19 November 2012

When Wargaming Was a "Sport"

Yes, there was an article about wargaming - tabletop minis gaming - in Sports Illustrated. That's right: Sports Illustrated.

The observation post I picked to watch the battle was about halfway between a railroad yard and the plateau on which the opposing armies were deployed. I had to squint to see through the blue haze and intermittent puffs of smoke that floated across the terrain. Some of the troops to the east were about to haul an artillery piece over a bridge, and behind them a group of cavalrymen was preparing to charge. To the west, the enemy had concealed some of his men in a pass behind a mountain. It occurred to me that I was one of the few war correspondents in history who ever had been afforded such a splendid panoramic view of an engagement, and again I peered through my glasses at the troops moving into position.

The men looked very small at that distance. For that matter, they looked very small up close, for each was only 1[3/16] inches tall. Their battlefield was a 5-by-9-foot piece of green-painted plywood set atop a pool table. The blue haze came from a gel placed over a flood-light by a photographer, and the smoke came from a smoke-pill apparatus made for him by a friend in the Special Effects department at NBC-TV. The rolling stock in the railroad yard behind me was all Lionel, my observation post was an aluminum tubular kitchen chair and my glasses were not field but nose. I was in Bristol, Conn. to cover a war game that was about to be played by two devotees of this little-known sport, the brothers Bob and Charlie Sweet (left).

President of the North Side Bank, a graduate of Washington and Lee (he played guard there on a Southern Conference championship team in 1934), Charlie Sweet is a 50-year-old outdoorsman whose husky body imprisons, although not very effectively, the spirit of a boy. For years he took time off from his various civic activities (he is on virtually every public-minded committee in Bristol) to make model aircraft, both gas-and rubber-band-powered, as well as model boats, trains and other toys. As a boy he had played with tin or lead soldiers, and around 1950 he found himself thinking that it might be fun to play with them again.

Today Charlie Sweet is one of the foremost collectors of tin soldiers—or military miniatures, as they are called more formally—in the country. He owns around 6,000 figures, most of which he designed, cast and painted in his basement workshop. Sweet is just one of approximately 10,000 collectors, a figure vouched for by Jack Scruby of Visalia, Calif., a military-miniature manufacturer who also serves as a kind of information center for this breed of hobbyist. "Collectors are divided into three major categories," Scruby said recently. "There are those who just collect soldiers—some of the more famous ones are Churchill, Eisenhower, the writer James Jones, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and King Farouk. Then there are those who get their kicks out of making their own figures, usually in plaster-of-paris molds, casting them in lead and painting them—or who just like to paint the unpainted figures I make and sell. Finally, there are those who play war games with them. Some collectors have really tremendous armies. Leon Chodnicki of Baltimore has more than 40,000 figures, and Gus Hansen of Chicago has at least that many also."

There's a LOT more. Seriously. We excerpted part of page 1. It's 4 pages. Go read.

By: Brant

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