ABOUT THE POUCH

by Manus Hand


Yep. You read that right. It says "by Manus Hand" up there. It hasn't said that for a long while now, has it? But it's not lying. It's me, back where you used to see me so frequently, and for so long. And yes, that's my smiling face. Looks a bit more hairy (well, except for under the hat; the hair is all as good as gone above the eyebrows now) than when you'd see me next to a byline in past issues. Back in those days, you thought you'd never get rid of me. Then, for so long, I wondered if you'd ever have to put up with me again. Well, I guess we're still not 100% sure of the answers to either question, but for now at least, here I am, whether you like it or not.

Now let's see if I remember how to write an "About" article.... It should come back to me; after all, I wrote more than twenty of the fifty of these things.

Wow. Fifty "About The Pouch" articles. Fifty. And I haven't had a hand in them since (pause to check) the 28th one, way back in Spring 2002 Movement. Dang. Six and a half years. Has it really been that long? How'd you guys possibly get along without me?

Like everyone and everything, the answer to that question is "sometimes better, sometimes worse". In those six and a half years, The Pouch has seen its fair share of changes, ups, downs, and skipped Zine issues (even, sadly, a skipped Movement Phase issue; something I had hoped to never see). The Zine-editorship baton that I passed along in the Spring 2002 Movement issue has changed hands more than once since then, and its seeming permanent vacancy was only averted by the action of a committee of Pouch-lovers including (surprise!) that hobby stalwart Edi Birsan and some other prominent names, such as David Norman and Millis Miller. From their efforts came the arm-twisting that it took to convince (beginning with the final issue of 2006) Charles Roburn to step in. I believe I can speak not only as the founder of The Pouch but also for every one of its readers when I say that Charles has not only stepped in, but has stepped up. Today's Pouch is active and vibrant, and still the important organ in the world of Diplomacy that it was meant to be. And all of that without me! Wow.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and here in this fiftieth "About The Pouch" article, I want to reflect back on the early days and the forty-nine issues in between.

The Zine Format

Initially, The Pouch was going to be another paper-zine, but since I used a computer to edit the articles, it slowly dawned on me to save printing costs and subscription feeing by publishing on the Web, and to this day I immodestly credit myself with inventing the Webzine. And now, nearly fourteen years later, here we are, still Weblishing The Pouch.

The Table of Contents page of the first Pouch issue looks pretty old-fashioned today, with its corny (often crappy, Hand-made [capitalization intended]) little square icons to the left of each article title, each of which was accompanied by a quickie, often tongue-in-cheek, description of the article itself. Each article in those early issues ends with the author's name down at the bottom next to a silly little animated envelope graphic that was so amazing to us back in the day. Believe it or not, there was no simple way to page through an early issue of the Zine if you wanted to skip around from one article to the next like you can in a paper magazine: you had to clumsily go back to the Table of Contents between each article in order to be able to find a link to the next one!

Now, all these many years later, just look at The Pouch today! I'm telling you, it has taken a whole lot of laziness and copying and pasting to keep The Zine's low-tech look-and-feel going for fourteen years. But it works. ...And (honest!) it was a high-tech look-and-feel in the Internet of 1995. Trust me (especially those of you readers who weren't even born then).

In some ways, it seems very little has changed.

The Zine Contents

Those of you who know the rest of the story will remember that the main reason The Pouch is here is because of a variant called Payola Diplomacy that was developed by John Woolley and myself. Excited to publish the variant to the world, I submitted an article to Diplomacy World, long the flagship paper-zine of the hobby. At that time, though, DW was going through a crisis of leadership, and no one knew if or when the next issue would be published. Impatient, I finally decided I'd create The Pouch, if for no other reason than to tell the world the rules to Payola.

So I enlisted all the existing big names in the hobby I that could get a hold of, and I enlisted some other people into becoming newly-minted big names in our world, and I badgered all of these people into writing articles for my new zine. I did so much badgering, in fact, that the first issue filled up so completely that I didn't even get around to using my own Payola article until the fifth issue of that first year (I suppose that's a strange form of impatience, isn't it?).

One of the badgerees was my friend and co-Payola creator John Woolley, who wrote the first-ever Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Diplomat article for that inaugural issue. In that article, John introduced Diplomacy players to the clever Sultan of Suwat, blithely ignoring the question of how a game invented in the 1950's could have been played in Victorian and Edwardian times by the great detective of Baker Street and his acquaintances.

Another article series that was a staple of those early days was also introduced in that first issue, something called Incoming! Observations from a Newbie. This was a series meant to help the new player learn more about our hobby and feel comfortable by reading about the experiences of others who were just coming to it.

Now, all these many years later, just look what The Pouch is being used for today! The Pouch's raison d'Ítre is well-represented in this issue by an article reprinted from Diplomacy World's own fiftieth issue, and by an article by DW's longtime head honcho Doug Kent, who pitches in to help with some of the afore-mentioned badgering that has always been what drives The Pouch. And The Pouch Zine is still an avenue for the publication of variants, as this issue's article on Ambition & Empire proves. Not only that, but Ambition & Empire incorporates (wow! talk about synchronicity!) a take on the Payola rules, allowing the players to bribe foreign units. This 50th issue also features continuation of the Incoming! series, with an article by Dave Simpson concerning a player's first experience with one huge part of our hobby. And also here in this 50th issue, some clown has even written a new Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Diplomat article (my own personal favorite article series, actually, and I hope the bozo continues to regale us with more of them, more regularly than he has lately), once again featuring a Diplomacy puzzle posed by the same Sultan of Suwat.

In some ways, it seems very little has changed.

The Online Resources

Back in 1995, The Pouch was just a Zine (my first-born). Over the next few years, in an initiative spearheaded by Simon Szykman, it grew the Online Resources section, and in these fourteen years of Pouchdom, the hobby has stayed strong, and has continued to grow and flourish around The Pouch. The Pouch, in the meantime, has tried to keep up with it by ensuring that the Online Resources section stays up-to-date, providing its own content as well as links to reference articles around the Net. One of my own proudest contributions to this area of The Pouch is the work I did to gather and catalogue the various openings, creating The Pouch's Library of Diplomacy Openings. I had always wanted and intended that library to be a useful resource for players, and one that would grow over time with the addition of links and information as new articles on the various openings were written.

Now, all these many years later, just look what The Pouch's Online Resources are being used for today! Here in this issue of The Zine, we have an article about The Bohemian Crusher, in which its author mentions having used the library to learn more about the opening. You can be sure that this new article will be added (if it has not been already) to the links you can explore when reading about the Bohemian Crusher in the library.

In some ways, it seems very little has changed.

The DPjudge

When the Online Resources section was unveiled, so were a whole lot of other things: sections specifically devoted to the face-to-face, postal, and email hobbies, a showcase for demo games, and the DPjudge (my second-born). All of this was growth that was fueled by the DP Council, a collection of devoted volunteers who each took the helm of one of these other areas of The Pouch while I concentrated on The Zine. When the time came for me to hand over The Zine, I stayed on as a member of the DP Council, continuing to run (and enhance) the DPjudge, nowadays more as an assistant to Sam Tyler, who has ably taken up my slack (and then some) in that area.

Speaking of the DPjudge, it, too, was born from Payola Diplomacy. I created the DPjudge initially to automate input to the Ken Lowe judges to implement Payola rules, and eventually it became an adjudicator in and of itself, separate and distinct from the other judges, and a full-blown part of The Pouch itself.

Now, all these many years later, just look what the DPjudge is being used for today! I have been busy over the last couple weeks adding support into the DPjudge for the Ambition & Empire variant described in this issue. (We're waiting only on graphics now; the variant should be fully supported on the DPjudge within the next month.)

In some ways, it seems very little has changed.

Coming Full Circle

For a long time, I ran a great many Payola Diplomacy games at the DPjudge. At the time of this writing, there seems to be but two Payola games currently running, one of them waiting for a replacement player. One of these two Payola games is on the Hundred map, and the other is on the 1900 map, and (what do you know?) both the Hundred and the 1900 variants were themselves first launched here in the pages of The Pouch! — the first in an article in the F1996M issue, and the second in the S2002M issue.

Now, all these many years later, I would like to invite at least seven of you to help me pay tribute to the variant that started us all on this fifty-issue (so far) journey, by playing a game of Payola. I have CREATEd, and will Master, a new Payola Diplomacy game named GoldenPouch, and I hope that it fills and gets underway quickly. If you wish to JOIN, but find that it's already started without you, just let me know, because I'll be more than happy to start a second (third, etc.) Payola game.

In some ways, it seems very little has changed.

And Now The Words You've Been Waiting For

But enough quickie remarks to help me assure myself that I'm back in my comfort zone. I may have been the guy who started this ball rolling back in 1994, but The Pouch has gotten along just fine without me driving it like a badgering taskmaster. It has picked itself up when it fell, and its first fifty issues will certainly not be its last fifty issues. While The Pouch is still important to me, these past years have proven that I — your humble founder and the guy with his name on the masthead — I am not what is important to The Pouch. Rather, it is you — you, the devoted Diplomacy player and loyal Pouch reader — it is you who are important to The Pouch, and it is because of you that The Pouch is still here fifty issues and fourteen years later. I...they...we...couldn't (and wouldn't) do it without you.

Now, all these many years later, if I remember correctly, I'm proud to continue the tradition I started so long ago that this article should end — sending you on to read the rest of the articles (well, actually, sending you clumsily back to the Table of Contents page) — with the fiftieth typing (well, actually, copying and pasting) of three specific words.

In some ways, it seems very little has changed.

Enjoy The Pouch!

The Editor
(editor@diplom.org)

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.