The History of the UK Diplomacy Zine Poll (1973-88)

by Stephen Agar

From Small Beginnings… 1973-1978 

Love it, hate it, ignore it, there’s no getting away from the fact the annual Diplomacy Zine Poll is one of the oldest hobby institutions and after over 21 years it still has the capacity to fill more than it’s fair share of column inches in Diplomacy zines, even though in recent years Mark Boyle’s Zine of the Year Poll has attracted more voters, albeit mainly from the soccer games side of the hobby. As the results of the 22nd Zine Poll will be announced in time for the next issue of Spring Offensive, here is the story of the previous 21. 

In Mad Policy No.23 (26 November 1973) Richard Walkerdine mused on two recently announced Polls, namely the Ethil the Frog Player Poll (to find the “best” player) and the Hannibal Variant Poll (to find the most popular variant – won by Abstraction with Youngstown second and Atlantica third). “So I thought, with these two polls underway why not go for the hat-trick? Seems like the only aspect of Dippy not being covered is the zines themselves, so I hereby announce the first WALKERDINE ZINE POLL.” Richard’s Poll was only open to people who saw at least five different British Diplomacy zines (RJW excluded Albion on the grounds that it was really a wargaming zine) and they had to vote for the five best. Richard awarded points 5-4-3-2-1 and then added up the totals (which means that the first Zine Poll was run on a positional system, not average votes). The deadline was set for 31 December 1973. At the time this Poll was received in much the same spirit as the Ethil the Frog and Hannibal Polls – i.e. with weary resignation. When the results appeared in Mad Policy 25 (14 January 1974) only 14 people had voted (but bear in mind they all had to see 5 or more zines) and the top three zines were  Ethil the Frog (471/2 points), Mad Policy (44 points) and Dolchstoß (421/2 points).Of course it is open to question how valid this result was given only 14 out of 300 odd active Diplomacy players voted (which Richard considered a good turnout – he was expecting 9 or 10) and given that all but one of the voters received Mad Policy. In all 14 zines received votes (and 6 others received no votes at all). Publishers were allowed to vote for their own zine. 

Richard decided to repeat the exercise a few months later, announcing what was by now called the Second Mad Policy Zine Poll in Mad Policy 29 (16 April 1974) with a deadline for votes of 24 May. However, in order to broaden the appeal of the Poll eligibility to vote was widened to anyone who saw  two or more British Diplomacy zines and voting was merely a matter of giving every zine you saw a mark out of ten. The winner was assessed by calculating the average vote for each zine. This time publishers were not allowed to vote for their own zine. The results of this second Poll were announced in Mad Policy 31 (2 June 1974) and Richard’s first comment was “what a fantastic turnout!” as this time 34 people had voted for a total of 26 zines. Yet again Mad Policy was the bridesmaid and not the bride, coming second to Dolchstoß with Orion third. On the votes cast Ethil the Frog would have been third, but Richard ruled it ineligible as it had just folded, while the Belgian zine Moeshoeshoe was also ruled out for not being British (it would have come 12th). One startling fact is that the average voter received 12.47 zines – quite a lot. 

Whilst the Mad Policy Zine Poll remained with Walkerdine until 1977 the rules remained the same. The 3rd Poll was announced in Mad Policy 39 (13 January 1975) and the result ( a victory for Dolchstoß over Mad Policy again) was announced in Mad Policy 41 (10 March 1975). The third poll attracted 54 voters (20 of whom didn’t receive Mad Policy) and listed 29 zines (excluding foreign zines and folds). Of the 26 zines in the second poll only eight months earlier, nine had folded, being replaced with 12 new zines (the highest newcomer at 5th place was Hyperion from Geoff Challinger, which folded after only X issues). 

RJW’s Fourth MP Zine Poll wasn’t announced until Mad Policy 53 (8 March 1976) with the results being published in MP 55 (3 May 1976). The rise in the number of voters continued (69 this time, who saw on average 11.26 zines each) and the winner was Chimaera from 1901 a.a.t. and Mad Policy in third. Chimaera’s victory represented a real break with tradition as Chimaera had a more liberal attitude to running non-Diplomacy games which appalled the Diplomacy purists such as Sharp (Dolchstoß itself slipping badly to 10th). This time RJW included folded zines, European zines (Bumm) and even sub-zines in the results provided the zine carried “at least one game of postal Diplomacy or a Diplomacy variant.”. In all 33 zines were included (excluding subzines) though a zine had to receive a t least 3 votes to be included. 

By the time Richard announced the Fifth Poll in Mad Policy 65 (23 February 1977) he had decided on expanded eligibility criteria – namely every zine musty carry “at least one game of Diplomacy, a Diplomacy variant, or a game closely related to Diplomacy, or is principally concerned with discussion or data concerning the postal Diplomacy hobby.” By now the Poll was really starting to take off with 111 voters (seeing on average 11.3 zines each) and the clear winner for the second year running was Chimaera. 37 zines were voted for, the highest new entry being Pete Swanson’s Rats live on no evil staR which came in at no.5. In Mad Policy 69 Richard revisited the Zine Poll data by publishing the vote distribution for the top 10 zines – this seemed to show that Dolchstoß had at least 6 grudge votes and if these were removed Sharp would have been second rather than fourth. Also RJW published some publishers only results in which 1901 a.a.t. won from Dolchstoß second, Mad Policy third, Rats fourth and the overall winner Chimaera down to fifth. 

Richard announced the fold of Mad Policy in issue 71 (8 August 1977), the final issue being No.73 which was published on 9 October 1977. At that time no mention was made of who would run the Poll (or even if it would continue), but as Richard had passed over his work as Boardman Number Custodian and editor of The Finishing Touch to Mick Bullock the subsequent announcement in New Statsman No.3 (January 1978) that Mick would run the Poll seemed to make sense. 

Just Exactly Who Did Win The Zine Poll? (1978 – 1980)

Some remember Mick Bullock’s period in charge of the Zine Poll with a misty eye – Mick was a hardened hobby statistician and after he had got to grips of the Zine Poll it would never be the same again. Mick announced the “6th Annual UK Postal Diplomacy Magazine Poll” (the Mad Policy Zine Poll no longer) and decided to stick to RJW’s old formula (or so he said), but excluding sub-zines and non-UK zines. Voters had to see two or more Diplomacy magazines and publishers could still not vote for their own zines. When the results appeared in New Statsman No.4, three months later, I doubt very much if the hobby was prepared for what Mick had in store for everyone… 

In essence Mick applied three different systems to the 151 votes cast (each voter saw on average 7.58 zines) and came up with three different sets of result which, combined with two “publishers only” sets of results came to no less than 5 different rankings. This was the beginning of the slide into the mathematical monster that the Poll has now become.  Let Mick explain why he abandoned the traditional average vote system in his own words: 

Before I could even start to present the results I had to answer a question. What does the Poll do?  Okay, we know it swells magazine editors’ heads and provides good filler material for their publications, but what does it achieve? What does it mean? How do people interpret it? How should people interpret it? Well, clearly it is meant to rank magazines, from best to worst (or least-best). But what do we mean by best? There would seem to be two interpretations which we can apply to the magazine which tops the list: (a) it is the most popular magazine with its readers because it averaged then highest score. Or, (b) it is the magazine which appeals most to the hobby in general. (And just what the hobby is these days, God knows.) 

Traditionally we have determined the winner, and awarded it the accolade “best magazine”, simply by calculating the highest average score, as in (a). But I think that what people really want to know is (b), which the highest average score doesn’t necessarily tell us. The highest average score magazine might be some singular, esoteric publication which caters for, say, 5 fanatical “Milko” players (role-playing game about milkmen for milksops….) who each award it 10 marks because it’s the only magazine which accommodates them. fair enough, this probably wouldn’t happen, to such an extreme. But it might! And it almost certainly does to some degree. 

Mick’s solution to this dilemma was to champion two alternative ways of calculating the Zine Poll result. His preferred method the Positional System which worked as follows. There were 37 magazines eligible for inclusion, so each voters first choice got 37 points, second choice got 36 points etc., with every zine not on the voters list receiving one point less than the lowest zine on the list. This minimises the effect of grudge votes and overcomes the fact that people who receive fewer zines tend to award higher average marks, but low circulation zines suffered to some extent. As the Positional System was Mick’s preferred method, I have treated those results as definitive for the purposes of the attached table. 

Mick’s other innovation, which is with us to this day. This compared the votes for each zine against every other zine and awarded (for example) zine A a Plus vote if more people preferred A to B and zine A a Minus vote if more people preferred C to A. The result for each zine was the ration of Plus votes to Minus votes. As Mick noted “Whether this is valid for ranking purposes I’m not sure. I really can’t see why not (in fact, it could be the system…)…”  Indeed, in essence it is the system in use today. 

The controversy aroused by Mick’s different sets of Zine Poll results was muted by the fact that Dolchstoß was first no matter which set of results you used, while other editors tended to favour the results which showed them in the best light. Some editors did raise their eyebrows that Mick ruled New Statsman eligible despite being a statistics zine, as NS came straight in at No.5. 

The 1979 Zine Poll was announced in a flyer dated 17 March 1979 which preceded New Statsman No.6 (April 1979) with the results in New Statsman No.7 (April 1979). This time Mick discussed the eligibility of zine in the following terms – “I must stress that this is still a postal Diplomacy magazine poll – that does not exclude magazines which carry other games, but in an unbiased and objective a way as possible I would ask, if we are to get anything like a ‘meaningful’ result, that a voter’s votes reflect the enjoyment he gets from a magazine within the postal Diplomacy hobby, and not just the enjoyment he gets from playing postal Snap (in the only postal Snap magazine) within the postal Games hobby.” Mick bowed to pressure an ruled NS ineligible this time. Two innovations were Mick’s insistence that to be eligible a zine must have produced at least 5 issues at the deadline date and to have produced an issue in the preceding 4 months. As before folded zines were disqualified. 

After the criticism Mick had received over using the Positional System the previous year, this time Mick went one step further and declared there were no “official” results – Mick just published the results on the basis of average votes, a modified Positional system and from the preference matrix and suggested that people took their own choice. According to a Poll that Mick did along with the ballot forms there was 45% for the Average Votes system, 35% for the Preference Matrix and 20% for the Positional system. The furore this caused was to an extent mollified by the fact that whichever way you looked at it Greatest Hits was the winner. It is worth noting that 1979 was the first year that the number of people voting in the Zine Poll had decreased, down from 151 to 133. Mick’s explanation for this was that neither Dolchstoß or Ethil the Frog, two of the highest circulation zine in the country, had been published during the voting period and hence had not publicised the Poll. Each voter saw on average 9.44 zines. 

The 1980 Zine Poll saw a massive drop in the number of voters from 133 in 1979 to a mere 69. In the space of two years the number of voters had dropped by more than 50%. The main reason was the fact that the 1980 Poll was announced by a flyer a mere 5 weeks before the deadline and therefore most zines didn’t get a chance to publicise it at all. The number of active zines was also folding – only 26 zines qualified for the Poll, with no less than 5 zines folding in the couple of months before the Poll. Although Mick made no innovations in terms of eligibility this time, he did go as far as to suggest that the results produced by the Apportioned Points Preference Matrix should be taken as definitive. The Apportioned Points System was really quite clever – a matrix was compiled showing how each zine fared against every other zine and one point was awarded for each comparison which was divided between the two zines in the ratio to the preferences expressed. OK, so all this talk about different ways of calculating the Zine Poll results was getting frightfully anal, but hell, publishers needed something to put in their zines. As the first four zines under this new Apportioned Point method were exactly the same as the first 4 under the old fashioned Average Votes method, one could be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was all about. 

Sadly issue 12 of New Statsman proved to be the last with Mick announcing a fold soon after. As the various statistician jobs were divided up among the hobby illuminati, one job remained. Who would run the Zine Poll? 

Did The Poll Grow Out Of Control? 1981-1985

Two serious candidates emerged to take over the Zine Poll after the fold of New Statsman, John Marsden (who wanted to include some non-Diplomacy zines) and Chris Tringham. However, in NMR! No.13 Brian Creese suggested that Richard Walkerdine was the most appropriate person, a consensus emerged, so back to RJW it went. Richard announced the “1981 Walkerdine Zine Poll” in issue 2 of O Tempora! O Mores! a mini zine he’d started nine months earlier just to needle Steve Doubleday when he re-launched Gallimaufry. The eligibility criteria were a zine must carry at least one game of regular Diplomacy (“because this is supposed to be a Poll of Dippyzines…”)  and have published two issues in the first five month of 1981. As before voters needed to see at least two zines to be able to vote. The results were calculated on the basis of a preference matrix, with average votes being calculated as well for reference only. By giving publishers 21/2 months notice Richard did manage to revive the Polls fortunes, pushing the number of voters back over the 100 mark. Greatest Hits won for the 3rd year running, an achievement which has never been equalled. At least that was the official result – a week before the real results were due out the likes of Richard Gooch, John Dodds & Co. managed to circulate a fake issue 3 of O Tempora! O Mores! which claimed that A Voice in the Wilderness had won the Zine Poll, which was stretching people’s credulity just a bit. 

The following year, for the “1982 Zine Poll”, Richard decided that to qualify a zine should receive votes from at least 8% of those voting and have published at least 2 issues in the first half of 1982. European zines weren’t excluded, but none overcame the 8% hurdle. Zines without Diplomacy (e.g. Hopscotch were excluded) and the clear winner was John Marsden’s Ode. The biggest surprise wasn’t so much the Zine Poll results as the way they were announced, as Richard had decided to put the results in Mad Policy No.74 (26 July 1982) and resume his publishing career. Old publishers never die, they merely take a break. 

In Mad Policy No.82 (28 March 1983) Richard Walkerdine announced a radical change in the eligibility criteria for the Zine Poll which was to cause so much controversy over the next three years. “Last year I expanded the old ‘one game of Diplomacy’  rule to include stats-zines and the like, and this year I want to go a good bit further. Despite what Tamlyn may think I have no interest in promoting any sort of ‘purist Diplomacy’ image, for the Poll or for anything else. I’ve never disagreed that 50& or so of ‘The Hobby’ has little to do with Diplomacy these days, and the Poll ought to reflect this…. this year I’m hoping to include zines that don’t run Diplomacy but run En Garde, Soccerboss etc. as well as the stats-zines and genzines…” So, the Poll was now open to everyone, Diplomacy or not, UK or not. The seeds of quite a bitter dispute had been planted. 

The results of the “Zine Poll 1983” were published in Mad Policy No.87 (15 August 1983). The turnout was huge – 224 voters compared with 101 the year before – no doubt partly explained by the fact that the Poll had been opened up – and no less than 115 different zines were voted for! The result (calculated according to the Preference Matrix) was a clear victory for Greatest Hits (Pete’s fourth victory in five years!).  The impact of the non-Diplomacy zines wasn’t felt much due to the use of the Preference Matrix – the highest sports zine was 25th and none of the European zines made the 8% qualifying limit (so Richard published separate Sports Zines and European Zines results as well). All this was to change in 1984. 

In Mad Policy No.93 RJW floated the idea of using Average Votes instead of the Preference Matrix (because so many zines were being voted for that it was just too complicated). In Mad Policy No.94 (19 March 1984) this change was confirmed when the Poll was announced. The change in the zines eligible introduced the previous year, combined with using the Average Votes method and 258 voters was to radically alter the Poll results which were published in Mad Policy No.99 (6 August 1984). The winner was Alan Parr’s Hopscotch which didn’t run Diplomacy at all. In 4th place was the German zine Die Poppel-Revue which although it only managed 22 votes (just one vote more than the minimum) had a high vote from its German subscriber base. Mach Die Spuhl which also only had 22 votes came 9th. The success of the German zines was due to the fact that 36 votes were received from West Germany.  William Whyte offered to calculate the Preference matrix results for Richard and the clear winner was NMR! one of the UK’s top Diplomacy zines with Hopscotch third. Die Poppel-Revue was =35th!  

Many were not pleased with the way the Zine Poll was progressing. Chris Tringham’s views were, if anything, understated. In Megalomania No.46 he said: “Basically, the problem is this: many years ago there were a few people playing Diplomacy in a few small zines. All the zines were mimeo (or even spirit duplicated), all appeared quite frequently, and each ran a few games and had a bit of chat. the Zine Poll was a fair comparison between 14 zines, and each voter had to pick his top five. Up till three or four years ago the number of zines continued to increase, as did the variety of the games run and the differences in style, but the Zine Poll remained a reasonable comparison between the zines. Since then, various well-meaning attempts have been made to widen the scope of the Poll (it used to be Diplomacy zines which had published at least 5 issues in the UK) thus increasing the number of zines and the number of voters. Unfortunately this makes the Poll almost meaningless. How am I supposed to decide between a 3-weekly free FRP chatzine, a monthly multi-games fanzine that runs a huge number of games, and a five to six-weekly Diplomacy zine? All are, in their own way, enjoyable, but in very different ways.” 

In Ode No.59 John Marsden (who you may remember offered to take over the Poll back in 1981 on a platform of including multi-games zines such as Hopscotch) announced a new Ode Diplomacy Poll confined to zines running at least two games of Diplomacy! He quoted Tringham with approval and said “…This it seems to me is the crux of the matter. There are simply too many zines eligible that are not really comparable, so that people voting for them are not voting for the same things or in the same way. Now, in saying that… I am not denying Richard’s right to run his Poll in precisely the way he wants. It is the Mad Policy Zine Poll, and long may it continue.” After only 14 votes were received, this was later explained away two issues later as a spoof (winner Dolchstoß, from Boojum). 

John Wilman probably spoke for the majority when he pleaded in Watch Your Back No.73 “I can’t help hankering back to the days of the UK Diplomacy Zine Poll, as it was when I first encountered it. A poll of British Diplomacy zines with a half-way decent system of producing results. RJW’s Poll is now so far removed from the original idea that there is room for its re-introduction. Any takers?” 

RJW was sensitive to all this criticism, so he proposed going back to a Positional System (as had been used in the first Zine Poll) and by Mick Bullock (to widespread condemnation in 1978). Hence when the 1985 Zine Poll was launched in Mad Policy No.106 (8 April 1985) Richard solicited votes for at least two but no more than 10 zines. First place on a voter’s ballot would get 10 points, 2nd place 9 points etc. Winner would be the zine with the most points. As before, non-Diplomacy zines and European zines were included. It had to be admitted that this system did favour the bigger circulation zines and when Mad Policy No.110 was published (12 August 1985) after 248 votes had been cast the winner was… Mad Policy. Yes, after eight attempts, RJW had finally done it – he had managed to create a system which allowed MP to win the Zine Poll! As the 8% criteria was abandoned (all zines receiving votes from 5 people were included) no less than 85 zines featured in the official listing (though thanks to the new system the highest foreign zine was 27th). Of the non-Diplomacy zines, Hopscotch was 4th and Rostherne Games Review was 16th. All in all 143 zines received votes of some sort with no less than 83 voters from continental Europe. 

As you would expect, there was quite a bit of comment in the Hobby over the new way of calculating the results and the fact that RJW had won it at last. As Peter Doubleday put it in Thing No.39: 

“RJW has been running the Poll for eleven years on and off.. and this is the first time he has won it. It would be churlish, therefore, to claim that he would not have won it this year had it not been for the system which he devised, but even churls must stand up for the truth, so I shall claim just this. I believe that this is the stupidest and most pathetically inaccurate system that one could possibly apply…  Many people have said that the ranking system favours large circulation zines. I shall go further and say that it favours Mad Policy and the zines read by the subscribers to Mad Policy, which are often, but not always, the large circulation zines. Now, it would be perfectly possible to define the Hobby as those zines read by subscribers to Mad Policy, in which case this is a legitimate zine poll, albeit slightly Richardocentric even then…” 

In the following issue of Thing John Piggott revealed his interest in running the Poll, which prompted Pete Doubleday to announce his Zine Poll Organiser’s Poll (but he was taking the piss). The results were announced in Thing No.41 – Piggott won, but there were only 7 voters one of which was Piggott. 

Mad Policy No.113 proved to be a turning point. In that issue John Piggott wrote to Richard in the following terms: 

“I personally think there are good reasons why the Poll should be run by other than a zine editor and why you in particular should pass it on: (a) Hobby members in general are nice people and will tend to discriminate in favour of the chap running the Poll if his zine is eligible; (b) Readers of said zine are in any case more likely to vote than others (that’s why MP always receives the greatest number of votes in the Poll despite not having the largest circulation) and so the electorate itself is not a fair sample. 

“These two factors will always give the zine running the Poll an advantage over its competitors. this is true whatever method is used to calculate the results. This year’s formula which used total votes cast rather than averages, simple exacerbated the problem. In addition there is now a third argument specific to you: (c) After a decade of trying, you have at last won your own Poll. Well, congratulations. Silly joking aside, it would be a great shame if a zine the standard of MP failed to win the Zine Poll at some stage during its run. but where will you go from here? Broadway? For the first time, you can’t set yourself a target of doing better in next year’s Poll. A graceful retirement now might save a great deal of recriminations later… Well, as I said, it’s your decision, so off you go and decide. It only remains for me to say what changes I’d like to see made for next year. 

“First, and most importantly, voters should once again be asked to rank all the zines they receive and the main results should be calculated by means of a preference matrix. And since it’s clear that a preference matrix for 150 zines would test the patience of a saint, let alone a Walkerdine, the criteria for eligibility needs to be tightened up a lot: Out with the Soccerdross zines for a start; as far as I’m concerned the name of our Hobby is postal Diplomacy and the zines that don’t run it are in a different hobby… I would also want to see the European zines excluded. Like it or not, connections between the continental zines and the UK hobby are pretty tenuous… Finally, as in previous years, zines should have to be mentioned by a significant proportion of voters in order to feature in the final results.” 

To which Richard replied: “The Zine Poll is my invention, my responsibility and will continue to be run by me for as long as I find it convenient to do so. Arguments such as yours will sway me not a jot (and the gibberish of Pete Doubleday even less so) because any thought of handing it on would come solely from realising that I no longer have the time needed to run the thing properly. However, as it happens, the Poll is a lot of work in a short space of time, and with a monthly zine to run it’s very difficult to fit it all in. So a new home would be very welcome. As you’ve asked for it nicely, you’ve got it. And the best of luck…” 

So RJW relinquished the Zine Poll to John Piggott.

The Backlash 1986-1988  

John Piggott was a controversial Pollster. The letters pages of Mad Policy carried several denouncements of Richard Walkerdine’s choice for the succession. Take this example from Len George: “In championing Diplomacy only, Mr Piggott is being divisive in a hobby which I, at least, love. Do you really approve of this throw-back to a past era of a lesser hobby?… I think the narrow-minded throw-back is better ignored and must ask myself why you have favoured him. Perhaps your interest in hobby politics is the answer. What better way could there be to ensure the popularity and glory of Walkerdine as Zine Poll organiser than to arrange for him to be compared with an eminently unsuitable successor?” Or how about this gem from Chris Wright: “If John renames his poll the ‘Diplomacy Zine Poll’ [which he did] then that would be a fairly accurate description of what it was about, though perhaps the ‘Bigot Poll’ would be better.” 

After a long and pointless debate about the finer points of including European zines, Irish zines, European zines edited by British nationals, previous Zine Poll winners who don’t run (a) Diplomacy or (b) any games at all, Piggott finally announced the 1986 Zine Poll criteria in July – basically you had to see 2 or more zines and to be eligible a zine had to be based in the British Isles and have published two adjudication of Diplomacy or a Diplomacy variant in the previous year. Bohemian Rhapsody, Diversions, Hopscotch, Rostherne Game Review and Take That You Fiend! were also specifically included at Piggott’s discretion despite not satisfying the above criteria. In essence, what Piggott had done was to also include zines with a substantial cross-over to the main postal Diplomacy hobby – a practice which continues to this day. 

The results of the 1986 Zine Poll were carried in Ethil the Frog No.96 which was published in November 1986. 194 people voted (with very few Europeans indeed) and the result was a narrow win for Home of the Brave over Dolchstoß. John Piggott took the opportunity the results booklet gave him to respond to the furore caused by his narrowing of the focus of the Poll in the following terms: 

“Few people quarrelled with my decision to restrict our own Poll to British zines. By and large they accepted my argument that language and distance barriers mean that a composite poll is unsatisfactory, and Jaap [Jacob’s] new European Poll is a logical development… By contrast, judging by the howls of anguish which greeted my decision to remove non-Diplomacy zines from the Poll, you’d have thought I was assassinating Bob Geldof. However, the evidence was clear: comparatively few of the ‘postal games’ folk bothered to vote at all last year even when their favourite zines were eligible, and while the obvious response would be for these people to establish their own poll I wasn’t at all surprised when it didn’t happen. I guess they dislike each other as much as they dislike us. There were several proposals for rival, ‘all-zines’ polls, but the people who floated them were generally the sort who can’t be trusted to fulfil the commitments they already have, let alone make a success of new ones, and in the end it all turned out to be a load of hot air.” 

In that last respect, Piggott was hopelessly wrong. Less than 10 years later and the Zine of the Year Poll is now clearly ahead of the Zine Poll when it comes to the number of voters it attracts – however, the main focus of the ZotY Poll is clearly football games, and Diplomacy zines don’t really get a look in. That’s why in the Diplomacy hobby the impact of the ZotY Poll has been very limited. 

1987 saw the high water mark of the Zine Poll with 339 votes, though the results were to a small degree discredited by what was revealed later. The winner was War & Peace with Zeeby second and Cut & Thrust third. Piggott’s well known antagonism towards non-Diplomacy zines encroaching on the established Diplomacy hobby institutions brought even more antagonism in 1987. Piggott’s case was simple: 

“Historically, the Zine Poll has always been limited to the postal Diplomacy hobby, apart from a few aberrant years in the early 1980’s when Richard Walkerdine took a more eclectic view of things. Although he has never said so publicly, I believe that even Walkerdine felt that a change was needed after 1985; the Poll had become hopelessly unwieldy and most of the results that year were frankly farcical… I have consistently asserted since then that ‘Postal Diplomacy’ is a separate hobby, distinct from the wider ‘Postal Games’ which many others favour. Personally I have never seen the slightest connection between (for example) Soccerboss-type zines and Dungeons and Dragons-type zines, and I prefer to view the world of ‘Postal games’ as a conglomeration of separate hobbies, each with its own traditions and conventions. We overlap, of course.” 

“Criticisms of my stance usually take two forms. First, that I have ‘banned’ certain zines. If this means anything at all, it must mean that I am preventing the zines in question from being published, and that is nonsense. As for excluding a zine from my Poll (which is what these illiterate characters really mean), the rules are clear; if an editor wants his zine included in the postal Diplomacy poll, he has to run postal Diplomacy. Simple as that. Secondly, I am often accused of having ‘disenfranchised’ various people. If by this they mean that I won’t allow people who don’t see Diplomacy zines to vote in the Postal Diplomacy Poll, then I cheerfully plead guilty!” 

For what it’s worth, in essence I agreed with Piggott. The world should be big enough for more than one Poll. Many of the sports zines had decided to run a single game of Diplomacy just to qualify for the Diplomacy Zine Poll and John had even received many ballots which had identical votes “Scorpio 10; Vienna 2; Dolchstoß 1, Mad Policy 1” but he had included them anyway. Mark Boyle wrote to Piggott after the 1987 Zine Poll results were announced: 

“As I warned you, the backlash for your ban on non-Diplomacy zines has now happened. It couldn’t happen on [your] first poll, but in this one the banned sports zines were now eligible, and they took it out on those who sought to ban them. In Scorpio 15 / Eggbert’s Zine I issued my clarion call to the sports zines: ‘Vote high for our clique and give low marks to the zines trying to exclude us from the other parts of the postal gaming hobby’. A number of zines photocopied what I said and distributed it to their readers. Editors whose zines were banned were very rabid; they even specified targets: Dolchstoß, Mad Policy and Vienna. Why?” 

First, Dolchstoß has your subzine in it, and besides Richard Sharp is blamed for being the original agent provocateur behind the whole nasty proceedings. Mad Policy was obvious. Richard Walkerdine handed over the Poll to you – after you’d said you’d do this and that. Despite the chorus of ‘No, no, not Piggott’ and the umpteen other contenders, Richard gave the job to you. Think about it from the position of the people who knew their zines would be banned, or from the people like me who knew it would render them unable to vote. So, this year RJW suffered the backlash. 13% gave him less than 5 points; nine voters gave him between 1.0 and 1.9. Vienna was the most striking: 20% gave it under 5, and 12 voters gave it between 1.0 and 1.9. Although Vienna wasn’t antagonistic towards the soccer zines and sports zines, it did nothing to help them either, and it was heavily associated with the Old Hard Core. Hence it produced a group of folks determined to ensure that it did badly. But just look at the zines banned last year!… most dramatic of all was Scorpio. First try, and it entered at number 7, with only 9% of the electorate voting for it. It just happened to be the zine in which the clarion call for ‘revenge’ was made.” 

“So what does all this prove? It proves that the sports zine hobby won’t stand for this nonsense. This is just the first year. What about the next, when even more sports zines will be eligible, and the next? The whole Poll could just turn into an excuse for inter-clique squabbling. I’ve proved that such a thing can happen, agreed? What happens when the extremists in the not-so-nice soccer clique get hold of this? Len George, Ian Lee and the rest of their cronies could really damage it in the future – as if a spanner hasn’t been put in the works already!” 

Richard Sharps reaction to all this was that  “it was inevitable that Dolchstoß would suffer from the traumas of ’87, and the slide to 10th place in the Zine Poll, equalling the worst position ever, was no great surprise. Once again, though, I can’t help noting that the number of current Dolchstoß readers who voted was exactly equal to the number that rated Dolchstoß average or better: it would be nice to think that the other 20+ votes came from people who were confusing Dolchstoß with something else, or just don’t like zines beginning with ‘D’…” 

The 1988 Diplomacy Zine Poll saw numbers down to 235 and a win for Realpolitik from Zeeby (always the bridesmaid…). Piggott attributed the fall in votes to the fact that the scandal the previous year had discouraged people from voting, especially since John no longer allowed editors to forward ballot papers (to minimise organised block voting). 

On the launch of the Zine of the Year Poll in 1988, Piggott was dismissive as usual. In reviewing 1988 Piggott notes “Finally, there was a distinctly unwelcome development when one Kevin Lloyd launched his astounding scheme to discover the “Zine of the Year”. Lloyd, readers may recall, was one of the wreckers who tried unsuccessfully to sabotage the 1987 Zine Poll. Terrorism having failed, he resorted to guile with his own poll – ‘at last, a poll for the whole hobby,’ he barfed to anyone who’d listen. In actual fact of course, the Zine of the Year Poll attempted to cover no less than four different hobbies, and was an abject failure in every single one. The total number of voters amounted to just 21 per hobby. In addition he used a discredited methodology and deduced unsound conclusions from his results. Poor Lloyd. Poor, foolish Lloyd.” 

In the end the future of the ZotY Poll has turned out quite rosy- it went through several formulations and since Mark Boyle took it over it has gone from strength to strength. At the end of the day, the relative success of the ZotY Poll has to a large extent proved Piggott right – it is in effect the Sports Zine Poll that Piggott always claimed someone should run, the ballots cast from outside the sports hobby having the same sort of marginal effect as the sports votes did on the Diplomacy Zine Poll in the 1980s. The only difference some would argue is that it fails to call itself the Sports Zine of the Year Poll. 

As it happened the 1998 Zine Poll was to be Piggott’s last. John’s contribution to the postal Diplomacy hobby has always come and gone in spurts and he just never got around to organising the Poll in 1989. By the time of MidCon in November 1989 it was clear that Piggott wasn’t going to do anything, so a group of people at MidCon agreed that Iain Bowen should do so. This was greeted with general support, though Brian Creese did voice some objection to the coup in NMR! 109: “a faceless, and nameless, cabal appears to have decided that Iain Bowen should run the poll along with his own zine and Mission from God. No doubt it seemed a sensible decision to these people – whoever they are – at the time.”