potential market - even if only a tiny percentage of the online gaming crowd - is growing just as that crowd grows. I think that that growing market will continue to attract more and more niche publishers back in, and that the tools available to them will grow substantially in flexibility and power.

And yes, Don: you are truly odd ;)

Posted Aug 29, 2007 11:14:20 AM | link