Yet Another 1998 World DipCon Report

Simon Szykman

I'm going to keep this short and to the point for a number of reasons. I know that other reports will give a variety of impressions of WDC, so I don't want to echo too much of what others will say. More importantly, I have no idea if anyone who didn't attend WDC cares that much about my WDC report, and quite possibly even those who did attend aren't interested.

For those (few?) who are interested, I'll make a few basic observations and summarize the games I played in. Since not everyone will read Yet Another World DipCon Report, I'm going to be distilling the more general feelings I had about tournament play into a future article on the topic of face-to-face Diplomacy and tournament play in general.

I will start at the beginning, but only after jumping to the middle for a second.... In case some people don't read this report to the end, there are a couple of things of note that occurred in one of my games that I wanted to highlight. First, something I had never seen happen before: in the first game I played, the Austrian player did not have his first adjustment until 1910! No builds and no removes. Until 1910. It may not sound like such a big deal, but it was really something to see somebody go so long without growing, and not only managing not to get killed but not even losing a unit. And on top of that, you would think that so late in the game a three-unit power would turn out to fall prey to an attack, but his 1910 adjustment was a build, not a disband, and the Austrian went on to share a piece of a three-way draw. Second, in the same game, a less fortunate player did not fare as well and was knocked down to one unit in the first few years. However, rather than throwing his last supply center to the closest player so that he could get out of the game, he stuck it through. Until 6:30 in the morning! He played his one unit for something like ten game-years, in an almost-twelve-hour game when most people would have given up and died long before to get some sleep. An impressive show of dedication!

Now, back to the beginning. First off, I had a great time. A fun trip to North Carolina, a terrific time at the Con, and another good time on the drive home. A fair amount of time went into orchestrating the travel plans. In the end, it went like this: Pitt Crandlemire drove down from Boston to Maryland, stayed overnight at a hotel, and picked me up at my house in Gaithersburg the following day. We drove to Dulles Airport in Virginia to pick up Manus (Hand). We then drove into Washington, DC to pick up Mark Wightman (one of Britain's top Diplomacy players, who knew Pitt and Manus from last year's WDC in Sweden but whom I had never met). Mark had come to the U.S. to attend WDC but had flown into Washington a few days earlier to do some sightseeing. We then drove downtown to meet Tim Richardson (maintainer of The Diplomatic Pouch's Face-to-Face section) for lunch. He was headed to WDC as well, but he was part of another group that was driving separately. After lunch, we took off for Chapel Hill.

Okay, the only thing that makes the previous paragraph interesting is the fact that we took a roundabout route to Chapel Hill. That's enough of that, and I'll not bore you with non-Diplomacy details of what we did when we got there, such as the grunginess of the dormitory rooms (which didn't particularly bother me, but I couldn't help noticing), where we went for dinner, etc. While on the subject of food, though, I did want to mention one discovery: everything they say about Southern hospitality is true. Anywhere we went, we had great service delivered by friendly people -- not just polite, mind you, but outwardly friendly as if they are among the few people in the country who are actually happy to be doing what they are doing. Oh yeah, and the Waffle House on Franklin Street has a great breakfast. (Again, you probably don't care about food, but I brought up the Waffle House in an attempt to find a way to work in the fact that Manus picked up the nickname "Honey Bubba," but since I'm not managing to do it elegantly, you'll just have to ask him about it.) [Gee, thanks, Simon. --Ed.]

Anyway, I met a bunch of genuinely nice people, some of whom I'd met before, some of whom I had corresponded with by e-mail but had never met, some of whom I knew by reputation, some of whom I'd had been in games I'd GM'ed, and some of whom I'd never heard before. I won't try to list them here for fear of leaving anyone out, but suffice it to say that I liked pretty much everyone I got to know and I'm looking forward to meeting these people again.

Another interesting observation is that the PBEM player community made an impressive showing in the final standings. Of the top 14 players (the 14 players who comprised the "top two boards" were announced at the end of the Con), half of them were PBEM players (though not necessarily exclusively PBEM players). In the team event, the first place team was Team Internet which consisted of three PBEM players.

Before you read something I didn't intend in the above comments, I'm not trying to say anything about PBEM players vs. FTF players, but I am suggesting, for the small minority of FTF people who perceive PBEM players as being less skilled than seasoned FTF players, that PBEM players are able to not only hold their own in a tournament environment, but to excel in tournament play. Perhaps more importantly, I am glad to see PBEM players getting involved in non-PBEM play. Those of you who have read my previous articles may recall that I've commented before on bridging the gap between the FTF/PBEM/Postal Diplomacy communities, and I think this kind of cross-fertilization is good. I'd be just as happy to have some of the top FTF tournament players come and wipe up the board with me in a PBEM game.

Enough proselytizing; back to the Con. While I had a great time, it was pretty exhausting. Round 1 started at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. I ended up being in the longest running game, which ran until 6:30 a.m. Saturday. I grabbed breakfast, went to sleep for an hour and twenty minutes, got up, showered, and reported for round two. It was depressing to go to sleep, wake up, and find that the coffee I had brought back with me from breakfast was still warm. My second game ran from 10:00 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. I had another brief break before Round 3, which got started at 7:00 pm. That game "only" ran until 12:45 a.m. Of those three games (if I recall correctly), I was the second largest player in two three-way draws and the largest power in a four-way draw.

For those of you who lost count, that's over twenty-five hours of Diplomacy in less than 30 hours, with less than an hour and a half of sleep. Ugh! I then crashed until round Round 4 started Sunday morning and that's when I Got Hammered. Yes, I was one of the few people who finished in the top two boards and also got another award besides. But was it a Best Germany award? No, it wasn't. A team competition award? No, not that either. For my performance in Round 4, I received the I Got Hammered award, which is an award devised to simultaneously show pity for as well as to taunt the person who receives the soundest beating of the tournament. In this case, that person was me. Luckily, it happened in Round 4, so I can blame it on sleep deprivation. A very brief summary of my four games follows, including the story of my hammering.

Round 1: Friday night's game I drew Turkey, allied with Russia, banged heads with Italy and Austria while Russia grew bigger and bigger. Finally, it reached the point where Russia was soon going to get past the point where he could be stopped and since we were allied with a mostly-open border between us, I was the only one with a reasonable chance at attacking him. I did so, threatening A/I by saying that if they didn't give me a bit of room to work against Russia, Russia would win (which was quite true). After the stab, Russia started feeding supply centers to France one or two at a time, trying to throw the game to France. Austria finally got rid of Italy and he and I managed to get up a stalemate line before France could get a solo. We finished off Russia and ended in a three-way.

Round 2: Saturday morning I drew Germany, allied with France and opened with the Sealion. We were doing quite well for much of the game. Ultimately, it was down to France, Austria, and me. France stabbed me and I used the throw-game tactic myself, with more success than Russia did in my first game. I said that I'd defend my front against France and let Austria take everything from behind if he didn't pull back. He didn't believe me, so for about two years I let Austria feed off me, but he was smart enough to do it slowly so that I could hold off France. France finally realized that he couldn't stop Austria from winning if things proceeded, so he came to me and said "Okay, I believe you... what now?" At that point, I wasn't even sure we could stop Russia, but Russia hadn't been moving his back line forward quickly enough. France and I were able to push him back to a stalemate. This time, I wasn't worried about another stab. Austria was so close to winning that any false move by France would give Austria the win. The game ended in a three-way.

Round 3: Saturday evening, I drew France in a moan-sigh game. A moan-sigh game is one in which, as the player list for the board is read aloud by the tournament organizer, several well-known top-rated players end up on the same board -- the moan is the sound generated by the other players who find themselves on that board, and the sigh is the collective sound of relief made by the remaining attendees upon hearing the last player's name and realizing that they are not stuck on that board. Given the quality of players on this board, the chance of anyone getting a win in this game was slim. I ended up allying with Germany and due to a couple of mistakes on England's part, we grew quickly. A bit too quickly, and the rest of the powers got worried. It ended up being F/G vs. I/A/R/T. The game was heading for a stalemate and there was no way I wanted a game to end in a six-way. So I arranged for me to take out Germany in exchange for A/R/T getting rid of Italy. By the time we were just about down to four players, I was up at around 12 SC's. It was now F vs. A/R/T. Being up at 12 SC's, I really wasn't interested in a draw, let alone a four-way. I wanted to work to eliminate one more power but I needed help from some other power to do so since I was on the other side of the line they were defending. In other words, to eliminate Turkey, Austria and Russia would have to attack him, whereas to eliminate Russia or Austria, the other powers would have to be willing to attack or at the very least to stop supporting that power's defenses so that I could break through. I discussed it at length with each of the remaining powers, but they were just too worried about my size. Austria and Russia didn't want to divert forces from their front to attack Turkey, and they both made it clear to the others in that alliance that if a decision were made to sacrifice them they would throw the game to me. Without any one of them willing to attack another, it remained at a stalemate with A/R/T able to hold off France, and it ended in a four-way. That big a draw was less than ideal, but on the other hand I can think of worse outcomes than being the largest power in a draw with such highly-skilled players.

Round 4: Sunday morning, as I mentioned above I Got Hammered. I must admit, my achievement was not as impressive as it could have been. I drew Austria, got attacked right out of the gate, and was eliminated by 1903. But that's not much of an achievement. Anyone at all can do that. At last year's AvalonCon, the person who received the I Got Hammered was not the mere victim of an early elimination, he was obliterated. He was actually doing fairly well in the game, and received the award for the impressive feat of losing something like seven supply centers in a single year. Compared to that, getting eliminated quickly is not an accurate definition of getting hammered.

Taking awards seriously -- even an IGH award -- I tried to explain that I didn't think I deserved the award. I also tried to explain that even judging based on a quick exit, I was not deserving of the award because my speedy demise was in part due to my supporting Russia into Budapest when it became clear that I couldn't hold Italy off for very long anyway, just to make sure Italy didn't get it, as it was Italy who wielded the hammer that hit me. (Incidentally, I can at least rejoice in the fact that Italy did not share a part in the final draw in the game.) In my opinion, the fact that I helped somebody into my last SC is tantamount to cheating and should automatically have disqualified me from consideration for the award. Otherwise, you'd have people suiciding left and right in hope of obtaining the prestigious I Got Hammered award, don't you think? But alas, my sincere protests about not deserving the award were taken by others as a denial that I had had a particularly awful game, something that I most certainly do not deny. People reassured me that no, in fact, I was the worst off and really did deserve the award, so I brought home my award (a nice wooden hammer with an engraved brass plate on it that reads "I Got Hammered") and have it proudly displayed in my office at home.

And that about wraps it up. We stayed over until Monday, hit the road, dropped Manus and Mark back at Dulles airport, dropped me off at home, and Pitt was off toward Boston. I'm looking forward to the next tournament I can get to. Hopefully, that will be AvalonCon coming up in a few weeks, which is right in my backyard north of Baltimore, Maryland. There's a possibility that I won't be able to make it, which is unfortunate as there are some people who I'm particularly looking forward to meeting again. That personal interaction is something that PBEM play simply doesn't capture, but I'll save that topic for another time.

Simon Szykman
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