How To Run a Diplomacy Tournament

A guide for first time Tournament Directors

By Brandon Clarke.


I've been meaning to write this article for some time. Two years ago I set out to establish a Face to Face Tournament Diplomacy scene in New Zealand. At the time there was no active tournament hobby in New Zealand, and there hadn't been since 1990 - 1991. Apart from a few isolated pockets of social players, and a few die hard PBM players, as far as I knew the Diplomacy Hobby in New Zealand was non existent. I had read articles about Diplomacy Tournaments on the web and really wanted to play in one. The problem was, that living in New Zealand, tucked away at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean, it was a very long way to the USA or Europe. I wanted to play tournament Diplomacy here. To do that I had to build a hobby here, pretty much from the ground up.

I had no idea where to begin.

Getting Started: Building a Hobby Base to Draw From

This is a hard task. Be prepared for disappointments.

I scoured The Diplomatic Pouch, and entered myself into the Hobby Registry. By a stroke of luck, Bob Blanchett, a hobby enthusiast from Melbourne, Australia had just set up a majordomo e-mail mailing list called OZDIP-L which he envisaged being used as a communications network for the hobby in Australia. He happened to be scanning the Hobby Registry shortly after I entered my name there looking for people to signon to the OZDIP-L mailing list. He emailed me and asked me to signon. Bob was somewhat visionary here in seeing the potential for the Australian hobby to grow and benefit from having a hobby develop in New Zealand.

I signed on to OZDIP-L and began exchanging emails with a group of people who had been playing Tournament Diplomacy in Australia since the mid 1980's. They had a wealth of experience, and were very willing to share their knowledge and ideas with me. If you're thinking of trying to establish a Diplomacy hobby where you are, find a similar email mailing list from a nearby hobby base and signon to it. If you can't find one, signon to OZDIP-L and ask the people from Downunder what you want to know. We'll be only too happy to help you out. I learned a lot about how Tournament Diplomacy in Australia works, and I made some good friends too.

In November 1997 I flew to Melbourne, Australia to attend The Don Challenge Cup to see a tournament in action for myself. Again, the experience was invaluable. The most important thing I learned is that the success of the tournament I ran was going to depend largely on my organisational skills, and how well I put on the Diplomacy part of the tournament, but more importantly, it was the social scene that was the life blood of Australian Diplomacy Tournaments. I'll write more on this subject later on in this article.

I returned to New Zealand and set about trying to get things started. I needed names. Names of people who were interested in Diplomacy. I attacked this problem in three ways.

Finally, Once I had the New Zealand Diplomacy hobby on it's feet I found that email mailing lists are essential tools for me in maintaining the momentum. Recently, through the use of a mailing list specifically aimed at being used for organising games, other people have started taking some of the organisational burden off my hands. The mailing lists are used to set up games, discuss and analyse them afterwards, and also for a bit of friendly ribbing and rivalry which helps create a sense of community amongst the players we have. Many of us now socialise outside of the hobby.

The New Zealand hobby has grown so much in the last two years that now there are three tournaments each year in New Zealand, each affiliated with the Diplomacy Association of Australia and New Zealand (DAANZ), all of which count for Bismark Cup points - the Bismark Cup being an annual award for the best Tournament Diplomacy player in Australia and New Zealand for the calendar year. November 27th and 28th will see four of us travel to Australia for The Don Challenge Cup, the last tournament of the year for 1999.

Okay, You've Got a Hobby Base ... Now How do You Run a Tournament?

There's two parts to a Diplomacy Tournament, and for the tournament to be a real success, both parts need to work. The first is the actual Diplomacy part, and the second is the social scene that happens before, between, and after the rounds of Diplomacy. Diplomacy is by its nature a game which on the whole attracts people who like interacting with others. Remember that... the success of the social side of your tournament is just as important as the success of the Diplomacy side of things. Let's however look at the technical side of running the tournament first, and then address the social scene.

Physically Organising a Diplomacy Tournament

Unless you have a particularly fortunate set of contacts, it costs money to organise a Diplomacy tournament. Unless you're wealthy enough to be able to put one on without worrying about how much it costs you, you will be keen to make sure you don't lose money from running your tournament. To ensure that you don't lose money you need to do quite a bit of careful thinking and planning. What is involved?

When I run a Diplomacy tournament I start organising it six months in advance. You could probably do a reasonable job if you started three months out if you had to, but I think six months is a good window. If you want international attendees you need to give them time to decide they want to come, to make leave applications, and then to book flights etc. The earlier you start organising the better your tournament will be.

Depending on where you are, when you hold your tournament can be crucial. The first tournament I ran was the 1998 New Zealand Diplomacy Championships. I held them at the end of August to avoid having them clash with any established tournaments in the DAANZ tournament schedule. I felt this was important as I wanted to maximise the chance of attracting players from Australia. You need to enquire about any other Diplomacy events in your region, other board gaming events, or any other related event that may attract players who would otherwise have been keen on attending your tournament. Once you have a date selected you can proceed with making arrangements.

Step 1: Find a venue.
Approach all the conference centres and private clubs in town... often they'll provide a venue for free looking to get the bar and restaurant takes. Failing that, check out the venues and compare prices and facilities. If you expect a number of out of town entrants, a venue with accommodation, or at least nearby, is a BIG plus.

Step 2: Decide on prizes.
Once a venue is selected, and the price of the venue is known, decide on what prizes (how many) you want to offer. As a general guide prizes for Best Performance as each country, and 1st, 2nd and 3rd place overall (and perhaps down to 7th) are a good start. Other prizes I've seen are: Get quotes for the prizes you want to offer.

Step 3: Identify any other costs.
Stamps, envelopes, photocopying, boxes to carry stuff in, rubbish bags, spare pens etc... think of as much as possible - it all adds up.

Step 4: Total the costs.
Once you have done this, you will have a clear idea of how much it will cost you to run the tournament.

Step 5: Perform a break-even analysis.
This is crucial. Make a realistic estimate of how many (in number of people) entrants you expect... be conservative. Calculate what the entry fee needs to be, based on your estimate of the number of entrants, so that revenue matches costs from the steps above. This is how much you need to make the entry fee in order to break even, assuming you don't get any sponsorship. If revenue doesn't match your costs recalculate your costs by eliminating the "nice to have but not necessary" items above until it does.

Step 6: Make enquiries about accommodation.
Include a range of options for people with different budgets. Use the players you have locally - if they can provide billets for out of town players that increases the chance that those out of town players will make the effort to come. It also opens up opportunities for good social events like BBQ's etc. in the evenings after play. If the out of town players have to traipse off to some motel on the other edge of town you'll find the social side of things suffers.

Step 7: Advertise, and advertize regularly!
Use the following publicity outlets:

Step 8: Develop a checklist.
This checklist should contain everything you need to do:

Items you need to have on the day

Draw up a calendar/timeline with deadlines on it for all the things you need to organise leading up to the tournament - includes accommodation organisation, logistics, player follow up schedule to make sure they all come. You will also need a draw for the tournament... several draws actually - If you are expecting 28 players to turn up, you'll need a draw for if there are three boards (21 players) per round, 4 boards (28 players) per round, 5 boards (35 players) per round, and probably even 6 boards (42 players per round). You need to be prepared. In a three round tournament I split the countries up into three groups: And I try to ensure that players only play in each group once so that players get a variety of game types. Diplomacy draws are very complicated as you very rarely have an exact multiple of 7 players. It will help you enormously if you can organise two or three people to be assistant Tournament Organisers who will play extra positions if you need them to at short notice. Some Tournament Directors Downunder have friends who come along, and who play positions if needed, but if they are not needed stay and play cards or something with the Tournament Director. If you can organise a couple of people like this it makes getting the draw to work much much easier.

Step 9: Advertise some more.

Step 10: And some more.

Keep Your Spirits Up

Organising a Diplomacy Tournament can be hard work. You put in a lot of time and effort. Diplomacy players are, by nature, a very opinionated bunch. Sooner or later one of the entrants is going to say something, or do something, that gets your back up. Be prepared for that. Expect it. It will happen, and when it does, let it go. You goal is to run a successful Diplomacy Tournament, not to keep all of the entrants 100% happy all of the time. It's up to them to make sure they have a good time. Your job is to simply provide the framework for them to have an enjoyable weekend within. Don't let one tired, drunk, or disappointed person's comments ruin your sense of accomplishment.

Be prepared for disappointments. When the tournament runs each player might see one or two glitches... they go away thinking it was a great tournament, despite the glitch or two they saw. The point is, they thought the tournament rocked. Now, as Tournament Director there's every chance that you'll see all 15 glitches that are bound to go on... you'll come away disappointed that everything didn't go to plan... but what you have to remember is that you're the only one who saw ALL of the bad stuff... at most any given player might have experienced 2 or maybe 3 suboptimal moments in the running of the tournament - the rest of the time they're too busy to notice... And it's the players' PERCEPTION of how well things went that matters, not the reality. They will come back, or not, based on their perception of how the tournament went. So don't beat yourself up if things aren't perfect.

After the first tournament I organised I was a bit down and everyone who played in it was buzzing. Craig Purcell was very down after last year's inaugural Waikato Open which was the first tournament he ran  - he was ready to quit the hobby he was so upset about how it went. I played in in it and thought it was an excellent tournament. Grant Torrie was the Tournament Director at this year's New Zealand Diplomacy Championships. He was also pretty down after the tournament, but the players have all said it was great and went away bubbling with enthusiasm.

One way to ensure you come away from the tournament a little more enthused is if you organise a great Social scene before, during and after the tournament itself.

The Social Scene - life blood of your tournament.

If players have a good time socially, there's every chance they'll come back to your next tournament even if they got thrashed at the Diplomacy Board. The players who most often get thrashed are the newbies. If you can include them in the social events at the tournament they're much more likely to go home feeling like they had a good time, and therefore much less likely to throw in the towel and decide they suck at Diplomacy and that they aren't going to come back.

The way I see it, there are three types of people who play in Diplomacy Tournaments:

As a Tournament Director you should only worry about the "maybes". The other two categories will do what they do regardless of your efforts. You should be trying to maximise the number of "maybes" who have a good time and decide they want to play Tournament Diplomacy again. A large part of that equation is the social scene... Try to organise one social event per day for your tournament... it doesn't have to be compulsory, but if there is at least one thing organised outside the playing of the Diplomacy then you'll find that people then spontaneously organise things to do... some will want to drink, some will play games, some will watch videos, some might play some sport. You just need to provide an environment which is favourable to these sorts of things.

So what social events do I have in mind? One concept we apply quite a bit now in DAANZ tournaments is the pre tournament dinner. The night before the tournament someone makes a booking for dinner at a restaurant and an open invitation goes out to all who may attend the tournament to come along. We have dinner, perhaps drink a little wine, catch up with friends from out of town/state/the country who we haven't seen since the last tournament. New players get to meet and socialise with the hobby's experienced names, and get to feel included. It's also a good way to break the ice with new players so that when they line up at the board the next morning they feel like they know a few of the faces arrayed against them, at least a little bit anyway. Sometimes these dinners progress into nights out dancing and partying to the wee small hours... knowing when to call it quits and get some beauty sleep is all part of the tournament strategy... Diplomacy  never stops.

Often on the night of the first day's play we'll have a BBQ or something at one of the local's houses. Games inevitably get played. At the moment Settlers of Catan is a favourite. This sort of environment is crucial for the health of the hobby in your area. It gives the developing players a chance to sit and talk with the top guns, and ask them why they played the way they did, why they thought something the developing player did was a mistake. These sorts of discussions are a great way to cross pollinate the hobby and ensure it keeps developing.

In Summary

Brandon Clarke

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