The Embassy

In his article on Austria (part of the Diplomacy for Experts series), Toby Harris said: We now live in an age where there are very few new players, and indeed most have at least 10 - 20 years´ experience. [The Diplomatic Pouch Fall 2015 Movement, Sept 2015.] Isn´t that a depressing thought: very few new players?

Well, not quite as depressing at it seems, I´d suggest. The truth is that there are new players coming to Diplomacy all the time, every day. The problem is that they may not be staying with the Hobby.

The Online Game

Perhaps it isn´t generally recognised in the wider Hobby but Diplomacy websites – especially the big ones – have new members joining each day. The problem may be that these sites might not be succeeding in transitioning new members, new players, into the face-to-face Hobby. If so, why not? There are probably a number of reasons. One could well be the type of player websites attract.

It is generally accepted that play on websites is poor. Players have an increased tendency to drop from games, leaving positions abandoned. Not all websites will attempt to fill the positions but the better sites will. The philosophy is that it is better to have as full a complement of players in a game rather than leave games unbalanced.

There isn´t an awful lot websites can do about this phenomena of `surrendering´ or leaving games. Partly this is because the big sites will have people join who haven´t played the game before or who don´t recognise that webplay is significantly different to FTF play: longer deadlines (but, on the other hand, deadlines which can be too short to play effectively), is just one factor. The time players don´t have anything to do, waiting for others to respond to messages or waiting for the phase deadline to be reached, can be frustrating in an age when people want things to happen NOW. Some people may join a Dip site expecting a game similar to other games on the `net and find that Diplomacy is not that kind of game.

Another factor is the nature of all games played on the `net. Perhaps due to the remote nature of internet play, players tend to simply give up on a game, perhaps because they´re bored, they´re doing badly, they´ve come across one of those obnoxious individuals who seem to feel that the `net provides enough anonymity and distance to let them be a bastard. But, quite simply, it is easy to quit an internet game, whatever that game may be.

Another reason webplayers may not spread their wings into the wider Hobby is that they – websites – tend to be self-contained. One could quite happily play Diplomacy on a website without even considering looking for opportunities anywhere else… in spite of the poor quality of some games.

This is because what I´ve said above about webplay being perceived as being poor in quality, this – indeed – isn´t the whole story. If an enthusiastic Dippyist wants a higher quality game, it can be found. Not by joining a game from the games site necessarily (although it is a blunt generalisation that such a game would be automatically poor) but by looking a little deeper. Most Dip sites have a forum where players who look for better quality games can be found.

This process, in itself, makes a website a potentially self-contained Diplomacy entity. Not only can a good game be had but sites develop their own communities. Some members of a website won´t even consider looking at a different site to play on, let alone look for other ways to play.

Could websites do more to encourage their members into the wider Hobby? No doubt they could. All websites using Diplomacy do so due to the forbearance (or ignorance) of the copyright holders. All websites should, therefore, mention the copyright and encourage members to actually get hold of their own copy of the game. Perhaps simply having a physical copy of the game would encourage people to look for FTF opportunities.

Websites could also feature discussions of the wider Hobby. Notifications of conventions, tournaments, meets, etc in the real world; links to Dip zines; links to Dip information sites – all could point their members towards taking some interest in the FTF Hobby. First, though, a member has to find her way to the information, usually on the site´s forum, and – if one´s aim is simply to play - it is likely that looking further than the games site is not something many members will do.

The Wider Hobby

There is, then, some truth that the online game has a negative impact on the Hobby. It seems as if conventions are in something of a slump; the 2016 Yorkshire DipCon was cancelled through not managing to fill two boards, for instance. Is this a lack of interest in the FTF game? Is it solely the fault of the online game? Is it linked to a lack of time, money, etc which players can commit to attending a convention or tournament?

It could be all of the above. However, I wonder just how much of an effort the Hobby makes to actually reach out to new players or those who confine their play, in general, to the internet?

There are two factors to this: outreach and attitude; perhaps they´re different aspects of the same thing. I´ve seen a fair bit of advertising for different events – World DipCon, Yorkshire DipCon, ManorCon, the Dutch Diplomacy circuit. But then I know where to look! It seems to me that if you don´t know where to look, this info won´t be found. One is unlikely to come across this stuff by accident.

Outreach, then, is an issue. What was the last thing that went `viral´ about Diplomacy? I´d suggest David Hill´s article “The Board Game for Alpha Nerds” on the Grantland site [18 June, 2014]. Certainly, I´ve seen more new members on comment on how they looked for a way to play Dip following reading the article than any other single stimulus. That was two years ago. Perhaps I missed something between then and now but I wonder if there is anything else to rival this.

Somehow, if the Hobby wants new members, if it wants new blood, then it has to find a way to reach further than it is. In an era of fast and accessible information sharing, one would think this would be fairly easily accomplished. But it needs effort and, in a volunteer-run Hobby, perhaps that effort is difficult to summon-up.

There is, however, also the attitude of Dippyists over this. I recently saw a comment from a high profile member of the Hobby which was basically along the lines of “it´s a blip; we´ve had blips before” over the lack of interest in conventions. Of course, it could well simply be a cyclic dip but, for the first time, there is a credible – if possibly inferior – alternative to FTF play which is accessible to almost anyone: internet play. No need to travel half-way across the world to play in a tournament; no need to put a whole weekend aside; not even any need to put an evening aside - Diplomacy is on my lap, on the train, at my mother-in-laws and even (shock, horror) in the workplace. If the experience of attending a convention isn´t something one has encountered, it isn´t something that is going to be missed.

Toby´s throwaway comment about being in an age of very few new players shows an acceptance of the situation. There aren´t new players coming into the wider Hobby; that´s how it is.

When I mentioned this idea (which I´m getting to in a very long-winded way) to our esteemed editor, Mario said there had been some articles aimed at novice Diplomacy players but that TDP publishes only what is submitted and this reflects the interests of the writers. Which, of course, it does. So, does the lack of articles aimed at newbies indicate a lack of interest in them?

I hope not!

I should point out that these comments have been taken out of context. The first was given in consolation to the news that Yorkshire DipCon had been cancelled. Toby was mainly explaining why he was writing a series of articles aimed at experienced players. Mario was simply replying to my comments about a perceived need for a newby articles section in TDP. I´m not suggesting the commentators are in any way uninterested in newcomers to the Hobby – in fact, Mario was happy for me to go ahead with the Embassy section for the Pouch! But the comments do illustrate the point I´m making. I hope my using them hasn´t upset anyone.

The Embassy

I don´t have the answers to all these issues. What I do think is needed, however, is that the Diplomacy Hobby takes a much more effective approach to encouraging greater interest in the Hobby in all its aspects. Part of this includes getting Hobby news out there, part includes creating an interest and debate about how to grow the Hobby (and growth is possible given the numbers of people who do more than simply dip their toes in Dip) and partly through going back to the ways the postal zines accommodated novices. To quote what Toby said in his article: Every good postal Dip zine would include regular strategy articles.

Which brings me to The Embassy.

What I´m looking for are articles for novices. I´m not necessarily looking at the type of article Toby questions the quality of (to quote him yet again): So an article entitled “A Beginner´s Guide to Playing Turkey” (with the sage advice of recommending A(Con) - Bul in Spring 1901) would most likely have the Fozzie author pelted off stage with tomatoes.. Let´s face it, there are some bits of advice which really shouldn´t be needed!

But what I am looking to include in this section are articles which are aimed at novices primarily. And I agree with Toby´s remorse at the loss of the strategy article. There are a lot of articles on the Dip Archive, of course, but just how well maintained is that resource? What was the last time an article was uploaded? Articles which refer to postal play are not necessarily useless but they certainly lack a certain up-to-date aspect!

But there´s no reason strategy articles are the only type of article that would fit the bill. Why not introductory articles? Convention or tournament etiquette, experiences of playing Diplomacy in different formats, etc are all useful for a novice.

So, if you´re interested in writing something, get in touch with me. There are just two things to keep in mind, really. First, make sure you´ve followed The Pouch submission guidelines.

Second, try to make the article – especially strategy articles – format-neutral or, at least, cognisant of differences in different ways of playing. By that I mean try and make it applicable to any format – FTF, email, website play – unless it is specifically about play in one format or another. Why? Well one thing I´ve noticed is that strategy articles tend to focus on the traditional ways of playing Dip; today, I suggest more games are played on a website, whether through the site or via email, than in any other way. It would be nice to not focus on advice for playing Dip in a tournament or expect that the game is being played face-to-face. Of course, good advice is good advice and should be applicable to any format but some articles I´ve read are clearly less applicable to modern ways of playing.

And thanks to Mario for letting me go ahead with the idea!


If The Embassy helps makes some headway in drumming up an increase in enthusiasm for the Hobby as a whole, it will be through getting new players interested in reading articles and – tangentially – moving beyond the format they usually use to play Dip. If you – like me – are one of those players who used to like muttering away grumpily at someone else´s ideas about how to play Italy, then you´ll hopefully understand the grab such things can have. That´s what I hope we can achieve.

Rick Leeds

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