Baby Steps

Jared Flesher

Perhaps a great many articles have been written by newbies regarding their introduction into the world of Diplomacy. Since I haven't been around long enough to find many of those articles, I decided to write about some of my own first impressions.

I may be a little unique to the hobby because of my young age. By the time this article is published, I will have just turned fifteen. I have long liked playing games of all sorts, but have always had trouble finding someone to play with. Being a teenager perhaps a little too concerned with my image, I never joined one of the (considered by outsiders to be nerdy) gaming clubs at school where I could possibly find someone to take on. It wasn't until [a certain collectible card game -- name removed by the editor] came along that a game was considered to be something cool to do.

Realizing this was my chance to shine, I became one of the founders of the hobby at my school. The revised edition had just come out, and I bought up cards like crazy. And for months, the game thrived and I loved it. I knew what every card made was and did, and understood every compexity of the game. Then, Wizards of the Coast, the company that gave life to the game, killed it. I suppose they wanted to make even more money, so they came out with some so-called "expansion sets." I tried to keep up with the first one, but expansion after expansion came and blew me away. Soon the game I had understood completely was foreign to me. I quit. And again I was a gamer without a game.

After this, I forgot about games for a year, and concentrated on other hobbies I had. My family always had a computer, but I never learned the ins and outs of it. I sat down and started editing config files, and before I knew it I was hooked. The thing that intrigued me most was this "Internet" thing that had suddenly become the craze. I live in one of the very rural sections of New Jersey, though, and each call to a service provider would have been a toll call. So I went without. Then one day a little package with a disk came in the mail announcing that Sprint was going to become a local service provider in my area.

I convinced my parents to sign up for a month, and began my first baby steps into the land of the Internet. At first I delved into the sports and teen places on the 'Net. It was all fascinating at first, but eventually I began to think that the Internet was a useless tool after all. There wasn't much except getting information that it was good for. So I began to run down the category listings on Yahoo where maybe I could find something interesting. When I got down to the games button, I clicked on it, but didn't expect to find much. At first I went to the games I knew. I liked Risk, but there were never enough players around to get a good game going, plus too much luck was involved. I liked Axis and Allies, but there were far too many pieces to worry about. There was also a game named Diplomacy listed that I had heard a little about. A game with no luck, one that involved negotiating. Sounded good to me.

A whole bunch of Diplomacy pages appeared when I made that fateful double-click. I believe I started from the alphabetical beginning: Annund Rannestad's "Diplomacy Central." I read the first few introductory lines and thought, "Oh great, another good game that I don't have enough players for." But then it mentioned something about play by e-mail, and of "judges" set up all over the 'Net to host games. I was interested. I delved further, and found strange disscusions on how to join a judge, and things looking like "F Ank-Bla."

That night, my family took a trip to a nice little town called New Hope, across the Delaware River. There was a store there called, "Toys for Men." It turned out not to be some X-rated store, but a place that sold all kinds of strategy games and such. I went in and searched for Diplomacy.

I found it, in both a deluxe and regular version. The back of the box described it as a game of international intrigue. I was certainly intrigued. I decided to buy the deluxe version, even though it was twenty dollars more. It said it came with a lengthy rulebook that helped with important strategies.

When I got home, I tore open the plastic and opened the game box. I took everything out. It contained a gameboard, some wood pieces, stickers, and a rulebook. Was this what I had just paid fifty bucks for? A little disappointed with the lack of "stuff" that came with the game, I delved into the rulebook.

Almost instantly I was hooked. Most games that claimed to involve lots of strategy had rules that were impossible to learn. Most games that claimed to be easy to play turned out to be no fun. But Diplomacy seemed to have it all. Simple rules that I understood fully after the first reading of the rulebook. In addition, the game involved interaction with the other players, something I had always considered to be the thing that made a game fun. Before Diplomacy, Risk had always been my favorite game. Not that it was so great, but I enjoyed making treaties with other players, then taking over Australia anyway. But the rules of Diplomacy blew away Risk. No luck, and plenty of negotiations.

The next morning I got on the Internet, intent on finding out exactly what these play-by-email games were. I soon discovered there were two types of e-mail games, ones operated by judges, and ones GM'ed by real humans. Knowing that I would surely have lots of questions to ask someone, I opted for a human-run game. The first site I came across that ran the types of games I wanted was "Cat-23." They had an introductory paragraph at the top of their frontdoor page, describing themselves as a community of gameplayers, who play hard and fierce, but who also have fun and who got to know each other. This was exactly what I was looking for.

Here I am, a few weeks after subscribing to the Cat-23 listserver. I have entered a new game as Turkey, and I'm loving it. I even think I'm doing quite well so far. I managed two builds the first year after a heroic takeover of Sevastopol that got me a permanent Russian enemy. Of course, my supposed allies may turn on me any time now and crush me, but that's what makes me love this game. I try to write interesting letters to all the other players, and I think it may be one reason why they write me back. After Russia moved his fleet into Armenia the first turn (provoking my own attack on Sevastopol) I even made a public Declaration of War against the Russians, describing all the unjustices they were commiting. I never got to do that in Risk!

I would like to thank all the people who created and who support this hobby on the Internet, and who set up places like Cat-23. When school starts again, I'll still keep a low profile about my love of gaming, but now there's a place where I can have the ultimate gaming experience of my life in the secrecy of my own home. The Internet has created at least one new Diplomacy player for many years to come.

Jared Flesher

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