Tim Richardson

"This was the most unkindest cut of all"
Marc Antony, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

I. An Introduction to the Series

The Beginnings

The first order of business in any dialogue is the introduction -- a recognition between the two parties involved that there needs to be an equal sharing of common information. This initial exchange involves only superficial things -- name, location, livelihood, and maybe a bit of background. Though it might first appear to be superficial knowledge, the introduction begins the process of dialogue, and from there progresses to a search for common ground, a hope of understanding and, potentially, to cooperation for goals mutually identified and desired.

At some point during the dialogue, interests or ideas may diverge to such an extent that the only commonality, the only hope of resuming a productive dialogue and salvaging the relationship which it spawned, is a return or reference to that seemingly superficial information exchanged in the introduction. A friendly "How's the wife and kids?" -- regardless of the underlying motives which prompt the inquiry -- eases tension by referencing shared knowledge that is, or can be, intensely personal and yet, nonthreatening. It permits levity and a chance to communicate, not about goals or objectives whose difference may have been the cause of some friction, but from a dialogue which that by an initial sharing of information. The introduction not only launches the dialogue, but, sometimes, can also preserve it.

The introduction is, by its very nature, a tentative exploration into the unknown; an amalgam, if you will, of hope and mistrust -- the Invisible Bridge across the Chasm of Uncertainty. The introduction is not a commitment, but neither is it without hope. It imposes no requirements or expectations, but it does signal that two parties are willing, on nothing more than faith, to take that step onto the invisible bridge. Thus they begin on that common ground to construct a relationship based on trust, furthered by mutual cooperation, enriched by understanding, and culminating in the comfort and security of both parties in one another's company. All of which is inevitably shattered by betrayal when that lying bastard stabs you for the 18 SC victory just when you'd finally conned his puppet into helping you reclaim centers that you never should have let that scum-sucking backstabber have in the first place.

That being said, my name is Tim Richardson, and I want to welcome you to The Unkindest Cut of All.

Or maybe my name is actually something else entirely and I am just telling you that for my own unseen, but surely nefarious, purposes. In fact, I might actually be some fictitious creation of Manus Hand -- a perfidious pen-name come to life. Yes, yes! Tim Richardson -- a common, almost trite, and certainly unthreatening name -- not burdened with the obviously treacherous undertones of an alias like "Morgoth," "Darth Vader," or "Richard Sharp" -- and thus freer to act from the quiet shadows of nondescript obscurity.

Or, just as likely, perhaps I really am Tim Richardson, and Manus Hand is my pseudonym! Yes, yes! Demonstrating the well-crafted plotting of a truly gifted psychopath, I introduced my malevolent moniker first, established an identity complete with a catch-phrase so readily recognizable that I printed it on a t-shirt, marveling not only at my own undiluted genius, but also at the pure gullibility of those taken in by "Manus Hand" -- an invented name whose sheer ridiculousness must have given it an incredible credibility! I mean, come on, what kind of name is Manus Hand?

Suffice it to say, there are those who call me Tim, and still others who call me... Tim. You may call me either.

The Background

I am pleased to be able make a contribution to The Pouch (particularly one which is thus far devoid of any real content). I have been playing Diplomacy for a relatively short time -- about seven years. Like most who first discover the Hobby, I learned to play face-to-face. While in college, I played in my free time -- which is to say when I should have been in class. My senior year of college, when I realized I had to actually graduate, the games became less frequent, so I decided to try to get into Play-By-Mail (PBM) games.

My first PBM game is actually still on-going in an excellent 'zine, CRIMSON SKY, published by Mike Gonsalves. PBM Diplomacy, for me, does take second place to a rip-roarin' game of FTF, but involvement in a 'zine, in playing a game that I love to play with folks I had never met represents a commitment which, in my opinion, transforms Diplomacy from a game into a Hobby. When you signon or signup for a game, you are making a commitment not only to the GM and publisher of the 'zine, but also to your six opponents, to play to the best of your ability, to submit moves on time every time, and, in every way possible, try to win. I often say that the objective in Diplomacy is to win, but the point is to have fun.

The Hobby had quickly and easily assimilated the latest technology in order to deliver stabs with greater speed and accuracy. Players who could communicate by e-mail were able to have much more lengthy and detailed exchanges because of the speed and immediacy of message-to-message contact. It wasn't too long before I discovered that the Hobby had mutated again and Play-By-E-Mail (PBEM) was born. I lost no time in joining CyberSide, a straight e-mail 'zine run by the inimitable Jason Wilke.

As a matter of fact, to tell a Hobby secret, the Internet and World Wide Web are total shams -- they're just by-products of Diplomacy -- and Avalon Hill is raking in the cash, which is why it allows us the latitude it does in the use of the maps and so forth. It was all invented by some Dip players -- most of whom seem to be in the field of computer science and engineering -- who were fed up with the torpidity of the U.S. Mail and annoyed by having to spend good U.S. dollars on Canadian postage stamps. Sure, it's crazy, but so are the complex algorithms that beat in the heart of every Judge. Have you seen the mathematically precise "decision squares" that the authors of Diplomacy strategy articles employ when trying to quantify the possible success of this or that move when the rest of us know its the eternal military challenge of outguessing your opponent that really matters? I mean, obviously these folks had time to spare, right?

Okay, maybe that's not strictly true. But hey, all of us at one point or another have been taken in by ploys like the nonsense I just spun out, and have probably even ordered "F Ank Hold" in Spring 1901 at one point or another. So don't feel too bad if you fell for this. On the other hand, maybe I am really telling the truth here....

Anyway, while I still preferred FTF to both PBM and PBEM, my involvement and active participation in the Hobby was increasing. I eagerly surfed the Web, looking for a Diplomatic fix between deadlines when I came upon The Diplomatic Pouch. Many of us will live our entire lives without ever having experienced an epiphany, and still more of us will never learn how to spell it correctly. But, before I get off-track again, I was talking about The Pouch. I discovered The Pouch while surfing one day at work, and must honestly admit that I lost entire week's worth of productivity while I read every article in the 'zine, and many others which I discovered through its voluminous and sundry links to Dipdom.

In short, it was everything a Diplomacy player needed to improve his or her game, and everything a Hobby enthusiast like me wanted to have just a mouse click away.

In December 1995, I managed to organize an FTF game during the holiday down time. These gamers and long-time friends yammered at me to start GM'ing my own games over the Web or e-mail or whatever -- they didn't care, so long as they got to play. In January, which is a time for beginnings and introductions, I launched The Old Republic. My 'zine is dual natured, in that it is Web based, with a on-line map of the latest positions and a history of the moves and press in any given game, but also e-mail based, which is how I post the initial and "official" results.

Though it is still a new "Old Republic," I think that thus far the site and the games therein have been a success. I don't have strategy articles or provide tactical advice. The Links page I want to have up and running is not quite up, let alone running. But, there are four games on-going, one (the first) completed only a month ago, and two more which should be starting in mid-September.

Thus, I've taken the next step as a member of the Hobby -- I'm giving something back to my fellow gamers and Hobbyists by donating my time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, and hard drive space to supervising shameless, unapologetic liars as they one-up each other to victory. And it has been endlessly rewarding.

As I reached out to find Dippers, and Dippers stumbled across me and my Web site, I still wanted to keep my focus on The Way the Game Was Meant to Be Played. And that's Face-to-Face. To reach that goal, I volunteered to assume the maintenance of The Pouch's FTF Section.

FTF is probably how a large majority of us learned to play. It's probably also the least frequent means by which we play. But for me, it will always be the best means to play this Great Game.

I was accepted as a member of the DP Council, mostly because I am actually Manus Hand. Or Manus Hand is actually me; I can't remember which. (By now most of you should have probably already guessed that both of us are really Simon Szykman, who has a foreign, sinister-enough sounding name to be the real dark genius behind this type of dastardly machination.) Little did I know at that time that it would require me to write and contribute the knowledge I had assembled to the fine readers of The Pouch and Hobbyists around the world who would learn to depend on it just to survive into 1903.

But why share with your fellow Dippers knowledge that should be jealously guarded? What happened to learning from your mistakes, or, even better, profiting from the mistakes of others?

There are two schools of thought on this:

  1. By writing a "strategy" or "tactics" article you are lording your own superior ability as a player over other players, who you know will soak up your knowledge and give you the thrashing of your life at their first opportunity to discourage such arrogance, so you retire from the Hobby and take to frightening newbies at Cons around the world;

  2. By writing a "strategy" or "tactics" article in such a prestigious venue as The Diplomatic Pouch, you will inspire awe and fear in other players, feed the hyperactive survival mechanism, known among Diplomacy players as paranoia, of these players, who scramble to ally with you;

  3. Manus makes you.

Three. There are three schools of thought on this.

In any case, I had to give some serious thought about what I wanted to do as a contributor -- not just to The Pouch, but to the Hobby. There are many Hobbyists more versed (and needless to say, better) in tactics and strategy, GM's with more experience and stores of unsolicited, sagacious advice that is apparently a requirement just to be a GM, and quite frankly, I don't understand algorithims, what makes the Judge work, or how to understand those little "decision squares" that Jamie Dreier employs so adroitly to explain a "virtual forced win."

So, what to do, what to do?

The Point... Er, So To Speak

The Unkindest Cut of All will be a series of articles dedicated to analyzing the most feared and favored aspects of Diplomacy -- the Stab.

Stabs, like stabbers, come in all shapes and sizes. There are good ones and there are bad ones, and you can tell which is which very easily by determining whether the knife is in your hand or your back. Stabbers all have something in common -- they come in sevens and they love Diplomacy. We will discuss all aspects of the Stab, and be guided by my experience, whimsy, and hopefully, volumes of reader's comments, suggestions and threats about what they would like to see here.

Ever notice how a Stab is always someone else's fault? Wouldn't you like to know more about this phenomenon? For instance, some other player told you that the stabbee was about to stab you, so you stabbed him first, or by virtue of your own keen deductive powers ("Hey -- he's got more centers than I do!"), you stabbed him pre-emptively because you discerned he was going to stab you eventually anyway? In a way, all Stabs are pre-emptive because, let's face it, that guy was going to stab you in the Fall -- he told me so himself and what reason do I have to lie to you?

This issue's article is an introduction to me, a way for me to set the tone and direction of the dialogue I hope we will have as we analyze and discuss the Stab. The next article will try to define what a Stab is, and I hope to get some feedback from the readership on this because I do want The Unkindest Cut of All to be a dialogue.

Here are my initial thoughts on how to define a Stab:

  • If it was a "good" Stab, a "good" Diplomacy player should not be surprised by it.
  • Enemies are attacked. Allies are "stabbed."
  • All Stabs are pre-emptive.

Well, now that we have covered the introduction, I guess the next step is onto the Invisible Bridge... we'll talk more about how to define a Stab and the curious phenomenon of Stabs typically being Someone Else's Fault (known as the SEF Factor) in the next issue.

Until then, remember that it was your Mom and Dad who told you that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were real, so if you can't trust them, what makes you think that Russia is not going to Galicia in 1901, hmmmm?

Tim Richardson (?)
Fraternal Order of Police

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, click on the letter above. If that does not work, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.