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Ask the Hobby Historian: #8, The Dexter Numbers

By Mark Berch





We are all familiar with the two main numbering systems in use in the hobby: the Boardman Numbers for standard games, and the Miller Numbers for variant games. But there have been two other numbering systems put into use for short periods of time. One of these was the Dexter Numbers, and therein lies a tale.

 We begin with issue #1 (December, 1991) of Gordon Dexter's I HATE DRAWS. To give the full flavor of this, I'll quote from the first page of that issue:

 "I hate draws.

 "I hate draws. It's the name of the zine, it's the opening phrase of my very first issue, and it's how I feel. And I'm going to do something about it. One of the attractions of this hobby is that if you've got your own zine, you can do things the way you want (so long as you can get your players to go along with it). All sorts of idiosyncratic people have been attracted to publishing, and I'm one of them. So without further ado, let me introduce Special House Rule Number One:

 'The postal game will end under one of these two conditions:

1. A player achieves a rulebook victory, or is voted a victory.

2. The players vote to end the game, or the gamesmaster determines that the game is in fact stalemated.

In the event number two occurs, the player with the highest number of supply centers is declared the winner. If two or more players are tied, the supply center totals for just those players are compared for the previous winter. If a tie still remains, the supply center totals for just those countries is compared for the previous year, and so forth, all the way back to 1901 if necessary. For the purpose of this calculation, one supply center is subtracted from Russia's 1901 holding. If a tie still occurs, then the two countries will be granted the draw. End of Rule.

At the start up of the game, or better still, at sign up time, each player must state explicitly that he understands House Rule Number One. This way there will be no misunderstandings.

I think this will produce a more exciting game. All too often, players start with the strategy of planning for a draw, and looking for a win if opportunities develop. With two or more players looking for draws, opportunities for wins to develop are few and far between. The only way this game can be drawn is if two countries are lockstep for the entire game. This will be very difficult to do, since other countries can easily derail such a plan. Thus, people will play for the win, which I think is the whole point of the game."

 Although he was a new publisher, Gordon had no trouble findng other win-only type players, and issue #2 announced two gamestarts (a little write-up in the DIPLOMACY WORLD MONTHLY NEWS gave him extra publicity). He sent off to the Boardman Number Custodian for game numbers. He also included a copy of I HATE DRAWS #1, saying "it would be an honor – and great publicity -- if the BNC were to sign up for one of my games."

 The BNC wrote him back, suggesting a couple of people who might like the game. But he declined to give him a Boardman Number: ''To me your game seems to be a variant. This is a sort of king-of-the-mountain variation on Diplomacy. You've drastically destabilized the two-way alliance. Most importantly, by changing the victory criterion, and no longer requiring 18 supply centers (or a concession, which says that the others are in effect willing to let him have 18) for a win, you've created a slightly different game. So go ahead and get a Miller Number. Best of luck."

 Gordon was astonished. He had never given any thought to the question of whether or not this was a variant. But it didn't bother him. He was elated at the enthusiastic notes he had gotten from people signing up, and by the time the BNC had written back, his third game was filled. So he dashed off a note to the Miller Number Custodian (MNC) with the appropriate information, adding, "Apparently, these are variants.

 “No, they aren't," she said, "I'm returning the gamestart information for your three games. These are not variants. They are standard, albeit irregular, games. You haven't changed the board or the rules or adjudication of the pieces. A change to how the game ends doesn't necessarily make it a variant. For example, permitting conceded draws (non-Draws Include All Survivors games) is certainly a change in the rulebook. It can certainly affect alliance votes, since cooperation from a minor power might be obtained at the price of his survival, even though the major powers don't want their draw diluted with him. Such a deal is not possible in a Rulebook (Draws include All Survivors) game. Moreover, your rule puts into effect something the players would themselves do  - they could agree that if the game is stalemated, that most centers win. Incidentally, tournament games are sometimes run on this basis. I don't see a problem for Raters. The "irregular" label will flag them to your special rule. At that point, they can either decide not to rate the game, rate it exactly as the game ends, or convert the game back to a draw if that's what it "ordinarily" would have been. Sorry I can't help."

 Gordon was flabbergasted, and more than a little annoyed. He had gone to this effort of contacting the Custodians, and had zilch to show for it. In I HATE DRAWS #3 he announced that "If no one will have me; then I will have myself." He announced that these games would carry ''Dexter Numbers" and crowned himself the Dexter Number Custodian.

 As you can imagine, there was general embarrassment in the hobby. The MNC sniped that Gordon should have mentioned that the BNC had already turned him down. Gordon retorted that 'if she felt that the BNC's views were relevant, she should have asked the BNC, and that he simply assumed that she could do her job with just the game description. The BNC allowed as perhaps he had been a bit hasty, and perhaps these games would be standard, but irregular, and that he should resubmit his request, and the BNC would open the pages of EVERYTHING for discussion.

 ''Great,'' Dexter said in I HATE DRAWS #4, "First both say 'Get Lost Kid,' and now both express an interest; without, of course, actually committing themselves. With luck, they'll both decide to change their minds, am I'll be no better off." With that defiant stance, he refused to resubmit the games to either Custodian. Very shortly thereafter, the Boardman Number Custodianship changed hands (for unrelated reasons).  It’s a longstanding tradition that BNCs do not reverse decisions made by their predecessors, even ones that their predecessors might have had second thoughts about. And since there was no clamor to give the games either a Miller or a Boardman Number, that's where things stood. Two more games were run under a guest gamesmaster in I HATE DHAWS, and both got Dexter Numbers. In England, Richard Sharp decided to run one of these. He gave it a DOLCHSTOSS Number (as he does for all of his games) and a Dexter Number. He asked the British Associate BNC for a Boardman Number and the guy, unaware of the previous brouhaha, gave him one. So far as I know, those six games were the only ones run. I recently asked the BNC what he would do if someone were to run such a game day. He said he was willing to consider whether he should open the pages of EVERYTHING to a discussion of whether the BNC should answer hypothetical questions.