A Short History of
the Boardman Numbers

Rod Walker

[Taken from Liasons Dangereuses]

The first postal Diplomacy game began in 1963 under John Boardman, the editor of Graustark. Even in those early days, Gamesmaster Boardman set standards for the reporting of his game which would put some American Gamesmasters to shame now, nine years later. This first game was for a short time the only postal game in the world, so there was no need to differentiate it from any others. In Graustark #11, however, John announced that a second game was under way, being run by Dave McDaniel in Ruritania. In so doing, John took a step for which, as we will see, there was no need, and yet, as we will also see, was extraordinarily foresighted.

John declared that he would number postal games on the same basis as new comets are numbered: the year of sighting plus an alphabetical designator. In this case, he would use the year of beginning. Thus the Graustark game was 1963A, and the Ruritania game was 1963B. It is that declaration, on 23 October 1963, which laid the basis for the Boardman Numbers, still in use more than 8 years later.

Why do I say that there was no need for this system? The early concept of postal Diplomacy was one of quite limited numbers of people being involved. Boardman had in fact not been able to obtain 7 players for his own game and had begun a five-man game under the then-current rules. For some time, Graustark could publish complete address lists for all postal players and rather complete reviews of completed games, since there were only a few dozen of the former and a handful of the latter. Therefore, anyone who was interested could subscribe to all of the very few postal 'zines then published and follow the games directly without any strain. Furthermore, the earliest concept of a postal 'zine was that it would carry only one game. For instance, when Boardman opened a game while a game was still active in Graustark he also started a new 'zine for it, Fredonia. It was thus possible to speak of "the Graustark game", "the Witdip game", "the Trantor game" and so on, with perfect clarity. Everybody would know what you meant.

Neither of these two situations remained true for very long. Within a few years, postal Diplomacy underwent a rapid expansion. Very few games began in 1963 or 1964, but in 1965 the Boardman numbers reached 1965W, and in 1966 they reached 1966BP (starting from "A" each year, of course), and in 1968 we reached 1968CX. This was the record until 1971, which reached 1971EK. (1971EN because of games discovered in early 1972 as having begun in 1971. LWL) As the games increased, so did the number of people playing them, so that it was no longer an easy matter to keep track of games or players, as it had been in 1963 or 1964 or even 1965.

Furthermore, the single-game 'zine died almost as soon as it was born. Game 1963A ended after 6 game-years, and Boardman organized a new 7-man game. It began exactly when 1963A ended. (Note: It began in 1963, but is 1964A, since Boardman assigned numbers on the basis of Spring 1901 deadline date. This policy was later changed, so that the date of the game's announcement is now used as the criterion as to what year the game begins). But John did not start a new 'zine. The new game ran in Graustark, so that there were now *two* " Graustark games," the old one and the new one. Then in the fall of 1964, Charles G. Brannan of Los Angeles *really* upset the applecart by bringing out Wild 'n Wooly. WNW would have not one game, or a series of games one after the other, but several games at once! It would not be possible to speak of "the Wild 'n Wooly game" with any precision. The need for the Boardman Numbers quickly then became manifest.

As a side note, Dan Brannan himself had a scheme for numbering games. He proposed the same scheme idea as Boardman's, but having a unique alphabetical designator for the 'zine involved, followed by a designator for the game given in order the game begins in the 'zine. Aside from the obvious clumsiness of this, it presupposes there will be no more than 26 'zines, and there are more than twice that number now.

As the number of games rose, Graustark had a problem. If the 'zine went over an ounce, it would become too expensive to maintain. Even though it appeared every two weeks, the 'zine still did not have enough room to contain the new listings, changes, and the completed game resumes which would ultimately arise. Eventually John felt it necessary to ask someone else to take over the obligations of the Boardman Numbers.

In September 1967, Charles Wells became the second custodian of the Boardman Numbers, publishing the relevant data in his excellent (but unfortunately now defunct) gamezine Lonely Mountain. It was under Charles that the Numbers achieved very nearly their present format. Charles instituted two important improvements. First, he no longer listed games which obviously were not regular games. Team games (where several countries were in permanent alliance--usually two teams of 3, with or without the 7th power played independently) were the rage in 1965-66, and received Boardman Numbers. With the institution of Miller Numbers for variant games, there was no further need for this. Secondly, Charles instituted the use of a prefix (#) to denote games which, while more or less regular in appearance, were in fact not quite so. Thus, my #1970E, for instance, is a five-man game instead of a seven-man game, #1970BQ was a "local" or "telephone" game (in this case, with deadlines seven days or less apart), and so on.

In March 1968, Charles transferred the Numbers to John Koning of sTab. John published them, much as Charles had, for a little more than a year, until July of 1969. Scheduling difficulties then caused a lapse in John's publishing.

In October 1969, when sTab had not appeared for three months, I called John and asked him if he would like me to take up the job of the Numbers. He said that he did, and I have assigned them for a little more than 2 years.

The Numbers appeared (and still appear) in Numenor. That was intended to be a gamezine as well, but soon got so huge as to be unmanageable. It was broken up, and the Numenor segment now contains the Numbers and related data, plus other statistical things as there is room.

Thus, from a little idea involving only 2 games, the Boardman Numbers have grown to a project requiring the facilities of an entire magazine. In the process of administering the numbers, I have noted the following policies carried over from previous custodians, and which I continue to follow:

  1. The Boardman Numbers are not connected with any organization; they are an independent entity.
  2. Boardman Numbers are assigned to all postal Diplomacy games which use the GRI [Games Research, which owned Diplomacy, before Avalon Hill - Nick] board and rules and which are not manifestly and obviously variant games.
  3. There is no connection between the Numbers and the criteria established for any rating system. (In the specific context, my own. Numbers are assigned to a great many games which I won't include in my ratings.)
  4. The Boardman Numbers are the sole responsibility of the custodian, acting on behalf of postal Diplomacy generally. If he is unable to discharge that responsibility, he must make suitable arrangements for the transfer of the Numbers to a new custodian.

And that's it. See what happens when you ask for a "short note"?

Nick Fitzpatrick

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