Dolchstoss (August – October 1974)

Edited by Richard Sharp

by Stephen Agar

I hope this will become a regular feature.  I’ll think of a zine, find the relevant issues for 20, 15, 10 or 5 years ago, and do a review of what was going on then. Let’s start with 1974 and Dolchstoß  and next time I may move on to 1984 in the shape of Vienna or maybe even Thing on the Mat.  After all, what’s the point in having an archive if you don’t use it? 

Dolchstoß No.22 (11 August 1974) 

26 pages of foolscap mimeo duplication and a circulation of 260.  A bargain at 11p.  The circulation of Dolchstoß was destined to grow even further, but by today’s standards 260 is simply massive and a good 100 more than the biggest zine today, though the reason for Dolchstoß’s large circulation is that it was the house zine of the National Games Club and Richard Sharp was of course the NGC General Secretary.  The zine had the flavour of being a house zine as well, with different sections being provided by Peter Dean (Scrabble), Jacques Parry (Chess), Richard Scott (Variants), Richard Walkerdine (Diplomacy) and Mick Bullock (Statistics). 

Given the announcement this issue of the fold of Gallimaufry it is interesting to note that the first item in Richard’s editorial was an announcement that Steve Doubleday was being forced by circumstances outside his control to drop out of the postal games scene!  Everything is cyclical.  Richard was also getting some hostile criticism for an earlier editorial in which he asked everyone to vote in the 1974 Calhamer Awards (ran by the IDA in the US) for British zines/GMs/players.  How’s this letter from Nigel Sloan “I’m sorry to have to say that I found your last editorial on the Calhamer Awards quite nauseating in its wog-hating jingoism.” 

Inside we find that Tony Ball reported that the NGC had a surplus of £28.11.  Steve Doubleday’s position on the NGC Committee as Variant Secretary was taken over by Richard Scott.  Richard Walkerdine made an appeal for some more NGC zines to start up as there was just too many people wanting to play – five regular games had been started in the previous couple of weeks.  In 1974 the Gamefee for an NGC game of Diplomacy was £1 (40p to the publisher, 60p to the NGC to subsidise Dolchstoß etc.) plus a £1 deposit, which when you think about inflation etc. would mean that a £5 Gamefee and £5 deposit wouldn’t seem outrageous today.  Of course the independent zines were undercutting this Gamefee left right and centre but Richard defended £1 as players were getting “efficiency and security.” FtF Diplomacy was alive and well with a report of a game at Leeds University. 

In those days Who’s Where appeared as a column in Dolchstoß.  37 variants are listed as being played at the time including some still around today (Game of the Clans, Intimate Diplomacy, Youngstown, Downfall, Excalibur), some classics rarely played today (Abstraction, Atlantica, Diadochi, Multiplicity, Third Age) and some which are now banished to the darkest recesses of the NAVB (Mordor vs. the World, Jihad, Red October, Espionage, 30 Years War, Scotice Scripti). In total 346 players are listed, which was a large increase on the 288 players recorded only six months previously and a 50% increase on the figures for June 1973.  Boom times indeed.  Andy Davidson was playing in 53 games!  Even Richard Sharp managed 27, Steve Doubleday 22, John Piggott 20, Pete Birks 15, Richard Walkerdine 10, while Richard Hucknall was only in 1.  34 people (or 10% of all active players) were playing in 10 or more games!  Times have certainly changed.  Dolchstoß itself carried 12 games of Diplomacy (including a game of Third Age II) and it is interesting to note its wide use of standbyes, something still popular in the US, though 20 years later Richard is on record as saying he will never again play in a zine which uses them.

Dolchstoß No.23 (8 September 1974) 

One issue later, circulation 275.  Richard was still defending himself for his anti-American comments.  As Richard noted “Like anyone else who works for an American-owned company, I detest the American way of organising things.”  Richard discloses that he has been given Don Turnbull’s Diplomacy archives, being a collection of zines stretching back to 1966 or so.  As it happens, Richard recently let me have six A4 binders worth of excerpts of 1960’s US zines which once belonged to Don Turnbull, so I think that I now have the zines which he is referring to.  A complete inventory of what they contain is elsewhere in this issue. 

Mick Bullock’s contribution to this issue was a little statistical analysis of the data published in the previous issue.  For example, the average number of games per player had increased from 2.68 games in June 1973 to 4.19 games in August 1974.  Andy Davidson and Les Pimley had been in the same Diplomacy game together in no less than 17 gamestarts.  Courier had the most number of players (63) followed by Dolchstoß (59) and Frigate (58) and Mick calculated that 52.3% of active players only played in one zine.  And Richard Walkerdine would never forgive me if I didn’t mention that according to Andrew Waldie’s official NGC Rating System he was the best player in the country at the time. 

Dolchstoß No.24 (14 October 1974) 

Circulation now 285, 28 pages and still only 11p.  The big news was the results of the much-discussed Calhamer Awards. In the end the British sweeped 9 of the 11 awards with Dolchstoß being voted the most Outstanding Publication (funny, that).  Hartley Patterson wrote to castigate Richard for telling subscribers to “vote British” and says that his column in Diplomacy World will be devoted to making Richard a scapegoat for the whole affair.  Richard replied that the only “unfairness” was the “unfairness which always takes place when Americans lose something they feel they should have won.”  Richard predicted that next year the British would win all 11 awards unless the Awards “suddenly and mysteriously become for Home Consumption Only.”  Oddly enough, they did. 

NGC membership was up to 419 and 13 more games of Diplomacy had been started since issue 22.  Richard Scott plugs a new variant called Mercator designed by Doug Wakefield (then a 13 player game with 36 centres for victory) and a variant called Super-Dip from Peter Tyrrell which was designed in the 60’s and certainly isn’t in the UKVB.  Back in 1974 the UKVB had rules for 27 variants as opposed to the 700 or so today.  BDC 59R was getting into a bit of a mess with a forged orders scandal too complicated to describe here and Richard defending his decision to accept the orders in question.  There seemed to be more of that sort of thing going on 20 years ago.  Zine News was that Richard had received issue 2 of Jon Lovibond’s Lemming Express but wouldn’t recommend it “until it gets a few of its facts right” and the arrival of Betelgeuse from Greg Hawes (a zine devoted entirely to Intimate Diplomacy) was announced.  The back page was even taken up with rules for postal Formula One by Mike Wassall which arguably almost made Dolchstoß a multi-games zine.