A Real Rocky Mountain High!

By Larry Peery


With one not-so-minor exception, Denver's WDC XIII ranks as the best WDC event yet held in North America, perhaps even in the world. Here's one WDC vet's tale of what happened...

Richard Walkerdine's idea was as brilliant as it was simple, invite Dippers from all over the world to come to Birmingham, England to play Diplomacy and get to know each other better. And so in the summer of 1988 the "first" WDC event was held in conjunction with ManorCon at the University of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England. Impressed with the fun people were having, a small group of international hobbyists, myself included, gathered over dinner and drinks and decided the WDC concept was too good to be let go after only one event. It was informally agreed that two years hence a second WDC would be held in the USA and two years after that a third would be held somewhere in Australia. Then, hopefully, in six years we'd all return to Birmingham to see what Richard's idea had wrought. And so we did.

Five WDC events have now been held in North America, so far all in the USA. The first two were held in Chapel Hill, NC, in conjunction with David Hood's DIXIECON, a small, primarily Diplomacy oriented event. The next three, in Columbus, OH, Hunt Valley, MD, and Denver, CO, were held in conjunction with larger gaming events. The next WDC event in North America will again be in Hunt Valley in conjunction with a larger gaming event, albeit hosted by a different Diplomacy group. That will be in 2005.

I've attended all the previous WDC events in North America and many of those overseas. For information on those events visit The WDC Shrine site. Prior to this year's event I personally considered the second Chapel Hill event to have been the best held in North America, with the Hunt Valley event second. The first Chapel Hill event and the Columbus event had significant problems.

What makes a WDC event great, average, or poor? That's a tough question to answer, especially if you try to reduce it to some kind of mathematical formula and numerical pecking order. Over the years I've used my professional experience as a meeting planner and host and hotel site inspector to develop my own system of evaluating Diplomacy events. I won't bore you with all the details which are, after all, trade secrets, but here's a over-view of how I approach a con evaluation. I use a five star rating system (with a zero, N/A, and optional rosette for exceptional merit options included). I classify each event into one of the following groups: WDC class, Continental class, National class, Regional class, Local, or Informal. Each event is compared with others in its own country and also with other events in the same class in other areas. Among the specific areas I evaluate are: host city, transportation, venue (hotel, campus, etc. and that includes food and housing), host event participation, event promotion, registration, fees and costs, attendance, staffing, Dip gaming events, scoring system, other events, awards and prizes, WDC affairs, post con reports, value to those attending, contribution to the WDC tradition and institution, and over-all ambiance. So, while most WDC Dippers are counting dots and tracking their score, I'm wandering around checking to see if the plants are real or artificial and how much water is in the bottom of the ice bucket holding the beer. I've mention all this to give you, not-so-gentle reader, some understanding of what lies behind the comments to follow. I think this is important, especially when a WDC was as good as Denver's was, because it explains why it was so successful and why the Denver event will set the standard for events to come.

After attending my first Genghis Con and ARMADA hosted by Manus Hand in Denver a couple of years ago, I had no doubts that the Denver/host event/Dip event/host & tournament director combo could host a world class Diplomacy event. The challenge would be to get non locals and particularly foreigners to attend. Fortunately, for at least part of the pre event period Manus had The Diplomatic Pouch and other vehicles to use to promote the event; which made it far easier to contact and mobilize distant hobbyists.

Most locals and some long-distance attendees drove to the event. Most long-distance attendees flew. I, for reasons known only to God and my editors, decided to take the Amtrak from San Diego to Denver and then on to Charlottesville via Chicago for PREZCON, returning home via White Sulphur Springs, WV and New Orleans. It was a 19 day, 14,000 km trip. More on that elsewhere.

There are two Amtrak trains that serve Denver, one from Chicago to San Francisco and the other from Los Angeles to Chicago. Going to Denver I would take the second, out of Los Angeles. Going east from Denver I would take the first on to Chicago. Unfortunately, the train taking me from Los Angeles doesn't go through Denver. Instead it pauses in Raton, NM and from there it's a four hour coach ride up the interstate to Denver. During the day that would be a lovely trip with views of the Rockies, etc. At night it wasn't much fun. For excitement I counted the motels along the interstate. I passed the 100 mark somewhere in the suburbs of Denver and gave up counting because I couldn't keep up with them. In my last email to Manus before I left I told him to tell who ever was meeting me at Union Station (yes, every major city in the western USA has a Union Station. It was the name of the railroad that built them.) to be sure to check and see if I'd be arriving on time. Of course we didn't. We were two hours late because the train had been delayed by weather the night before. A group of Dippers on a pub crawl in downtown Denver that night had come looking for me earlier, but they were long gone by the time I arrived. so I grabbed a cab out to the con hotel. Ironically, had I known I could have asked the coach driver to let me off at the hotel on the way up from Raton and saved the cab ride. Speaking of cabs, I should mention I often find cab drivers far more interesting to talk to than the local Travel & Tourism professionals that I deal with. On this trip that was also true. Although cabs weren't cheap during this tour (I spent over $250 on taxis and shuttles.), the drivers were usually informative and entertaining to talk with. Overwhelmingly they all said the same thing, "The economy is more important than Iraq. Bush doesn't have a clue as to what's going on in the country."

This year's WDC was held in the Tech Center complex, in a Hyatt Regency just across the road from the Marriott we had used a couple of years ago. It's interesting to note that the Pritzker family; which owns the Hyatt chain, is engaged in some heavy Diplomacy of its own. In fact, the Marriotts are also having their family business problems! There were a lot of empty land parcels around the Tech Center which surprised me considering that Denver has continued to grow and expand further south. I got the impression that a lot of those modern high tech and high-rise buildings are empty or close to it. Like so many cities depending on the IT and computer industries for their growth, Denver is hurting. Still, no one will ever be able to say that Manus and his crew failed to take WDC to new heights. Not content with Denver's already mile high altitude, they added on another 12 floors in the Hyatt building for good measure!

After checking in and getting cleaned up (two days on a train, even in first class, leaves one craving a nice, long, hot shower!) I made my way up to roof top dining room that had been converted into a WDC venue for the weekend. I never did find out why the hotel was willing to do that. I can only assume they wanted the parent event business so badly they were willing to give it up for the weekend. Or perhaps business was so slow that they didn't want to use it as a restaurant. Whatever the reason, it turned out to be a great site, second only to Namur's Citadel. There were a few diehards playing various games upstairs, but as it was getting late and I was tired I went off to bed. My days of staying up all night to play silly games with even sillier people are long behind me.

Kris Marquardt and the Genghis Con people had registration down to a science. It took me all of about 30 seconds to get registered, even allowing for redoing my name tag to correct my misspelled name, my first lesson among many in humility learned at the Con.

I must say that this was the first WDC held in conjunction with a bigger gaming event that I've attended where I felt the WDC got its moneys worth from the host event. I didn't have that feeling at Columbus or Hunt Valley, but in Denver I think the Genghis hosts really did put themselves out for the WDC event and it showed. My first and highest accolade is that this was an event that truly provided good value for the money.

I won't try to explain the relationship between the Denver Games, Genghis Con, ARMADA, and the Regatta. I did enough of that in my discussion of WDC history. Just let me say that everybody I came in contact with, except for those that already know and hate me, seemed friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. That was true everywhere I went in Denver.

And so, we gathered up on the roof of the Hyatt in our ivory tower or cloud coo-coo land, to once again enjoy the annual letting of blood and venting of hot air that is that most unique of gaming events, a WDC.

Friday, the 14th, began with a sort of prelude to the main event, with a beginners game, a reception for the overseas players, and an orientation for new players. All of these events took place as various staffers and volunteers hung flags, put up placards with Diplomacy themed quotations, set up displays of the prizes and trophies the winners (and a few losers) would take home, and generally turned a rather stark and cold room into a hot bed of intrigue and back stabbing. Slowly at first and then with a quickening pace the rooms started to fill up. Its always amazed me what heat and noise a group of Dippers and a few beers can generate. It was good to see old friends, some of whom I've known for over thirty years now, as well as finally meet some people I'd been corresponding with on the internet because of TDP. One big surprise was getting to finally meet Bob Hartman who I knew from way, way back in the postal Dip hobby Golden Age.

Round I

The First Round was played on Friday evening and as Manus began reading (shouting) out the table and board assignments I realized, like others I suppose, that he actually had managed to pull it off --- he had persuaded a good number of the world's top players to come to Denver in the middle of winter! Now there's a con (double entr intended) for the ages!

I was on Table 15 for that first round and, as has happened to me in the past, it turned out that my first game was momentous for several reasons, both personally and in terms of the tournament's final resorts. As England, I found myself being attacked by France, Germany and Russia right off the bat in 1901. Naturally I was doomed. The best I could do was try for a peeryhic victory by giving Liverpool and London to Germany and then watching him slowly crumble. It would turn out to be my worst performance of the tournament, ending up with a 3.03 score. Although not their best game, it would also turn out to be important for three other players on that board: Vincent Carry (who ended up as WDC champion) and Frank Johansen (who came in 3rd) picked up enough points (46.64 each) in that first game to see them into the top three spots. Although they had the same scores, it's hard to imagine two more different players than Vincent and Frank. Vincent is the quiet listener and tactical genius. Frank is always talking and negotiating! Pat Charlton would end up 8th in the tournament.

I was surprised by the Food & Beverage service the hotel offered. For the most part the food was quite good, when you could get it. But finding a place open to eat was often a problem. Some of the hotel food outlets closed early or never even opened. The service was also not up to the Hyatt standard, at least that I expect from Hyatt. On the other hand, it was, I'm sure, a franchise operation and most of the people working there had probably gotten their initial customer service training working in a McDonalds.

I'll defer my comments on the scoring system and "TDC" until later. Suffice it to say here that by Saturday morning prior to the beginning of Round II people were already discussing the six high scores from Round I. The consensus was that it would take two wins of some kind to win the championship. Those discussing the results and their implications seemed to be divided into three groups:

  1. a small group who were determined to find a way to manipulate the system to their own advantage,
  2. those who didn't like the system for one of several reasons, and
  3. those who didn't know and didn't care but who wanted to play the game and enjoy it.

Round II

Round II saw me as the sacrificial Turkey on Table 11. There were some hobby big names on this board, including one former WDC champion, Chris Martin. I was the first one eliminated when I guessed wrong on who to ally with the first year and then was attacked by all my neighbors. By 1905 I was out (with a score of 5.10). Chris Martin's Germany and Herb Lutz's Russia were close behind. The game ended as a four way draw; which to me seemed a complete waste of time. Interestingly, none of those involved in the four-way ended up among the two two boards, but Chris Martin did finish rated 9th in the tournament. The number of wins was slightly less than the night before.

I thought it appropriate that the event's one formal food function, "The State Dinner", was held at the Bourbon Street Pizzabar and Grill, since I would be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras less than two weeks later. I watched the owner's face as the Dip crowd marched through the door and directly to the pizza buffet. For the next hour or so it was a race between the food preppers and the pizza hogs but, in the end, the food preppers carried the day. I enjoyed watching the pizza makers spin their trade, so to speak. The food was good, although any real Italian in the crowd must have winced at the use of the term "pizza" for something that was so obviously NOT. But, it was a win-win situation. The Dippers went back to their next round full and the owner's cash register was stuffed with a few thousand dollars he'd picked up during an otherwise dead time for his business.

Round III

Round III, Saturday evening, found me on Table 12 as Italy. I was robbed in this game and I'm still not a happy camper about it. The game ended in 1912 with a win for Steve Smith's Turkey with 11 centers. For that he got 91.34 points. I ended up with 10 centers and 12.66 points, the same as players with three, four, and six centers. I'm sorry, 11 centers in 1912 is by no stretch of the imagination A WIN!

There were no late night dining options (even at 2300 on a Saturday night) available except in the hotel bar, so I had a club sandwich, a glass of wine and called it a day. Well, I thought I had until I realized I had misplaced my set of orders from the last game. So I went downstairs to find them. Alas, they were gone, but I did find the game's supply center chart laying on the TD's desk. I carefully copied it to add to my records and replaced the original. While I was doing so I couldn't help but notice a small group sitting on the other side of the room playing cards and drinking. I don't know about the card game but there was a fair-sized stack of money on the table. One of them dropped the bottle (rum, I think) they were drinking from and it crashed to the floor. Fortunately it didn't break. They all thought that was quite funny and laughed uproariously. As I headed for the elevator I noticed one of the night clean-up crew heading their way. Trouble lies ahead, I thought to myself, but tomorrow would tell the tale.

Sunday morning provided a bit of drama, something the Con had been sorely lacking in. As always, when there's a problem Edi Birsan's around to solve it or, better yet, cover it up so nobody notices. First off, we were told that the hotel had threatened to shut down the convention because of what had been going on the night before (e.g. the consumption of privately procured liquor in a public room of the hotel). I found this funny since this had been the driest and best behaved WDC event I'd seen to date. Next, we were told that some two thousand dollars of money from the sale of T-shirts (which means some 100 attendees had bought the shirts or, like me, two of them) had disappeared, that Manus was up in his room having a nervous breakdown as a result, and that we should all contribute money to cover the loss. I was amazed at this because I had already spoken to Manus about leaving large sums of money lying around on the registration table unattended while he went off to conduct a draw vote for a game. Any event like this where large amounts of cash are around requires a secure way of handling and storing money and a bond for those who handle it. Fortunately, Manus appeared, cash in hand, smile on his face and reported the money had been found --- right where he left it!

Round IV

And so, with a collective sigh of relief we got down to the day's business. First up, Round IV, the last round of the tournament. I had slowly progressed and improved my performance through the first three rounds, although you'd never know it to look at the scores. I knew, from past experience that I would have my best round in the last round of the event. I don't know why, but I always do. I was assigned to play France, one of my favorite countries, so I was looking forward to and expecting a good game. Maybe that's why it turned out to be one. Turkey went out first, quickly followed by Germany and England, both gone by 1905. I was at 11, Russia (Philippe Clavaud of France) at 10, Austria (Tange Bengtsson of Sweden) at seven, and Italy (Hank Alme) at six. Philippe convinced the others that as the biggest power I was the biggest threat, appealed to Tange's Pan-Europeanism, and probably bribed Hank with a cognac... Anyway, soon enough they were all after me, no doubt convinced I would quickly give up, roll over and play dead --- as they all kept telling me I should do. It was, after all, one of them told me, "Your destiny!" Instead I fought on, down two centers, then down four, then down three, and then down to only one, Paris. I would not give up or give in. By now I was mad enough that I was playing the scoring system and the clock that had caused me so much grief during the tournament. I knew that if I survived until the game was called for time I would be included in a draw. Turn about was fair play, I thought, so I kept on fighting. Sure enough, when the bell tolled for them, their 12, 11, and 10 centers were only worth what my one center was worth --- 30.64 points! This was my finest hour.

During each game I had asked the other players what they thought of the use of TDC ("The Damned Clock") that dictated our every deadline and the scoring system that everybody was trying to understand or use to their own advantage. Most people were ambivalent about TDC, not surprising in a day and age when so many people are time mad! I find it amusing and amazing that although people are living longer and longer lives they are more and more concerned about nanoseconds, etc. McDonald's, which is going to kill off a whole generation with its extra calories, fat and sugar is worried more about the fact that its delivery time has slipped to over four minutes! So it seems TDC is here to stay, in one guise or another. But the players really expressed a dislike for and hostility toward the scoring system, even those who were using it to their own advantage. The idea that a player ending the game with one unit and one ending it with 12 could end up with the same results, or that a game could be declared "a win" at an early stage with less than 18 centers just didn't go down well. I'm sure other people will argue about this for a long time to come. Hopefully they'll discuss it in TDP, DW and elsewhere.

As for me, I felt so strongly about this that I marked down this event from a five star to a four star rating. When the scoring system becomes more important than and influences the play of the game(s) it is unacceptable. When a common denominator is used to punish rather than reward superior performance it is unacceptable.

Post Play Meetings

Following the end of play and everybody's rush to figure out who had won before it was officially announced (Was that even possible?), the WDC Committee met to do whatever it is the WDC Committee does. It was interesting to watch and photograph some of the championship contenders as they waited and waited. Some couldn't sit still they were so keyed up. One was so exhausted he fell asleep during the meeting. But, in spite of it all, the meeting went on.

David Norman provided an update on the status of next year's event at, once again, MANORCON, in Birmingham on the 16th - 19th of July, 2004. For those who have never played Diplomacy overseas MANORCON is a good introduction to the foreign hobby. I love Brum, as Birmingham is affectionately known by the locals, and I know I'm looking forward to going back for my fourth visit. But more than Dip and more than the city, I can't wait to see Matt and Karen McVeigh's two lovely daughters who I remember as mere cribblings in 1988! I would hope that someone (Who me?) would make the effort to organize a US group going over. Doing so will save a considerable amount of money over individual prices, assuming any airlines are still flying by then. Failing that, or failed them, there's always the Cunard line. If we can get 16 to go as a group, one of them can cruise free!

There were two bids presented to host the 2005 WDC back in North America. David Hood, of DIXIECON fame, and past host of two WDC events, presented a bid on behalf of PREZCON, an annual gaming event with Diplomacy, held in Charlottesville, VA. The two key provisions of the PREZCON bid were:

  1. It's never been there before, and
  2. It's Charlottesville and we're the home of Thomas Jefferson.
The second bid was presented by the POTOMAC TEA AND KNIFE SOCIETY (aka PTKS - PITKISSERS) on behalf of TEMPEST, what is essentially the same venue and event as the last Hunt Valley WDC event, with a couple of exceptions. First, the host event is the World Boardgaming Championship; which was originally sponsored by Avalon Hill, but is now an independent event. Second, Jim Yerkey, who hosted the 2000 WDC event, has retired and will not be running the 2005 show. The PTKS has assumed responsibility for the event. Because I was less than satisfied with the 2000 WDC in Hunt Valley and because I agreed with the key provisions of the PREZCON bid I voted for that bid. That was prior to attending PREZCON in Charlottesville the following weekend.

Although the vote was 15 for the PREZCON proposal and 33 for the TEMPEST, if the weighed voting system adopted at the WDC Charter meeting afterwards had been in effect during the WDC Society meeting, the decision would have gone the other way. The reason is too complex to explain here, suffice it to say that the larger number of attendees from the USA and especially the Atlantic coast would not have been able to swing the decision. Be that as it may, the next North American WDC event will be held in Hunt Valley, MD, in early August (I believe) or late July 2005. If you're smart, you'll contact the Hunt Valley Inn venue NOW and make a room reservation. Yes, it's that bad.

Results and Final Analysis

I want to write a few words about the games before I discuss the tournament results. There were a total of 63 games played during the four rounds of the tournament. Nineteen ended in a victory of some kind. There were NO two-way draws. There were eleven three-ways, twenty-two four-ways, eight five-ways, and three six-way draws. There were NO seven-way draws.

That's a far higher number of victories than a traditionally scored event would have had. It will be interesting to see how many supply centers each of those victories required. Manus's goal in creating and using this system was to drive the number of victories up and he did achieve that. Alas, I think it cost more in terms of enjoyment of the game than it achieved.

Of the nineteen victories England had six, Austria, France, Germany, and Turkey had three each, Russia had one, and Italy had zero.

I won't go into all the results of the tournament. They, along with the prizes and awards given out, are on the event web site. In fact, I should praise Manus and his crew for getting the results posted so quickly. By the time I got around to asking him for the results, they were already posted on the internet. That's a huge improvement over past years when you had to wait for months sometimes before the official printed results arrived. I've lost my list of predictions for how the WDC tournament results would turn out, but I think I was generally on target. Three of the top board positions went to foreigners, about what I expected. Two locals did well and two non-local Americans finished on the top board. Six Americans and one Canadians comprised the second board. Personally, I found it interesting that I've played in games with all three of the foreigners on the top board, but none of the Americans. Hmmmmm.

The Five Little Putts (compared to Edi's Old Fart) did relatively well for newbies: Adrian Leanza 19th, Gabe Stein 65th, Aaron Bernhardt 70th, Jordan Bernhardt 88th, and Carlo Davis 101st. It's great to have some young fresh blood involved in the hobby. We need them. Some of us more than others. I'll need two before long, one to write my orders and one to push my wheel chair around.

Shortly after awards presentation a small group met as the WDC Charter Committee, reviewing various old and some new proposals for changes in the just adopted WDC Charter. I've already mentioned the biggest item, the change in voting procedures for future WDC sites. We'll see what happens to that proposal in Birmingham.

As I've tried to point out, there was far more of the beautiful than the ugly in this year's WDC. The same applies to good and bad. To me TDC was a nuisance, but the scoring system was a dangerous innovation that resulted in flawed results. Sort of reminds me of the DIPCON XXII I hosted in San Diego years ago when everybody complained that I considered the results of the Diplomacy tournament only one of the factors in determining the Con champion. Hmmmm.... Well, what goes around comes around, I guess.

WDC XIII is history now. Laudes to Manus and his crew. Hail to Vincent. And now let the search for a new champion begin!

See you in Birmingham.


  Larry Peery

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