For a few years now I've been playing Diplomacy by e-mail. I've been part of the Vermont Group almost since the very beginning and as such we formed a team to play in the World E-mail Diplomacy Championships. We mostly got clobbered, but someone in my game mentioned the World Diplomacy Championship (WDC) and since Paris is relatively close to where I live (Gouda, Netherlands, about 470 km or 300 miles away) I decided to go there.
In all these years I never played a face-to-face game of Diplomacy and I wondered if it would be any different from the e-mail game. Trust me, it is an entirely different game! When I e-mailed Yann Clouet he asked me if I played Britannia as well, as the convention also hosted EuroBrit II, the European Britannia Championship. I played that game only once but Yann said that would be no problem so since I went there anyway, I thought 'why not?' Looking back, I can think of plenty of reasons why not, but more of that later.
I arrived Thursday evening in Paris. I parked the car in the suburbs (driving in Paris is only for the French or foreigners who have had a lobotomy; parking is only for millionaires), took the metro to the hotel, and found out I left the hotel's address at home. The temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius (about 90 Fahrenheit) and after an hour of searching, I finally found a hotel receptionist who was friendly enough to look up the hotel in a guide and give me the address. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the hotel. It took me some effort to get my t-shirt off (it was all sticky and drained with sweat), and I took a bath and went to bed. I went to bed but alas not 'to sleep' as the heat and humidity kept me awake. No air conditioning in the room! Besides that, from time to time other guests entered the hotel and my room was right next to the staircase. Some of our fellow Dippers made me think a stampede was going on!
The next morning I was up early and went to get some breakfast. I met a nice guy from Finland who was also going to play at WDC (I'm terrible at names, but I think his was Juho) and he also agreed the 'hotel had great accoustics.' At 9:30 I was at the convention hall where the Britannia event was going to start. But since the Pouch isn't about Britannia I'm not going to talk about that (especially not because I ended last in that game). After that game, no time to eat, as immediately the Diplomacy event started. I played Italy with Peter Lund from Sweden as Austria and Stephane Derdi from Belgium as Turkey. Soon I was sweating even more than before! The format was 15 minutes per season (a little more for fall phases), play until (and including) 1907. No time to think, just talk to people, make a quick decision, not based on deep strategic evaluation (no time for thatanyway) but by using your feelings... My pulse rate was over my usual 65 (about double that amount) and the adrenaline was flowing like crazy! This was something like I never experienced at any game, especially not at e-mail Diplomacy! After some initial skirmishes Peter and I worked well together and by the end of 1905 we both had 6 centers and I had fleets in the Black Sea and Aegean Sea and an army in Constantinople. Turkey was mine for the taking but we were also facing a strong France. Germany had been strong but had stabbed France too soon and was paying for it. I agreed with Germany to move my army in Tyrolia to Piedmont so I could help him into Marseilles. But I made the basic mistake that everybody had been warning me about: I totally forgot the tournament format, and of course by the start of 1906 Austria moved into Ven, and my whole game went down the drain. In the endgame I gave Marseilles back to the French player playing France (sorry, I forgot his name, but he did make it to the top table!) and left Stephane a single center for just being a nice guy (Stephane went on with a victory and a second place and missed the top table by a few points; when he found out Sunday morning he really was kicking himself). I finished the game in 4th place with 4 centers left (Nap, Tun, Con, Smy). Again, no time to eat (I had to make do with the things they called 'salades': a slice of tuna with some cold vegetables and a dressing in a tin cup... like a Dutch expression goes: hunger makes raw beans taste sweet) and on with the second Britannia game. It was almost midnight when I got back to the hotel.
The next morning, I woke up pretty early again. This time, there were some more people having breakfast, including an American with red hair. We were having a deep discussion about politics and the fact that politicians were the first comedians, and told some jokes from our countries ('If a couple from West Virginia gets divorced, are they still legally sister and brother?'). Soon we all went to the playing hall again to get into the second round, the team event. Three French guys were looking for a fourth so I had no problems finding a team. I got France this time. Now I already told you I never played face-to-face before so I didn't have a clue who were sitting there with me, but soon the others were happy to point it out to me: the German player was Simon Bouton, defending champion, and England was played by Brian Dennehy, the runner-up... I got a knot in my stomach and my nerves were wrecking me and it wasn't even 10 o'clock yet.. Brian played the game perfectly and took full advantage of a very weak Frenchman playing Russia, who opened to Sil. He played me even better and with combined efforts Simon was eliminated by 1903. At that point I had a great position and I could even have stabbed Brian, but I decided to continue the alliance. What a mistake that proved to be! We grew to 8 centers each by the end of 1904 but Brian had me talked into stretching way out with armies as far as Berlin and fleets into the Mediterranean. Of course Brian stabbed me quickly and he went up to ten and he had the game won by 1905. I had a choice now: rush back to defend, which would be pretty pointless, since I might end up with 5 or less centers and never be in the top 3 which gave some bonus points, or do something else. Brian told me that since he already won the game, and I had been such a great ally, he would help me to second place. How does that expression go: 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me'? No need to say the shame was on me completely! I moved all out against Austria (a Frenchman who really didn't understand why I attacked him and took second place away from him) and for every center I took from Austria, Brian took two from me. I suppose everybody heard about the outcome of the game: at the end of 1907 Brian had 17 (!!) SC's, I was left with 3 (Mar,Tun and Tri) in 4th place. My teammates hadn't done much better, though one of them (Guillaume is all I remember of his name) had a shared 3rd place.
Another game of Britannia which I won't put in the records of 'best personal performances' and the last die wasn't even rolled yet when the third round of Diplomacy started. This morning I had been smart enough to buy some sandwiches at a supermarket before I went to the event so my stomach wasn't protesting as much as the day before. Now I was going to play England and Germany was played by the American I met at breakfast that morning. Everybody seemed to know him as Smacko, so I feared again I was up against a very strong player. But he came to me and asked me if I was interested in doing something very weird: an alliance that would last all game! I agreed, so did France, and a western Triple was formed. I got Denmark in 1901 and had good position to move into Russia. But my paranoia got the better of me and in a combined effort with Uffe from Denmark, who I had met at the hotel the day before, who was playing Russia, I was going to stab Smacko in Kiel. All the moves were in my head but when the moves were read out, my sheet came up blank! I suppose playing 2 days for 14 hours continuously got the better of me because I just forgot to fill them in! Now of course Smacko was prepared and the next phase he had no trouble defending Kiel. I saw no chance to move into Germany and turned around again to get Russia. I ordered a series of moves that would make it possible for me to convoy an army from Swe to Stp but instead of ordering F Sweden - Gulf of Bothnia I ordered F Sweden - Baltic Sea ... another misorder, all my orders bounced on Uffe's fleet in the Baltic and now it was easy for him to defend, or at least to defend against me. A Swedish guy called Niklas (I think) was playing Turkey and he took full advantage and stabbed Uffe bad. Nothing much happened for me, in the end I was able to take StP because Niklas cut support from Mos for me and I ended this game with a shared second place at 7 centers (Niklas had 10, Smacko had 7 and Peter, playing France, had 7 as well). Though this game had been the least interesting for me it had given me the best result so far and I went back to the hotel for a good night's rest ... or so I hoped. Again, guests coming in hours after me kept me awake.
Sunday came around and after the Hobby Meeting, where we had to vote about Denver being the venue for WDC 2003 (no other candidates so that wasn't really a problem), the final round started. I got Turkey this time and I met another Irish guy called Fearghal as Austria. He told me he just wanted to have fun and we decided to help Italy, Inbar Tal, a very friendly Israeli girl, get an army into St. Petersburg! So I started all-out against Russia, Fearghal (who is indeed as crazy as he claims to be) supported himself into Galicia, and Italy moved into Tyrolia. It all worked out fine! Fearghal supported me into Rumania and Bulgaria stayed empty. The next spring I took Bulgaria and supported myself into Sevastopol. After that, I was extremely lucky. Fearghal stabbed me in Bulgaria, and Russia was going to take Rumania away from me. But Italy stabbed Fearghal in Trieste and Russia misordered so I still got a build and Fearghal didn't. We had a good laugh about it and decided we were going to work together again: he was going to move his fleet back to Greece and retake Trieste. I decided to play it safe and take back Bulgaria by force. Russia could take Sevastopol by force so I decided to support Sevastopol into Rumania to keep my units together. Another stroke of luck: Russia didn't support himself into Sev, but now I misordered and my unit in Sevastopol stayed there and I got a build from Bulgaria. From there on Fearghal and I worked perfectly together. I played defense all game long, making sure I wasn't going to get stabbed again. I had learned my lesson! Slowly I worked myself up to 8 while Fearghal got 7. We decided to top the alliance with a shared win (France, England and Germany had been banging each other all the time and none of them ever had more than 6 centers, I think). So the deal was that I would take St. Petersburg and Tun, Fearghal would take Naples and I would give him Warsaw to even it all up. But then France moved into the Mediterranean to defend the sole Italian survivor in Tunis and that turned it all around a bit. Fearghal came up with the idea of letting Germany support me into Norway so we would be on equal numbers again, so in fall 1907 I was depending on Germany to keep my first place... I didn't like it at all, my position was way better than Fearghal's and I didn't want to be second if Germany decided otherwise. Besides, Germany would gain nothing by the move. So I decided to support Germany into Norway and take Greece from Fearghal to secure my first place. I told Fearghal about it (he couldn't stop it anyway and he couldn't stab me back either) and he was disappointed that we weren't going to get shared first. But then he found another solution: Germany had an army in Bur that could support Fearghal into Mar. Combined with my support of Germany into Norway that would bring Germany into third place and everybody was happy with the outcome. In this game there were some very weird moves and crazy stabs all over the place and it was a lot of fun. Besides that, I had proven to myself that with a bit of luck and a bit of experience I can be a winner as well. Or at least I'd like to believe that ;-).
When we heard the outcome of the top table, we could only shake our heads in disbelief... Brian Dennehy and Cyrille Sevin had shared first place at eight and a players vote had to decide upon the winner. What kind of stupid rule is that? Let a vote decide who is going to be World Champion? Don't get me wrong, I don't know Cyrille, and I only know Brian from the one game I played with him and I'm sure they both have just as much claim to the title, but there should have been some tie-breaker based on, let's say, total number of centers in the previous three rounds or something like that. Letting a vote decide who wins was, in my honest opinion, an outrage.
Anyway, after 3 days of intensive gaming, I decided not to wait for the ceremony. I said goodbye to all my new friends and went back home. It was a great tournament and I really enjoyed playing face-to-face. It won't be the last time I will do it. Brian and Fearghal invited me to come to EuroDipCon in Dublin in november and I just have to see if I can fit that into my schedule because I definitely want to go! I just hope they have better rules to decide on the winner and a hotel that has sound-proof rooms so I can get a decent sleep. And though I enjoyed Britannia a lot as well, I'm not going to combine these tournaments ever again! Between Diplomacy games, you need to be able to relax a bit, or before you know it you will be entering order sheets without orders.
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