THE NOVICE CORNER

(How to find a postal Diplomacy game)

By

Conrad von Metzke

From Diplomacy World #18

(transcribed by Marvelous Melinda Holley)


You’re reading DIPLOMACY WORLD; it follows, therefore, that you must have some sort of an interest in playing Diplomacy by mail.  If you are already so playing, you don’t really need to read this column (although you may if you wish); if not, You’re reading DIPLOMACY WORLD; it follows, therefore, that you must have some sort of an interest in playing Diplomacy by mail.  If you are already so playing, you don’t really need to read this column (although you may if you wish); if not, why not?  If it’s because you’ve had some trouble finding an open game, or haven’t quite figured out how to go looking for that game, then you’ve come to the right page.


Let’s begin by a concession:   The “NEED A GAME” column which appears in every issue of DW is, at best, a stopgap.  The way this magazine is produced, there is just no way to keep the listing really current; by the time you see the list, some of the information may be as much as two months old.  “NEED A GAME” is the best we can really do, and it’s better than nothing; but it sure ain’t God’s gift to Diplomacy players.


It is, however, a place to start.  What you’re looking for may vary according to personal taste, but at the very least you want (probably) a game that will start fairly quickly after you join, at a rational price, run by a reliable gamesmaster.  You may also want certain frills (a game magazine with a lot of interesting reading material, or very quick deadlines, or several games available in the same place at once, etc.).  Whatever you want, the only way to find it is to settle down at your typewriter and start looking.


Probably the most important qualification you’ll want in a gamesmaster is reliability.  How to tell who is reliable and who isn’t?  I am afraid, dear friends, that we have just run into the biggest single difficulty which postal Diplomacy has to offer:  It is, no matter how seriously one may take it, a hobby.  As with any other hobby, the participants – players and publishers alike – may tire of it, or find other priorities intruding, and have to give the game up.  Ergo, if you enter a postal Diplomacy game, you run a measurable chance of finding your game “orphaned,” i.e., abandoned by its gamesmaster in midstream.


You’d think that the length of time a person has been publishing regularly would be a good measuring stick of reliability, but it’s a less valid criteria than you’d imagine.  For instance, it’s odd but true that if a gamesmaster is brand new, starting on his first new issues, he is much more likely to stick around for the end of a game than if he has been publishing regularly for, say 12-15 months.  That’s because the interest span of a given publisher seems to hover somewhere around a year and a half; after that, which means after roughly two dozen issues, the thrill of a new hobby has worn off and the dull drudgery of printing another issue every damned third Saturday has set in.  Almost nobody folds after two or three issues; almost nobody last more than two years.  Thus the first game or two a publisher begins have a good chance; after that, prayer may be beneficial.


This looks a little bleak, eh?  But let’s be honest up front.  If you play postal Diplomacy, you are bound to have some disappointments, chiefly the abandonment of games from time to time.  Most such orphans are picked up, usually quite rapidly, by other publishers, and are then carried to completion.  There may be a little confusion surrounding the transfer, and a brief hiatus during which all you can do is champ at the bit, but in all likelihood your game still stagger to its finish one way or the other.  So it really isn’t reasonable, if you enjoy postal Diplomacy play at all, to shy away from entering games merely because gamesmasters have a way of vanishing into the sunset; you must simply make the best judgments you can about where to play, and take your lumps when delivered.


And in partial mitigation of the strength of my earlier argument, it must be reminded that not all gamesmasters are unreliable; most will make a sincere effort to keep games going even if the starting publication folds, and in addition there are many, many VERY reliable publishers floating round.  In the “NEED A GAME” lists we indicate the length of time a person has been regularly printing issues.  This indicator, as I’ve indicated, is hardly infallible.  But when you see the name John Boardman topping the list, followed by the numerical indication that he has been reliably publishing his magazine for sixteen years – which is, to put it mildly, phenomenal – then you know the man is going to see your game through unless he gets run over by a truck.  Anything over two years is generally safe.  (Not always, but generally.)  Anything quite new is worth looking into.  In between, get a sample issue; if it seems reasonable mature in style and efficient in approach (don’t ask how to tell what “mature” and “efficient” mean here; you’ll know; if the issue is sloppy, filled with childish silliness and badly organized, uses the English language abominably, and precedes each game report with a list of errors being corrected from the previous issue, you have a loser), what the hell, take a shot at it.


A word about game fees.  Postage and supplies costing what they do these days, a fair fee for a game seems to be about $8-$11.  That’s all-inclusive.  Do not compute any refundable deposits in that total.  If the magazines does not operate on the flat-rate system, but (for example) charges a small flat rate plus a subscription, then figure that the average postal game lasts ten game years, or thirty published issues.  If a magazine asks for a fee of $2 plus a sub at 5 issues for a dollar, you can count on paying $8 for your game.


Warnings have been issued from time to time about how you ought to avoid the apparent fee bargains.  I say that’s silly.  Normally, money is not a critical point in a publisher’s decision to continue or fold; nobody in t his game makes a profit, and (unless he’s on welfare and supporting four children) nobody loses his shirt.  If I guy wants to charge a total of fifth cents per game, let him!  On the other hand, let’s be rational about this; we are talking about a hobby here, so steer clear of large investments of money.  In my view, any game fee about twelve dollars, barring special circumstances, is an outrage.  In addition, I strongly recommend against posting a “refundable deposit” in excess of five dollars; after all, a deposit is only refundable when it’s refunded, right?  There will be many who disagree with this discussion, and the detractors will not all be those who charge lots of money per game.  I concede, there are different views.  You’ll just have to set your own maximum limits; I’ve given you mine.


“Well, gee whiz, thanks a lot, Conrad,” you are now muttering, “You’ve spent all this time giving vague pointers on the pitfalls of unreliable publishes, and how to avoid or live with them; but we still are entered into a game!”  AHA!, I reply, that’s because you’ve been wasting your time reading t his article.  What you really ought to be doing is going out after a game in which to play.  Go ahead and finish this article now, if you like; but after that, put the rest of the issue aside for a while and get to work.


In the early days of the hobby, when there were few players and fewer magazines, each publisher would supply lists of “new blood” – new players who had been contacted – and all the other publishers would then send sample issues.  Those days are gone.  Now, if you want a game, you gotta find it yourself; with rare exceptions, nobody is going to come looking for you.  So turn to the list in the back of this magazine, entitled “NEED A GAME”, and plan your strategy.


Ideally, you should write to every name on the list, requesting a sample copy of each publication.  (It is polite to enclose return postpaid envelopes, or two or three loose stamps, or thirty cents cash, or some such.)  You will get replies from many of them.  If some do not reply, you might do the favor of letting DW know about it, as such publishers have no place in our listings.


The key, of course, is to write to as many potential gamesmasters as possible.  The comments I see most often generally indicate that the would-be player merely picks one or two names off our listings, writes to them, and gets discouraged if there is no instant action.  It doesn’t always work that way; you must simply be widespread in your attentions.  And you should also peruse the sample issues you receive for additional names; sometimes publishers who are not on our lists are nevertheless advertised by someone else’s journal.


A few final pointers:  Remember that a gamesmaster can not begin his game until seven are signed for it.  If you’re the first to apply, you may have to wait a while (I’ve seen it take as long as six months, though this is quite unusual).  Under no circumstances should you send any money to a gamesmaster until the game is actually announced as under way; if a publisher insists on payment far in advance, there’s something fishy.  And if you aren’t willing to wait for any great length of time to get the game going, you should mention the fact when you first apply, to be fair all around.  If there’s a doubt in your mind as to the possibly delay in starting, ask the gamesmaster for information (how many are signed, how long since the game opening was first announced, how many ‘possible’ players have been solicited but have not yet replied); you can then make reasonable judgments on the future.  If six are signed up, the game won’t normally take much longer to begin.  On the other hand, if four are signed up but the game as been publicly open for four months, you may have quite a wait.  This sort of informational decision is awfully vague, but at least you have some data where before you had none.  If a publisher chooses not to answer your enquiries, look elsewhere.


Always request a sample copy of the person’s publication before agreeing to play in a game, and particularly before sending money for anything (except the price of the sample, of course).  This is one hobby where you simply do not buy sight-unseen.  If you don’t like what you see, you are under no obligation to proceed.  If you enter a game and then decide you don’t like what you see, you’ve created problems; that isn’t friendly; don’t’ do it.


Finally, be patient!


So much for the article; now for an idea.  The editor of DIPLOMACY WORLD thinks that a good many of the problems of player-finding-game-finding-player might be alleviated if some sort of clearing-house was set up.  This is not a complicated scheme; it’s merely the extension of the “NEED A GAME” list into a continuing service.


It would go as follows:  Any person who has any interest in a game could write to DW so stating.  His name would then be entered on a list which would be available to any publisher who wanted it (cost: a stamped envelope).  In addition, the potential player (for a stamped envelope) would be sent a list of all publishers who are known to have openings.  In both cases, dates would be indicated so that the recipients could know the currency of the listings; names would be automatically dropped from the publisher list after three months, and from the player list after two months, unless renewed.


This service would, of course, replace the “NEED A GAME” list, which would then be dropped from the magazine and replaced by a mere reference to the service.  This service is NOT in operation now.  First, I wish to hear from publishers; would you be interested and willing to participate?  It can’t work if publishers aren’t involved on a steady basis (remember, if we put this system to use, we will not longer be culling magazines to prepare lists on our own; it’ll all be up to you).  Right this minute, before you forget, drop me a postcard (P.O. Box 626, San Diego, CA 92112) and say ‘yessir’ or ‘no way’.  (North America only, please.)  If interest is strong enough, we’ll be open for business as of next issue.

 


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