Does Yours Stand Erect?

by John Gross & Kevin Dunsmuir

((In 1975, Mike Agnew and I joined forces with John Gross and Kevin Dunsmuir to put out a Diplomacy fanzine called Janus. Now Mike and I had never played face-to-face Diplomacy outside of our own group (although we were fairly well versed in postal Dip) and when we first got together with John, Kevin and a few friends to play a game, Mike and I were quite surprised to find that the others used to play the game with the little wooden army blocks lying on their side as opposed to the upright manner we were used to seeing. Of course, this led to some derogatory comments being made about our upbringing and fitness for mixed society. As the “war” got fiercer, John and Kevin (the scurvy slime that they were…) actually wrote and published the following article in Janus #8. That was around late 1975. It was eventually re-printed in Diplomacy World in the Autumn 1977 issue. Mike and I wrote a rebuttal “Does Yours Hang Limp?” which was reprinted in the following issue of both zines. Cal ))

(An article on unit posture and the psychological implications thereof)

When I first began playing Diplomacy face-to-face about two and a half years ago, I went out and bought the game and sat down with Kevin to figure out the rules. We had heard of the game only in vague terms, and thus knew no one who could teach us the essentials. After a few days of screwing around, we had the basics covered, and figured we knew just about everything a far as the rules were concerned. We taught the game to our friends as we had learned it and never ventured into any other already established Diplomacy circles, mainly because we knew of none. When I first played face-to-face with “outsiders” last spring, I discovered a serious discrepancy which is startlingly not covered by the rulebook. We, in our group, had become accustomed to setting up the army units horizontally, that is, lying down. Imagine our shock when we were confronted by Cal and Mike, who had always played with theirs erect!

The subconscious rationale behind the decision of how to set up the army units is interesting to ponder. Supposedly, our horizontal positioning was implemented with the reasoning that an army should always be on balance; with a lower physical centre of gravity, this certainly seemed to be the case. The others might have been influenced by the appearance of “lying down on the battlefield”, thus signifying a surrender, or position of giving up without a fight. If this is the case, their choice would have been made with the subconscious conviction that, by standing their units up on end, they were illustrating the sense of fortitude, stamina and courage depicted by the image of an army prepared to “stand up and face its opponent”.

I understand, however, that most players do play with their armies lying down. A preliminary analysis of my own experience seems to indicate that it is the inferior players who place them erect; this perhaps reveals another reason for this phenomenon. The less successful players find that they cannot win with their armies reclined, so they stand them up on end, likely just as much to seek attention (they are the ones left out of the marathon negotiating sessions, who wind up all alone standing in the corner) as to find a different approach leading them to victory. In my circle, the erect army status is reserved for units in civil disorder; coincidentally, many of these inferior players quit when their losing and leave their erect armies behind when they leave. It appears then, that this type of player must be humoured; if a friend of your resorts to this kind of action, don’t try to correct his mistake – just go along with him, hiding within your inner knowledge the true reasons for his aberration.

((Editor’s Note: This article is a reply to the article called“Does Yours Stand Erect?” which you REALLY should read first (along with the introductory note) in order to understand the following. Also note that Fred Meredith and James Whyte were local Diplomacy players on the Toronto Dip scene in the early 70s. CW))

Does Yours Hang Limp?

by Cal White and Mike Agnew

Cal and I were outraged at the subtle accusations that were in evidence in John Gross’ article and I haven’t cooled down enough to put a finger to typewriter until now (my foot! I’m still the one who has to type this thing! – Cal)

Our first game of Dippy was at the house of a friend (?), Fred Meredith. Cal and I had been told of this “far-out game of international intrigue and suspense”. How disappointed we were to find a stupid geographical mapboard of Europe with dumb little pieces of coloured wood on it! However, when the game was well under way, all the novices present, including James Fenimore Whyte of Janus fame, fell in love with Diplomacy (except Cal, who was peeved at being ganged up on and wiped out – but Cal admitted the game had possibilities). It was here that we picked up the habit of standing our armies erect. Thus, the erect posture of our army units was an acquired trait, not natural as in the case (mental?) of Gross and Dunsmuir. Imagine our shock when we were confronted by this dynamic duo, who had always played with theirs limp!

As Gross says, there is a subconscious rationale behind the positioning of units, but his analysis is inane, incongruous and just plain gross! All that stuff about “balance” of armies and stamina and fortitude is just so much buffalo chips. The REAL reason Gross and Dunsmuir started positioning their army units horizontally is that they are uncoordinated schlemiels, who keep bumping into the table the board is on, knocking the pieces into disarray. By arranging the units horizontally, they increase the frictional contact between board and armies, thus stopping the units from wandering too far from their positions.

As for inferior players being the ones who place their armies erect, statistics show that this statement is a fallacy. In Gross’ face-to-face games, erect units are in civil disorder. Can’t he remember which country is in anarchy and which isn’t? It is obvious that the positioning of army units in a prone position is a tell-tale sign of incompetence, mental ineptitude and grossness.

While Gross suggested humouring people who position their army units erect, we who stand proud and erect (?) suggest genocide for those who dissent. Intelligent comments welcome.

((Editor’s Note: While these two articles are tongue in cheek (if certainly NOT “deathless” prose – forgive us, we were 17), the argument about how to position those stupid little blocks has raged on for the better part of three decades in postal zines and at face-to-face conventions. Happily, it has now been resolved. I say happily because it has been resolved in favour of we who stand proud and erect (heh heh). In 1992, I attended DipCon in Kansas City and finally had a chance to corner Allan Calhamer, the man who started it all by inventing Diplomacy back in the 1950s. I put this question of questions to the master himself and, although he seemed a bit embarassed to admit it, he stated that, yes, he had always played with his erect! I then felt vindicated for nearly 20 years of championing this most worthy of causes. Cal White))