Vienna (May-June 85)

Edited by Richard Egan

by Stephen Agar

If Vienna were alive today, in the same form in which it existed 10 years ago, then it would probably sweep all before it. Richard Egan started Vienna mid-1984, as a Diplomacy & variants zine, which was not afraid to run games to 3-weekly deadlines, was not afraid to run games other than Diplomacy, and was even prepared to print lots and lots of Diplomacy strategy articles. Vienna was a substantial zine (around 40 pages), so it was not surprising that Richard put out an issue of IT as a games-only zine between issues of Vienna, though sometimes the full zine appeared more often than it should. No wonder he needed lots of external GMs to manage the zine. 

Vienna No.9 (Early May 1985) 

The Diplomacy emphasis in early Vienna’s was very strong indeed. Richard Egan editorialised on styles of play in Diplomacy, a topic examined exhaustively in the letter column, an article by Simon Franklin examined the fortunes of Austria and defended one of his previous articles on Russia, there was a short article by Richard Egan on long-term alliances and a history article by Tim Collieu on the Russian Revolution. Tim Collieu also submitted a variant called The Lord of Hosts which was a Middle Eastern variant circa 600 BC for five players. 

The non-Diplomacy scene was represented by a review of the Start trek RPG by John Cudmore, a gamestart for United and (a real sign of things to come) the rules for Gridiron by Les Walker and others. In the six months Vienna had been around it had started a massive 22 games of Diplomacy and variants (Downfall III (x3), Fleet Rome, Archipelago Diplomacy, World Diplomacy, 1066 and World Domination). Oh, and we mustn’t forget the postal Cluedo. All in all, a massive and magnificent effort – I hate to think how long it must have taken to type out on stencils, duplicate, collate and mail. 

The one thing that was completely missing is any sort of “hobby news” or indeed and sort of feeling that Vienna was part of a wider postal Diplomacy hobby at all. At the time, the only news worthy of note was probably the debate over RJW’s new system of voting in the Zine Poll, the results of the Rusty Bolts (I am amused to see that Graham Staplehurst won the “Dave Thorby Award for the worst-dressed hobby person”) and the nominations for the Gladys Awards (amazingly Vienna wasn’t nominated for anything, not even “Best New Zine” – which probably confirms my impression that Vienna was a world apart.) 

Vienna No.10 (Late May 1985) 

Three weeks later and another 46 side effort! Richard Egan predicts the Vienna would do badly in the 1985 Zine Poll (the deadline for which was approaching) due to the fact that 90% of Vienna subscribers only saw Vienna and hence were ineligible to vote on RJW’s current voting system. He was to be proved right. Yet again the letter column is largely dominated by Diplomacy tactics and Diplomacy articles were the mainstay of the zine. Richard Egan penned a 4 page article on the problems stemming from the Trieste/Venice border (which is rather good, so you may find it elsewhere in this issue). The rules for Colin Bruce’s Range War variant (an eight player game set in the Wild West of the 1870’s). 

On the general games front there was William Preston’s rules for postal Escape from Colditz (an excellent game, which is still available) and some reviews o SPI and Avalon Hill games by William. Richard included a couple of pages of photo-montages showing attendees at ViennaMeet2 which had been held recently and looking at pictures of Richard Jackson, John Cudmore, Martin Lewis et al. and the one thing that really stands out, compared to, say, a visit to ManorCon or MidCon today, is that they were all so very young. It is rather sad that 10 years later many of these people are still active in the hobby (mainly through Richard Egan’s current zine LiES), no new younger generation has emerged behind them. This hobby is terminally middle-aged! 

Yet again no “hobby news” (save for the mention of the Zine Poll which Richard referred to as “doing his duty” by bringing it to his reader’s attention). On the other hand it is worth mentioning the incredible amount of press that Vienna generated – many games had two pages of press each, compared to the average six lines that you find in SpOff. Indeed, Vienna No.10 even had a short article from Anthony Bourke praising the virtues of the press release. Of course, lots of press was also a feature of the Diplomacy zines of the early 70’s, when the people getting zines tended to be a rather small close-knit community (often with a SF background)in much the same was as Vienna was a small close-knit community. Nowadays, circulations are less cohesive which probably mitigates against a lot of press as the games are less likely to feature people who know one another of old (and are thus more likely to insult each other). E.g. “Sauron-Legolam and his bunch of perverted Elves: I’m afraid the orc whips you perverts requested are all being put to good use elsewhere, but a new consignment is expected shortly. However, if your kinky desires cannot wait that long then I’m sure my orcs would be only too delighted to give you a good thrashing in the meantime.” 

Vienna No.11 (Early July 1985) 

A six-week gap this time because IT No.5 appeared in-between to carry the games to their 3-weekly schedule, but still 46 pages. In his editorial Richard commented that according to the first issue of The Fat Lady Sings from Geoff Challinger, Vienna was now carrying more games of Diplomacy and variants than any other zine in the UK, fuelled by the newcomers to postal gaming that Vienna had managed to bring into the hobby. Out of interest back in 1985 the PBM Diplomacy hobby consisted of 829 active players playing in 199 regular games (compared with 134 today) and 79 variants spread over 48 zines (compared with 34 today). Having mentioned the sheer quantity of press in Vienna it is interesting to see that the letter column this issue featured several attacks on Peter Sullivan (editor of C’est Magnifique) for daring to describe such press as “rather trivial.” Perish the thought. 

On the Diplomacy front there was an article from Martin Lewis on Austo-Italian alliances and another article (entitled “Just One Stiletto” presumably after he Walls ice cream advert dominant at the time) on Italian opening strategy, while David Russell contributed an article on the use of blackmail in PBM Diplomacy. How did Richard Egan get so many readers to contribute material? Come on you lot, if Vienna readers could do it 10 years ago I don’t see why Spring Offensive readers couldn’t do it today. This month’s variant was Stab!. Yet again there was no real mention of the wider hobby beyond Vienna. 

The more general games end of the hobby was represented by more on Escape from Colditz by William Preston and a review of Statis Pro Football by Lee Taylor and even a couple of book reviews by Richard Egan, who almost brought himself to admit what we all know is true, namely that Douglas Adam’s So Long And Thanks For All The Fish was just a money-spinner, but what Richard didn’t know was that the fifth book in the series Mostly Harmless which Adams didn’t get around to writing until 8 years later, would be even worse. Mind you, the Dirk Gently novels are quite brilliant. 

A few weeks after issue 11 the 1985 Zine Poll results were published and Vienna came in at No.17 which strikes me as rather low in retrospect. Still, it was the year of the famous Richard Walkerdine “Mad Policy must win formula” for working out the results. Even so, the poor showing was probably accounted for the fact that despite its size, Vienna remained a community apart. 

In retrospect I don’t think that Vienna ever got the recognition that such a massive work produced so regularly over such a long period of time really deserved. The influx of new people that Vienna helped to bring into the hobby was fundamental to the relative boom on postal Diplomacy in the mid to late 80’s. 

Today Richard Egan edits LiES (with Bill O’Neill) and a very different zine it is too, in that there is now very little Diplomacy. However, LiES does have the same sort of semi-detached feel to it – a good zine, but one that chooses to be central to its own smaller hobby, rather than at the centre of PBM games in general. A pity, perhaps.

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 34