I Love This Game!

By Jon Mlinar

Although I'm sure a lot of it had to do with a little beginner's luck and a crash course the night before, my experience at this year's World DipCon VIII/DipCon XXXIII/DixieCon XII whetted my appetite and had me asking for more. This report will be from the point of view of a true newbie to the hobby and to the Con scene as well. My qualifications as the ultimate newbie are as follows:
  1. I purchased my first game set in late April of this year,
  2. I had not played a round of Diplomacy until 6:30 p.m., Friday, May 22 (the first round of the tournament!),
  3. My preparation for the event consisted of reading the rules and getting approximately two hours of cram instruction from a long-time Diplomacy hobbyist and Con participant, Larry Peery.
I have to admit I was not totally unfamiliar with this type of game, having been an avid Risk game player starting in high school and on into college. But the unique aspects of Diplomacy intrigued me, and seemed to add a new dimension to the other games I had played in the past. And the fact that people would actually travel overseas to play it told me this was something that warranted further investigation.

The rule book supplied by Avalon-Hill with the game set I purchased was somewhat confusing and a little daunting at first, but the summary description of the game made it a little clearer. Trying to memorize the supply centers and the rest of the board would have been helped if I had been able to locate my old World Geography textbook (although I doubt it ever mentioned Helgoland Bight anywhere in it). Even with the cram course the evening before the Con, I remained apprehensive about the prospect of playing against some of the greatest players in the hobby.

David Hood made me feel very welcome as a new participant and the hospitality of the organizers helped me relax. Coming from Texas, and as the only player from that state at the Con, I came in knowing only a couple of people. But the nature of the game and the tournament organization made it easy to meet the other players. I can honestly say I made several new friends and can easily understand why so many participants return year after year.

Game 1
My first board I drew Austria, which turned out to be one of my better performances of the Con. As the game went on, it was apparent Germany and England were going to be the powers, with me and Russia trying not to stab each other so badly we were mortally wounded. Amazingly, a five-way alliance of Austria, Germany, Turkey, Italy, and France formed enough of a stalemate line to force a draw, although I did accede to allowing a three-way result involving Russia, Germany, and England. I had survived with four supply centers and played a key role in the outcome. I was hooked!

Game 2
Drawing England this round, I knew the new challenges of convoying armies and starting from a different corner of the board would be difficult. Finding out I faced Jim Yerkey as France and Tom Kobrin as Russia didn't help. And it didn't take long for them to make quick work of me. However, if Germany and I had gotten our act together in writing our orders correctly, I might have hung in there longer. (Always remember when relying on another power's fleet to convoy your army to tell him which army you want convoyed!)

Game 3
Saturday evening I drew Turkey, and played like it. Always remember, when forming alliances, "trust but verify!" Here is where I found how important building alliances and keeping communication lines open can be. Only Russia and Austria would talk to me, and Russia ended up stabbing me while I double-crossed Austria so many times he refused to help. A last minute appeal to Germany to mount an all-out attack on the Czar was laughed off, and I was toast. Still, I had fun.

Game 4
Sunday morning. Fortified with extra sleep and a new determination, I drew Mother Russia. This was perhaps the most fun game of the Con. The Russia-Turkey alliance actually worked for a while and probably lasted long enough to ruin Germany's chances. But while we were fighting these incredibly bloody (and usually futile) Balkan Wars with Italy and Austria, France quietly wiped out the British with German help and threatened to make the world eat snails and enjoy it. Upon the realization that if we didn't quit decimating each other we were dead meat, an unlikely alliance formed, creating a stalemate line running from Sevastapol through Germany and Tyrolia and on into North Africa. Forced to accept the stalemate, France shared in a draw with Russia, Germany, Turkey, Austria, and Italy. The most amazing thing about this game was witnessing the creation of 100% fleet Turkish armed forces that remained a terror throughout the game.

All in all, it was an great experience and definitely got me hooked on the hobby. The game itself is outstanding, and getting to play with people who have played for years was a terrific education for me. Discovering that there is such an active PBEM hobby was great. That will give me an opportunity to stay in touch with a lot of the guys I met and keep my skills and knowledge of the game fresh.

Would I recommend the game to others? Absolutely! Would I encourage Dip hobbyists to enter any of the Cons? Without hesitation. Even as a newbie, I played well enough to finish two points behind last year's champion! And a fun part of the Con was playing with hobbyists as young as 15 and as old as .? With as many young players as participated in this year's event, I have no doubt that the Diplomacy hobby will continue to grow.

Jon Mlinar
(jonstang@sprynet.com)

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