An Interview with Manus Hand

by "Tarzan"

As any newcomer to Diplomacy quickly learns, the name "Manus Hand" seems to pop up in all sorts of strange corners of Diplomacy cyber-space. Manus is probably most famous (or at least infamous) for creating and editing the Diplomatic Pouch Zine. However, there are many (previously unpublished) facets to this Diplomacy icon. Read on and learn about the "real" Manus Hand.

Q: How did you get started playing Diplomacy?

I was introduced to the game in high school -- this would be 1979. Geek that I am, I gravitated (with my geek friends from private school) immediately to the Chess Club. We basically took it over, though frankly there wasn't much to take.

Commentary: Was this a "stab" or did the Chess Club NMR?

I have to credit the chess club's advisor (or whatever they called the teacher who had charge of us), Mr. Durkee, with introducing me and my friends to the game. He is an avid gamer, and he probably owned all the games that we used in Chess Club. In fact, he was working on creating a Civil War re-enactment game, and he had us playtest it for him.

Q: Tell us more about this Chess Club of yours.

We like to think we turned the school on its ear a bit, because we claimed all the privileges of the more mainstream clubs for our Chess Club. For example: we ran a tongue-in-cheek Homecoming Queen candidate and held a fundraiser "Grass Plucking Contest" on the school football field - bring your own tweezers (my personal brainchild). Strangely, no one showed up for the "contest"!

Another interesting fact is that in my High School Yearbook there are no less than three of us who claim to have been "King of the Chess Club" simultaneously (the other two were pretenders to the throne, I tell you!).

Commentary: Sounds like a 3-way No DIAS draw?

I imagine it sounds really nerdy, but in truth, I don't think people looked at us Chess Clubbers as having cooties or anything (or did they?).

Commentary: I hope that question was only rhetorical.

Q: Did this Chess Club ever actually have any games or tournaments or did you just stir up trouble?

Although we kept the name "Chess Club" a more proper name would have been "Diplomacy Club." Even though we'd get chess champions to come and play simultaneous games against us, etc., Diplomacy was mostly what we played.

Q: Did you play any other games in "Chess Club"?

Some of my friends had predilections for playing true wargames (with dice galore and all those aggravating little cardboard chits that won't stay still). We'd sometimes play "88" and games of that nature. Some friends also still liked to play Dungeons and Dragons, which we'd played in Junior High. So, sometimes I had to put up with that.

Q: Tell us more about your D&D "experience."

I always thought D&D was a waste of time. My character, "Joey," was a wizard. Wizards, by some silly rule, are forbidden to carry any weapon but daggers, so "Joey" purchased hundreds of daggers and attached them to his clothing, pointing outward. Whenever we met anything, he would rush straight at it, which would usually dispatch it. His trademark move was to then jump up and down on top of the corpse in celebration. It was a stupid game, in my opinion, and everything "Joey" did was aimed at convincing my friends to agree with me on this point.

Q: So how did the "Chess Club" evolve into the "Diplomacy Club"?

I wanted to play nothing but Diplomacy. A quick game of chess while waiting for enough other people to show up and then we'd break out the Diplomacy board. And if the chess game wasn't over (or near over) when seven players had gathered, we'd forget about the chess game. Although our "meetings" were supposedly weekly, we met (and played) far more often than that.

Q: What about the first Diplomacy game you ever played in?

Well, I suppose I don't remember the very first game I played in, though my recollection is that it probably was like all the others I played "way back then." I'm ashamed to admit (now that I'm "grown up") that most of those games were probably fairly similar. My friend Sean was nearly always France, and I was nearly always England -- I would bet I played England in every single game (scores, surely) except one.

Q: Any reason why you had such an affinity for England?

I believe I initially chose England because of my admiration for Winston Churchill. And I immediately liked playing England -- I just loved to convoy. The other guys tended to change powers at least a little more often than Sean and I did, though I think we could usually count on Matt playing Turkey. The game invariably featured trouble for Russia and Austria, and an unbreakable Anglo-French alliance. I took the water, Sean took the land. I'd head straight for the Mediterranean and he wouldn't even worry about me taking Iberia. Looking back, I suppose it amazes me that we had as much fun as we did -- unbreakable gamelong alliances that everyone knows about should have been boring. Perhaps part of my love for the game then is based on the fact that (because of our alliance) Sean and I rarely experienced any bad results.

Q: Wasn't it dull with everyone playing (more or less) the same country over and over?

Our predictability didn't seem to bother us (and it can't have been as bad as it sounds), but Mr. Durkee noticed and suggested we try playing anonymously. We gave him our preference lists, he assigned powers, and we'd send messages to each other through him, with a move due after school each day. Sadly, the system broke down quickly, because (for one reason or another) we all figured out which power everyone was playing. I was -- one guess -- England! We never even finished that game.

Q: With the breakdown of this system, did you "give up" on playing Diplomacy "anonymously"?

I was already a computer programmer of some small talent back then, and after the breakdown of the anonymous game we started, I set out to create an adjudicator that would enable anonymous play by taking player-to-player message input and "rewriting" each message using a standard language so that writing styles were not distinguishable. I never finished (probably because I suppose I never fully convinced myself that it was a good idea).

Q: In a Standard Diplomacy game what's your favorite country to play?

I suppose I still have a fondness for England. I still like convoying. There are just so many cool moves you can make that can catch the opposition off guard and screw up their support structures.

Q: Do you play in Postal, PBEM, FTF Dip? Which do you prefer and why?

I play PBEM almost exclusively. I used to play FTF every so often with some guys around the office, but we could rarely get free on weekends and the working world has since separated us. I loved FTF at World DipCon, and I hope to play in a lot more of these tournaments. I can't seem to make time for informal FTF.

I'm in a single Postal game (a Chaos effort) now, but I didn't volunteer to play (I was just put into it). I don't see myself joining any Postal games. To me the print-fold-envelope-stamp process is too much work. I've frequently said that Diplomacy is a game that was simply waiting for E-mail to be invented!

I consider the PBEM game the perfect way to play because you get ample planning time, secrecy of communication, and (assuming diligent players) very fast feedback on your press. Yes, you lose some of the tension that FTF gives you (I'll always love FTF), but if you ask me PBEM is the perfect vehicle for Diplomacy. I've always wondered what Allan Calhamer would think of the PBEM game. I've been meaning to write him for a long time now and have never done it - the printing-enveloping-stamping process has stopped me.

Q: How often do you actually get to play in a Diplomacy game?

I limit myself to playing in one or two games at a time. When I first discovered PBEM, I tested the water, but soon enough dove in headfirst. I was in upwards of twenty games at a time (!), but I can't say that it was ever too much for me. What did break my back, and cause me to scale back, was publishing "The Pouch" (especially once "The Pouch" grew beyond the bounds of the zine). I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't like to play more (who wouldn't want to spend 24 hours a day playing Diplomacy?), but I'd also be lying if I said that I'm not perfectly happy with the one to two game rule I've imposed on myself. It enables me to devote all the time I need to devote to each game, while also keeping "The Pouch" up (not to mention living the rest of my life a little!).

Q: What's your favorite type of Diplomacy - Standard, variant, gunboat, etc....

Not too many years ago my knee would have jerked and I would have said "Standard." With but a few exceptions I felt that variants were unnecessary (how can you improve the perfect game?). This didn't stop me from thinking up variants myself, of course. I suppose I was even a bit annoyed at Avalon Hill for putting out Colonial Diplomacy. It couldn't be better than "Standard", so I felt it would have the effect, therefore, of introducing new players to an inferior brand of Diplomacy -- maybe they wouldn't be as turned on by the game as I was (and still am!).

This feeling lasted, literally, until I first played Colonial, which was at World DipCon VI in Columbus. It was then that I realized that my (by then) love for variants could even extend to Colonial. I've resolved myself to love all map variants (Colonial, Modern, etc...) equally. I'll always have the greatest fondness, though, for the "Standard" map, I suppose. One thing it offers that no other map currently does, is a sense of community. When you say "Galicia" to any Diplomacy player, he knows what you mean and he immediately recalls everything about Galicia that is pertinent. The same cannot be said for "Hong Kong" or other places that are on variant maps but not on the standard map. I suppose my (hopefully misplaced) concern about Colonial was that this would dilute the body of common knowledge.

Q: How about press? What type(s) do you prefer?

I'd have to go with anonymous E-mail. E-mail because I think it gives me the best chance of convincing other players to go along with my plans (I can type like the wind when the spirit hits me) and because it gives me a chance to hold multiple and secure exchanges with every player before the moves go in. Anonymous because ... well, because I'm not anonymous anymore!

Q: Have you ever participated in a "No Press" game?

I've never learned to appreciate "No Press" games. I keep telling myself I should do so because they surely are a useful tool to hone your tactical skills. Most of the best players play in no-press games as a habit to keep their skills up.

I first learned about "No Press" when I found out about the PBEM hobby. I suppose I just started out without any desire to play that way (thinking a game of Diplomacy just isn't what it should be without negotiations). That said, I must admit that the "send signals with your orders" concept is very attractive to me and I did want to try my hand at it.

As I got busier and busier, "No Press" became a bit more attractive and I finally accepted an invitation and played one game. My philosophy in that game was to use the maximum number of my units per turn to "send signals." I was eliminated before too long. So, now I can say that "No Press" is a legitimate and useful skill (and one that I've yet to master!). Having only played (and lost) one game I suppose I can't be too ashamed!

Commentary: Yeah, OK Manus! By the way would you be ashamed of a blood hound who couldn't "sniff out" his own tail?

I like to think my greatest skill in the game is the use of the written word. So, "No Press" is a natural disadvantage for me. In a normal game (with Press) I can usually talk the leg off a chair until I know (or at least think I know!) just what everyone else is doing.

Commentary: Do you want that deposit on the Brooklyn Bridge now or later?

So, despite my new respect for "No Press," I would definitely say that my favorite game would include press.

Q: What's the longest game you ever played in?

Well, one game, snoopy, comes to mind. It spanned a fairly major Judge outage (the AUGV Judge - may it rest in peace). I was -- yep -- England, and I enjoyed this game immensely.

I was allied with France, who eventually stabbed me, so I allied myself with Russia. Eventually Russia stabbed me and I allied myself with Italy (who had stabbed France). I was, by this time, full of stab wounds and down to a single unit. My single unit hung out in London, my only center, but soon enough it was dislodged by Russia and it had no retreats.

I had lost my only unit and my only SC. So, I figured it was time to go into action. It being only Spring, I launched an all out diplomatic campaign with Russia to back off from London so that I could rebuild the unit and use it to help him (arguing strongly that it was far better for him to have a new pro-Russian fleet built in London -- to fight the Italians who were now in Liverpool -- than it was to build one in St. Petersburg). I talked and talked and he became convinced I was sincere. After all, what could I do? He could always eliminate me again, right?

I re-built the fleet, which became a Russian puppet. Ivan supported my fleet into Liverpool and another English fleet bearing the Russian flag appeared in London. And then there were three. Then four!

What Russia didn't know was that beginning when I was a (0/1) power that fateful Spring, I had been keeping Italy apprised of my plans. When I suddenly stabbed Russia on the umpteenth turn that I was supposed to be issuing Russia's dictated orders (like a good puppet), it was fatal. Down he went.

I think the game ended as an I/E draw, but this was only because the AUGV Judge was closing and we had to shut the game down. If that untimely event hadn't intervened, I maintain that I could have (and would have) stabbed Italy to get a solo. This was a very long game, though. To actually have no units on the board and come back and share in a two-way is an accomplishment of which I'm fairly proud. I guess you can say (from my point of view) it was kind of "two games in one." Maybe this is why it seemed so long to me.

Q: What's the best stab you ever performed in a Diplomacy game?

The best is probably the one against Russia in snoopy that I just recounted. A couple of others stand out in my mind as well, though, both swift, game-ending stabs to get a solo.

Q: What's the worst anyone's ever stabbed you in a Diplomacy game?

Hmm. You know, I don't recall all that many stabs directed against me!

Commentary: I've heard this one before!

I suppose there are a couple that stand out in my mind. One of these was in the game who (my first PBEM game).

I was England and leader of an anti-German coalition (after stabbing Germany myself in 1903). The game was "No Partial Press" and to completely eliminate Germany required cooperative moves that needed to be publically discussed. As a result Germany ended up with a single unit that Russia and I just couldn't kill. It kept escaping to St. Petersburg or Sweden or somewhere.

In the meantime, an Italy-Austria coalition had nearly eliminated Turkey (Russia was doing his best to help the Turk, but the Sultan was in trouble). The talk was for an A/I/R/E draw, with each of E/R and I/A trying hard in the press to break the other team and make it a three-way.

Turkey got fed up with all the talk about draws (that didn't include him) and he announced that he and Germany were a block. Anyone who attacked Germany would give Turkish help to the other side, and vice-versa. I thereupon decided that Russia and I couldn't afford to lose Turkish help against Italy and Austria, so I stopped talking about non-Turkish draws and I gave the one-center Germany his life back. Russia never really liked the idea. Before too long I had returned Germany to a decent size and he was a very valuable ally against Italy and Austria...

...until he stabbed, of course! When he did, it caught me totally off guard and it was a game-ender. Italy, Austria, and Germany shared the draw. Just like Russia in snoopy to my England, I suppose I was just shocked that a power I had single handedly allowed to live would grow up to take belated revenge on me. My excuse is that this was my first PBEM game and my first game after a layoff of a decade or more since my school days. I darn sure won't let that happen to me again!

The other stab whose pain I remember well came in that game snoopy (coincidentally, this was my second PBEM game). My gamelong ally, France (we had repeatedly left ourselves open to each other and continually talked in private press about our joint victory picnic in Sevastopol), stabbed me in the mid-game and it hurt! As I said, I was able to organize an Italian and Russian posse to join me and punish him.

France was eliminated after a few more plot twists, but my run to Sevastopol had to be called off. Instead, I had to throw myself at France so heavily that Russia couldn't resist stabbing me himself! This eventually left me, as we discussed, with the single SC (occupied by Russia) and no unit. Although I actually got a two-way out of the game, I'll never forget the betrayal by France. It came completely out of the blue and darn near knocked me out of the game.

Q: Who was the toughest opponent you ever faced in a Diplomacy game?

Without question this would be Leif Bergman at World DipCon VI. No offense against everyone else I've faced, but the guy is truly awesome. However, as with all encounters, the fault of any failure of mine in a Diplomacy game is mine alone. I can see now where I went wrong when playing Leif -- mostly in not knowing or even assuming that he was such a good player! But there was something more. I flatter myself to say that I am usually the "string puller." But after playing Leif I truly felt that he had pulled my "strings" as expertly as I had ever done to anyone!

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one Diplomacy variant which one would it be and why?

Well, I'd probably make up a new one to stave off boredom.

Commentary: Just what the hobby needed - a one player Diplomacy variant! I suppose you think that you'd increase your Hall of Fame (HoF) points with all those solo victories, huh?

Q: With the extent of your involvement in the hobby do you ever have problems maintaining your anonymity? Does it ever affect how others treat you when actually playing in a game?

To be honest I don't know if the recognition of my name affects other players, but I like to flatter myself by thinking it could. So, I prefer anonymous games. When I first discovered PBEM Diplomacy, going "underground" was something that I never really thought I would do and I felt sorry for those who played that way, never really understanding why. My concern is not for myself (that is, I'm not worried that people will gang up and attack me when they realize that I'm in their game), but more for the other players. Perhaps it's egotistical, but I think (or hope) that most people will instinctively want to ally with me (rather than attack me) when they see my name. It's not because of my hobby contributions, but just because I'm such a great guy.

Commentary: I think I'm going to be sick.

Like I said, it sounds egotistical, but it's true that I play anonymously to protect other players from those who might ally with me without thinking (rather than to protect myself from those who might ally against me without thinking).

Q: You've been given only a short time left to live. The doctors have tried everything, but to no avail. Against medical advice you make a dying request to play in one (and only one!) last game of Diplomacy. What type of game would you choose?

It would be on the standard board, would be anonymous and would include press. I suppose that if it had to be a variant, it would certainly be "Tin Cup" (Blind Payola).

Q: Tell us more about your love for "Tin Cup" Diplomacy?

When the day dawns that "Tin Cup" can be computer adjudicated (there has been a stop-and-start effort to add "Blind" support to the Judge for a long time), I'll be the first in line to play! In a "Blind" game there are more things you can lie about and more things you need to ask about (thus enhancing the press I love so much!). Add "Payola" to a "Blind" game and not only are there no stalemate lines, but you can purchase information and services of foreign units. I played in the first "Tin Cup" game (which unfortunately was abandoned by the Master before we could complete it) and I can't describe how much fun it was.

Commentary: I'll get out my dark sunglasses and pencils!

Q: When did you first get involved with Diplomacy Zines?

Well, I only got started in Zines in 1994 when I wrote an article for "Diplomacy World" (DW) describing the "Crystal Ball" variant. I guess I caught the bug, so I submitted something for the next issue of DW as well. At this time DW was slowing down and not meeting its schedule dates. The publication of my second article never seemed to arrive.

Impatient and egotistical bastard that I am, I set out to create a new zine that would publish my words and meet its schedule come hell or high water. I had the name "The Diplomatic Pouch" (DP) in mind from the very beginning, although in truth, it was meant to be a postal zine (and not a Web zine).

I scouted around for desktop publishing software and spent a lot of time getting ready to publish the DP using laser printers and Xerox machines. I never found a program that I liked, so I decided to just use the newest rage, HTML, to write the articles (still intending to push the "Print" button on my Web browser and send them via snail mail to a list of subscribers).

I don't know when the light went on that I should just leave the pages in place, put them on a public server and organize them online instead of "Printing" them. Either I smartened up or someone smarter than I noticed and mentioned how dumb I was. The first Diplomacy Webzine was chartered!

The realization that I was writing was a Web 'zine (and not a postal zine) came very close to the date I had set for publication of the first (Spring 1995 Movement) issue. Only a month or two before, I was envisioning becoming a postal zine publisher (this from someone who had only seen one issue of DW and had no idea that any other zine even existed!). Now that I have come in contact with the Postal Diplomacy world I am happy I didn't enter a field crowded with such talent. I was more cut out to be an accidental pioneer.

Q: What about your "other" life (that is, the non-Diplomacy part of your life)? How do you spend your time?

Besides Diplomacy? Hmmm. That's a tough one. (Smile) Well, let's see. I do indeed have a family. I'm the firstborn and only son in a family of seven children, but we're all grown and married now and most of us have children. I married my wife, Angela, in January of 1991 and we have two children, Kayla Kristeen (born February 15, 1992) and McManus Jameson (born April 1, 1993 - "gotta be a fool to be my son," I always say). Though we call Jameson by a zillion names, his full name means "son of Manus, son of James Hand" (my father's name is James).

In the way of hobbies I've become rather famous (outside the "Diplomacy world") for visiting (and chronicling my visits to) the gravesites of the American Presidents. I maintain an online site devoted to this bit of weirdness and have been featured in everything from magazines to radio shows to the Discovery Channel! I'm still waiting for someone to get me on Letterman!

The visitors to my Presidents site are many, and I am constantly answering presidential related trivia and non-trivia questions. The popularity of this site has in fact prompted one visitor, a Michigan civics teacher, to create "The Manus Hand Fan Club"! In just under a month after it was started over fifty people from around the world joined! Now there are upwards of a couple hundred, I think.

Commentary: I bet you were hoping they'd all be "super models" from around the world!

Q: Any other hobbies?

A few years ago I inherited my father's father's ("Dad Hand's") postage stamp collection and recently got around to looking at it. I collected stamps as a child, as did my father, but the blood must thin through the generations because what my grandfather did was amazing! He spent almost every after-work moment attending to his collection. For Christmas last year my wife got me some stamp reference material and collector's tools. This has convinced me to take the collection out of storage and I am presently in the process of cataloguing it. It's convincing me to get a bit more active again in philetaly.

Q: Do you have a job or are you independently wealthy with nine inch fingernails?

Work? Yeah, I do that too. When I got out of college I was fortunate enough to find a place at a very small company that we made very successful and which has since gotten fairly large. I've been at Evolving Systems, Inc., a telecommunications software firm, for nearly nine years now. We write everything from line provisioning to billing to operator information to cellular packet data applications, and sell them to large telecommunications companies to make the world a better place. Something like that. Our present focus is on our suite of products in the local number portability area I've done everything from documentation to coding (a lot of coding) to design and architecture to customer management. I'm presently the representative for the 200+ developers on the interdisciplinary Practices and Standards Group. To give myself an undeserved power trip (because it's not really like this), I basically get to tell all the developers how to do their job. Remold them all in my image and all that.

Commentary: Can you order six developers to each pick a country and submit orders?

Q: Do you have an idol?

My father has been my idol for as long as I've lived. I only hope that my humble endeavors through life can allow me to stand in his shadow. Dad is a jack-of-all-trades, having done everything from anthropology to scheduling airlines to criminal defense and prosecution to drafting legislation. He retired a couple years ago from the office of registrar of the University of Wyoming. On top of all that he invented a number of puzzles and games, which he has successfully marketed through a family corporation. Those are just his public sides, though. The other sides are even better (and I won't go into them here). Just suffice it to say he's the best.

Q: Of all your accomplishments and contributions to the Diplomacy hobby which one are you most proud of?

Well, nothing like asking me to blow my own horn, is there? Obviously, "The Pouch" as a whole (if I can get away with that) would be my answer. Being the first Diplomacy Web zine publisher is something that I guess they can never take away from me.

Q: What words of advice would you give a newcomer to Diplomacy?

The hardest thing is to remember that the pieces on the board are just pieces of wood. When someone lies to you while playing, that's just part of the game. It's not like you've actually been put in the hospital or anything! Don't hold a grudge. Too many newbies don't understand that the ethics of Diplomacy are different from the ethics of life. Confusing the two leads to some unfortunate problems.

Lying is part of the game of Diplomacy, just like lying could be a part of just about any game. If you were playing a game of chess and your opponent said he wouldn't take your queen if you left it exposed, would you believe him? And if you did (and then he took it) would you be mad at him? If you have the right perspective, the person you should be mad at (if anyone) is yourself! The fun of the game is in trying to detect the lies of the other players and to guard against their (possible) lies.

People who are used to blindly trusting others in real life (I admit that I am one of these people) sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the Diplomacy game situation (though I did not!). However, I've also found that those people who have a hard time adjusting tend to become some of the better players if they just "stick it out" until they make the necessary philosophical leap. So, my advice is to stick with the game even if you feel ethically uncomfortable. You'll get the knack of it sooner or later and you (and the hobby) will be better for it.

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