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From Diplomacy World #19

(Transcribed by Marvelous Melinda Holley)



((EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following article is anonymous.  It was distributed in photocopy form to an unknown number of postal Diplomacy people on April 24, 1978, in the form of an “issue” of a “fanzine” called FACE-TO-FACE; there are several essays included, all dealing with one or another aspect of face-to-face play as distinct from postal play. “The High Horse” in the present DW was conceived and written before I saw the present item; has someone been reading my mind? This anonymous article was designed to spark controversy and discussion; I agree that the discussion is worthwhile; I am therefore reprinting one of the most relevant items from FACE-To-FACE.  As both author and publisher are unknown, I have no idea where you can write for your won copy of the issue.))



As some of you may know, Avalon-Hill (the owners of Diplomacy) provide a subsidy to the postal hobby, continuing a policy begun by the previous owners, Games Research.  This generosity (we’re talking about $800 per annum here, no small peanuts) not only helps – or should help – the hobby, but forms a tangible form of expression from the owner.  The question then naturally arises ;  Where does this money come from and where does it go?  What are the relative shares of the postal and face-to-face hobbies?


Traditionally, the subsidy has gone into two activities.  The first is the “Boardman Number Custodian.” He is a record-keeper of postal games.  For some reason, postal Diplomacy players want to keep statistical records of all the postal games. They print up the country-by-country, year-by-year supply center charts, along with the names of the players who played the position (even if only for one season).  Usually, theGamesmaster prints the information in his magazine when the game ends , then the Custodian does it all over again a few months later. The Custodian also assigns a unique label, the “Boardman Number,” to each game.  They are done the same way as those other ephemeral objects, the comets: the year, and then a letter.  1978A would be the first for this year. Really dashing, romantic names, eh?  Anyhow, as you can imagine, people don’t exactly break down doors to get at this stuff, with the result that the Custodian runs in the red. The point of all this is that subsidy money which has gone to the Custodian has subsidized a purely postal activity. It is of virtually no interest whatsoever to a face-to-face player.  


The other activity subsidized is the magazine DIPLOMACY WORLD, which Avalon-Hill owns.  This presents a more mixed picture. There is a good deal of material of interest to the face-to-face player, and I recommend it highly.  Numerous articles have appeared on alliances, openings and other topics. Variants are printed.  There is also a “Demonstration Game” with successful postal players, complete with commentary. In addition to this appeals-to-both-types material, there is a good deal of space devoted to purely postal matters.  Thus, there are periodic lists of all the Publishers presently publishing. There are always lists of publishers with game openings in regular (but, oddly, not variant) Diplomacy.  Compilations of who has won or drawn postal games are given. Entire pages are taken up with rating lists, based on postal play,natch.  On the other side of the coin, there’s practically no material targeted to the face-to-face player specifically.  An article on face-to-face techniques is quite rare.  There are occasional accounts of tournaments, but even these tend to be oriented to the doings of big-shot postal players. Thus, while DW has much appeal to a face-to-face player, itsmain appeal is for postal players.


So we see that Avalon-Hills’ subsidy has traditionally been oriented toward the postal hobby.  But where does the money come from?  Presumably from the sales of Diplomacy sets.  But who promotes these the most? Not postal players!  They don’t need to drag in more people to get up a game. They just write into a gamesmaster and wait until he collects seven names. If Avalon-Hill stopped selling the sets, postal players could keep going for years and never notice.  Not so with the face-to-facers. Take the plight of a person in a high school Diplomacy club or a college Strategic Games society. Time marches on; players graduate.  Some develop other interests which push Diplomacy aside. It gets harder and harder to get up a full game, and there’s only one solution:  Recruit fresh blood! Turn the heads of those freshmen with Risk or AfrikaKorps or Heinlein under their arms.   We’re the ones who sell the Diplomacy Sets, Avalon-Hill, not those postal players. If you’d support us as much as you do them, the resultant growth in the face-to-face Diplomacy would bring forth greater sales of Diplomacy sets.  That would be good for you and for us, because it would make it easier for us to get up a game. The only people it might not be good for are the postal players. In the postal press you often hear the suggestion that maybe the postal hobby is too big already, and that certain postal institutions will be overwhelmed. You hear people reminiscing that it was better in the gold old days when the hobby was smaller and more personal!


How can support of face-to-face play be expressed?  First off, support for face-to-face tournaments – not just the big ones like Origins, but those one-dayminicons, too.  Providing trophies or certificates would be a nice move. Maybe you could subsidize the entrance fees to the larger ones, which generally need such fees to cover the room rent.  Remember, postal players are a little more affluent than we. They pay $8 - $10 per game, typically, in fees and sub costs. They may pay an equal sum to that in postage cost and an occasional long-distance ‘phone call. Face-to-facers in general aren’t that well off.


I’m not suggesting that Avalon-Hill should cut off the postal hobby. Not at all.  But I do think that as long as you do support the Diplomacy hobby, the dollars could be spread out a little more evenly.



((DIPLOMACY WORLD replies: There are a few factual inaccuracies here. Avalon-Hill does not own DW. Avalon-Hill does, I am given to understand,provide trophies and prizes for some tournaments. The $800-per-year subsidy – actually, $200 per issue – will terminate shortly, as soon as DW’s circulation arrives at 1000, which is probably going to happen by the end of 1978 at the latest. And the description of DW’s contents is a bit outdated, though not too.  Of course, the paragraph describing the Boardman Number Custodian is pure yellow journalism; maybe you don’t give a hoot about what he does, but that’s hardly evidence that it’s worthless, or that others are equally disinterested.


((The overriding point, however, remains well-taken:   Why is “Diplomacy” invariably taken to mean “ POSTAL Diplomacy?”  Is it because face-to-face play is generally random and disorganized except at formal conventions?   It is because those conventions are often commercial ventures in themselves, sometimes by game manufacturers in competition with Avalon-Hill?  Is it because the face-to-face “hobby” – if such terms can be applied to what is essentially an amorphous mass – has never applied for subsidy?


((Or is Avalon-Hill remiss?  It’s not to be disputed that face-to-face players are responsible for the bulk of game set sales.  The majority of postal players find out about the postal hobby via flyers in the game sets, which of course means after they’ve bought the game.  And postal Diplomacy can easily be played, unlike face-to-face, without a game set at all; a photocopy map and some pins will do.  (At least one active postal publisher, in serious danger of copyright infringement, ahs offered to provide free Xerox maps to anyone who does not want to buy the game.  Fortunately for Avalon-Hill – and, for other reasons, for the postal hobby – thisgamesmaster is considered poor, and is not the subject of recommendation.)


((Comments on this bit are invited, for publication here.  We’ll print a cross-section of responses, though it will hardly be representative, since, for now, most DW readers are stillpostally oriented.))