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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
You want people to come up and say thats cool and want to learn
More importantly, you want a gauge that shows any interest or curiosity
so that it triggers a response from observers before they even open their
mouths. Lots of people have played Diplomacy before and have stopped playing,
the most common reason is that they can not get 7 players together or devote
the time to play. Therefore if you have something that will catch the eye
of an older player you get a shot at bringing him back to the hobby with
some good lines and follow up . The recent gimmick that I used at Kubla
Con in Oakland was to have an old 1961 map with the current 1999 Hasbro
pieces: cannons and battleships. This caught the eye of old players who
had not seen the original map and those who had not seen the new pieces.
At times people would comment "are those new pieces" or some such, then
you knew that they were experienced on some level of the game and you had
your opening to go recruit.
PRIZES: everyone likes prizes and most conventions are scarse on them,
so invest in a few plaques and have them on display at the front of the
tables. Use the WoW factor to your benfit. Have prizes for something other
than just winning. BEST DEBUT for the new comers, Outstanding Play of Countries
(with different colors to catch the eye) is also good. Maybe a few weird
awards like a gavel for the Hammered Award or the Golden Blade etc. Always
have the convention and the date and the event on the plaques. These can
be fairly cheap locally with a basic 5x6 plaque for $8.50 and maybe 15
cents a letter. You can also order these via the net at Dinn Trophies if
you do not have a local store.
Email Address (PRINT)
Address if no Email
Interest: Diplomacy: Face to Face/Email/ Postal/Multiplayer games
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: http://www.DiplomaticCorps.org.
To get information on Legends in North America visit http://www.mgames.com.
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author,
click on the letter above. If that does not work, feel free to use the
"Dear DP..." mail interface.