World Diplomacy Championship VI

In Search of the American Continent

by Roland Isaksson

I have this theory of mine, not many share it with me, I am sad to say. I do not believe in the American continent. Well, why should I? Just because everyone else does? No, and I have not yet seen any evidence of its existence. This outrageous country, how could it exist? With all these strange people. And strange things. I say it is a hoax. A very well worked out hoax. With a long tradition and a lot of resources to keep the conspiracy alive. From Columbus to today's media, everyone benefits from the hoax. What would they have been without America? Nothing.

This summer, I had the opportunity to try to find out for sure if my theory about the American continent is correct. The World Diplomacy Championships (WDC) were to be held in Columbus, Ohio (USA), so what could be more perfect than going there, finding out if the place truly existed, and winning some Diplomacy games?

For a long time it looked like I would not be able to make the trip. It costs a lot to travel to America from Sweden. Even if the planes do probably only fly in circles above the Atlantic before they land the plane in some remote, secret part of Europe or Africa. But after a short talk with my boss (Bosse Wänghammar) at Algonet AB, the financing of my trip and those of a couple of my friends was settled. My choice of teammates landed on Björn von Knorring and Leif Bergman, two active and successful players the last few years. Maybe I would have chosen differently if some players had not been caught in the plague called Magic: The Gathering.

Larry Peery kept us up to date with everything happening around the tournament for a few months beforehand, providing us with lots of stuff to read. Most of this was his own thoughts on different topics, as usual, and I am grateful for that. Larry is one of those rare guys who not only talks but also get things done. Even if he does talk too. And a lot!

Our plan was to get there one week in advance and have some rest and recreation before the WDC. We decided to start with one week in Boston and then move to Columbus and stay there for one week, including the tournament weekend.

The trip there, as expected, took a very long time. We started from Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, changed planes in London after a couple of hours waiting, and landed in Boston several hours later. Tired.

Our expectations on the trip were high. I usually am very calm about these things: never worry or get excited over whatever may or may not happen. No big difference this time, but I had high hopes for a fun and interesting trip. Björn, on the other hand, is very much the worrying type. He always has great "angst" prior to Diplomacy games and tournaments. I do not know which was his biggest worry during this trip -- encounter a drugcrazed serialkiller with three machine guns and a knife as big as a sword in an dark alley or facing Diplomacy players older than his own father. Leif is a communist. He probably expected to be caught by the CIA and tortured at least once during the two weeks. But worry about it? No, that is not Leif. And besides, he has experienced it before. As the future was soon to tell us, he got away easy. All that happened was that a few things disappeared after passing through customs on the way there and back: four (out of nine) boxes of Swedish wet snuff, a toothbrush, the cap on a deodorant bottle, and a pair of shoes.

Boston. We arrived in nice weather. A bit too hot for my liking, but it could be worse. Our hotel was situated quite centrally, just a few subway stations from the city center. When we arrived, our room was not ready so we sat down and waited in the lobby. And we had our first conversation (apart from the cabby) with strangers in the USA. They were from Sweden! They said that they had travelled around the States by car, but my assumption was that they probably were agents of The Conspiracy. They looked like trustworthy middle-aged people, but that just made me even more suspicious.

The next morning, we read in a newspaper that a Swedish au-pair girl had been butchered and that the police had found one half of her in a container not far from our hotel. Just what you would expect. This was USA, just like on TV.... Actually,w Boston was not as much the American city that Björn and Leif had expected. Overcrowded streets, minority ghettos, drug addicts, and criminals all was very scarce. I must say that I liked Boston very much. Boston is a very nice city, green, young (thanks to all the different schools), and clean. And I loved the view from "the tallest building in New England"! It was great, far better than from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I especially liked to watch the planes leaving and arriving at the airport by the seaside.

The vacation in Boston was very successful. We had a good time, stayed fairly cool and looked around. We did some shopping (mostly records) watched the USS Constitution (an -- in U.S. terms -- old warship), visited a computer museum (where I sent some good advice to Bill Clinton), and tried to get in to a baseball game. Apparently all the seats were sold out ages ago, and I did not want to be standing for hours in the heat, watching a strange sport, which I probably not would like.

American food. I like it! By Swedish standards, Americans get more and tastier food for less cash. Probably this is because people seem to eat out more than they do in Sweden. Breakfast, for instance. In Sweden, hardly anyone eats breakfast outside their own kitchen. A slight hiccough to all this is, of course, that Americans have a much harder time buying and making their own meals. Columbus, especially, would prove to be such a place. No ordinary grocery stores. Boston, at least, had its University Convenience Stores, where you could buy bread, cheese, butter, etc. In Columbus you had to go to a "supermarket."

Near Boston is Salem. We went there one day. Salem is a nice little town, but slightly too hysteric. Just because they happen to have something called a history. A few women were burnt as witches a long time ago, and now everyone in the town has to make a buck out of it. On my map, a place called Castle of Dracula is even situated there. Well, some things there were quite interesting. Like a couple of shops with "mystic" things, and a theater performance of a witch trial that we attended.

One week ends quickly when you are having fun. We went by USAir to Columbus -- a much shorter journey than the last one. Columbus was much hotter than Boston, though. Aargh, pain!

We had some trouble with the reservations at our hotel (Best Western Columbus North) -- they didn't want to accept our receipt. But it all worked out to the best after a few phone calls to the agency in Sweden and to their headquarters in New York.

Step by step we started to realize that Columbus was one of those cities which has been cursed by the car demon (or something similar, like General Motors). There was no subway or train whatsoever. Apparently there had been a train station in Columbus long ago, but since no one used it, it closed. Trains still pass right on through, though. How about buses then? Well, yes they exist, but only on weekdays. And only twice a day, 6:47 and 7:10 in the morning!

By cab on the highway, it took about ten minutes into the city center. Very close to our hotel there was a small shopping mall. They had everything there. Almost. Restaurants, arcades, cinema, records, clothes, liquor, tobacco, and the largest candle shop in the U.S. But if you wanted bread or maybe some ham, you had to take your car and go to the supermarket. Apart from that Columbus is quite a nice city.

WDC VI joined forces with DipCon XXIX and Origins XXI this year. Origins is a huge convention. In Sweden, GothCon, which is the biggest, comes close to one thousand attendees, but Origins had about eight thousand. There are a few other things that are different from Swedish conventions. At Origins there were a big exhibit hall were a lot of game manufacturers and shops had booths. Not in Sweden, where there are only a couple of gaming shops represented. The Swedish convention is open around the clock, with tournaments at every hour, and the gamers bring their own sleeping bags to sleep on the floor. This is not the case in USA, probably because the gamers age is much greater there. But, as in Sweden, "Magic" ruled. Everywhere you turned your head, there was a bunch of card players, trading or gaming. Also like in Sweden there were art shows, films, auctions, live role players (vampires), computer games, and minature wargames.

One different thing that I noticed was that there was a much larger number of tournaments -- all kinds of board games and lots and lots of different AD&D adventures. But the number of attendees in every tournament was quite small. In Sweden we have fewer but bigger ones.

I liked the exhibit hall: lots of things and games to look at and people to talk to. Sadly it opened very late -- not until four in the afternoon the first day. I had planned to buy more games, etc., than I actually did. but the last day I hadn't any time to visit the exhibit hall.

We first got to Origins the day before it officially opened. But you could register and play/trade Magic with others who also had shown up early. We walked around on the premises and talked to some people we had met earlier in our lives. Like some Swedish card players and Steve Cox, a Diplomacy player from England.

The next day, the tournament began, but not until in the evening. Which was a big mistake. Since the games had no time limit (I like that!), some people got little time to get any sleep before the second game started the next morning. In Sweden we have time limits, usually set to 1908. Which is a bit sad, I think. I like longer games. On the other hand, you usually are able to play four or five games, whereas at WDC we only got to play three.

In my first game, I was appointed leader of all of Russia. The only other player I knew anything about was Pascal Montagna (1994 WDC Champion), who is from France and who played Italy. The other players were all Americans (Austria: Schneider, England: Ehlers, France: Avinger, Germany: Chase, Turkey: Sampson). In the beginning things went alright. I was able to take positions in Austria and to move down into Turkey after taking the Black Sea.

Sadly, Schneider was a complete beginner, and when I gave him all the help he could possibly need against Pascal, who had stabbed him, he didn't take it. He did not even defend. He did nothing.

I was in a hurry -- even though my war with Turkey went well, I hadn't had the time to finish him off before Pascal was through Austria and on his way against me.

He grew fast. And no one could stop him. So I pulled back, past the stalemate line, and started to organize the defense. We did manage to put up the line and the game ended. At that point, I had two centres left: St. Petersburg and Moscow. England, Germany, and Italy shared in the draw. Pascal had 12 centers, excluding a few "free" ones in Turkey. This was all early in the morning, and if I had been slightly less tired I might have pushed harder for a greater draw. Turkey and I were both still both alive and vital parts of the stalemate on our different sides.

After the first game, I got a ride back to the hotel by Pascal and Bruno Giraudon. Thanks a lot! Great guys, both of them. By the way, Bruno was the 1995 WDC Champion.

Next day, and time for the team tournament right after breakfast. This was the most important round. Sweden had won the two most recent WDC team tournaments: at WDC IV in the U.K. (with me and Björn on the team) and in Paris at WDC V. I was selected to play Turkey this time. And now I met a completely unknown set of players (to me). Apart from Jamie McQuinn, who I had bribed the other day with a copy of our book (in Swedish!) on Diplomacy strategy and tactics. He got to play Austria. The other players were: Singer (England), Milewski (France), Stewart (Germany), Miller (Italy), and Brase (Russia).

It all started quite unusually. Italy came to me asking for a alliance between him, me, and Austria. Interesting, I thought. I asked McQuinn if he was in. And he was! Great. So we played along for a while. We split up the Balkans and moved against Russia. While Miller headed for France. When I had Sevastopol, Rumania, and Bulgaria with armies, and McQuinn still had not been able to take Warsaw, I could not resist the temptation anymore and I stabbed! They were shocked! I can not imagine why! I just very peacefully moved my armies into Serbia and Budapest. And then I moved a couple of new ones into Rumania and Bulgaria. Perhaps the fact that I stabbed in the spring helped. I also took Greece that year.

On the other side of the board, Germany was also growing, even faster than I was. And suggestions for a draw started popping up. We voted on a G/I/T draw. I said I was all for it, but I voted no. Stewart, on the other hand, said before the voting that he was very reluctant to vote yes. Which, with some help from me, made Italy think he was the bad guy, not I (though it was I, of course, who had stabbed our ally). And so Italy started to help me move further and faster north and west. In exchange, I spared some of his centers (Venice, Vienna, and Tunis) which I could easily pick up at any time I needed them.

The trouble was that Germany continued to grow and fast. When we both had reached the stalemate line, we both got kind of nervous. I could break through with the help of Miller, but to win I had to take his centers too. If I did that, he would turn on me, and with his last two fleets (in Spain and Portugal), he could give the victory to Stewart. So we decided for a two-way draw T/G that passed. I finished with 14 centers.

And that was enough! Team Sweden had taken its third WDC gold out of three possible! Björn had a win with England and Leif a three-way draw as Turkey.

After that there was only the Sunday game left in the tournament. It should start in the morning (which it did) and end at a time we, as players, did not know in advance.

As soon as I had heard the names of the other players in my Sunday game, I knew it would be a very though one. I might even have screamed....

Known names was Björn (known as an untrustworthy, lying bastard and one of the best players in Sweden) who got Italy, Pascal Montagna (again) with Russia, Steve Nicewarner (I had seen his name several times in the e-mail community) as Turkey, and Bruce Reiff (one of the organizers, and a loud one, too) who drew France. The other two players I had never heard of: Marc Borer (Canada), who showed himself to be a very able Diplomacy player, got Austria, and a guy named Mazza ended up as Germany.

I got to play England. I always have trouble playing England; it seems so hard to get your armies into the continent. But if Germany starts as he did in this game, moving to Denmark, Prussia, and Silesia, even I can handle England....!

At the start of the game, I had one objective: to keep Pascal from getting a good position. I knew he was a threat to me and to others in the tournament. I also knew I had to keep an eye on Björn. If he was let loose, I had to put a plug in the Atlantic to stop him from moving north.

As it happened, I seemed to be friends with everyone during the first couple of years. Reiff had plans regarding Germany, who just wanted to take out Russia. I myself just wanted everything! Ha ha! Hrmm.... Well, I started picking on both Russia and Germany, and it went fairly well. But I was increasingly worried about France. He was clever and had a few odd plans going. Always including fleets. I did not like that. And neither did Björn. So when I got the oppurtunity, I moved into the Channel and started the conquest of France. But I never got very far. He soon pulled back, with all his forces. And when I did not get any help from the Italian (he too was afraid of me, see), I was soon thrown off the French mainland again.

In the meantime, I slowly grew in Scandinavia, Germany, and Russia. Pascal did not do much to stop me. Instead, he was very frustrated over Borer, and wanted have him dead. Pascal, for some reason, did all he could to get to him. That was okay by me! Even though I liked Borer and his style of playing -- he is good and could become great!

Reiff took control of his country again and wanted, of course, to see my fleets sail away. I, on the other hand, wanted to make a new try for his centers, but since I didn't get any help, I took his offer to move into the Medterranean. The plan was to either surround France even more and then launch a new attack, or -- if France and Italy started to cooperate for real (which seemed likely) against my fleets -- disband the fleets off the board and rebuild them as new fresh armies to be launched against central Germany and Russia.

The latter case was what it was going to be, but before I had the opportunity to rebuild them and march south, the game was over by virtue of the time-limit being reached. It ended in a four-way draw. Since we could not agree on what else it should have been, the referee (Dan Mathias) chose the result for us. I had 12 centers, in Spring. I'd have had a couple of more by the end of fall. With a smaller draw, I would have climbed in the final standings. As it was, I ended up on a ninth place. Same as last time at WDC IV in Birmingham, UK.

Well, I am more than pleased with my accomplishments at WDC VI. Team Champion again, ninth place again, and a special honorable prize. And Leif and Björn did even better. Second and third place, with prizes for Best Italy and England. Sweden dominated the tournament!!

Luckily for the Americans, Pitt Crandlemire won the individual trophy. Congratulations, Pitt! I shudder to think what would have happened to the American hobby if a native hadn't claimed the top spot!

I had a great time at the WDC! The best moments were, as always, the in-between socializing. It was, as usual, great to talk to Larry Peery. And with the new (to me) faces Edi Birsan and Pitt Crandlemire. Hopefully, we will see each other again in Göteborg, Sweden next Easter, when it is time for WDC VII. We expect to see full teams from the U.S.A., France, Norway, England, and Finland. And maybe China! Who knows?! It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Apart, of course, from the many hungry Swedish teams who all want to conquer the gold for Sweden for the fourth time. Be sure to show up and beat the ruling European Champion (1995 in the UK and 1996 in Norway), Inge Kjøl of Norway.

After the tournament, there was not much more left of our trip. We stayed a couple more days and then left by air. We changed planes in Pittsburgh and London, and stopped by in Oslo. After that I slept for 26 hours, just waking once.

Well, does the American continent exist? I still don't have any solid proof of it. But I am begining to be inclined to believe so. Why? Well, commercial TV at the hotels. Commercials every few minutes, and in-between, lousy gameshows and the same news over and over again. To endure that you have to be from another planet, or at least another continent.
Roland Isaksson

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