Way back in the Fall 2007 Move issue I was the Pouch's “New Diplomacy Newbie”, fresh faced and just discovering what the online Diplomacy hobby was all about. My initial musings were just that, musings, as I had little or no experience to bring to bear as I had only started playing The Game at the start of 2007. Most of the other articles in the those editions of the zine were clearly written by people who had much, much more experience than I did. Going back over the articles I wrote in my early days and my thoughts of my first year in the hobby is interesting – I was really keen back then, albeit naïve. Nowadays I’m probably still as keen, but hopefully a bit wiser.
In my first year, I had tried email Diplomacy, RT Dip online and also attended my first F2F Con, so I’d had a pretty broad grounding in the different flavours of the hobby. I started off playing Diplomacy online using the nJudges and actually got in to my first game via the Dip Pouch’s own Game Queue system. A year later I was applying for the Dipsters and Diplomacy Direct email groups once I found that I had sufficient games under my belt to qualify. One year in to my Diplomacy career and the perpetual delays in waiting for replacement online players was already a drag.
Not long after that first year, my writings dried up and so it’s been a while since I have written anything for the Pouch, but boy, have I been busy! In the last 16 months, I’ve…
Just as importantly as all that, over the past 4 years I’ve met a lot of interesting people from all over the world, formed some very good friendships, sown the seeds of many more and had a whole lot of fun in the process.
I can’t honestly remember the last time I played Diplomacy online. Face to Face Diplomacy is where it’s at for me nowadays. To this point in time, that has meant playing in tournaments rather than ad-hoc games, although hopefully I will be able to organise or play in some less structured, impromptu games in future. The main selling point for me is that in F2F Tournament games you get all the Diplomacy action you could want, compressed in to a just a few days. This seemed attractive when compared to the rigmarole of waiting for email based games to form, waiting to find new players, waiting for deadlines and so on. All that waiting! Well, I suppose you could stick to Gunboat online in the hope that the games stay delay-free. Not the same though, is it?
I make no secret of the fact that I prefer my Diplomacy face to face. If you’ve not considered playing F2F, I would like to try to convince you that it is a good idea. From the numbers of games played in recent years, it’s evident that many online players don’t even consider playing in an F2F game. There must be a bunch of reasons why people prefer PBEM, some of the reasons will be stronger than others, but I can think of a few general categories.
It must be easier to play a bunch of games from home (or work) right? Forget wasting an entire weekend at a Con, not spending that time with a significant other, having to build up brownie points to be able to make the trip and so on. Well, I can recall quite a few times when my fiancée (as was) lost patience with my Dip related emailing too!
“What are you doing that is so important?”
Deadlines in email games, not wanting to stall the game and let other players down, not wanting to be banned from future games for a poor reliability rating etc. is all additional pressure on top of the daily grind. Sometimes it’s just not ideal to have real life getting in the way of Diplomacy. The other aspect of this for me is probably impatience again, if a game stalled, I might be more inclined to start up another one in the interim. Of course, all the games would spring back in to life just as my own schedule got packed, but thankfully I managed to keep the number of simultaneous games down to a sensible level.
With F2F you just turn up, play, go home, job done! If I go to a Con to play F2F and don’t have a lot of email games on the go, then all that saved time in the evenings is time that I can spend with my new wife (fiancée as was, so I must’ve done something right!) and occasionally, I can write a Dip article or think about organising a Con, whist she’s watching the telly It’s all down to time management.
Yep, time again, but this time, timescales in-game. In an email game, you have plenty of time to muse over your position, to write just one more email in the hope that the recipient finally sees your point of view, to agonise over that 50-50 decision that could make/save/lose you a supply centre. In F2F you simply don’t have that luxury, how much pressure is that? Well, it’s the same for everyone else! All of your opponents have just as long as you to muse over an email position and they’ll have just as tight a deadline as you in F2F. Admittedly, misorders are a lot more common Face to Face, as there’s no automated judge to say “I don’t Understand” or “You can’t move from Lvp-War”, but then again, there’s not that many provinces on the board and not many types of order that can be written.
This is a continuation of from the paragraph above, really. One might expect that a successful F2F player has to know more than a successful PBEM player, due to the lack of reference material available when you are on tight deadlines at a convention. Well, that may not be the case, as you know more than you think. Go on, pick a province on the board, I bet you can name all the places it borders if you think about it. You won’t need to look at the board. What else do you need to know? Stalemate lines possibly. PBEM, you can look them up, F2F you probably can’t. So, maybe playing F2F will make you a better player as you have to learn more and you learn how to think on your feet, you can certainly carry that back in to other forms of The Game. Or maybe you know enough – just don’t let the guy who is nice to you in 1901 sweet talk you in to doing something you wouldn’t want to do. But that happens in online games just the same!
In an email game, you can be totally anonymous if you want, in gunboat, it’s expected. In an F2F game remaining anonymous is quite tough – but it’s been done! You can hide behind your keyboard in an email game, but you simply cannot avoid people in F2F if you want to win. Although that is often part of the attraction, it can be hard to deal with, particularly for a newcomer who goes in to a room with 6 players who have played before, who all seem to know each other well, know how each other play and so on. Still, the best of those players will be the ones looking for an edge and they’ll be the ones who talk to the new guy! If none of them do that, then the odds are, you’re already a better player than they are.
The fact that in my opinion it is the responsibility of a veteran player to encourage and assist new players in their early games to allow the hobby to flourish is a topic in its own right. I don’t know how you can expect to invite new players to a game and then crush them mercilessly if you want them to come back next time.
Or course, playing Face to Face, you can also see the faces of the other players, read their body language when they lie to you, watch them when the stab goes in, see who’s spending lots of time talking to who and so on. This is what makes F2F the purest “variant” of the game in my humble opinion. And the most fun.
You can start playing in an email game almost whenever you want, which is a pretty big plus point. If you’re gonna be busy for a while, simply skip starting any new games until time allows. On the other hand, F2F games tend to be at pretty fixed dates and they could be quite far away - unless it’s you organising the game of course. It can be hard to find 6 like-minded players for an ad-hoc game, for sure, but boardgames are on the up at the moment. People want to get away from computer screens and interact across a table. Use that to your advantage. Explain the game to friends or colleagues and you may find a few people who know nothing about boardgames, but are genuinely interested - especially if they play Real Time Strategy Computer games, or just fancy themselves as a puppet master!
Could be the big one! There’s no getting away from the fact that visiting a Con, staying over for a few days, eating and drinking away from home, buying another player a bunch of beers(!) all costs money. However, you have to be prepared to invest some cash in any hobby and playing Diplomacy face to face is no different.
What I will say though, is that these costs tend to diminish with time*. Your new mate you just met this weekend playing Diplomacy Face to Face at ThingyCon lives close to DoodadDipCon and has already offered to put you up if you were thinking of going there. Tournament Directors want players to play in their events, so they can often connect players to help keep the costs down. It definitely helps to be “in” a bit to get the best of this, so the first couple of Cons are likely to be the most expensive.
(* unless, of course, you suddenly decide to go play on the other side of the world – but then, combine it with a holiday – go see the world with the other half, get some culture, better yourself!)
Someone else will organise something won’t they? I’m just far too busy these days!
Well, maybe they won’t. Perhaps they just want one more player to commit to help out before they organise something. What if they are waiting for someone else to start things off? You could be that spark!
Diplomacy players are (or should be) good talkers who are good at planning and organising, but most of all, they want to play games of Diplomacy and enjoy it. If you can demonstrate that you are prepared to put in some effort, then you will find that people will flock to your banner to help out. You probably won’t even have to ask. New blood and new enthusiasm also invigorates those “tired old warhorses” who organised everything years ago and even if they don’t all want to play or want to organise, they have a lot of advice to offer. Just make sure they turn up and play!
Outside The Game
With online games, it may be difficult to form a relationship with other players as the natural tendency (from my experience) is not to give everything away, and anyway, emails take long enough to write when just focussing on the game itself, without having to try and find out who your opponent is, what other games they play, what sports they follow, who they vote for and so on. Then you have the EOG, a few won’t bother, some write a load, some don’t. Then that’s it. The game is over, move on, you may well not hear anything from any of those players ever again, unless you already knew them.
With F2F games, there’s the bar! Now I am not suggesting that all Dip players like a drink, but most are sociable - very sociable. What better after the tension of a hard fought Dip game than to settle down and go over what happened? (Let’s face it, who else would possibly care? ) This way, any misunderstandings in the game are often resolved immediately afterwards. Lots of advice gets handed out and then the old war stories come out, which is always entertaining. You find out who knows who, who’s new, who’s seen it all before, you make friends. Diplomacy players even play other games too, so if you are at a Con, you can while away the hours till the next Diplomacy round playing something else. Or (shock horror) go find other people to play a game with.
I guess that this is why there are a number of successful web based Diplomacy sites out there that look to build a community around the game, rather than just having a faceless email setup. These sites bring the convenience of internet based Diplomacy and combine it with the external aspects which help to instil a sense of community and responsibility in players meaning that you’re less likely to drop out of games with people you know and are chatting to in an online forum. Online, this is where I think I would go next, there’s a UK based site called Diplomacy 2000 which is well organised and popular over here.
The outside the game component is as important as all the others combined in my eyes. Sure, playing a Diplomacy game F2F is a rush, but it’s the social aspect that makes me a huge F2F fan. My advice to any aspiring F2Fer is – “Don’t underestimate the social side”. I have to admit that I hedged my bets when I first started visiting Cons. ManorCon is held in the City I was born in, so during my first Con, I stayed with my folks, which meant I played the Dip, but nothing else – plus I had to be home at a decent hour, just like when I was considerably younger! The second year, I paid to stay on site. I had missed out so much the previous time, I swore I’d not do that again.
As a final comparison to email games, you know that feeling as you open the results email every week and see if your brilliant strategy has paid off? Oh the thrill if it has, the despair if it has not! In an F2F game, you experience that every 15 or 20 minutes and the rest of the time, you are negotiating or writing orders. F2F is a total adrenaline rush, you can be on the go non-stop for hours, but its fun!
So there we have it, everyone will have their own particular view on why they may or may not be playing F2F, but if you have never played Diplomacy in its original, face to face format, I hope you are encouraged to give it a go. Don’t miss out! There’s lots of tournaments running in the US, Europe and Australasia that I know of and there’s probably others elsewhere. You can see all the records of all these games at the European Diplomacy Association website along with the schedules for the upcoming ones. The EDA site is a fantastic resource for F2F players by the way, I encourage you to check it out. As well as the big organised tournaments, lots of clubs play too, there’s too many to list here, but there could well be one near you. And don’t forget the Universities! The EDA site lists anyone who has played in a tournament and you can see when they last played, so it’s easy to find out the active players in your country, they should be happy to talk to you.
Now, here’s the heartening story from the UK… At ManorCon in July 2009, we had 8 players for a 3 round Diplomacy tournament. 3 rounds, one board each round. Well, that could have been it - the end of the last remaining DipCon in England. However, we 8 decided it was not over and we did something about it. At ManorCon 2010, we were able to play on 3 boards for the Saturday round and some of the attendees had already played in 3 other UK F2F tournaments in the 12 months since the previous ManorCon. More Brits went to play Diplomacy at the World Diplomacy Convention in Holland in 2010 than went to ManorCon in 2009. Based upon this example, the appetite for F2F is there, you just have to whet it!
The British are back. Come and see us at EuroDipCon in 2011!
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