What's a nice girl like you
doing in a game like this?

by Kendra L. Malm

I don't really remember the first game of Diplomacy I ever played, which was back when I was an undergrad (no specifics; suffice to say it was in the last century). But my first experience playing in a tournament was only 5 years ago, and I had actually started an article about it to submit to the Pouch which I never got around to finishing. So when I saw that a new series of articles on people's first experiences with Diplomacy had been started, I decided to dust off the old disc and share with the readers my first experience in playing tournament Diplomacy.

It all started early in 2002 with a little piece on one of the Lord of the Rings pages; Sean Astin and John Rhys-Davies (Sam Gamgee & Gimli) were going to make an appearance at GenCon up in Indianapolis, an hour's drive for me at the time. So I checked out Gencon's website and saw that a one-day pass for Saturday was only $20 and I said to myself, "Hey, I can afford that; think I'll sign up and see if I can get their autographs or a picture or two!" Now, despite being a long-term sci-fi fan AND a long-term gamer, I'd never actually gone to a Con, so this was going to be a totally new experience for me. I registered for Saturday, and then started checking out what else was being offered that day. What I saw were scads and scads of gaming sessions, everything from Life and Monopoly to LARPS and everything in between! This was cool; I could sign up for a gaming session in the morning and one in the evening and have the afternoon to wander about the rest of the Con and see two of the actors from my favorite movie. Naturally, there was a Diplomacy tournament scheduled and one of the sessions was Saturday morning. Without thinking too much about it, I registered for it. I had played Diplomacy fairly regularly when I was an undergrad, but never before in a tournament. And later on after the Internet became big, I had found The Diplomatic Pouch, so it wasn't like I was completely inexperienced. But the more I thought about it, the more worried I became; would all these regular players sense that I was a relative newbie and go in for the kill, eliminating me by Fall of '02 or worse? Would I be able to hold my own with all these backstabbers? I thought, "Girl, you have to go in with a plan; a plan for survival, never mind winning the thing or making the finals." So I considered the tournament format; to advance to the final board you had to have the best finish for a particular country. If I could find a strong alliance with a decent player I ought to survive and maybe even get into the final! Perhaps the way to do it would be to propose a Triple Alliance on whichever side of the board I ended up on, that way the three of us could overwhelm the other side of the board before they got their act together. Of course, I'd be in real trouble if I drew Italy! Anyway, it's always better to go in with some sort of plan than just go along with whatever everyone else is doing.

Saturday morning came along, and I drove up to Indy. Getting myself oriented, I got my con ID and directions to the board games hall, to which I then proceeded. Arriving right about eight, I signed in and soon was assigned to a table with six other players, all of them guys. I knew women tended to be rare at these things, but there weren't any at the other table either — I was the lone female in attendance. I wasn't sure if this would work for or against me! We drew for our countries, and I ended up being France; decent chance for survival, I thought, much harder to do well enough to make it to the finals. I didn't get everyone’s last names, but Jason Covitz (who drew Austria) and Bill Simonitis (who drew England) both ended up making it to the finals — though not necessarily for their play in this particular round. The others were Nick (Germany), Dave (Italy), John (Russia), and Ocean (Turkey). And I apologize in advance to these great guys if I say anything that upsets them in this article; I hadn't really thought of doing it until I got back home and wanted to tell someone how it went! So I only have the details of my moves and what I can remember of everyone else's.

At any rate, England and I starting talking first, with him being interested in the two of us working together, or at least not fighting each other. He proposed a demilitarized zone in the English Channel, which suited me fine, and I proposed doing a Western Triple; I wanted to go after Italy and not get bogged down in the west. We each talked with Germany and he seemed agreeable pending the outcome of the first year's moves. Talking with the others was more of getting a feel for what was going down; everyone else seemed to be doing the same. With Italy I was vague and non-committal, saying I was still getting the hang of what was going on with England and Germany. I ordered A PAR-PIC, A MAR-SPA, F BRE-MAO. England moved to the North & Norwegian Seas, Germany to Denmark & Kiel, Italy to the Tyrrhenian Sea & Tyrolia, and no surprises in the rest of the board. My move to Picardy instead of Burgundy was both to protect against England pulling a fast one and to keep Italy unsuspecting. The diplomacy session with England centered on who was to have Belgium. Originally, it was to go to France, but England really wanted to have it now, because his talks with Russia had really not been going well and it looked like both Germany and I would be getting two builds to his one for Norway. I was convinced to let it go to England because my two builds in Iberia were guaranteed and I was wary of getting too far ahead by getting three builds. Germany did not have any objections as long as he got Holland & Denmark and eventual help against Russia. With Italy, I said that I had hope of help from Germany to get Belgium and he said that with that I looked strong against England, getting three builds. This, of course, was a bold faced lie, since I really still planned to work with both England and Germany and Italy was my objective.

Since for Fall of ‘01 all my moves could not be opposed, I was not in any suspense (A PIC-BUR, plus to Spain & Portugal). The big shocker was Italy's move A TYR-MUN! So Germany ended up with just one build to mine and England's two and Italy's two. Russia did get into Sweden and Austria both Serbia & Greece so it looked like he and Italy were working together. The rest of the east came out pretty even as I recall. I built F MAR & A PAR to begin my assault on Italy. For the next several turns I made slow headway against a determined Italy, even though I had gotten a convoyed Army into Tuscany, a move that had been suggested by England. Bill and I were working closely together in the diplomatic sessions; not an unheard-of thing for France and England of course, but we seemed to hit it off pretty well (he asked me if I was doing anything for lunch after the session). And after one build turn when I built two Armies instead of any Fleets, he even asked me if I was married! (Note to self: consider wearing short skirt and low-cut top for distraction in negotiations for next tournament) So England had been making some progress in Scandinavia against Russia while Nick's Germany had been stalled trying to make headway in the center since he had to re-take Munich. Austria had done well in the Balkans, Turkey contained, and Russia trying to hold back England while at the same time pressure Turkey. Then England then decided to break things open by stabbing Germany.

Naturally, I went along with this, since I thought I'd be able to pick up at least Munich and strengthen my northern frontier since I had been able to take Venice from Italy the turn before. However, it didn't work out quite that way. Oh, I was able to get Munich all right, and England to take Holland and Denmark, but at the same time he slipped a Fleet behind me and took Brest! (Isn't it just like a man; talks to me of marriage when all along all he wanted to do was grab my Brest!). Afterward Bill said he wouldn't have stabbed me except that the time limit for the game was coming up and he needed to make as much progress as possible to get into the final. So the last couple of turns became kind of a free-for-all; Turkey getting eliminated by Russia who in turn had been pushed out of the north by England, Germany and Italy down to a couple of units each, Austria holding on in the Balkans and England and I splitting the rest of the board with England a couple of centers ahead of me in total centers. I was never able to re-take Brest, but on the last turn I was able to steal Belgium from him! So I was pretty happy with my outcome, even though it wasn't quite good enough to get into the final later that night.

All in all, I had a really good time at my first tournament; I met my objectives of not getting eliminated, working out a Triple Alliance, and ending the session with a strong finish. I don't know when I'll get the chance to play in another tournament, since I've now moved back to Washington state and money is tight from the expense of the move, but I know that when I do, I'll be able to stab with the best of them!

Kendra L. Malm

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