An Insider’s View of MidCon XVII (1995)

by Stephen Agar

God I’m knackered. It doesn’t sound like much work being on the organising committee for something like MidCon, and for most of the year it isn’t, but the last three weeks have left me exhausted.  

MidCon officially starts at 2.00pm on the Friday, so I arrived at 1.15pm thinking I was in good time and that no one would be there yet. Of course I was wrong, some people had been there for some time and Pete Birks was already at the bar. Locating Brian Williams and Chris Tringham (who shall hereafter be referred to as The Probe – not as a reference to his noble aquiline features, but in homage to his taste in motor vehicles) we started to play a game of skill and co-ordination which involves picking out name badges from a box and estimating where on the table the badge should go, assuming there is 150-odd to lay out in alphabetical order. Someone like Duncan Adams is easy (somewhere near the beginning), but Neil Kendrick or Chris Palm immediately cause trouble and consternation. To make this game even more fun at least one person has to do it looking at the badges upside down, while another is permitted to just watch and criticise. A final variable is introduced by people turning up and claiming their badges, hence undoing all your work almost as quick as you can do it. By the time this exhausting ritual was over, the registration desk was covered in badges and as players turned up who had not registered in advance it became apparent that the event had been so successful in attracting people this year that there might even be a badge crisis. It is simply ages since MidCon has cleared 150 people attending, but this year 169 ended up registering, so a few (a very few) ended up badgeless in Brum. Next year we’ll buy 200. 

My main task for the afternoon was trying to put together a definitive list of who had qualified for the NDC Finals and making sure we got a qualifier moving on the Friday evening (which indeed we did – 3 boards). It wasn’t possible to get out of the Angus to eat on the Friday evening, so I had a quick snack in the hotel with Stewart Cross who had come up for the evening to distribute the newest version of his Diplomacy adjudicator and participate in the music quiz (part of which he’d helped me prepare). Whilst I would agree that the hotel restaurant in the Angus is overpriced and mediocre, the snack meals that they put on for MidCon attendees are actually quite good and not too expensive (£3 ish). In fact, even the bar prices seemed reasonable this year – is the Angus moving down-market? Now I know it was my idea to have a music quiz at MidCon (a shameless copy of Mick Haytack’s music quiz at ManorCon, which I enjoyed), but I never realised how much hassle it would be to put together. I settled on a format with five different section which basically involved the audience listening to a series of excerpts of songs one after another and having to identify them, while at the same time identifying 50 songs, the first lines of which were supplied on a printed sheet. The Probe and I rigged up the “hi-fi” that we were prepare to risk at MidCon (I expertly attached the speaker leads with the help of some matches jammed in the back of the amp), and we did what we could to get people’s attention. It is not easy to get a room full of people who are mainly involved in playing long and complicated games to decide that they want to stop what they’re doing for an hour and join in. Indeed, trying to get hardened gamers to even acknowledge your existence when they’re playing a game is difficult. Despite this 16 teams (of three people each) took part and I think it was sufficiently mixed and light-hearted to go down well (though there was a few groans at my inclusion of Lena Zavaroni’s Ma, he’s making eyes at me!). As this is a special re-cycled MidCon issue, the first lines part of the quiz is included in this issue elsewhere. Starting a music quiz at 11.00pm meant that by the time I’d had a drink (or six) in the bar it was going to be a late night. 

Indeed, such a late night that I didn’t wake up at 7.30am as planned and I was roused from my coma by the telephone ringing in my right ear. It was 8.45am and The Probe wanted to know if I was putting in an appearance to organise the Diplomacy due to start at 9.00am. Don’t you hate it when you have to get up in a hurry and there’s no time to wash, shave, make yourself look human etc.? Mind you, it succeeded in enhancing my generally grotty appearance to such a degree that the Diplomacy players felt that I looked sufficiently like one of them to allow me to impose some sort of DISCIPLINE on the Tournament. We started with seven boards (an excellent number for a Diplomacy Tournament) and one more than last year. With the help of Neil Duncan (the nice one) and Colin Hobbs (the fierce one) we all managed to keep the tournament going so that no board was ever more than a few minutes behind. I’d even printed some Yellow Cards with a suitably rude message on them, but I didn’t get to give one out until the following day. To my surprise most people were fairly co-operative, and no one even complained about the scoring system. It really is a thankless task trying to get seven people to get a move on with their game against their will – and as you inevitably have to remonstrate with at least two boards every deadline and with deadlines 20 minutes apart, by the end of the day you feel spiritually exhausted. 

I did manage to have a quick wash and brush up before the Future of the Hobby chat, which was rather sociable for being in the lounge, and did discuss some interesting new ideas. That was quickly followed by going out for a Chinese with John Dodds, Colin Hobbs, Bill Eaton, Veronica Conboy and The Probe. A very civilised meal too, nice food, good company, and several political discussions which always had the promise of a good row in them, but which often settled down to a rather unexciting consensus. Veronica had played her first tournament game of Diplomacy that day (as did Brenda Palm) and I think she will be back for more. The fact that she uses her own surname lead many to believe that Bill was her boyfriend rather than her husband, and I am given to understand that the hearts of several distant admirers were broken when appraised of the true situation. Veronica and Bill were two of the people who had to use the Grand (as an overflow) because the Angus ran out of rooms – indeed, some people who had booked early but arrived late were also sent to the Grand. Although this was a 100% hotel cock-up, opinion was divided as to what people thought of it. Some enjoyed the idea of a five minute walk in the fresh air and a nice room, while the hardened games-players regarded and exercise in walking to an adjacent hotel as completely unacceptable, and what use would they have for a nicer room when every second spent in it was a waste of good games-playing time. When we got back to the Angus I had to give the Saturday night quiz a miss as I had to retire to my room and calculate the scores from the first round of the Diplomacy and construct a draw for the following day. 

I went against tradition for the Sunday draw at MidCon, in that I decided to spread the higher scoring players as evenly as possible and not to have a “top board” from which the tournament winner would almost inevitably emerge. I also wanted everyone to play a different country and to minimise the number of people who played on the same board with someone they’d allied with (or even just played with) the day before. Nothing’s perfect, but I think I did manage to mix everyone up sufficiently for the five boards of Diplomacy played on the Sunday. For the second day in a row the Tournament seemed to go quite well, with boards sticking to deadlines (though I did have to give a Yellow Card to Simon Bouton, who is renowned amongst Tournament organisers as a prime offender). As the day wore on I became more and more anxious that there was no way I was going to able to calculate all the results before 4.30pm when the presentations were scheduled to take place – but as it happened, I did manage it albeit with only a couple of minutes to spare. Stephen Othen had a notable result with an outright win as Austria on Board 5, but the fact that he was eliminated the day before allowed Guy Thomas to sneak through as the new National Diplomacy Champion. The full results are elsewhere. 

The results of this years Zine Poll was announced by Ryk Downes, the winner being On The Game from Spring Offensive and Take That You Fiend! 

While the convention wound down John Dodds, Brian Williams, The Probe and I (Neil Duncan having already departed) held a MidCon Committee meeting, to review the weekend and make plans for the future. At the risk of revealing state secrets, after expenses and planned expenditure on hobby development (such as funding the Convention Book, Hobby news etc.), MidCon should have approx. £800-£900 in the bank as a contingency against future expenses, losses etc. which is really quite healthy. ManorCon, of course, has several times this amount in reserve, but then their possible contingent losses are many times ours. Personally (and I am not speaking on behalf of MidCon) I would favour both ManorCon and MidCon publishing their accounts to the whole hobby, as they are hobby events which derive their income from the hobby, and I’d be interested to know your views. 

The MidCon Committee is eager to receive feedback on the weekend and I will copy anything sent to me to the other Committee Members (John Dodds, Brian Williams, Neil Duncan and The Probe). How was it for you?

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 39