Ode (Review)

Edited by John Marsden

by Stephen Agar

Someone will no doubt correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that at 138 issues Ode is the longest running UK Diplomacy zine without a break.  NMR! did keep up for 136 issues until the recent fold, but now John has the stage to himself.  Ode has been running that long that I even reviewed issue 1 of Ode thirteen years ago in Pigmy 31. 

Ode is in an A5 photo-reduced booklet format, with 32-36 pages (8-9 sheets of A4).  Presentation is fairly good, although some of the headings used push the capability of the dot matrix printer creating them to its limits.  Since Manorcon the cover of the zine has modestly proclaimed the fact that the Ode team won the Manorcon championship in 1990 and 1992, even including a drawing of a winners plaque.  A feat to be proud of, no doubt. 

John relies on several external GM’s in order to increase the variety of the games he has on offer, Steve Jones GM’s Mercator, Andrew Poole and David Watts adjudicate Railway Rivals and Bus Boss, Steve Froud GM’s Origins of World War II, Graham Lee and Dave Erridge handle 1830 and 1829 respectively and try as I might I can’t work out who GM’s Empires of the Middle Ages as he never seems to get any credit, but simple elimination suggests Simon Cradock.  I wouldn’t quite call Ode a fully-fledged multi-games zine, but it does offer more variety than most.  This gallimaufry of GM’s means that Ode’s appearance can be a hotch-potch of typefaces as an inevitable consequence of several people providing camera-ready copy, but so what. 

John Marsden holds the zine together, providing an “Oditorial”, a letters section and hobby news.  John’s strong personality does come through, particularly when he is preaching the Liberal and green message and describing Richard Williams as an “autocrat and a Fascist”.  Perhaps John doesn’t realise it, but he does sometimes come across as extremely patronising, especially when he decides not to refer to people by their christian names and starts calling them “Mr. Agar”.  Well, Mr. Marsden John, I for one would never stoop so low. 

In recent issues, the letters pages have been dominated by Guardian politics (Rio summit, Greenpeace, education, re-distributive taxation, solar-power), which is probably a fair reflection of John’s views and interests.  Politically John says a lot I would agree with and a fair bit that I would not agree with, though with the notable exception of Richard Williams (the said alleged “autocrat and Fascist”) most of John’s readership seem to be on the same wavelength as him.  Ode does have a flavour and a personality – I don’t mean to sound snide when I refer to liberal politics because the hobby is enriched by having zines that express all points of view, though there are precious few left-wing zines about (which probably reflects the social class from which most Diplomacy zine editors are drawn).  I certainly can’t be bothered to spout left wing politics in Spring Offensive just to even things up. 

From what I’ve seen, Ode does indeed seem to be run efficiently, running to 5 week deadlines and turning round in under a week.  I would certainly agree that it would be an excellent place in which to play and I have already put myself down on one of John’s waiting lists. 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 5