Working A Con

Edi Birsan and friends

No, this article is not about life on the streets of New York, but much of the techniques in working a convention are basically the same. This is about how to work a game convention where you want to promote Diplomacy and are hosting a Diplomacy tournament at the site.

Preliminary Bombardment

  1. Targeted E-mails. If you are lucky enough to have an active mailing list for your area, make sure you hit the full list 2 days before, a week before, 2 weeks before, a month before, and every month leading up to the event. This helps to get the core people to the site. Include the address of the site, its email address as well as your own contact information.
  2. Saturation Bombing. If you have access to the entire email list from the specific Convention organizers or have access to a similar list, then hit that total group at least two times before the convention with the notice that there will be Diplomacy at the site and stop by to play and find out about other Diplomacy style events. A little vagueness is good here so that those who may be burned out by Diplomacy but into variants or multiplayer games will come by.
  3. Press Releases/Traditional Media. A very good preliminary suggestion is to send out Press Releases to local newspapers, radio and TV stations with an emphasis on the human interest side of things. It would be good to direct them to the appropriate person in those media outlets and a few phone calls to the switchboards obtained from the Yellow Pages may make some good contacts. Make sure to copy in the Convention organizers in these efforts to boost Diplomacy's profile in their eyes which can be turned into some good vibes and who knows what favors in the course of the convention.
  4. Scheduling. Some Conventions sort out their game schedules on 4-hour blocks. See if you can schedule a novice round or a Teaching round somewhere at the start of the convention. Novice Rounds in schedules: Maybe even giving people a flat few points for playing in the novice round (but only for novices) so as to encourage them to play in the tournament.

At the convention site

  1. Positioning. Get the Diplomacy area set up at the entrance to the board gaming area or any major entrance. The reasoning for this is two fold: a. Dip players like to spread out to negotiate and entrances have more space to separate areas and b. From a Working the Con aspect it means that everyone coming into the area has to pass by the Diplomacy Boards and you can get first shot at them Position yourself (the TD or the promoter) at the entrance with a display board so you can be available to the players while at the same time strategically located to work the crowd as they come in and pass by.
  2. Gimmick: Eye Catchers. You want something that will attract attention to the board:
      Always have contact cards at the Gimmick site so people can fill them out and give you a way to contact them. Be aggressive with getting these cards in peoples' hands (see below) but there will be times when you go on Search and Recruit missions and at least leave some contact cards at the main desk with a sign for people to fill them for future contact. There must be some passive way for people to sign up in your absence. Having some pre printed contact cards would be cool and they should include a place for:
    Name (PRINT)
    Email Address (PRINT)
    Address if no Email
    Interest: Diplomacy: Face to Face/Email/ Postal/Multiplayer games
  3. Have the Answers Be ready to teach people how to play and stress that it takes only 5 minutes to learn how to play. Have several of the sheets of the article: Teaching Diplomacy in 5 minutes available not only on every active table but also a few at the GM table so that you can jump into teach mode on a drop of a hat. Make sure that the players themselves are aware of the instruction sheet and are comfortable with it. With over 75% of new players being recruited by from existing players, getting the teaching skills into the hands of your existing player base is critical.

    The common negatives from experienced players who no longer play are: a. Can never find 7 players, and b. It takes too long. The responses to these are fairly straightforward: a. We are putting together a large pool of local players so that we can always find 7, b. We have a number of very good less than 7 variants with the same board such as Escalation, which I can show you how to play in 1 minute, ((have a sheet on the rules of Escation, Duel Dip and Intimate Dip available.)) c. We are playing with time limits at most of our tournaments of 4 hours and sometimes 6 hours there are plenty of different approaches to time management and we should be able to find out what time restraints are good for you.

  4. Have the Questions. The questions you should be ready to bounce on someone at the Gimmick table are: a. Do you know how to play Diplomacy? b. Would you like to learn? c. Can we have your contact information so we can keep you informed as to future events? Make sure you have an index or contact card at least ready to stuff in their hand with a pen so that they can give you their name and email address. An address and phone number are nice also. If you ask for address then make sure you remind them to give you the city. I was stunned at GenCon last year when I did this to mass of people and about 30% of them listed the street but no town so you have no idea where the hell they were. If they say that they are not local, then the immediate response is: it does not matter I have contacts all over the world and we can get you in contact with a regional Diplomacy group. Never accept an excuse to not fill out the contact form but if they simply say No thanks then do not press it. Remember an excuse is just another challenge to your diplomatic skill where as a direct No is something which should be respected and you cannot waste your time when working a con.. 4. Search and Recruit Missions Most conventions have time blocks, usually 4 hours of scheduled gaming. At these transition times make sure someone is covering the Gimmick Table and then go on search and destroy.err.recruit missions. Look for anyone or any group just standing around especially those looking at convention pamphlet. Jump in and say: Hi we are looking for Diplomacy players or those who we can teach to play in 5 minutes? You know how to handle the responses by now. People watching a multiplayer game in progress are also good targets since they may want to play.

    Even if the Diplomacy Tournament is on going and there is no further rounds that day still recruit the same way and bring people over to start a new game. After all the new players do not care about the tournament and the older players will play for the hell of it. If there is less than seven then start an Escalation Game or if you have 5 newbies do a semi standard game with Turkey , England, Bulgaria and Norway as non-supply centers.

  5. Mentor Newbies. Let the new players know that you are available to them to review their orders and help them with the game. Let the experienced players know that you expect them to take a responsible and social attitude towards the newbies and their mistakes. Cut the new players a lot of slack in writing orders in the beginning and then give them warnings as the game progresses so as to avoid repeating the same mistakes. You should stress that they should start always by writing down the units locations before they leave the table. Suggest that they do not use abbreviations at all in the beginning pointing out the problems with places like NOR.
  6. Thank Everyone. Make sure that everyone who plays is thanked for his or her efforts and use every opportunity to cheer on the new people.
  7. Results. Send an email with the results to all the players as well as copies to the various tournament ranking people. Send a brief overview of the con with funny highlights that will not offend people. You can ask for convention game reports from the players but collect these and send them out as a separate email so as to keep the email length down and to allow for multiple attacks on the players on the contact list. If you have a web site where you can put all this stuff that is even better but do not rely on a passive web site. Send a direct email to everyone who filled out a contact card and give them a full report of results directly. Do not just say results are at web site so and so. You have their attention; be aggressive and direct in your approach.
  8. Follow ups. When and if you get the ranking results of the players from the system people (such as Matt Shields for the Pouch Ranking or Buz Eddy for NADF or Jeff Dwornicki for Grand Prix) send them along to the players. Make sure everyone who gave a contact card is emailed with the results and some of the other materials developed. Set up information on another future tournament and ask for who is interested and then keep hitting everyone every other month or so.
  9. Comments on Aggressive Salesmanship. It takes some outgoing , in your face, or down right aggressive, salesmanship to work a con. For some people it can be annoying, like the telemarketers, or the radio hype men, or the commercialization of every possible eye catching place. We have all railed against these techniques at some time or another, however the thing to remember is that they exist and persist for only one reason: They WORK. Remember that when you feel guilty on occasion. To get information on Diplomacy go to: To get information on Legends in North America visit
  10. Edi Birsan

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