Why We See Things The Way We Do

A Brief History of
the Face-to-Face Diplomacy Hobbies on Three Continents

By David Norman and Brandon Clarke

Having been talking over E-mail for well over a year, we two got to meet Face-to-Face for the first time at WDC this year. And not only did we have six days of WDC to play some games, and catch up on all the stories you can't tell so well over E-mail, we also spent two days with Tim Richardson in Washington beforehand, and five days in Denver and the Rockies with Manus Hand afterwards.

One day, while driving around the Rocky Mountains, the three of us got onto talking about the different hobbies around the world. We all knew that they are different, but until we got talking about it, we didn't have a clue how big the differences are. We have continued the conversation via e-mail since we arrived home, and having learned so much about the various hobbies, it seemed a good idea to write it down.

One of the first things we learned, is that it is not uncommon for the different hobbies to use the same terms to mean completely different things. Therefore spread through this article are definitions for some of the terms which are used. In no way are these meant to be definitive, nor are they meant to imply that anybody else's definitions are wrong. But unless these terms are defined, it is very difficult to write in such a way that what is written cannot be seriously misinterpreted. To start with, the different hobby types:

A Continental Hobby.
A hobby consisting of people who will travel anywhere within their continent to play in a continental championships. To get to tournaments in a continental hobby, most of the time you will fly. Examples of such a hobby are the European Hobby, the North American Hobby, and the Australasian Hobby.

A Regional Hobby.
A hobby consisting of people who will travel a distance to play in a tournament, several times a year. Examples include the UK Hobby, the French Hobby, the Swedish Hobby, ARMADA (in Denver and the Rockies), the Potomac Tea and Knife Society (in Washington DC and the surrounding area), the Carolina Amateur Diplomats, the New Zealand Hobby, the Eastern Australian Hobby. To get to tournaments in a regional hobby, you will usually drive, but it is a drive you would plan in advance.

A Local Hobby.
A hobby usually based in a single city. A hobby where most meetings are not planned well in advance. A lot of people are not covered by any local hobby. Examples include the Auckland Hobby, the Sydney Hobby, the Oxford University Diplomacy Society.

Plus you can also have hobby collections, such as the European Regional Hobbies (which is the sum of the UK Hobby, French Hobby, Swedish Hobby, Finnish Hobby, Swiss Hobby, etc).

The first face-to-face hobby to develop was the North American Continental Hobby. DipCon started in 1967. The Postal Hobby was new, and through the various Zines, John Koning invited players to join him for a weekend of playing games in his back yard. Just five players attended, but it was a start. Despite it being two years until the second DipCon in 1969, the tradition had started. DipCon II saw the numbers double to 10. It was at this point that it was decided that there would be a DipCon every year, and that it would be the premier event in North America each year. A year later was DipCon III, with a massive increase in numbers, to over one hundred players, and DipCon was here to stay.

It is now 33 years since it started, and DipCon is still the focal point of the North American Hobby. It moves around the continent every year, and many players travel across the continent to be there. WorldDipCon has now been held in North America four times, and every time, the convention has also been the host for DipCon that year.

Of course, DipCon is not the whole story of North America. There are also a number of regional hobbies. Some of the most prominent ones include The Carolina Amateur Diplomats, who have been running for many years, and more recently The Potomac Tea and Knife Society and the ARMADA have formed their own very active regional hobbies. There are of course quite a number of players in these hobbies who also travel to DipCon each year, but there are also a much larger number who do not.

For the first couple of DipCons, there was no scoring system. In fact, the attendees agreed amongst themselves that nobody would keep track of, or publish, who had won which games. The idea of DipCon was to get together and meet each other, and so everybody who had made it was a winner. But as it grew, the games started to become more structured, and scoring systems were introduced by the various organisers. With DipCon having its roots in the Postal Hobby, and with the principle aim being to enjoy the games, the systems that were used were based around the way that the game is played postally -- full length games, with results being solos, draws and eliminations.

As the North American regional hobbies have formed, mostly led by DipCon attendees who decided they didn't want to only play once a year, the scoring systems they use have tended to be based on the systems they had picked up from DipCon. Solos and draws were the principle method of success. Because of this, most regional hobbies in North America use very similar scoring systems. There are of course some exceptions. GenCon has formed completely outside of the main hobby, and it plays most of its games to just 1905, comparing the country supply center count for each game to only those results of the same country in other games in the round, so that if an Austria with three centers was the best result for any Austria in that round, it would advance through to the semifinals and then a final game to decide the winner. Also, the ARMADA was formed by Manus Hand, who while he had attended a couple of DipCons, is principally an Internet player, and so has used a system which was initially discussed on the Internet. But these are definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Time for some more definitions. There are many scoring systems around the world. In practically all systems, the best result you can get is an 18 centre victory (a solo), and the worst results are being eliminated from the board (an elimination), or being on a board where another player achieves an 18 centre victory (a loss). All other results are considered to be draws, and what varies is how these draws are scored. Most systems can be categorised into four basic types.

Size-of-Draw based systems.
These are systems where your score is based on the number of people in the draw at the end of the game. The best result is to only have two players in the draw. After that is three players, and so on down to the worst draw result - finishing the game with all seven players in the draw. As long as you are in the draw, the number of centres you have is irrelevant. These systems can be broken down further into DIAS ("Draws Include All Survivors") and NoDIAS draws:
  1. DIAS Draws. Everybody left on the board is considered to be in the draw. The only way you can fail to be in the draw, is to end the game with no supply centres.
  2. NoDIAS Draws. It is possible for players who still have supply centres left at the end of the game to not be included in the draw. There are two ways this can happen:
    1. Unanimous NoDIAS draws. Players with supply centres can be excluded from the draw, but only if they agree. The most common reason why this would happen, is if a player who only has a small number of supply centres left feels that given another year or two he will be eliminated anyway, and would rather admit defeat now than play on to the inevitable conclusion.
    2. Non-Unanimous NoDIAS draws. Players with supply centres can be voted out of the draw by the other players on the board. This typically works by each player getting one vote per supply centre, with just 29 or 30 votes for a draw proposal being required for the draw to pass.

Most of the Cons in North America use systems which are based around the Size of Draw.

Rank Based Systems.
These are systems where your score is based on how you rank on your board. The player with the most centres is ranked first, the next most is second, and so on. In a rank based system, a player finishing on six centres on a board where nobody else has more than five centres will score better than someone who finishes on 16 centres in a 17-16-1 result, because in the first instance, they topped their board, where as in the second instance, they have only come second. The theory behind these systems is that it is not important to show how good you are, it is important to show that you are better than your opponents. It is like in most sports, where if you win a match 1-0, you have done better than another team who lost 100-99. You may have scored only 1 point while the other team scored 99, but you won and they didn't.

Centrecount Based Systems.
These are systems based on the number of centres you gain. The more centres, the better. The simplest example of this is KIS, which is used at some tournaments in Australia. The system is simple. For every centre you hold at the end of the game, you score 1 point. It does not matter how many anybody else gets (as long as they don't get 18, of course), or whether they have got more or less than you. Whomever collects the most centres throughout the course of the tournament wins, pure and simple.

Dominance Based Systems.
These are a variant on centrecount and rank based systems. They work on the premise that the more centres you get, the better your score, but it is also important how you do compared to the other players. So 14 centres in a 14-8-... is better than 14 in a 14-13-... which in turn is better than 14 in 16-14-... . Your aim is to divide and conquer, and in doing so, to be as dominant as possible.

Plus, of course, there are composite systems. Systems that use more than one of the above in order to score the game. A prime example of a composite system, is the system currently in use at MidCon, where you score 1 point for 1 centre, 4 points for 2 centres, 9 points for 3 centres, and so on up to 256 points for 16 centres and 289 points for 17 centres. And then you score 1/2 for being top of the board, 1/3 for second, 1/4 for third, etc. And your overall score for the game is your two scores multiplied together.

Anyway, back to the history. Face-to-face Diplomacy in Europe has developed in completely the opposite way to in North America. The regional hobbies all formed first, and then the continental hobby followed.

In the UK, there has been a regional face-to-face hobby since at least the 1970's. However, the current hobby dates back to early 1980's. As in North America, the hobby was formed by postal players who wanted to get together for a weekend and play some Diplomacy. However, from the start, the intention was to determine a champion as well as to have a good time, and so the scoring systems are biased towards the wish for a tournament which determines a winner. They are not based on the size of the draw, but instead have traditionally been based on centrecount and dominance.

There has also been a regional face-to-face hobby in France since the early 1980's. However, having formed independently of the UK Hobby, the games are played very differently. The games only run to 1907, rather than around 1910 to 1911 in the UK, and are scored using the C-Diplo system, which is almost completely a rank based system, with centrecount used as no more than a tie-breaker.

In the late 1980's, a regional hobby also formed in Sweden. Like the French Hobby, it formed independently of those hobbies around it. Originally most tournaments used a system based on Size of Draw, although this is no longer used at all. Other systems were also used, including a very complex system which attempted to measure the hardness of the game amongst other things, and systems which made much greater changes to the basic game, including one system where a solo required just 9 centres rather than the normal 18, and so games were always played until there was a solo. In general, the Swedes have been more inventive with their tournament format than any other hobby in the world.

There are also regional hobbies in many other countries of Europe. The Norweigian hobby was fairly strong in the early to mid 1990's. However, it has declined in recent years, due mainly to being taken over by other games (boo, hiss!), such as Magic, the Gathering, although in the last few months, it is starting to show signs of a re-emergence. The Finnish hobby on the other hand, is currently at an all time high. It hosted EDC last year, and is becoming a significant part of the continental hobby, with many players travelling between Finland and Sweden to play, and several Finns starting to venture further afield. The hobby in Belgium is fairly well established, having hosted both an EDC and a WDC, and being so close to the French hobby provides it with an additional source of players. There is also a significant sized hobby in Germany which has been running for a few years now, although there is very little communication between them and the rest of Europe. And there are similar, but less well known hobbies in Holland, Denmark, Austria, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and probably several other countries, where as of yet, their hobbies are completely unknown to the outside world.

With three large regional hobbies in Europe forming in the 1980's, it was inevitable that a European Continental Hobby would form at some point. The surprising thing is how long it took. Despite having WDC I at ManorCon in Birmingham in 1988, the European Continental Hobby still didn't start to form at that point. It was only with EuroDipCon I in Paris in 1993, and then WDC IV again in Birmingham in 1994, that the European Hobby started to come together.

Since then, there have been six more EuroDipCons, and three more WorldDipCons in Europe, and yet the regional hobbies are still the focal point for players in Europe. There are several reasons for this. Part of it is that air-travel in Europe is much more expensive than within other continents. Part of it is that because there are distinctive geographical and language boundaries between the hobbies, they have less tendency to mix. But the main reason is that because the regional hobbies have formed independently, they have become self-supporting before they have started to interact, and so they do not need to mix as much.

But this does not mean that the Continental Hobby hasn't had its effects. The Rank based C-Diplo system, which was originally used only in France, is now used at some tournaments in both Sweden and the UK. A small number of players do now travel for regional events in other regions of the continent. Continent-wide rankings of players have been calculated and published. And the number of players travelling inter-regionally to go to European Continental Cons is ever increasing.

The third continent on which Face-to-face Diplomacy is played on a large scale, is Australasia. Again, the hobbies in Australasia have formed in a different way to either of the other two. The first Face-to-face Diplomacy hobby in Australasia was formed by an Ex-American soldier, who moved to Australia after the Vietnam War, and married a New Zealander. However, this hobby completely died out many years ago.

The current Regional Hobby on the East Coast of Australia formed in the mid 1980's. It started off as local hobbies in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. In Adelaide, Diplomacy was a popular game at the University Wargames club, and in Melbourne, Diplomacy became so popular at the Melbourne Wargames Club, that it changed its name to the Victoria Diplomacy Club.

The hobby grew rapidly, reaching a peak in the late 1980's, with tournaments in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. There was also a separate Local Hobby in Perth, but it has never grown in the same way as the East Coast Hobby, and due to the distance between them, there has been very little interaction between it and the East Coast Hobby.

In 1992, WorldDipCon III was held in Canberra, and had 11 boards. But by this time, the hobby was waning. It didn't die out, but it did see a significant reduction in numbers. The postal hobby, which had been the main strength of the Australian hobby, was the main casualty, and shrunk to a fifth of its former size. Then in the mid 1990's, it started to pick up again. The hobby in Adelaide was no longer around, but to add to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, it also included a new local hobby in Brisbane.

In 1998, a regional hobby also started to form in New Zealand. The driving force behind it was Brandon Clarke, who set out with two aims in mind - to form a self-contained regional hobby in New Zealand, and to have it become part of an Australasian Continental Hobby. In its first two years, it has grown rapidly, so that the New Zealand Regional Hobby is now almost as big as the East Coast Australian Regional Hobby.

The Continental Hobby has also grown with it, with 20% of players in New Zealand and East Coast Australia having travelled to the other to play. And with the number of people travelling long distances between these two, there are also the first signs of players from the local hobby in Perth travelling across Australia to play in the major East Coast events.

The local hobby in Perth is still less well developed. They have only ever held one tournament, in 1995. However, with the rapid growth of the Australasian Continental Hobby, and with flights across Australia being of a similar price to flights between Australia and New Zealand, it is surely only a matter of time until the effect of the growth in the rest of Australasia has knock-on effects in Western Australia.

The scoring systems used in Australasia are also different to anywhere else. Originally they were progressive centrecount based systems - that is they rewarded you for the number of centres you controlled, but not only at the end of the game, but also in every other year of the game. As in the US, these systems arose from the scoring systems in use in postal zines at the time. Unlike the US, these systems were designed to measure games in progress and at various stages, rather than just completed games. But after WDC III, there was a change of direction. Centrecount based systems were still used, but the progressive nature was removed. The thinking was that what matters is where you end up, and not how you got there. Recently with the addition of the New Zealand players to the Continental Hobby, and the new ideas they have brought, composite systems based mainly on centrecount but also on dominance have also become common.

Having hosted WDC III in 1992, Australia has now won the bid to hold it again in 2002. With their plans to hold it again, and the surge in numbers of players travelling between regions, Australasian players have also started to travel intercontinentally to play once again. There were four players from Australasia in Baltimore this year, and there are already plans for a tour, taking in the Auckland Championships in New Zealand, ManorCon in the UK, and then WDC in France on three successive weekends next year, before Canberra hosts WDC XII the following year.

So that is it for the major hobbies. But they are not the only Face-to-face hobbies in the world. There are known to be around 50 players in Brazil playing Face-to-face on a regular basis, and there are also a fair number of small local hobbies in East Asia, although their difference in gaming philosophy to the major hobbies means that they have not started to enter the World Hobby in the same way that other hobbies have. And there are also a number of e-mail players in South Africa, although whether they play Face-to-face is unknown to the outside world.

So, Europe, North America and Australasia have all developed very differently. This has lead to different understandings as to what a hobby is, how the game should be played, and what the aim of the game is. Europe has strong well established regional hobbies which have only recently seen a continental hobby developed above them. The high price of travel, and distinct national, cultural, and language boundaries have in some ways retarded the development of a fully functioning continental hobby in Europe. While some players (in increasing numbers now) have begun to travel throughout Europe, these barriers, coupled with strong, successful regional hobbies in the UK, France and Sweden have meant that players in those regional hobbies have been satisfied with the level of competitive Diplomacy they have access to without travelling throughout Europe to play. This has been reinforced by the nationalistic nature of European culture outside of Diplomacy.

By contrast, the lack of as pronounced national, cultural, and language boundaries in North America (as compared with Europe) the North American Continental Hobby is much more developed than the European one. In North America distance, and the time it takes to cross it, has been a much more important barrier to players participation in the continental hobby there than the barriers prevalent in Europe. Despite regular large numbers at DipCon, a lot of North American players only get to play at DipCon when it is hosted by their regional hobby. In recent years the regional hobbies in North America have begun to mature to cater to the player's desire for more access to competitive Diplomacy without the need to cross the continent to get it.

As noted earlier, Australasia has a very high level of participation in its continental hobby by the members of its regional hobbies. This is partly a function of Australasia's geographic isolation from the rest of the world, and also a reflection of the lack of significant cultural and language barriers there. Distance is again much more important as a barrier than expense in Australasia, but the cost of travel between Australia and New Zealand does limit the number of players who can cross between the two regional hobbies.

How we have developed our hobbies, and the barriers that are inherent in each of the continental hobbies are different in each case, and those differences have resulted in different ways of looking at the other hobbies throughout the world. Unfortunately, most of the ways each hobby looks at itself just don't work with the other hobbies. For instance, as we have said, to the Europeans, the biggest boundary to travel are the national boundaries, and so when the Europeans look at America and don't see any national boundaries, they assume there is a single hobby there in the same way that the UK, France, or Sweden has its own single hobby.

However, as we have also said, the biggest barrier to continental tournament participation in North America is distance and time, so when a North American looks at Europe and sees that the distance between Marseilles and Stockholm is less than half the distance between New York and San Francisco, they can't understand why the Europeans have so much trouble working as a single hobby.

And when the Australasians look at the European and American hobbies, it is not immediately obvious to them why there isn't much more travel throughout the other hobbies as there is within theirs. Their biggest obstacle to travel is the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, which is about 1300 miles wide - a barrier which can only be crossed by a three hour flight. And yet in Europe, the English and French hobbies are separated by just 20 miles of water, which can be crossed by plane, boat, hovercraft, or even 20 minutes on a train. And the North American hobby appears to be even easier to cross. It is a single landmass and so you can drive from one side to the other. However, this again is a biased view. The English Channel might be only a minute fraction of the width of the Tasman Sea, but the fare to cross it by any of the available options is similar to the airfare from New Zealand to the East Coast of Australia. And North America may not have any water to cross, but the distance between the coasts is similar to the distance between the East Coast of New Zealand and the West Coast of Australia.

So to summarise, we have three major face-to-face Diplomacy hobbies across the world, and they are very different. They are so different that if you look at another hobby through your own eyes, you will never understand it fully. If you want to understand the other hobbies, then the only way to do so is to put aside everything you have learned from your own hobby, and look at them through their eyes. Only then can you understand how they see themselves - and how they see you.

Many thanks for their help in writing this article to Manus Hand, Edi Birsan, Leif Bergman, Larry Peery, Shaun Derrick, John Cain and Bill Brown.

David Norman (david@ellought.demon.co.uk)
and Brandon Clarke (bjc@stevensons.co.nz)

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