The first question anyone writing about WDC's history must deal with is, "Why did it take so long?" After all, the first North American Diplomacy Convention was held in the mid-1960s, and was soon followed by similar events in the UK, Europe, and elsewhere. The answer is as simple as it is obvious. WDC was an idea waiting to happen. Waiting for the right hobbyist to come along and make it so.
In the meantime the various national Diplomacy hobbies
in the USA, Canada, the UK, France, Netherlands, Austria, Australia, New
Zealand --- indeed, almost anywhere Diplomacy was being marketed
--- had begun to develop their own ways of playing the game and conducting
Diplomacy events. It's important to realize that the sheer number
of editions of the game, each with its own map, rules, and game piece colors,
contributed to the initial and on-going fragmentation of the worldwide
hobby. This fragmentation did not promote the hobby's growth, but
it did guarantee its survival. Still, a large and dynamic postal
Diplomacy community all over the world managed to keep in touch through
their postal games and publications. And, over time, many of these
hobbyists met face-to-face, even if only one-on-one. In was these
contacts, more than the occasional visitor to a face-to-face gaming event,
that kept the various national hobbies in touch and built lasting bridges
between them. By the late 1980s the time was right.
THE BIRTH CYCLE
The father of WDC was Richard Walkerdine, of the UK. He was the first person to verbalize the idea of a "world Diplomacy championship event" to the national hobbies and the first person to work, really work, at getting people together for an international Diplomacy event. The mother of WDC, I suppose, was that event, MANORCON, one of the longest running board gaming events in the world. It's still going on and it still features Diplomacy. During the first half of 1988, Richard promoted his idea and the event by inviting anybody and everybody he could to come to that summer's MANORCON. When Allan Calhamer, the inventor of the game agreed to show up, the international responses began to come in.
And so, during the summer of 1988 the world's first WDC was held at Birmingham University in Birmingham, England. The Diplomacy event was primus inter pares among the scores of gaming events for the hundreds of players attending, including quite a few from Europe, and a few from the United States, and even Australia. British Diplomacy tradition dictates that the national individual championship is the prize at their winter event, MIDCON; and their national team championship is the big Diplomacy prize at their summer event, MANORCON. It was a surprise to many of the foreigners to discover that the Brits considered a team championship to be as important as or even more important than an individual title. But, when all the playing was over, it was a Brit, Phil Day, who was the first WDC individual champion. It was also a surprise to see the dozens of British postal publishers on hand walking around passing out hundreds of copies of their publications (many of 50, 60, or 70 pages) to those attending. It seemed as if the entire British Diplomacy hobby, postal and face to face, had gathered for a long weekend of games and good companionship. Walkerdine and his team ran an excellent gaming event. In addition, he worked hard behind the scenes to promote the idea of an on going WDC event. Several informal meetings, usually combined with good food and drink, rallied the foreigners behind him. Somewhere along the way we agreed that a second such event should be held two years later in North America, and a third two years after that in Australia. Then, two years after that, we would all return to Birmingham and decide what to do next. And so it happened.
By Memorial Day weekend 1990 David Hood's highly popular annual DIXIECON at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus was ready to host the first North American WDC. Hood's combination of a charming southern university campus venue, a primarily Diplomacy oriented gaming event, and a lot of hard work had persuaded a fair number of American Dippers, a small army of Brits, and some assorted foreigners to show up. There were some cultural lessons to be learned, for sure. If foreigners had been surprised at how much the Brits drank in England, they were shocked at how much they consumed and bought in Chapel Hill. The Brits had to learn the difference between Southern and Yankee styles of playing Diplomacy. Although Jason Bergman was the individual title champion at Chapel Hill, the real winners were those who got to play in the in impromptu "top board" game that pitted the best American vs. the best foreign players. When that game was over all the participants were winners because they had learned that their national hobby didn't have a monopoly on the best Diplomacy players in the world. Each of them went home and spread the word. And, as promised, the nod for the next WDC event site went to Canberra, Australia.
Few Dippers, including many Ozzies, realize it, but the Australia/New Zealand Diplomacy hobbies are so old they've actually gone through three incarnations over the last thirty years. WDC III, hosted by Luke Clutterbuck in Canberra (for the same reason the Ozzies have their capital there --- it's central location) came at the end of their second cycle. Although those who gathered, including some foreign players from the UK, France, and the States enjoyed a well run event; WDC III did not achieve its two main objectives: promoting the local hobby and attracting foreign visitors. Within a year or so the Australian Diplomacy hobby was practically dead; and few foreigners attended the Canberra event, primarily for cost reasons. The individual title went to Steve Gould.
And so the first cycle ended. It had demonstrated
that the idea of WDC was viable and that the various national Diplomacy
hobbies would support it. It had also showed that much work remained
to be done before the WDC would be a permanent fixture on the Diplomacy
gaming circuit. Most importantly, WDC had survived, and people were
looking forward to voicing their ideas about what should be done next in
Birmingham in 1994.
THE TERRIBLE THREE
Some of what follows may not be pleasant to read, especially for the participants of the events described. However, in the interests of historical accuracy (or at least in describing what I saw) I have decided to "tell it like it was." Others have, endlessly, done the same, and no doubt will disagree with my interpretation. That is their right. If any errors of fact are found, please let me know. My goal here is simply to lay out the story as I experienced it.
I call the third set of WDC events (IV, V, and VI) The Terrible Three, a term only a parent will appreciate. They were events of learning by trial and error. Unfortunately, we made more errors than we should have. Fortunately, WDC seems to have survived and appears no worse for its experiences during those early formative years.
In 1994 we again gathered in
Birmingham at MANORCON to decide WDC's future and, coincidentally, enjoy
our fourth WDC event. By now Richard Walkerdine, although still participating,
had turned over management of the event to Iain Bowen. The format
of the event had changed little in the intervening six years. The
chief difference was that the British hobby had lost much of its enthusiasm
for the idea of a "world" Diplomacy event, paralleling their real world
attitudes toward Europe and the world in general. The number of foreigners
attending had risen considerably. The French contingent was the biggest
to land in the UK since Hastings or perhaps Dunkirk. In addition
there were sizable groups from Scandinavia, the States, and elsewhere.
Walking into the room on the first day one could sense the difference.
In 1988, foreigners were welcomed. In 1994, they were tolerated.
Barely. Fortunately, British manners saved the day.
The gaming was hot, furious, and bloody. For the first time, a foreigner, Pascal Montagna from France, won a WDC individual championship title on another country's home turf.
After several years of discussion and much debate, the tired and hot participants gathered late at night for a meeting to consider WDC's future. That future was outlined in a charter document presented by the event organizers. Alas, parliamentary procedure is an art form, as well as a book of rules, and this meeting lacked a Betty Boothroyd to keep it disciplined and on track. When the meeting broke up, nothing had been accomplished EXCEPT to agree that another WDC would be held the following year in Paris, and, provisionally, another in North America a year after that. On the other hand, hobbyists had demonstrated that they cared about the WDC concept and wanted very much to keep the event alive. How to do that was still up in the air. What we had learned was that as far as parliaments and charters go the British had never bothered to write theirs down, the French changed theirs at will by demonstration, strike, or revolution, and the Americans, after spending 2 years writing theirs, had amended it, by law, over 250,000 times!
The French contingent at WDC IV had wheeled, dealed and bamboozled their way into hosting the 1995 WDC event in conjunction with their national Diplomacy championship. After years of effort the French had established their hobby as Europe's largest, best organized, and most divided. Xavier Blanchot had promised the international hobby the "best WDC ever," but could he or would the French Diplomacy hobby deliver on his promises? Perhaps it might have, but the event coincided with one of those periodic national shut-downs that paralyzes Paris. Few foreigners made it, and even the French hobbyists had to walk, roller skate, or use skateboards to get to the event site, a neighborhood town hall in one of Paris' districts. When it was all over a Frenchman, Bruno-Andre Giraudon, walked, literally, away with the individual title. Almost as an after thought the French affirmed the decision to host WDC VI in Columbus, Ohio the following year.
America's second WDC event was held in Columbus, Ohio over the 4th of July holiday 1996. It was vintage Diplomacy and vintage Americana at its best. Unfortunately, less than ten foreigners showed up to share it with us. The event, hosted by Bruce Reiff, was held in conjunction with ORIGINS, America's largest gaming event, at a lovely new convention center filled with 7,000 MAGIC players and 50 dedicated Dippers. After the first round the number of boards of Diplomacy played fell to an all time low. The individual championship title went to Pitt Crandlemire. Although few in number, the foreigners: including Montagna and Giraudon from France; Brendan Whyte from New Zealand; Leif Bergman and the other Swedish players gave strong performances both on the game boards and off. Several of the American players went away licking their wounds and thinking about revenge. DIXIECON, host of WDC II, was selected as the North American candidate to host WDC VIII in 1998.
WDC IV, V, and VI: each in its own way a less than
satisfactory experience; and not always because of any fault on the part
of the organizers or participants. As the now popular saying goes,
sometimes "Things happens." But three years in a row? Fresh
air was needed.
By now the WDC rotation had settled down to alternating between two of North America's four Diplomacy regions and Europe. The Australian hobby was comatose and the Brits, with the exception of their own worldwide Dip trotter, Shaun Derrick, were licking their wounds. Paris had given the nod for the 1997 event to GOTHCON, and that decision was ratified in Columbus. GOTHCON was Sweden's equivalent to ORIGINS, but a much smaller and user-friendly event, and it was to be held in Goteborg (Yo-to-borg) or Goth-en-burg (as the Brits and Batman fans liked to say); which for Americans was almost as esoteric a site as Columbus had been for the Swedes. The Swedish players had demonstrated time and again that they were world class players, but could they host a Diplomacy event, the Americans wondered as they made their way to Goteborg by ones and twos. The answer was a resounding yes! With twenty years practice GOTHCON had evolved into a two thousand or so player, long weekend event that covered all kinds of games. The Swedes had made the WDC the focus of their host event, something ORIGINS had not done. Leif Bergman did an outstanding job hosting the event and running the tournaments. When it was over the individual championship crown literally had gone to Cyrille Seven, of France; and NAMCON, in Namur, Belgium, had been selected to host WDC IX in 1999.
Once again during the traditional Memorial Day weekend in 1998, the dedicated few gathered at DIXIECON in Chapel Hill for the traditional southern version of Diplomacy covered with BBQ sauce. It was very different from the previous years event in Goteborg, and it was becoming clear that American WDC events and European WDC events were very different in many ways. See my discussion on that subject below. Still, the foreigners who did attend had a good time, the Brits stayed mostly sober, and the Belgians campaigned hard to persuade Americans to come to Namur the following year. The individual championship title went to a newcomer, Chris Martin, who was hot and in the process of putting together one of the best tournament championship records in recent hobby history. The choice to host the 2000 WDC event, again in North America, was AVALONCON in Hunt Valley, Maryland; an event name that quickly changed to THE BPA WORLD BOARDGAMING CHAMPIONSHIPS when Avalon Hill (the American manufacturer of Diplomacy) was acquired by HASBRO.
Easter time 1999 found Diplomacy players from all
over Europe, and a good handful from The United States, making their way
to Namur, Belgium to take part in the first Belgian hosted WDC. Without
a question, Namur was the most spectacular site yet for a WDC event; and
Jean-Louis Delattre and his team put on a truly world class event worthy
of that site. The Belgians had taken one of the most magnificent citadels
in the world, draped it with the flags of the participating countries,
and added four hundred varieties of Belgian bier! Even Vauban
must have smiled as he looked down (or up) on the proceedings. The
individual champion was Christian Dreyer from Sweden, not to be confused
with Chris Martin from the USA, the previous year's winner. Dreyer has
all the hair and ice cream, and Martin has all the tango steps!
Based on past experience, the next WDC which begins
the fourth three year cycle, will determine our course for the next three
events, but what does that mean? Not much, unless you happen to be
The 2000 WDC X was held
in early August in Hunt Valley, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore and close
(by American standards) to the US capital, Washington, D.C. The host event
was The BPA Championship, as explained above. The designated host was Jim
Yerkey. All three: venue, site, and host have years of experience.
Post-event impressions are still fresh on the memories of the attendees,
and I'm sure they will soon grace these pages and those in the Face
to Face section of The Diplomatic Pouch, if they haven't already.
Headed once again by Allan Calhamer, the
roster of those who attended included many of the biggest names
in the worldwide hobby, as well as many past WDC champions. The four
day event, held at a resort hotel, included a wide variety of
Diplomacy and related games. In addition, once again, those present considered
the future of WDC and its permanent organization.
That WDC has a future is a
given, and this is not something to be taken lightly. In spite of
all its problems, and they were and are many, WDC has done what it set
out to do: brought Diplomacy players and hobbyists from all over the world
together all over the world. Since its inception nearly a thousand
participants have attended nine events on three continents and in six countries.
The question now is, "what kind of future?" Do we continue as we are; which pretty much stagnating; or do we make those changes necessary to bring WDC into the new millennium equipped to compete for gaming hobbyists' time, support, and money? That is the essential question we must face as we emerge from Hunt Valley, on our way to Paris and Canberra.
The designated site, in February 2001, for WDC XI
is Paris, pretty much a reprise of what the French hobbyists offered but
were unable to deliver at WDC V. If, and they are two big ifs, Paris is
at peace with herself (e.g. no strikes, demonstrations, riots, or revolutions);
and if the French Diplomacy hobby is at peace with itself (e.g. no feuds,
boycotts, everyone working together, etc.) the French have the capability
to put on a great WDC event. If not, well, it's still one of the
world's great cities and certainly worth a detour, as Michelin would say.
Besides, prices are 20% cheaper than they were when I was last there because
of the decline of the euro; and the Paris Metro now smells better and the
announcement recordings sound like Marilyn Monroe. A better
choice than Madeleine Albright, don't you think? Still, for an event barely
nine months away, we have received very little information about the French
host's plans. That is not a good sign.
The probable site for WDC XII, in 2002, is Canberra, Australia, which represents the bid of the third incarnation of the Australian/New Zealand Diplomacy hobbies, this time led by Brandon Clarke and his team. This would be this venue's second WDC event. There is no doubt that this group wants to host another Australian WDC and, if they have as much commitment in two years time as they do now, they should be able to put on a world class event. Whether it will be able to attract a good number of foreigners is the key; and I think the only person who knows the answer to that is Sir Richard Branson because as goes Virgin Atlantic so goes any Australian WDC.
The end goal -- a world class international Diplomacy championship event -- has always been clear. The devil for the past twelve years has been in the details. Unwilling to accept a dictated charter and unable to compromise on creating one, WDC has, on the organizational side, fared poorly. Without a charter, staff, organization, funds, etc. WDC has sailed on; often surviving when reasonable folk said it was time to scuttle the ship. The dreams of hobbyists and the quality of the play offered by the event, kept people at the oars and manning their buckets in times of crisis. Let me remind any of you, myself included, who have been discouraged by all this that it took the Second Continental Congress twelve years to get around to accepting the idea of creating an independent organization for the North American British colonies, and another two years to actually do it. I know -- an ancestor of mine, William Peery of Delaware, was part of that process.
The WDC birth process was rough, puberty was tough, and adolescence wasn't easy, but now WDC has come of age. It's time it began to act its age. There are a lot of important decisions that need to be made. I urge each and every one of you to review the issues, alternatives, and decide for yourself in what direction WDC will head in the new millennium. Then, put aside your various national hobby prejudices and come to the next WDC ready to create a permanent WDC organization.
So, to return to my original question, "Why did it
take so long?" I offer this answer. It has taken this long to get
to where we are because many of us have hoped and worked toward an impossible
goal, creating a WDC event as perfect as the game we play. Achieving
that goal is impossible. It's time to accept that and, instead, work
to create a WDC event that is both enjoyable and doable, and an organization
behind it that is workable.
FOOTNOTE: DEFINING A WORLD CLASS WDC EVENT
I've used the expression "world class WDC event" several times. What do I mean?
Past WDC events have shown that there are significant differences between events held in North America and elsewhere, particularly Europe. The three North American events to date (WDC II, VI, and VIII) have tended to be smaller in the number of boards filled, more Diplomacy focused, and more homogenous in participants. The five European events to date (WDC I, IV, V, VII, and IX) have tended to be larger in the number of boards filled, more diverse in events offered, and more diverse in participants.
Still, all WDCs have, to some degree, shared some common elements. Listing those may help us better define what a WDC event is:
[Editor's note: For related reading, see also the article entitled The DipCon Story - The Early Years in the Summer 2000 issue of Diplomacy World.]
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