Dolchstoss (Review)

Edited by Richard Sharp

by Stephen Agar

Winner of the Zine Poll both this year and last, what is the attraction of Dolchstoß?  It certainly isn’t the general hobby news, for Dolchstoß carries none to speak of.  It isn’t the amusing and/or vicious reviews of other zines, because Richard rarely admits to the existence of other zines, let alone review them.  It is true that you can play any game you want in Dolchstoß provided it is regular Diplomacy, but this offer isn’t likely to make Dolchstoß popular with multi-gamers or variant players.  Nor could it be said that Dolchstoß is at the centre of the hobby because, despite the apparent contradiction with its Zine Poll success, Dolchstoß is actually on the fringes of the hobby with regard to its content.  Admittedly, Richard’s utterances on Diplomacy are widely respected, and in that sense Richard is a key member of the postal hobby – but you won’t get any sense of there being a wider hobby at all from reading Dolchstoß. 

In my opinion the attractions of Dolchstoß are two-fold.  First it is regular, turning up every month without fail.  Second, Dolchstoß is Richard Sharp and Richard can be quite an entertaining writer.  In print Richard comes across as a bourgeois Alf Garnett, someone who revels in stating what he regards as bold home truths that will challenge some of the most deeply held assumptions of the liberal middle classes.  The views he expresses are both right wing and sexist (eg.”..if the female in question signs herself “Ms” I assume she’s a lesbian, too ugly to be married, American or most likely all three…”).  Some have complained that he occasionally lapses into racism.  Yet, the consensus is that all this is hugely entertaining.  For myself, I do enjoy Dolchstoß because I like it when an intelligent articulate person challenges my views and makes me think about them.  However, if I met someone at work or in the pub that expressed views similar to those Richard expresses in print, I think I would avoid them.  I think many other Dolchstoß readers would as well. 

So what does Dolchstoß consist of?  Well, there’s an editorial, a letter column and some game reports.  That’s it.  The editorial is usually a couple of pages of musings, usually concerning the latest disaster to have struck the Norton House computer/hard disc/electricity supply in general.  The letter column is often filled by old hacks (John Piggott?  Who’s he?) but is amusing nevertheless.  the occasional references to Bridge are totally incomprehensible to me.  Finally, all games have maps with them (there really is no good excuse for photocopied zines not to include maps these days).  The presentation of Dolchstoß is okay, but limited by software compatibility problems, indeed sometimes it appears as if the laser printer used has a mind of its own when it comes to formatting text. 

Is this the best the hobby has to offer?  Not sure, though I gave it second place in my vote in the Zine Poll.  But Richard has contributed one hell of a lot to this hobby over the years and it seems churlish to suggest that Dolchstoß is more worthy (to use Richard’s description) than wonderful. 

Reprinted from Spring Offesnive 10