Starting with Nothing

On building a Diplomacy club and tournament

Jeff Dwornicki

The Build Up

Hello, I'm Jeff Dwornicki, to most of you. I have been playing e-mail Diplomacy since the Fall of 1995. When I was a teenager, my parents owned a Diplomacy board, but I could never round up enough players to even begin a game, so I never had the opportunity to play the game. I would set a board up and try to figure out different opening moves, and I knew that Diplomacy was completely superior to other games such as Risk or Axis and Allies. I forgot all about the game until 1995 when I became knowledgeable of the the internet. When I did my search through Yahoo, I found the Dip Pouch, and all I could ever mutter was "Thank you, God." I quickly began playing the different judges and variants, but sticking to Standard Diplomacy most of the time. Soon, I found that playing one game at a time was not enough, that I needed more, so I began to play about 3 or 4 games at a time. A couple of years later, I discovered that a convention was held in Seattle in late August called Dragonflight. In 1999, I made the trek to the North, and I have never been the same. FTF Dip is great, and so is email Dip, but Tournament Dip brings a whole new excitement.

Thus, after being bitten by Tournament Diplomacy, I decided that Portland, Oregon needed a Dip tournament and club. The problem is that in 1999 there was neither in Portland, and one has not existed for at least a few years. So, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Or, what comes first, a club or tournament? A club makes more sense, but since I knew of only 1 other player in Portland, Aaron Curtis, and one in Salem (an hour away from Portland), Matt Shields, starting a club had serious barriers. In fact, after Dragonflight, it took Aaron and myself over 3 months to organize 1 Dip game filled with a board of 3 newbies. This experience led me to believe that a tournament would help me find the players that I could build a club. "If you build it, they will come." Thus, I decided to try to host a tournament first, then build a Portland Dip club. That is, if there was any success at the tournament of getting players to show up.

At this point, I decided that I must try to "piggy back" from Dragonflight and convince Seattle players to come down to Portland. So after numerous emails sent to all of the Dragonflight players, my efforts resulted in one (Terry Tallman, the GM of Dragonflight99') making the 2 - 3 hour drive for my tournament. Dragonflight did bring four additional players already in Oregon; myself, Aaron, Matt, and a friend of Aaron's. I also decided on the Piggy Back theme at this time, which I thought would be easy to use for prizes (ceramic pigs) with a reasonable cost for the top seven finishers and best countries. I also thought that in the future, more elaborate (expensive) prizes still could use the pig theme. Looking for all the advice I could, I read Branden Clarke's article on starting a tournament, "How to run a Diplomacy Tournament". In his article he was able to use the judges in the Dip Pouch communities and search for the unusual "nz" portion of New Zealand player's email by asking "whois." I did not have that luxury since I was looking for all Northwest players. I somewhat copied this process by downloading all USEF email players by asking "whois a", then "whois b", etc. for the whole alphabet. I had not realized how many foreign players there are playing on the judges! Amazing. I physically went through the very time consuming and very slow approach and literally did the sort by hand, or should I say by eyeballing each of the 1,000's of names and looked for players who gave their address and listed Oregon or Washington. I was particularly looking for players who listed themselves as "Expert", who lived in the Northwest, as I felt they were more willing to travel and participate in a 3-day tournament, and had a higher likelihood of knowing other Dip players. Frankly the sorting is a lot of work- make sure you give yourself adequate time to do this. I was unable to drop the information into Excel or any other sorting tool, so I did it by hand. After all the sorting and bleary eye nights, I ended up sending emails first to the 15 player listed as 'Experts" in Oregon & Washington, then to the 86 non- Experts in the Portland/ Salem Metro area, followed by sending it to the 40 non- Experts for the State of Oregon not living in the Portland/ Salem areas. 3 of the 6 players netted by this method were from players who listed themselves as "Expert, even though this classification gave me only 15 leads. This should be noted to others using this method since Portland Metro area netted be 3 out of 86 leads, and the rest of the state of Oregon netted me 0 of 40. Conclusion, experts want to play and will travel, non- experts may want to play, but other considerations are given and it is likely is that they will not travel far. But, overall this may be a start so that you can fill a board or two while word gets out on your organization.

Simultaneously of doing the USEF player search, I was looking at hosting this tournament sometime between January and May. I had not decided if I was going to do this on my own or not, but was leaning to doing it on my own by renting a small space for a weekend that could accommodate 2- 4 tables. I wanted the tournament I was hosting to be at least 4 months away from Dragonflight to attempt in putting "another Major" in the Northwest for Diplomacy players. Please don't laugh. I know I am using the word Major loosely here. I understand that Piggy Back does not compare now with WBC, Origins or Dixie Con, and honestly may never. The truth of the matter is that left coasters have very few Diplomacy tournaments to attend that are within driving distance. As of 99', for the microbrew and coffee drinking capital of the universe, there was only Dragonflight and nothing else. In fact our neighbors to the south, California have very few events that I am aware of, and none that would compete with the larger annual Cons out East. Ultimately, that is why I began my quest. I wanted to help my favorite hobby grow, instead of complaining about it. But, I digress. As stated I was leaning to hosting a tournament on my own and began looking at spaces to hold this tournament. Oh my God! After looking at weekend rates for small rooms, I calculated I would have to charge $50- 100 a person to break even. But, no one would show up, so the other alternative to using these small rooms I would have to cough up a couple of hundred bucks on my own. While, I am willing to give a little blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly time to my favorite hobby, I was a little unwilling to bleed my wallet and subsidize a tournament. My favorite hobby will have to wait until I win the lottery to cough up the kind money it would take to rent a small room in the Portland Metro area. I began to lose my fervor for this project when magically Aaron Curtis informed me of Game Storm 2000, and that they were having its second annual Con in March and wanted me to volunteer being the GM. What a match made in heaven! A newbie GM and a newbie Con.

So I continued my recruiting and did the most important thing of my whole process, I gave the information to Tim Richardson, who posted the information on the Dip Pouch, . This netted me two players, not a big number, but included in that catch, was the one and only Edi Birsan. When looking back at this tournament, his presence frankly was the difference between success and failure for the PiggyBack00' event. His presence was monumental, he help me in recruiting players to fill our boards (two boards each round). Additionally, he gave 10 minute refreshers to new or rusty players. Everyone there was captivated by Edi's great stories of great Dip tourneys of the past; and I was fortunate to be able to play in two games with Edi. There is no greater reward to hosting a newly created tournament, watching a true pro casting spells by waving his magic wand, except maybe playing in a couple of games alongside such a wizard of the game. Truly a sight, and truly a pleasure. Thanks, Edi!

The Event

One of my reversals was the decision of giving out the scoring method I was going to use. Originally, I had decided that I would not, but ultimately I decided to give the information out to all players before the tourney started. The reasons were simple. The first, and primary reason I changed my mind was to encourage players having a good time. With this is mind, I wanted to avoid players meta-gaming in a manner that waste time by the players calculating their own score, and their relative ranking with an imaginary scoring method. This seems crazy to the experienced player, but surprisingly players do. Worse of all, the players are upset that your scoring method has them ranked lower then in their own imaginary system. To avoid bad feeling by players who did not reach the Top Table or place in the top 7, I gave the method out to all the players. I think it was a benefit. Sure, there was meta- gaming, but less time was spent on it, and there were no complaints when the Top Board was announced. I truly believe that the player knowing the tournament score methodology actually reduces the amount of time during on going games with player's discussing the scoring method and their ramifications.

One item I believe in strongly for tournament of any size is a Top Board. This is the ultimate prize to me as a player: the opportunity to play against the other 6 best players at once. A top board negates the benefit of being on a soft board filled with newbies, and reaping the reward. Additionally, a board filled with quality players and Diplomacy all gunning for the top prize adds a great deal of excitement. It's great drama and great fun.

The result is that the final game is filled with drama since each player has an equal shot at the Top Pig. Doing well in the tournament portion has its reward of getting to pick which country you play first, and to have the tiebreaker, which was actually used, and I expect that it would normally. Scoring in 01' will be altered slightly from last year, as I ma always seeking to improve the tournament. To me, playing on a Top Table has its own reward greater then any prize that can be given, even if I am eliminated. A top board also negates the occurrences of players throwing games to other players to make sure the other player finishes ahead of certain players, as discussed in In The Pursuit of the Bismark" by Brandon Clarke.

The Aftermath

To make sure that PiggyBack01' was even better, I started the Portland PiggyBack Society. With a monthly meeting in downtown Portland, I have built up the base of Portland players from about 10 to 40. I am sure there are more out there, it is finding them that is the difficult part. With the monthly meetings, I have had the support of Edward Hawthorne of building a website for our group, along with Matt Shields starting a Onesite group that has found a few players for us also. Frankly it has been a slow and difficult process, and one that should be rewarded with a 5 board per round tournament. It is my ultimate goal for Portland to compet with ARMADA and Dragonflight to host a Western DipCon the next time the West is up in the roatation to host DipCon, hopefully in 03' or 04'.

If you are interested in joining our group you can email me or check out our website.

If you want to know more about GameStorm's Con where PiggyBack01' will be check out their website.

If you want to make it to PiggyBack contact me about lodging, gettting picked up at the airport, etc.

I am interested in other people's stories who started or who are in the same situation. I am willing to receive and give advice on such a project and the project ahead. I encourage anyone who wants to discuss building a Dip tourney and/ or a local Dip club to email me.

Jeff Dwornicki

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