All About Cat23

Cait Glasson

Okay, so, I'm reading the Pouch, like all good Dippers should, and like I encourage my fellow Cat23 members to do, and I'm coming across all these references to the gulf between those who play on the Judge, and the r.g.d. group, and the Cat23 bunch. So I thinks to myself, "Self," I thinks, "self, it's time we made some effort to build a bridge to that other community."

So call this building bridges.

Cat23 is a group of people who do PBEM Dip, moderated by human beings. As a concept, Cat23 originated on GEnie, back when it was spelled that way. Though I was on Genie in those days, I was a starving student (is there any other kind?), and hadn't the money to venture into the Games Round Table. GEnie was organized into these Round Tables, which were themselves organized into Categories. In the Games Round Table, Diplomacy was played in Category 23 -- thus the name of the group.

It came to pass, in the fullness of time, that Genie was taken over by new owners, who changed the price structure. This caused a giant exodus from the service, and the decision was taken by some of Cat23's regulars that the time had come to move on. And so it was. Cat23 moved to the Internet, retaining the name to keep the sense of identity, and it has since grown quite impressively. Currently, the membership stands at something over 200 people, from all over the world. Although games to date have been conducted exclusively in English, we have members from all the usual places: Australia (where we know they don't speak English ), Sweden, Germany, France, Brazil, Italy, Israel, Slovakia, South Africa. Oh, and Canada. Mustn't forget our vocal Canadian contingent.

Games in Cat23 are generally run on a one turn per week basis, adjudicated by human GameMasters, who start games whenever they feel like it. Largely, the games are of the standard version, with white, partial press the norm, although in recent months several variants have been played: three games of Modern and a game of Classical are running currently.

Okay, now you're saying to yourself, "Self," you say, "self, now why would I want to play in Cat23, with messy, error-prone human adjudication, rather than on a nice, clean, computer-run Judge?" And your self has a good question.

Cat23 is, in a word, community. Several of the people who were on Genie in the beginning are still there -- Ray Setzer, who's written for The Pouch on occasion, is among them. I joined a year ago, right when Game 126 was forming (all Cat23 games are given sequential numbers by Ray, since results are posted to a common list, and it helps us to keep them all straight). Got in, and got creamed by a pair of the Cat's veterans, who F-G'ed my England into brutal submission in no time. Since then, I've run several games as a GM, and been asked to (and accepted) become the Moderator of the Cat23 lists.

We run several mailing lists to keep that sense of community, each with its own purpose. Cat23-L, the main list, is for game results: this is where we as Game Masters let people know what happened this turn. New games are announced on this list, End-of-Game statements get posted here, and broadcast press is here. Cat23-Chat is the community itself, where members can taunt, congratulate, ridicule or otherwise interact with one another. On this list, we've heard in the last year about several children born to Cat23 members, birthdays, discussions of Canadian and American nationalism -- all kinds of topics. This, for me, is the list that makes Cat23 different from playing on a judge.

Other lists include our Cat23-GM list, which allows discussion of adjudication issues by those who are volunteering as GM's, and our Academy lists. The Academy was formed last February as an inner group of Cat23 members who want to play in a highly-dedicated environment. Membership is by invitation only, as the members invite players they've spotted who are quality diplomats, and is limited to 64. The Academy could be compared to setting a high dedication rating on your judge game because you only want the players who will really commit.

So what's really the difference? In game terms, there's the anti-gunboat effect: you get to know your opponents (and they you), you know their strengths, their weaknesses. This can have positive and negative effects from the point-of-view of conducting diplomacy, in that the meta-game -- the ongoing struggle to be the best player in the community -- can affect how you play your games. You're a little more careful about who you stab and when, because you want to keep your reputation at a higher level. It allows you a tool in conducting negotiations: "Turkey, well, we all know that Brian Ecton stabs everyone, remember?" Or, "Check around -- people know I'm a woman of my word." On the downside, it means you have to watch your reputation -- like anything else in Dip, every issue has two or more edges. Become too well-known, and you risk becoming an instant target for everyone starting a game.

Running a game in Cat23 can be a really good learning experience, too. I've learned the rules more thoroughly in the last year of being a GM for Cat23 games than I'd ever learned in playing the game for the previous fifteen years FTF. Obscure rules questions, convoy paradoxes, all of these things come up, and are discussed on the Cat23-GM list, with the aim of making sure we make good, valid decisions.

A different aspect is the ability to play "themed" games. These can range from simply naming a game "Les Miserables," and having the GM add quotes from Victor Hugo to the results posts, while not expecting the players to play en röle, to a full-fledged Norse Mythology Dip, as happened recently (Freya won, by the way). If you'd like to add a little role-playing to your Dipping, you have the option of joining a themed game, and writing in the style of your favorite character -- a current game of Youngstown has a Greek Mythology theme (in which I have the good fortune to be Athena, Empress of Japan), and the level of writing in the diplomacy conducted has been wonderful.

The Web's growth has allowed us a really pleasant phenomenon: adding full-colour maps to the game results. Several members of Cat23 have volunteered their time and effort to maintain extensive archives of current games, allowing players a full-time chance to see how their game is going.

Games tend to come to solo wins more often in Cat23 than in some places Dip is played; there has been much speculation about why this is, with no definitive answer arrived at as yet. Being a community, we use this tendency toward solo wins to hold what have come to be known as Mag7 games, where the last seven solo winners sit down to play it out amongst themselves. We do tournaments, on occasion, such as the current International Team Tournament being run by Maurice Jean out of his Cat23 Quebecoise Embassy.

"Sure," your self is saying now, "sure, but there must be disadvantages?" Well, I'd have to admit, there can be flaws, of a sort, in the system. A human GM has its advantages, but it can be a problem, too: a different GM means a different style, whether of looser or tighter interpretation of orders, lesser or greater tolerance for missing deadlines, and the like. For this reason, all Cat23 GM's are encouraged to post House Rules, wherein they attempt to set out their philosophy of being a GM. My own house rules are posted at the Babecavian Embassy -- my personal Dip site -- and I send them directly to each player at game start.

Also, gunboat games can be harder to run -- it means much more work for the GM, because there's no mechanism to allow for the forwarding of press.

Given these caveats, though, there's good standard of play, and games are very rarely left waiting for a replacement player very long -- replacements tend to jump in within minutes of a position coming open. And while there is no dedication rating system as such, there is a definite awareness of a player's tendencies when a game starts.

Anybody interested in joining Cat23, please dawdle along to Ray Setzer's Introduction to Cat23 page, or to one of the various Cat23 Embassies on the Web, and find out how to get subscribed. Good players -- and fresh meat -- are always welcome.

Cait Glasson

Cait Glasson -- the Cavebabe -- has been playing Dip FTF since she was 14 (too many years ago), and Internet Dip for a little over a year. Turn-ons include long-term alliances, Modern Dip, and a good turn of phrase; turn-offs include using threats as diplomacy and mail-forwarding. The Babecavian Embassy has more of her writing on and about the game.

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