FIRST GAMES

by Conrad von Metzke


When I was asked for this article describing my first game of Diplomacy, my initial reaction was, "Nifty! Thatíll be a snap, I can hammer that one out in half an hour!" And down I sat, and opened Word, and then…

I sat. And I sat. And I sat. And after rather too much more of that, I began to worry, and creaked up out of the chair, wobbled into where my wife was reading and said, "Dear, did I forget my herbal memory supplements tonight?" And she smiled, and replied, "Ah, the delicious irony of it, that that should be the specific thing youíve forgotten…"

So. Apparently itís going to take just a wee bit more hammering than Iíd expected. But letís be fair; it was 46 years ago! Thatís before many of you were born! Thatís before some of your parents were born! So allow me please a small bit of your time as I attempt to figure out which drawer I put my early Dip memories in, and then sort them out from all the other crap Iíve piled on top in the intervening two score and half a dozen…

It was the early 'sixties. The very early 'sixties. So early in the 'sixties that there remains some doubt that they were actually the 'sixties yet. (This would actually make some sense if youíd been there and could now look back with a semblance of nostalgia.) We had John Kennedy as President. Canada had John Diefenbaker as P.M. We got to chuckle that we had the charismatic guy and they had the dour old dud. (A few years later, weíd get Richard Nixon and Canada would get Pierre Trudeau, and they got to gloat right back at us.) No one had walked on the moon, there were no cell Ďphones to misuse, nor computers to take over two thirds of our waking lives…

But what we did have, brand new and just waiting to be discovered, was Diplomacy — "The Game of International Intrigue." In 1961 the inventor, Allan Calhamer, secured a deal with a small Boston firm, Games Research Inc., to manufacture and sell game sets in limited retail distribution, and also by mail. The latter was achieved by means of classified advertising in "intellectual" magazines of the day; and thatís how I found it, by reading a small notice in Saturday Review (anybody remember that one?) offering to ship the game postpaid for (I vaguely recall) about $8.00.

And what a perfect time it was for me to find such an offer! I had just started college, and was desperate to find something to do besides actually attend class. I had made a few new college friends, most of them involved in the Political Science department (despite that I was a music major) and with a special interest in International Relations. We were young and idealistic; Vietnam hadnít started to escalate, and most of us somehow naively imagined that "negotiation" might prove to be the defining word of the decade. (Sadly, it turned out to be "napalm" instead.) So I clipped the ad and showed it to one of my new friends — one who actually had a checking account! His name was Rodney C. Walker, he sent for the game, and about three weeks later he and I and a few others whom weíd bamboozled, met in the International Relations Laboratory at San Diego State College, and learned to play.

The first of our actual games (as opposed to putative 'training sessions') probably happened at Rod Walkerís home; the I.R. Lab was too busy with actual students to be used for the length of a game. Rod and I took turns hosting our games for some months, but as he owned the only game set, he got to host more often. He paid for the game, he saved the gas money. Fair enough. (Besides, his parents' home was two stories; mine was just one. We got to use an entire floor at Rod's.) A bit later, when gathering seven people began to be difficult (some lost interest, others — gasp — had other things to do in life), we moved the games back to the I.R. Lab at the college and started trying one-season-per-day games. In May 1962, when the college year ended (and Rod Walker graduated, entered the Air Force, and took his game set with him), I bought my own game set, recruited other friends to try it out, and got an entirely new group going. (That meant my house; college was out of session. My parents were thrilled.)

I also attempted, by way of keeping in touch, to start up a postal game with Rod Walker and others, some of whom had also moved away. The attempt failed; in fact, not a single turn was actually played, all we managed was a player list and a couple of "come on, guys, send your orders!" letters which were unanswered. But despite that it went nowhere, it remains the earliest effort to play Diplomacy by mail that has yet been identified — June 1962, more than a year in advance of the first successful game run by Dr. John Boardman of Brooklyn. (No artifacts from that first attempt have survived, Iím sorry to tell you; there is no museum, do not try to book tours.)

All of which is just ever so wonderful, I know, but the more perspicacious amongst you will have noticed that there has not yet been any real discussion of my first game. One passing reference is rather an empty shell of a reminiscence, n'est-ce pas? But, well, er, you see, thereís a small difficulty. Not only hasnít there been any such discussion, I fear there ainít gonna be any. Because, O The Shame, I simply cannot remember! We played too many games. We were insatiable. We were addicts. We were Demonically (Diplomatically?) Possessed. And after a while, the games we played all tended to blend together into the equivalent of one huge banana smoothie, from which individual components can no longer be separated. I am so very sorry for this failure of specificity. But, at a rough guess, youíll live.

Still, detailed recollection or not, I do know that in aggregate — though I sure as hell wasnít very successful in college at this stage - I well and truly learned more about Diplomacy (The Game of International Intrigue) than any six people actually need to know, and apparently Iíve gone on to become a Legend In My Own Time, hobby-wise. This is unlikely to get me into the Britannica or Whoís Who, nor has it engorged my retirement income in any way, but I have to admit that itís quite nice really to come in contact with a newer hobbyist and have them write, "Why, Iíve heard of you. Youíre a Legend In Your Own Time!" Wow! Thatís an ego-boost to the highest degree there is!

(But I wonder why nobody ever mentions why Iím a legend?)

Conrad von Metzke
(metzke@san.rr.com )

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