by Mario Huys

Oxford University
Oxford, the venue for the Word Diplomacy Championship 2017

Our Spring issue was published just a few days before the biggest event of the year on the Dip calendar, the WDC, held this year in Oxford. Oxford is better known for its university, which means there are a lot of gathering places and few people around in the weekends, when all those lofty students hurry back home. And since this is England, you can expect quite a few Victorian-era buildings. It's in one of those that the WDC took place, a splendid backdrop as the pictures can testify with lots of sunshine instead of the usual dreary English weather.

This timing coincidence gave us a tremendous amount of time to prepare for this issue. And we certainly gave it our best. A complete season-by-season report of the Top Board game, conducted almost entirely on Facebook with input from all participants, and interviews with each of them (and a surprise extra). That's a lot of content, I can tell you. On top of that pictures of the event, courtesy of James Brooks, as well as the usual amount of quality articles. We didn't forget the fun either, satirical or just punny.

With all that, can I just skip on commenting on world affairs? One disaster after another, nature and humans are playing one-up to make this world a worse place. Meanwhile the Mission to Mars is gaining traction. An unspoiled world - not for much longer.

There was though one exciting development that I should mention. DeepMind released AlphaGo Zero, a new iteration of the AlphaGo AI that beat the world's top Go player Lee Sedol just one and a half year ago. This Zero version learned itself to play Go just from the rules, without analyzing any human expert games. With just a fraction of the amount of time and computer power needed to train AlphaGo Lee (sic) it beat that earlier version convincingly after just three days after its inception with a score of 100-0. After 40 days it was also able to beat AlphaGo Master, the version that played and won 60 games in a row against a most impressive line-up of top professionals during the New Year holiday.

Since it received no human input whatsoever, it plays pretty innovatively, especially in the mid-game. This will in turn lead to new playing styles, as humans try to imitate the computer. But hopes of ever catching up are pretty dim, as its ELO-rating is already 1000 points higher than the best human player today.

Meanwhile the CEO of DeepMind, Demis Hassabis, was playing Diplomacy at the WDC in Oxford. No top table this year as he managed to do back in 2003, but he must have enjoyed himself tremendously. Or perhaps he was just scouting for another game that his AI-team could take a crack at? Who knows.

This issue had quite a few delays, which started with the untimely death of Alain Tésio at the age of 44, dedicated maintainer of Floc.net, where he hosted besides his own Diplomacy tools the PBEM judge USDP (in which I'm also invested) and, after the troubles a year earlier, also the Pouch. USDP is now UKDP, already hosting another Dipsters tournament, with the Pouch temporarily (I hope) located on the same server. The secret to our resilience are the Git and SourceForge repositories that anyone can access and download. I think Alain would be relieved to know that he didn't cause us to start from zero, because 44 is too young to be making your testament. But is there ever really a right age for dying?

Enjoy the Pouch!

Email writer thumbnail Mario Huys
The Editor