ManorCon XVII (1999)

by Stephen Agar

This is the first ManorCon I’ve made for three years and, rather disappointingly, it was just like every other ManorCon I’ve ever been to – save that I had the impression there were fewer people. With one notable exception, those organising the event did very well and put in a lot of hard work – and everyone who managed to attend owes them a big thank you. My reservations about the event stem more from a basic feeling that when you have the same Con in the same location for 17 years, then it is easy to lose innovation and just get stuck in a rut. Certainly the spark that existed for me even 5 years ago wasn’t there. To the extent that a games Con is just a big room with tables where people can play board games, then there is a limit to how much organisers can do. However, Birmingham University isn’t a good choice of venue (crap accommodation, crap food, small gloomy bar, no air conditioning, no late drinks) and the old arguments about how it was just to difficult to find somewhere better no longer stack up. MasterCon has changed venue almost every year since its inception and every venue Shaun has used has been better than Birmingham University. It’s not as if Birmingham University was even that cheap – indeed I would say that the relative difference between the cost of Birmingham University and a hotel was minimal compared to the vast improvement in facilities. Personally I think ManorCon has lost its way and is in a noticeable gradual decline. 

For me the highlights were getting to renew my acquaintance with Ian Harris and Emeric Miszti (especially playing curious variants of Settlers into the early hours), meeting a few new people such as Emily Bache and Roy Parker, and the traditional Balti on Saturday night (in honour of Toby Harris’s birthday – a mere 32, such a child!). It was good to see Toby, even if he felt that he couldn’t come to ManorCon due to “personal reasons”. Drama of the weekend was seeing the Diplomacy Tournament Director, Iain Bowen, throw a wobbly and storm out only 15 minutes into the Dip Tournament. Iain has been doing this job since he took it over from Nick Kinzett some 7 or 8 years ago, and while it is known that Iain has an unequalled capacity for acting the prima donna, his walking out on the Con (apparently for good) was extreme behaviour even for him. 

The cause is uncertain but what seems to have happened is that Dave Norman made an error in the draw for the Eve’N’Us team (which was corrected) and allowed a late change of line up in the Globetrotter team which then lead to a disagreement between Iain and Shaun Derrick (captain of the Globetrotter team, which resulted in Iain walking out. A shame that someone who has given so much of his time over the years and put so much into the hobby should exit on such a sour note – though since the last issue of his zine back in January 1996 (it has never officially folded as far as I am aware) Iain hasn’t exactly been hobby mainstream. Iain’s departure left David Norman in charge and then poor David had to return to his room later in the morning as he was ill. Nick Kinzett stepped into the breach and ran the Tournament most professionally for the rest of the weekend. Thanks Nick. 

I forwarded the above piece to Shaun Derrick and Dave Norman to check my facts. Shaun replied: “Yes, you are sort of right. The argument between Iain and I never got to the ‘heated’ stage before Iain walked out. Basically we changed our team line-up, bringing in Paul Spurgeon instead of the unavailable Susie Horton (due to baby feeding requirements), and then we changed the country allocations as Paul wanted France and Dave played England. All this was done with the approval of David Norman. Dave Horton actually saw Dave Norman enter the details into the computer correctly. But, the printout that Iain had was an old printout without either of the above changes. I pointed this out to Iain who gave me very little chance to state my case before walking out. From what I gather, there were other incidents, which had upset Iain before this, and my complaint was the straw…. I feel that Iain does not have the interest in running the Diplomacy, or indeed ManorCon any more, and as such was far too easy to aggravate. I think Iain should have stood down two years ago, but it was a case of no willing successor! He felt obliged to keep going, despite his reluctance to continue. Given a break of a couple of years he may return, hopefully just as a punter with no responsibilities. Frankly though, we may have seen the last of him as his hobby involvement seems to be organize or do nothing!” 

Since writing the above I have seen this incident reported in two zines, both of which refused to name Iain as the person in question. Why? This is either (a) taking elitism to a new extreme, only those who were there and in the “know” should understand hobby politics and understand what is being referred to, or (b) people are now that lacking in confidence after reason public spats in Diplomacy zines that they are afraid to make any unfavourable comment about anyone, however straightforward and true. 

Having said everything, ManorCon is still one of the premier events on the UK board games calendar and even if they insist on going back to Birmingham again next year, it is still worth a visit to get to meet like-minded people and play games late into the evening. (Though if you can afford to, stay in a local hotel instead…)

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 72