Comments on Hidden Tournament Systems

by Edi Birsan

In the early 70's there was the start of Diplomacy tournaments. DipCon 3 in Oklahoma was the first of these (1970 won by John Smythe). The systems used became involved and developed along the different lines of approach to the game. There was then, as there is now, and as there will be in the future, no consensus on what the nature of achievement is in the game other than a win, and no concensus on the relative value of win vs non winning results.

The 70's also saw an escalation of the competitive nature of the hobby and the investment of ego's in the tournament results. There was also concurrent the intense discussion of what a tournament is and is not. Remember that the DipCon's started as a social gathering of the postal hobby with the emphasis on being a place where hobby feuds could be eased and people could meet each other face to face. Tournament play was not an issue at first.

As things escalated in the focus on recognition and achievement, spurred on by a rash of rating systems and a press of zines covering the DipCons, the issue of tournament gaming vs normal face to face came it does again and again in waves of disgust over history...sort of like bad Mexican food. In the late 70's and early 80's there was some tournament results that left some sour tastes in some people's mind. Oddly enough, no one really remembers what or who it was specifically, however the cry went out that people were playing the system rather than Diplomacy. Clearly there was some close victory that was achieved by a non postal player as I recalled. Whether there was collusion also tossed in, usually a flaming straw on the back of a controversal stack of kindlewood or not I do remember. One of the issues was the cross game watching: games that finished first had a big effect on later games as those players scrambled to better the results of the prior games.

One of the solutions proposed was to have a secret rating system. In this way it was felt that people would have to 'play their game' and let the pieces fall where they will. The tournament director (TD) would give a vague outline of the system focusing on things like was two two way draws better than a win, or whether supply centers count etc. The height of this system was probably the 1989 DipCon in San Diego where not only was the system very complicated, but it combined standard games, gunboat, variant and a quiz to generate an overall score for the win. (I wound up as the Champion in that one even though in the individual dip tournament I came in 3rd or 4th.)

The problem with the secret system manifested itself over the time of its use as follows:

I consider the idea as having been given the best efforts by all parties over about a 10 year period with sporadic outbursts now and again with the same unsatisfactory result. Even though I have been the benefactor more times than most on such systems, I do not like them because my fellow players find it hard to accept the results as a measure of achievement.

I understand that what is called 'mega-gaming' or Tournament Gaming, may have had a recent controversy in Australia-New Zealand, I think resorting to the Hidden System is not a good solution, go out an make some new misake rather than repeat what has already failed.

Two ideas that I have floated over a few decades that have been consistently shot down, and maybe deservedly so, but they may appeal to your locals:

  1. Different Strokes For Different Folks
    Take several (two or three) popular systems with diametrically opposed empasis such as the C-Dip supply center system and the typical American system with an emphasis on draws. Let players register to play under one system or another and then make awards based on the system. You can get weird and weigh the systems or use rankings in each system to get a winner. This allows the players to try to scope out what the other player is playing for while preserving their own bias as to what they think the system should be.

  2. Rankings
    Take the typical four round tournament and take two systems. Score rounds one and three using one system and two and four using another. Or all four on separate systems. Let the players choose which system they want to play under, then within the rounds do rankings as the method to determine the winner.

    The key in both these ideas is to surrender to the concept that there is no single system that appeals to everyone, so why not have it flexible and let the players decide what they want so they only have themselves to bitch about when they do not win.

    Edi Birsan

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