17 – 22nd July 1992
by Stephen Agar
The problem with trying to write a report of something like ManorCon is that it is all to easy to end up with something which is of passing interest to those who you remember to mention in passing, of little interest to others who attended and of absolutely no interest at all to those who were not there. Therefore, rather than take the easy way out and turn this report into a chronological account of in the nature of the eternal “What I Did During The Holidays” essay, I am going to try to describe what a gathering like ManorCon is really like, in the hope that any who have not sampled such an occasion before may make the effort in the future (or may resolve not to go within 50 miles of the place).
ManorCon is held in one of the halls of residence of Birmingham University, a place famous for its black hole characteristics on all maps of Birmingham. However hard you look, you can’t find it. A hall of residence has some obvious attractions as far as organising a games convention is concerned; cheap accommodation, catering facilities, vending machines and large games playing areas. Admittedly the rooms are more akin to cells rather than bedrooms and OK the food is great if you like lasagne and chips, but these are privations that you can put up with for a weekend (though how some poor wretches live through three years of it is beyond me).
The first thing that hits you when you walk into the main games room at such a Con is the fact that everyone seems to know everyone else and you seem to know no one. It is remarkable easy to feel an outsider to begin with. Although everyone is issued with a name badge, it is a little embarrassing to wander round a room with 300 people in it, squinting at everyone’s chests (especially if they happen to be female). However, do not be alarmed, the mere act of standing still drinking a cup of coffee will usually solicit a couple of offers to go and play this game or that. The fact that you have not even heard of the game that they are proposing to play is not a problem as the odds are that 75% of people playing any particular game at any particular time have not played it before either. I am constantly amazed at the capacity of games players to absorb the rules of unfamiliar games with unnerving speed. With the exception of croquet and one very brief game of Diplomacy, all the games I played over the weekend were new to me, which provides the perfect excuse when you come last.
This was my first games Con for 12 years. Even the people that I had met before looked different and were not immediately recognisable (and there was only a handful of them). That meant that the only people I could claim a passing acquaintance with were people I am playing in postal Diplomacy games and other editors of zines whose names I could recognise. However, as Frank Slight (sub-zine editor in The lAghing rounded) was the only rival I could locate from my two games of Diplomacy, I inevitably ended up talking to the likes of Iain “Dapper” Bowen (Y Ddraig Goch) and William “Dress Sense” Whyte (NERTZ). By and large editors of zines are entertaining people to talk to, they tend to be reasonably intelligent and articulate larger than life extroverts. Although it is better to beware any editors who have recently started publishing in case they try and coerce you into playing in their zine, an established editor would probably not stoop that low. Most editors are easy to spot as they tend to hover round the fringes of the people playing games, exchanging gossip and being bitchy about each other rather than spending all their time playing Civilisation or Junta. Given that an editor will spend the whole year putting together a Diplomacy zine in isolation from his/her subscribers and traders, it is not surprising that many editors view Cons as a way to actually meet the people they have been writing to all year.
If you don’t fancy a chat with whichever editor comes to hand (Iain? – no pun intended) you can always go and examine the notice boards for news of any tournaments that take your fancy. From what I can remember apart from Diplomacy I saw tournaments for Soccerlegue, Railway Rivals, United, 1830, Acquire, Diplomacy Variants and Croquet, though I must have forgotten some. Some notices would just proclaim that anyone who fancied a game of Wild West Murder should meet on the terrace at 8 o’clock (many turned up just to find out what it was and stayed to play because they liked to dress up in Wild West costumes). Alternatively you could have tried your hand at Somewhat Demiurgic Diplomacy, a variant in which the players can propose and vote on all manner of rules changes as the game proceeds. An unconfirmed rumour suggests that the game at ManorCon even degenerated as far as the players cutting up the map!
If none of the organised games takes your fancy, the likes of Iain Bowen or Pete Sullivan (C’est Magnifique) were frequently to be heard of the PA system trying to find extra players for Conquest Europa or Speed Circuit. All in all, if you want to play a game and meet people it is not difficult.
Do You Really Want To Play Diplomacy?
ManorCon is dominated by Diplomacy. On the Saturday there is the team championship (it is fairly easy to end up in a team however bad you are) and on the Sunday there is the individual championship. This year Pete Sullivan allowed all the Diplomacy games to be played to the death, which even resulted in some outright 18 centre wins (Phil Day, Shaun Derrick, Vic Hall and Toby Harris). [By the way, did you know that Toby has won the ManorCon Diplomacy Tournament two years running and that his zine, Smodnoc, turns around in less than 24 hours? – if not, you weren’t at ManorCon as William Whyte kept broadcasting these little-known facts over the PA system every once in a while. He may even have been taking the piss.]
Personally, I don’t go a bundle on FtF Diplomacy, mainly because I am not that good at it, and it can take up the whole weekend if you are not careful (though you can always follow in the footsteps of Stewart Cross and be eliminated as Germany in A03, which gets you out of things before lunch – smart move Stewart). As it happened, I had to dash back to London on the Saturday afternoon as I was a delegate for the Special Labour Conference to elect a new leader and thus missed the Saturday Diplomacy game. I proceeded to miss the Sunday Diplomacy championship due to failing to get out of bed in time, which was a direct result of playing William Whyte’s Irish Government game (which has an incomprehensible Irish title) to such a late hour that I would not have been surprised to hear the milkman. Of course, alcohol was not in short supply and I suppose that may also have contributed to my inability to rise on Sunday morning.
I did have a quick go at Diplomacy on the Friday evening (my first FtF game for 13 years) and I was floundering after the first move. The skills involved in FtF Diplomacy are really quite different from those involved in the postal game. People are more willing to stab, harder to convince, more likely to make weird moves and harder to trust. The FtF game is altogether too exhausting.
It is amazing that in a single room it can prove so difficult to find the people that you are looking for. If you don’t know what they look like you will only stand a chance if you are on nodding terms with someone who does know what they look like, though you can feel a real idiot by having to ask. I really did try to find Andy & Madelaine Key (Electric Monk), Steve Howe (A Step Further Out) and Bill O’Neill (Excidio), with no success. I suppose it is all down to my short-sightedness. Robin ap Cynan (Monochrome), Chris Tringham and Pete Birks (Greatest Hits) were amongst the unexpected finds. I even did my bit for hobby tact and diplomacy be talking to Danny Collman (Springboard) and discovering that he isn’t quite the ogre he is made out to be.
A big thanks is of course due to Andy Bate, Iain Bowen, Steve Jones, Ken Simpson, Peter Sullivan and last but not least Richard Walkerdine for organising the event. As I near the bottom of the page, it occurs to me that I haven’t actually said who won the various tournaments. Although it is far more important to compete than to win, you may like to know that the team tournament was won by the Ode team, closely followed by the Birmingham ‘A’ team and a Mad Policy team. The individual championship was won by Phil Day, with Shaun Derrick, Vick Hall and Toby Harris all collecting prizes. I can’t remember who won the other tournaments (although I should mention that Stewart Cross won the croquet, if only because he was so spectacularly bad at Diplomacy). For some reason that in retrospect I cannot explain, I did not compete in any of the Tournaments, a mistake which I must try and rectify next time.
A good time was undoubtedly had by all. I will enclose a flyer for MidCon with this issue and would recommend it to anyone who can afford it. If you go I’ll see you there.
Reprinted from Spring Offensive 3