by Stephen Agar
I really enjoyed MidCon a shade more than ManorCon in July. I suppose at my advanced age I am more inclined to the comfortable surroundings of a posh city centre hotel, rather than a university hall of residence. For me the extra comfort is worth the extra £10 per night if you can afford it.
There are disadvantages to the Royal Angus, for example the piped music follows you everywhere and the bar is pricey, though it stayed open for as long as there was customers (as opposed to running out of beer which is a hallowed ManorCon tradition). Indeed, I made the mistake of approaching the bar at about 1.00am on Friday night/Saturday morning to ask for a coffee to take to bed, while Pete Birks was there, discussing high fashion with the barman and downing double whiskies. It didn’t take much persuasion to convince me that one more drink before bed would be a good idea. At 3.15am (and a lot of Brandy later) I staggered to bed very much the worse for wear, though Pete still looked sober to me. The astonishing thing was that no one else joined us, they were all playing games…
Not that I didn’t play some games. I tried out Zeus IV, the northern hemisphere variant that I published in issue 5 and after 3 hours of playing I had managed to extend the Chinese empire by a whole extra supply centre. Still, it was good to meet some Spring Offensive subscribers, notably Steve Cox, Chris Latimer, Paul Harrison and Richard Williams (whose British fleets circumnavigated the globe twice). Despite the late night boozing with Birks I did accidently get up in time to enter the Diplomacy Tournament. I say accidently because I had promised myself a long lie in till lunchtime, but I had not reckoned on the workmen digging up the road outside my window, who started drilling at 7.00am. Birks made breakfast as well for a similar reason. The Diplomacy was a nightmare for me. I drew England, had St. Petersburg by Autumn 1902, but I was then stabbed by the rat Guy Thomas who eliminated me before lunchtime. Guy went on to reach 17 centres, just being denied the outright win by the combined efforts of Jeremy Tullett, Danny Collman and Bob Kendrick.
There were other games, mainly obscure German games involving ancient Rome, modern art or pirates whose names I cannot remember and could certainly not spell even if I could remember them. However, they were all great fun and easy to learn. For reasons best known to Nicholas Whyte and Anne Tesh I was even co-opted onto The Secret Seven team for the semi-finals of the MidCon quiz when team member William Whyte had to dash off. Of course we would have walked away with the Tournament had we not had victory snatched away from us by the fact that some of Tringham’s questions had blatantly incorrect answers, coupled with our natural shyness and reticence which was often mistook for ignorance. A late night session with Iain Bowen, Robin ap Cynan, Nicholas Whyte and Anne Tesh produced some memorable one-liners, revealing Robin’s interest in fine wine, fine food and fast cars and Anne’s fetishes for Bunny costumes, tight dresses and garters.
An oddly formal sort of meeting was held to discuss the Future of the Hobby. Everyone seemed to think that I had called the meeting and that I had it in for Danny Collman. Yet I was as surprised as anyone to see a meeting announced in the Programme and I despite appearances I get on with Danny OK.
I would urge those of you who fancy playing lots of unusual games, socialising and meeting new friends to try and get to a con next year. It will add an extra dimension to what you can get out of the postal hobby.
INTRODUCING NEW BLOOD TO THE POSTAL HOBBY
A few weeks ago I wrote to Danny Collman (editor of Springboard), John Dodds (the Novice Package supremo and member of the MidCon committee and ex-editor of Perspiring Dreams), Andy Key (editor of Mission from God) and Tom Tweedy (much touted name for a new CGS custodian and ex-editor of Dib Dib Dib) suggesting (among other things) that interested parties should have a discussion at MidCon to see if a consensus existed on the way forward. I was thinking along the lines of a chat at the bar, but John organised a space for a proper meeting and in the end about 25-30 people turned up to vent much sound and fury (signifying nothing). Of course, a meeting like this is only representative of the people who can attend, but in a postal hobby with interested parties living far and wide throughout the land it is a real achievement to get even 25 people together.
It is difficult to give a full account of the discussion that took place, because it was rather undisciplined, repetitive and tended to revolve in ever-diminishing circles. However, I will try my best and hope that these whose views I omit (or accidentally misrepresent) will forgive me.
Danny Collman gave a brief summary of how entry to the postal hobby through the flyer in the Diplomacy box operates at the moment. Someone buys Diplomacy, returns the flyer to Gibsons and receives an Introduction to Postal Diplomacy which is written by Danny. This Introduction emphasises the role of Springboard as a novice zine and, although other forms of entry to the hobby are mentioned, really pushes such novices into Springboard. In Springboard a novice may only play in one game of Diplomacy (and a second turn as a standby taking over the role of someone who has dropped out), and after that they must join the mainstream of the hobby to continue playing postal Diplomacy.
I then outlined the alternative source for new hobby recruits, namely the placing of classified advertisements in various magazines to attract people who although vaguely aware of Diplomacy have not discovered the postal hobby. Andrew Moss (editor of Age of Reason) and I discussed how we had attracted approximately 65-70 newcomers between us with advertisements in Private Eye and wargames magazines and we mentioned that players from these sources seemed to be quite reliable.
Discussion then centred on whether or not these two sources of new blood should be treated as distinct, or whether the response that both sets of novices receive should be from a single source. This new Introductory Package could then be sent to all newcomers and could emphasise even-handedly the various options available, namely Springboard, some sort of Central Gamestart Service or individuals simply finding their own way around the hobby (with assistance from Mission from God).
Pete Birks (editor of Greatest Hits) expressed the view that “if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it” and that if Danny was satisfied with the way he was running Springboard then why change anything. Brian Creese (ex-editor of NMR!) asked what did people have against Springboard anyway. In the absence of some of Danny’s most vociferous critics I tried to put the main points forward: (a) many felt that Danny’s Introduction actually put people off from taking things further, (b) there were concerns that players were not flowing from Springboard into the mainstream hobby and (c) it appears that a relatively high percentage of players play their one game in Springboard and never play again. I pointed out that when many zines only carried 2 or 3 games, and when a new zine is lucky to get a single gamestart some editors looked at the 17 or 18 games in Springboard with understandably jealous eyes. To be fair to Danny, he pointed out that each novice only gets to play one full game in Springboard (plus one as a standby) and that he transfers games that reach 1910 to other zines.
At this point there was a melee of contributions and ideas from all and sundry including Peter Birks, Robin ap Cynan (editor of Monochrome), Richard Walkerdine (editor of ex-Mad Policy), Brian Creese, John Dodds, Duncan Adams (editor of The Laughing Roundhead), Andrew Moss and Chris Tringham (ex-editor of Megalomania). There were no doubt others, but my memory fails me.
At the end of this the prevailing view was that Springboard should continue to handle enquiries through the flyer as it does at present. However, nearly everyone seemed to approve of advertising for new hobby recruits and given that such people were more likely to be gamers of some sort already, Pete Birks and others thought it was reasonable and not inconsistent for these recruits to be handled differently.
The next question is how we should deal with any newcomers that are attracted by such advertisements. There was much discussion about a CGS and the prevailing feeling was that given the need to get novices into gamestarts quickly and that Danny would continue as before, an old style of CGS which collected together seven names, allocated countries and farmed the game out to a zine would not work because lists would sometimes take far too long to fill. Therefore, it was agreed that someone was needed with a wide view of all available zines and that he should attempt to allocate any new players to existing waiting lists throughout the hobby on as equitable basis as possible. I pointed out that this was a pressing problem because I had placed two advertisements in magazines that would come out over Christmas, but as Spring Offensive has been very successful I was not very keen on starting more games. There is also going to be an article that I had written on postal Diplomacy in the next issue of The Round Table which is a new semi-professional games magazine which gave my name and address as a possible contact point.
Initially John Dodds was volunteered by those present to take over the placing of advertisements and farming out of enquiries, but John said that he was far too busy with work at the moment to give it the attention it deserved, although he may have more time next summer. It was then suggested that I should deal with the enquiries that came in as a result of the advertisements that have already been placed and that I should place advertisements in other magazines which Richard Walkerdine said would be paid for by the Hobby Development Fund (up to £100). Given my wide trading policy it was hoped that I could organise zines to accommodate anyone who replied on an ad hoc basis. I would then talk to John Dodds next summer to review how things were going and discuss whether it would not be better for John to take over (given my commitment to Spring Offensive).
And there it was left. Danny Collman is quite happy to continue as he has always done, the consensus was that a formal CGS was not needed, but that someone should make attempts to publicise the hobby (with support from the HDF) and handle replies by putting them directly in contact with editors who could use them to fill waiting lists. Now of course this was just a meeting of those who happened to be at MidCon, but I will go ahead and do what was suggested on the basis that although no doubt discussion will continue as to what is best in zines throughout the hobby, in the meantime something is better than nothing.
To be honest, this is not the solution that I would have preferred, as I really favoured having a unitary approach to novices no matter how they entered the hobby. I think there was an undercurrent of “let Danny have the schoolkids and we’ll have the adult gamers” at this meeting. However, let’s see what happens and make a judgment in (say) six months. Perhaps another meeting could be arranged at ManorCon to discuss progress. Whatever happens, I think this is too important to the postal hobby as a whole to let whoever is involved in attracting newcomers by box flyer or advertisement just do their own thing without acknowledging and acting upon concerns expressed in the hobby at large. Maybe, brief meetings at ManorCon and MidCon to discuss novice entry to the hobby could become regular events, with the people involved submitting brief written reports. A little bit of accountability wouldn’t go amiss.
In the meantime, let me use this opportunity to tell everyone how I will deal with the enquiries I receive from advertisements already in the pipeline. I will send everyone who replies to an advertisement a small booklet which will essentially be a further development of the information that I already send to people who have answered advertisements. Included with this booklet will be a form to fill out if you want a game of Diplomacy (name, address, preference lists etc.) and I will ask that this be returned to me with a cheque for an initial subscription to a zine as I do not want to have someone put in a gamestart without some cash up front. I will not put anyone who replies through such advertisements into Spring Offensive games (as I probably won’t be starting any more Diplomacy games until the summer). I would see this as more of a Hobby Advertising Campaign rather than a Central Gamestart Service.
I would be grateful if those editors who would like to receive novices through this route could tell me so and please include details of any gamefees, deposits etc. that you would expect to have paid, though in an ideal world it would be helpful to charge everyone the same for a game (if only to avoid things getting very complicated). I would ask that all such editors undertake to contact any novices immediately (with a back issue) if it is likely that the novice will not receive the next issue of the zine concerned within (say) 2 weeks of me passing the details on. I will also publish in Spring Offensive a list of all the people who have responded so that any editors who feel like sending some free issues out has a place to start.
Advertisements have now been placed in The Round Table, Wargames Illustrated, The Oldie and Model Collector. I will keep you all informed as to what sort of response I get. If anyone has any suggestions as to how this system may work more efficiently and in particular if you have any ideas for where to place advertisements please contact me. It would be particularly helpful if anyone who has joined the hobby recently through an advertisement has any suggestions they would like to put forward as to how we could do things better.
Reprinted from Spring Offensive 7