This is going to be a rather eclectic article. My memory isn't good enough for me to recall everything that happened a month ago at the Boston Massacre, least of all the details of games that, for all they lasted six hours or so, moved at a pace fast enough to keep me from really being certain what was going on at any given moment. And given that I'm not green enough of a player to write a 'Thoughts of a Newbie' themed piece, nor nearly experienced enough to write an effective 'Advice for a Newbie' column, there is no real underlying theme to this literary endeavor. But I feel nonetheless obligated to pay my public respects to its host and players, and say a few words about the tournament itself.
First, most importantly, I must emphasize that Massacre '09 was an excellent tournament. Melissa Call was an organized and fair TD, and together with her assistants ran an incredibly fun tournament. Additionally, Melissa and her husband Matt are gracious hosts, and for letting me crash on their couch for the second year running they deserve my further thanks.
I think the thing that sticks out in my mind most is how different an experience Massacre '09 was for me, compared with Massacre '08 (my first face-to-face tournament ever). The difference I attribute entirely to my own maturing, as it were, in the Game. Massacre '08 was an excellent tournament by all means, but being my first, it was also somewhat overwhelming; the skill of the other players, the novelty of not having three days to examine the board and write my orders, and the draining experience of playing for five, six, seven hours or more straight… it may not have exactly been a baptism by fire, but it was certainly an exhausting introduction to face-to-face play and tournaments in general.
This year, though, felt different. Not that the players were less skilled (if anything they seemed more skilled, now that I had played a few games and truly appreciated how difficult it was to play well consistently, much less to consistently top boards); nor to suggest the play was less fast-paced and exciting (it was actually probably more so, with the introduction this year of drop-dead deadlines). I still found myself racing to get orders written in time, to have one last word with an ally, or make one last plea to an enemy, still losing track of what was happening on the other side of the board and focusing almost solely on my own sphere of direct influence. But I certainly found that it was easier to do all that without panicking. I could have that last word, and still get my orders in without mis-ordering. I could suddenly find thirty seconds to look at the other side of map and realize I needed to speak with someone over there; and that thirty seconds was enough for me to make a cursory examination of the board and think of something worth saying. I certainly didn't feel as on top of things as I'm certain many others there were, but I also didn't feel left behind or bewildered; I had grown up.
I suppose all this is old hat to the experienced players, but if nothing else it might be slightly encouraging to players who've just attended their first tournament, and spent most of it curled up in a corner hoping the bad men would go away and stop talking about bouncing in Galicia. It does get easier, albeit, only eventually. And only after you've given up trying to sew up the knife-holes in the backs of your shirts.
I also learned at least one important lesson that had occurred to me earlier, and was confirmed by my experiences in Boston; knowing the people on the board is, if not vital, certainly very helpful. How another player thinks, how he is likely to respond to given situations and suggestions, what his style of play is… not knowing even some of that is like… well, like playing a game based on personalities with people you've never met before. In the end, the game is based upon the interplay of seven personalities and a host of mental characteristics. Knowing what at least some of these characteristics are before you begin the game will give you a leg up, allowing you to nuance your own play in whatever way will be most effective for dealing with another player's particular style and personality.
And, of course, the only way to know the people you're playing with, unless you're intuitive and better than I at reading people (and it wouldn't take much to be), is to play several games with them; so, along with getting used to the pace of face-to-face tournaments, this is another aspect of the game that only comes with time. But it re-emphasizes the importance of remembering who you play with: in the first place, they're probably fine people with whom you should stay acquainted; and in the second place, it's easier to find the soft spot of someone's back if you've patted his shoulder before.
So I guess the points of this article can be summarized so: go to Massacre '10, play lots of Diplomacy, and most of all remember the people you play with, so you can use their own personalities against them. Oh yeah; and have fun. It's just a game, and however overwhelming your first tournament experience was or will be, it'll get better.
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