Charlie Sweet:

Pioneer Proponent of Wargaming Dead at 87

By Bob Beattie


"A Little War Can be a Lot of Fun."

--Charlie Sweet, 1914-2001

Within a short year, a second of our Old Guard has been taken up from us. Last year it was Tony Bath, now with much sadness I learn of the passing of Charlie Sweet on June 6, 2001, at the age of 87.

I suspect very few who entered the hobby after 1970 even know of Charlie. He wrote no commercially available rules, he marketed no figures, he edited no magazine nor was an officer of any national wargame group. Yet, he probably did more than any one to make wargaming the openly accepted activity it is today.

Imagine, he was born the year after Little Wars was published and thus lived through the whole history of the hobby to date. I call him an Old Guard because he was a member of the original subscriber list for the first wargame magazine, The War Game Digest, edited by Jack Scruby. He contributed many articles to that publication too. He, along with Tony Bath, were the only two to be on the original lists of both TWGD and The Slingshot.

It has been my pleasure to know Charlie since 1968. One Fall Sunday, the New England Wargamers Association that Dick Bryant and I had formed took a field trip down from Boston to Bristol Connecticut to see Charlie of whom we had read so much about in Scruby’s magazine. There were about 6 of us, all new to organized gaming. Charlie welcomed us and gave the grand tour of his collection. We all had maybe a couple hundred figures among us so seeing Charlie’s floor to ceiling closets stacked with boxes of SAE and Britains and Allemyr figures shocked us. We then proceeded to play a game on his then famous square grided table with hundreds of home-made Revolutionary War figures. I am not talking home casting others designs. These were all hand designed, cast, and painted to create a collection of every unit extant in the Revolution on all sides - six man regiments of each unit.

In his ancients games, he used catapults with clay tips to shoot at the troops. All in all a great experience for us, and for me an inspiration to what a wargame collection could be, and the wargame life lived.

So what was it that he did to create the hobby as it is today. He was the first adult with an important position in life (a bank president no less), if not the first period, to demonstrate that real men can play wargames. In 1965 Sports Illustrated carried a long article on Charlie and wargaming in general. See the Courier Timeline for the complete text of the article with title as shown at the top of this commentary:

He later appeared on TV with Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite. As a result of this article and TV, Jack Scruby reported a tremendous rise in requests for information about the hobby and sales of figures. This article is surely the definitive take-off point for wargaming as it is today. Before, where there were a few hundred adults in the US, at least, gaming quietly with a friend or family member, after came the growth of clubs, magazines, figures, rules, conventions. Maybe not all a causal result but certainly strongly influenced by Charlie allowing himself to be shown playing games with toy soldiers.

It was an informative and serious article, the author caught on that this was fun but not funny. Just about all the rules that Charlie presented are the same as we use today, except for the shooting cannon. Change the names of the figure makers and the article would pass today.

After I moved from Boston, I did not see Charlie as he retired and spent much time with his other hobby -- fishing. Then at one Historicon I was running what I then called a Father-Son game and who should arrive to play but 70-some Charlie and his now adult son David. Luckily, I got to see Charlie most years at the con. He was still gaming and buying figures. He was working on his new 15mm Byzantines and their opponents just this year.

He was one who shared the hobby and he even lent me a complete set of Scruby’s Wargamers Digests to copy.

The hobby is by far the better for Charlie’s contributions and I will miss him much.

Let me leave with Charlie’s closing quote from the SI article:

"When I first started playing wargames, a lot of my friends around here thought I was doing it because of my three sons. I know it may sound silly to some people, but I wasn’t doing any such thing. Everybody to his own taste, I say. Many men I know love soldiers and would enjoy playing with them but won’t admit it. Also it’s an instructive game. You learn a lot of history playing it. And you learn to use your wits too. As far as I am concerned , I’d much rather move a soldier on a tabletop than run a model railroad. It’s a fascinating game -- and anybody who says it’s childish, why he just plain doesn’t know what he is talking about. Would you call Winston Churchill childish?"

No, I wouldn’t, and I certainty would not call Charlie Sweet childish either. Thanks for everything.


A tiny sidelight of hobby history

Charlie said something about skirmish games when we all visited him that first time that led us to discuss the idea further on the way home. We took his idea a step further and wondered if you could do a game where each figure was one person with various traits for combat, movement, shooting, perception, morale, etc. You would roll dice to determine the capabilities and then each figure would carry out his objectives. Was this one of the first discussions of role play games? We took it only so far as Leo Cronin’s Irish Rebellion game. Too bad we did not apply it to fantasy gaming that the group also invented.