Thoughts on the 1994 Diplomacy Zine Poll

by Stephen Agar

1994 Diplomacy Zine Poll Results

=1Spring Offensive90.707%
=1Take That You Fiend90.707%
4.Greatest Hits79.757%
5.The Cunning Plan78.503%
6.Back to the Dark Ages77.418%
8.Cut & Thrust74.062%
11.On the Game67.100%
16.A Little Original Sin57.600%
17.Backstabbers United Monthly56.094%
19.Small Furry Creatures Press52.708%
20.Nothing to Declare52.271%
22.C’est Magnifique47.089%
23.Y Ddraig Goch45.541%
25.Arfle Barfle Gloop42.862%
27.Up Around the Bend31.456%
31.Pyrrhic Victory20.717%
32.Assassins Handbook20.446%
33.The Laughing Roundhead6.347%

A further 50 zines received fewer than the 12 votes needed to qualify. 

Well, what can I say? I honestly didn’t expect to come top of the pile this year and the fact that it was a joint victory with Take That You Fiend in no way diminishes the pleasure of seeing all my efforts with Spring Offensive rewarded. But enough of that. There are a few interesting features of this years results that I think are worthy of comment. First, I was surprised that Spring Offensive and Take That You Fiend were so far ahead of the rest of the field. The gap between the two winners  and the rest was bigger than any other gap in the Poll (save for the difference between the 26th and 27th zine)! Yet Spring Offensive and Take That You Fiend were inseparable – indeed had either zine received another vote (any vote) one or the other would have won (as it would have affected the average vote). If one more person had preferred Take That You Fiend to Quartz or one more person had preferred Spring Offensive to Back to the Dark Ages the result would also have been quite different. One point which I think is worthy of comment is that out of the Top Ten only three zines are in less than treble figures! Do you have to edit a zine for getting on for ten years to do well in these things? 

Out of 132 ballots, Spring Offensive was voted for 67 times (that’s over 50% of all voters), with only SNOT coming anything like close with 59 votes. Take That You Fiend received 25 votes (which goes to show that it’s the quality of the votes rather than the quantity that counts). To qualify for the poll at all a zine had to receive 12 votes and I was surprised that neither Where Is My Mind? or Gallimaufry managed to reach this target. The fact that Spring Offensive picked up 17 votes of 10 (the next highest being Back to the Dark Ages with 8) and another 20 votes of between 9-9.9 is very satisfying. 

While there were few obvious “grudge votes” around (though it would be nice if the person who gave me less than 3 out of 10 would cancel his trade or subscription if he thinks I’m doing such a bad job), but there is one trend that I think is revealing. Despite what many people say (especially John Colledge in his letter last issue and this issue) it appears that it is the Diplomacy zines which receive grudge votes at the expense of the multi-games zines. Why do I say that?  Well, zines can always expect a sprinkling of low votes, however good they are, because you are never going to satisfy all of the people all of the time. However, if you look at which zines did in fact receive a sprinkling of very low votes and which ones did not, an interesting trend emerges: of the zines still with us Back to the Dark Ages, Cut & Thrust,  Hopscotch and Take That You Fiend didn’t pick up a single vote under 5; Bloodstock, On The Game, Quartz and Small Furry Creatures Press didn’t get a single vote under 4. By contrast, The Cunning Plan, Dolchstoss, Ode, Megalomania, Obsidian, Up Around the Bend and Springboard all received some very low votes (many <1). Very strange that. Either Diplomacy players / publishers vote down other Diplomacy zines, but not the more multi-games centred zines (which I think unlikely) or a zine is more likely to be voted down in the Diplomacy Zine Poll for running mainly Diplomacy than it would if it were running other games instead. Hence Take That You Fiend (which is an admirable and excellent zine in every way) can win the Diplomacy Zine Poll despite never ever having run a game of Diplomacy! 

Of course, the whole Poll is really a nonsense, though a very plausible nonsense. For example, Obsidian beat On The Game 6 – 3 on the preference matrix (i.e. six voters preferred Obsidian, 3 preferred OTG). So why should Alex believe any Poll result that puts OTG above Obsidian?  Then again, OTG beat BUM 6 – 3, so why should Paul accept any Poll result which puts BUM above OTG?  And guess what, BUM beat Obsidian 5 – 2 on the preference matrix, so why should Malcolm accept any result which puts Obsidian above BUM? Similarly Spring Offensive lost to BttDA on the preference matrix, while BttDA was beaten by mainstream Diplomacy zines such as The Cunning Plan and Dolchstoss, both of which were beaten in turn by Spring Offensive in the preference matrix by votes in excess of 2:1. Ryk also produced some figures which indicate the overlap between circulations for the various zines in the Poll. Interesting that the only zine to beat Spring Offensive in the preference matrix was Back to the Dark Ages, while BttDA is the zine which has the smallest overlap with Spring Offensive (the next smallest overlap being Take That You Fiend with which SpOff drew on the preference matrix). I don’t know what all this means either, but I’m sure it means something. 

What does this all mean?  Well, it suggests that the hobby is to a degree fragmented into groups which prefer certain types of zines (Diplomacy, Sports, Multi-Games) and that all other things being equal the way to do well in the zine poll is to perform better than the zines in your group and have the smallest overlap possible with the other groups.  In particular Back to the Dark Ages appears to have suffered from having too many Diplomacy players for its own good. Personally, I think too much turns on 6 – 5 or 5 – 4 preferences, which really prove nothing other than opinion is more or less divided. But enough: the Poll is only for fun and it is  a mistake to take it too seriously, there is no such thing as a perfect system for comparing what are essentially incomparable zines and maybe we should just leave it at that. 

Although the number of votes this year was comparable with last year, I am unclear why there was such a big drop between 1992 and 1993. Ryk  now intends to announce the Poll at ManorCon in July and have the deadline for votes on the Saturday night at MidCon. This may well increase participation in the Poll, but I am concerned that it may lead to a degree of mischievous fixing at MidCon, especially if people get together and think it amusing to vote down / up various zines. As MidCon is often seen as a Diplomacy coon, it may even bias the whole thing against the multi-games zines. It will be interesting to see what happens – having the ballot at a large con will mean that the result will be very different from a postal ballot, but it is still probably an experiment which is worth conducting. Interestingly, when RJW suggested exactly the same arrangement in the early 80’s he had to drop the idea because of the degree of hostility to the proposal. These days no one feels that strong about the Diplomacy Zine Poll anyway. 

Many thanks to Ryk for putting together such an extensive results booklet, enough detail to make Mick Bullock proud. Only another 7 months and we get to do it all again. 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 32