by David Norman

There were two Diplomacy conventions I attended in 2012 which stand out for the contrast between them.

The first was held in a boarding school during the school holidays. Just 12 people attended. There were five rounds of one board each, one on Friday evening, two simultaneously played on Saturday morning (with two people playing both games simultaneously) followed by one in the afternoon. And then a final round on Sunday morning. Everybody played a maximum of three rounds. No top board.

Outside of the tournament, the accommodation was pretty basic (it was in the student accommodation) but was in the same building as the playing area. For food, there was do-it-yourself sandwich-making supplies in the kitchen for lunches, while main meals were either ordering a take-away delivery, or on Saturday evening, a walk to the local pub.

In my three games, I had three pretty poor results. No eliminations, but never-the-less, only 6 centres total across the three games. Although this wasn't helped by being one of the players who played two games simultaneously on Saturday morning.

By contrast, the second convention was in a convention centre, with many people playing many different games. 35 players played in the Diplomacy tournament, which was four rounds, one on Friday, two on Saturday, and then one (including a top board) on Sunday.

The accommodation was next door in a four-star hotel. For food, there were snacks available at the convention, there was the hotel restaurant (which was nice, but too expensive for many of the players), or there were various eating places within walking distance of the hotel (if you knew where to find them). On the Saturday night, there was an organised trip to a very large restaurant (probably seating 300 people), half an hour's drive away from the convention, which had a live band, dance floor, and partying continuing into the night after the meal.

The tournament went much better for me. In the first round, I got the highest single-round score of the tournament, and with two more passable scores in the next two rounds, made it onto the top board. And the top board didn't go too badly. With a couple of years to go, I was leading the board, but the endgame didn't go so well (as is usually the case when you're Russia on top board), and I ended up 2 centres off the leader.

So which was the more enjoyable tournament? Well for me, it was the first one.

This might seem a little odd, given the information above. But there are two reasons for this.

The first is the venue. It may have been basic, but it had everything we needed in one place, which meant that everybody stayed together as a group. By contrast, for the second convention, people tended to dissipate between rounds. Some would go to their rooms, some would go out for food, some would go to other parts of the convention, etc. Often, despite being a reasonable sized Diplomacy tournament, there were no other players around, and you could end up wandering around, hoping to bump into someone you knew.

The second reason is, everything about the second convention was better than the first. But it wasn't as good as expected.

The accommodation may have been a four-star hotel, but it didn't feel that much better than the cheaper hotels I'm used to. The rooms were air conditioned, but that only worked when you were in the room, so the room was always too hot when you got back to it — and then you had the hum of the air conditioning. The hotel restaurant was OK, but not great, and was significantly more expensive than other restaurants of similar quality.

The first round on Friday evening was planned to start at 6pm, so it would finish in time for a late group evening meal in a local restaurant. But then the round was delayed by people turning up late, so that by the time it finished, the restaurant was closed. This left people having to chose between giving up on food and getting some sleep, or going out in small groups to try and find somewhere that was still serving at close to midnight.

The Saturday night trip to the restaurant was a nice idea in theory. But being half an hour's drive away meant having to organise drivers, and who was going in which car. Then we had to travel there in convoy as only a couple of people knew where it was (and it wasn't easy to find). We didn't know until we got there that it was a restaurant-cum-nightlife venue, so expected to be going back to the convention/hotel straight after the meal. And then with some people wanting to stay and party into the early hours, while others wanted a reasonable night's sleep, it meant trying to find a driver who wanted to go back at the same time you did — or if you were a driver, making sure that the people you had brought had a lift back, if they didn't want to go at the same time as you did. And the meal was a set menu, which initially seemed rather poor — until the third course arrived, and we suddenly discovered that what we thought had been a pretty poor main course, was actually the second starter!

All this takes me back to a project management course I attended many years ago, and to one specific section of the course — Managing Stakeholder Expectation. The premise was simple. When managing something, it's not just important as to what you deliver, but also as to what the customer expects. You have to make sure that the customer's expectations for your delivery match your delivery plans. You have to control their expectations. The same applies to Diplomacy tournaments.

The second tournament was better than the first. Much better. But never-the-less, it was disappointing, because I expected so much more. At the first tournament, the rooms were small and basic, the food was basic and self service, and there were only a few players there. But that is what I was expecting, so it wasn't a problem. At the second tournament, I expected a weekend with a big group of fellow players, lots of camaraderie between rounds, lots of chances to chat and play other games, etc. Instead it was a tournament which tended to break up between rounds, and had lots of worrying about the organising and logistics required.

The second tournament didn't need any changes to its itinerary. Everything the organisers planned was fine. It just needed everybody to know what was going on in advance, so that people knew what to expect, and would then buy into that plan. One solution would have been a tournament handbook. In there you can put the round times, eating information (e.g. the restaurant name, the menu, maps of how to get there. etc). Information about the other things going on between rounds. Information about the local facilities. Etc.

By providing that information, everybody knows what to expect, and everybody works to the same plan. Which means people get what they are expecting, so nobody is disappointed. Without changing the tournament plan at all, you've made it much more enjoyable for those taking part.

As the course said, Managing Stakeholder Expectations.

David Norman

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