The Editor and the Readership
Once again, we have received mail. This time, last issue's Frontline column generates controversy and sparks a response from a prominent hobby figure. Hooray, it worked!
There's always room for more mail, though! Please feel free to send in your comments and suggestions; we love constructive feedback.
First, I'd like to say how wonderful it is to see the DP cranking out issues again on a regular basis. What a wonderful service for the hobby!
Second, I am moved to write in response to the FRONTLINE debate between Mr. Barnes and Mr. Maletsky. The particular passage which moved me to respond was this:
First of all, top boards are unfair to the player with the best tournament score. Having a top board means that the player who best succeeds in the tournament, under the scoring system provided, may not end up as the tournament winner. Imagine a tournament where in the final round, the player who was in 8th place, a single point out of 7th under the scoring system, achieves solo victory, while the player who was in 7th place (and hence is on the top board) manages to eke out board leadership with a whopping 6 supply centers before time expires. Does anyone really want to say the player in 7th who topped his board with 6 centers in this example played the best in the tournament, and as a consequence, deserves to be tournament champion?
As it happens, I will stand up and say, YES, the player who topped the board with 6 centers almost CERTAINLY played a better game than the player who achieved the solo. Of course, this might not be the case, but several factors alluded to in the "pro" section of the debate, namely, the quality of the opposition and the consistently high level of play on top boards, suggest that this is likely the case. The key here, of course, lies in the value of the play of the entire tournament weighed against the play of a single board.
What is interestingly hidden in "CON" argument is the contention that the top board is over-valued compared to the other boards on the final round, but that a solo result should be sufficient to catapult a player from eight place to first. As a counter example, what if the player who achieved the solo in the final round had a total score of Zero points going into the final round? Under many scoring systems that do NOT use a top board, this player would be accorded the winner for the entire weekend. How is this not over-valuing a single result over consistency of play?
What is of more concern for the tournament scenario — and this is the reason that the North American hobby will not soon be able to assign any real value to the title of National Champion — is that tournament diplomacy is, after all, a VARIANT of diplomacy, as much as Colonial or Chromatic or Ancient Med. The lack of any quantifiable difference between results that are not solo victories or eliminations prevents the setting of standardized judging criteria. Consequently, short of a tournament scoring system that assigns 1 point for a win, 0 points for an draw, and -1 points for an elimination (which most tournament players would agree is unsatisfying — but could this formula be applied to the information in your database, Laurent?) anything else is a matter of opinion. Consequently, the bias of the tournament director regarding what constitutes good play varies so wildly that no objective standard can be agreed upon. This may well be as it should be, a question that I do not propose to answer here.
Given this, a top board is just as valid a means of determining the best player for a weekend's diplomacy as any other. When the conditions required for victory are clearly articulated before the first game begins, then the objections of unfairness advanced by the author of the "CON" seems unfounded. Players are "arbitrarily" assigned to play against the six other best players? There is simply nothing arbitrary about this, as the point of the first several rounds is to determine who will have the chance to compete for the title of tournament champion – a system not unlike that used in professional sports such as hockey. Is it unfair that the two teams who win their several playoff games have to play each other, instead of weaker teams? Of course not. The same contention holds true for the claim that a top board weights the final round's performance heavier than earlier rounds – OF COURSE it does. The confusion in this case arises from the fact that the other players in the tournament continue to play another round of diplomacy, rather than have to sit at home and watch the "big game" on television (a result that many tournament players might agree would be unsatisfying, if good for the hobby. The final round of the World Diplomacy Championships, coming soon to ESPN8!).
In an elimination-style event, a top board makes perfect sense. Diplomacy tournaments have not traditionally been elimination-style events, though this has in fact happened in online tournament play — and congratulations to Mike McMillie, who JUST was crowned winner of the 2004 World Email Championships! — In face to face play, the social benefits that accrue to the opportunity to play several rounds of diplomacy has outweighed the real desire to crown an objective victor. The top board, it seems to me, is a result of a recognition that other scoring systems are often unsatisfying (though, I must say that my personal experience suggests that almost ANY scoring system will identify those who play well on any given weekend) because of the lack of an objective qualification for the winner. One player defeating six others who have played well satisfies the desire to identify a clear winner.
To the editors,
I wanted to send a quick follow up note regarding Adam Silverman’s submission “What Players Want: Motivating Factors in Diplomacy” from the S2007R issue of the Diplomatic Pouch.
There is one other recurrent motivation for end game scenarios that has to be recognized and worked with / around. That motivation is “ending the game as quickly as possible.” I have seen my share of games where less successful players want to force some sort of an ending so that they can clean off their plate for a fresh contest in which they may have better chances for victory. This can lead players to throw a game rather than fight on to the bitter end. I do not claim to be a proponent of this strategy, but I think it is one more consideration to appreciate.