by Melinda Holley

When I entered the postal hobby, dinosaurs still walked the earth (okay, it was the mid-1980's — but at least some of the good rock-and-roll bands were still around).

At that time, there were more women in the postal hobby than there appear to be in the entire hobby today. One that I considered my mentor was Kathy Byrne Caruso. We actually met in my first game, and she taught me the basics of negotiations. I'll never be as good as she was, but I learned one very important fact. In postal dip, no one actually sees you.

In the postal dip days, if you were new in the game, you only knew your opponent from letters and that's how your opponents knew you. In anticipation of today's social media, you could adopt any persona you wished and no one knew any different.

Since the postal hobby was a very close-knit society, a newbie was immediately identified. While some players wanted to get the new kid out of the way, most players took the newbies under their wing and allied with them...for a while. In other words, use 'em then lose 'em.

As the junior partner of alliances in my first few games, I was the wide-eyed innocent marveling at my leaders' wisdom as they detailed every piece of their strategy. I'd developed the 'helpless female' persona to the point that I must say in all modesty, they never saw the knife until I'd slid it into their backs and scooped up their dots like so many pieces of M&Ms. Eventually, however, nobody believed it anymore *sigh* and my persona had to grow up.

Today there are some games via the internet where you can develop a persona. (Well, other people can… nobody seems to believe I'm a wide-eyed ingenue.) I've gone to several Diplomacy face-to-face tournaments and am usually the only woman there. Occasionally, another woman (usually the girlfriend of a player) will join in.

Sitting across the table from another player to play Diplomacy is like sitting across the table from another player to play Poker. Personas don't count. You read the players as much as you read the board. Who's talking to who first? Who's talking to who the longest? Who's the most nervous as the orders are being read? I was never good at playing Poker because I don't have a poker face which translates into why I'm never that much of a threat in a ftf game. (It seems people still remember my rep from the postal days. I'm not sure what that rep is… but it's remembered nonetheless.) And perhaps that's why there are few female players at face-to-face tournaments. More men play Poker than women.

Diplomacy is a game of strategy, tactics, negotiations, promises, and lies. Perhaps women in general just don't want to play that type of game. But Diplomacy is also a game of patience and time. We all know a ftf game can go on for hours. Perhaps today's youth (both male and female) just don't have the patience to put that much time into a game (Diplomacy is not a game of immediate gratification).

And maybe that's why there are fewer younger players in the game. Diplomacy is played on a board with the map of Europe with colored pieces (preferably wood blocks). There are no snarling zombies, flashing lights, booming weapons or huge explosions. It's sitting down and trying to outwit six other opponents.

People who don't play Diplomacy just don't know what they're missing.

Melinda Holley

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.