How To Run a Diplomacy Tournament
A guide for first time Tournament Directors
By Brandon Clarke.
I've been meaning to write this article for some time. Two years ago I
set out to establish a Face to Face Tournament Diplomacy scene in New Zealand.
At the time there was no active tournament hobby in New Zealand, and there
hadn't been since 1990 - 1991. Apart from a few isolated pockets of social
players, and a few die hard PBM players, as far as I knew the Diplomacy
Hobby in New Zealand was non existent. I had read articles about Diplomacy
Tournaments on the web and really wanted to play in one. The problem was,
that living in New Zealand, tucked away at the bottom of the South Pacific
Ocean, it was a very long way to the USA or Europe. I wanted to play tournament
Diplomacy here. To do that I had to build a hobby here, pretty much
from the ground up.
I had no idea where to begin.
Getting Started: Building a Hobby Base to Draw From
This is a hard task. Be prepared for disappointments.
I scoured The Diplomatic Pouch, and entered myself into the Hobby
Registry. By a stroke of luck, Bob Blanchett, a hobby enthusiast from
Melbourne, Australia had just set up a majordomo e-mail mailing list called
which he envisaged being used as a communications network for the hobby
in Australia. He happened to be scanning the Hobby Registry shortly after
I entered my name there looking for people to signon to the OZDIP-L mailing
list. He emailed me and asked me to signon. Bob was somewhat visionary
here in seeing the potential for the Australian hobby to grow and benefit
from having a hobby develop in New Zealand.
I signed on to OZDIP-L and began exchanging emails with a group of people
who had been playing Tournament Diplomacy in Australia since the mid 1980's.
They had a wealth of experience, and were very willing to share their knowledge
and ideas with me. If you're thinking of trying to establish a Diplomacy
hobby where you are, find a similar email mailing list from a nearby hobby
base and signon to it. If you can't find one, signon to OZDIP-L and ask
the people from Downunder what you want to know. We'll be only too happy
to help you out. I learned a lot about how Tournament Diplomacy in Australia
works, and I made some good friends too.
In November 1997 I flew to Melbourne, Australia to attend The
Don Challenge Cup to see a tournament in action for myself. Again,
the experience was invaluable. The most important thing I learned is that
the success of the tournament I ran was going to depend largely on my organisational
skills, and how well I put on the Diplomacy part of the tournament, but
more importantly, it was the social scene that was the life
blood of Australian Diplomacy Tournaments. I'll write more on this subject
later on in this article.
I returned to New Zealand and set about trying to get things started.
I needed names. Names of people who were interested in Diplomacy. I attacked
this problem in three ways.
- Firstly, I contacted all the PBM contacts I could find in this
part of the world. I asked them if they would publish a flyer about what
I was trying to do in their zines, which they agreed to do. I also got
the contact details of any subscribers they had from New Zealand. In addition
to the Australasian PBM scene I wrote to several notable European zine
publishers asking for leads on New Zealand PBM players. They replied with
a couple of leads, and also referred me to other zine publishers, like
Berry Renken of "Bluesmobile", and I got further leads from them. I took
all these contacts and wrote to them, rang them, emailed them... whatever
it took. A number of the old timers told me it would never work. They said
people had tried to organise Diplomacy in New Zealand before, and there
were just not enough people, and too many personality clashes for it to
be worthwhile. I've thought about this quite a bit in the last two years,
and reflecting on the effort I've put in and where the results have come
from I can understand it. If it wasn't for email and the internet I would
not have succeeded in building the New Zealand Diplomacy hobby up to where
it is today. Snail Mail, phone calls and faxes take a LOT of your
time. The reward to effort ratio for email compared to these traditional
communications methods is streaks ahead. You can write up something once,
and in a single action send it to as many people as you like. I can imagine
that in the 80's, without the benefit of email, organising things would
have been much more time consuming, and organisers would have been much
more likely to burn out. Nevertheless, I didn't let this deter me. I felt
like I was actually making progress as the first few expressions of interest
came in from the PBM scene.
- Second, I contacted everyone I could think of who I knew who was into
board games, and asked them to give me the contacts of any friends they
had who were likewise interested in board games. Again I spent a lot of
time ringing people, writing to them, and faxing them. Again it was a lot
of effort for a small return, but it was an essential return. Some of these
people are the core members of the New Zealand hobby. While I didn't get
many recruits, those I did get were die hard Diplomacy players... quality
- Thirdly I used the internet, and this was like a revelation. Anyone
trying to establish a Diplomacy hobby should use the internet first. First
of all I went to The Diplomatic Pouch Hobby Registry and used the "Find
in page" function in my browser to find all the people with email addresses
ending in ".co.nz". This gave me half a dozen leads. Then I used the Judges.
I sent a GET WHOIS command to each
of the judges. This returns the registration details of ALL the
people registered on the judge. For those who have never seen this information,
my registration details on USIN ([email protected])
look like this:
:: Judge: USIN
Whois [email protected]
User: 1546 6400 0
Name: Brandon Clarke
Phone: (64 9) 273 1027
Site: W Stevenson & Sons Ltd.
Address: Private Bag 94000, South Auckland Mail Centre,
Country: New Zealand
Timezone: New Zealand Standard Time.
Email: [email protected]
Birthdate: Oct 23, 1971
I put all the returned files into one (large) file and then searched
for email addresses ending in ".co.nz", and then searched again for the
word "Zealand". This allowed me to strip out 150 records of people in New
Zealand who, at one time or another, had been interested enough in Diplomacy
to register with a judge.
Of those 150 addresses 51 of them returned error messages of one sort
or another, but 99 of them went through. The email I sent out was very
polite, explaining how I'd got their email address, and stating that if
they were no longer interested in Diplomacy to just email me to that effect
and I would make sure I didn't email them anymore. From that email I got
a large pool of players who were interested in playing Face to Face Tournament
Diplomacy. Many of them had a few friends who were later introduced to
the hobby. I set up the Auckland Diplomacy Cub to play social games of
Diplomacy and give people a place to hone their skills for the cut and
thrust of tournament Diplomacy. We meet in the houses of members, and I
maintain a web page with all the results of the games played, and rankings
of the players who have played. Since then clubs have been set up in Hamilton
and Wellington, and their results are also now included on the web page.
We now have 80 people listed on the New
Zealand Diplomacy Clubs' rankings page, who have played one or more
Club games in New Zealand since August 1st 1998. The club scene is crucial
to the ongoing success of the New Zealand Tournament Diplomacy scene as
it is where the new blood gets introduced into the hobby, and where players
can learn and develop. Without the club scene thriving as it is, the New
Zealand Tournament attendances would be nowhere near what they are. Having
a rankings ladder is the lynch pin of the New Zealand Diplomacy Clubs'
scene, as it encourages people to try and do well, and to come back and
improve their ranking.
Finally, Once I had the New Zealand Diplomacy hobby on it's feet I found
that email mailing lists are essential tools for me in maintaining the
momentum. Recently, through the use of a mailing list specifically aimed
at being used for organising games, other people have started taking some
of the organisational burden off my hands. The mailing lists are used to
set up games, discuss and analyse them afterwards, and also for a bit of
friendly ribbing and rivalry which helps create a sense of community amongst
the players we have. Many of us now socialise outside of the hobby.
The New Zealand hobby has grown so much in the last two years that now
there are three tournaments each year in New Zealand, each affiliated with
Association of Australia and New Zealand (DAANZ), all of which count
Cup points - the Bismark Cup being an annual award for the best Tournament
Diplomacy player in Australia and New Zealand for the calendar year. November
27th and 28th will see four of us travel to Australia for The Don Challenge
Cup, the last tournament of the year for 1999.
Okay, You've Got a Hobby Base ... Now How do You Run a Tournament?
There's two parts to a Diplomacy Tournament, and for the tournament to
be a real success, both parts need to work. The first is the actual Diplomacy
part, and the second is the social scene that happens before, between,
and after the rounds of Diplomacy. Diplomacy is by its nature a game which
on the whole attracts people who like interacting with others. Remember
that... the success of the social side of your tournament is just as important
as the success of the Diplomacy side of things. Let's however look at the
technical side of running the tournament first, and then address the social
Physically Organising a Diplomacy Tournament
Unless you have a particularly fortunate set of contacts, it costs money
to organise a Diplomacy tournament. Unless you're wealthy enough to be
able to put one on without worrying about how much it costs you, you will
be keen to make sure you don't lose money from running your tournament.
To ensure that you don't lose money you need to do quite a bit of careful
thinking and planning. What is involved?
When I run a Diplomacy tournament I start organising it six months in
advance. You could probably do a reasonable job if you started three months
out if you had to, but I think six months is a good window. If you want international
attendees you need to give them time to decide they want to come, to make
leave applications, and then to book flights etc. The earlier you start
organising the better your tournament will be.
Depending on where you are, when you hold your tournament can
be crucial. The first tournament I ran was the 1998 New Zealand Diplomacy
Championships. I held them at the end of August to avoid having them clash
with any established tournaments in the DAANZ tournament schedule. I felt
this was important as I wanted to maximise the chance of attracting players
from Australia. You need to enquire about any other Diplomacy events in
your region, other board gaming events, or any other related event that
may attract players who would otherwise have been keen on attending your
tournament. Once you have a date selected you can proceed with making arrangements.
- Step 1: Find a venue.
- Approach all the conference centres and
private clubs in town... often they'll provide a venue for free looking
to get the bar and restaurant takes. Failing that, check out the venues
and compare prices and facilities. If you expect a number of out of town
entrants, a venue with accommodation, or at least nearby, is a BIG plus.
- Step 2: Decide on prizes.
- Once a venue is selected, and the price of the venue
is known, decide on what prizes (how many) you want to offer. As a general
guide prizes for Best Performance as each country, and 1st, 2nd and 3rd
place overall (and perhaps down to 7th) are a good start. Other prizes
I've seen are:
Get quotes for the prizes you want to offer.
player's player (players vote for the player they most enjoyed playing
with each game)
best effort to get there
best player on Tournament debut
team's competition winners
the wooden spoon consolation prize
board games competition winner - this is a great idea as it means players
who are eliminated early have a reason to hang around and socialise (and
eat and drink at the venue which is good for the venue owners) and also
it means they have the chance to socialise with the better players later
which is a great way for new players to make friends, and learn how to
- Step 3: Identify any other costs.
- Stamps, envelopes, photocopying,
boxes to carry stuff in, rubbish bags, spare pens etc... think of as much
as possible - it all adds up.
- Step 4: Total the costs.
Once you have done this, you will have a clear idea of how much
it will cost you to run the tournament.
- Step 5: Perform a break-even analysis.
This is crucial. Make a realistic
estimate of how many (in number of people) entrants you expect... be conservative.
Calculate what the entry fee needs to be, based on your estimate of the
number of entrants, so that revenue matches costs from the steps above.
This is how much you need to make the entry fee in order to break even,
assuming you don't get any sponsorship. If revenue doesn't match your costs
recalculate your costs by eliminating the "nice to have but not necessary"
items above until it does.
- Step 6: Make enquiries about accommodation.
- Include a range of
options for people with different budgets. Use the players you have locally
- if they can provide billets for out of town players that increases the
chance that those out of town players will make the effort to come. It
also opens up opportunities for good social events like BBQ's etc. in the
evenings after play. If the out of town players have to traipse off to
some motel on the other edge of town you'll find the social side of things
- Step 7: Advertise, and advertize regularly!
- Use the following
email mailing lists - definitely create your own email mailing list dedicated
to announcements only regarding the tournament -- make it so that only you can
post to the list, and all the subscribers are listeners only. If you feel
inclined to create a separate list for chat and banter, do so,
but make sure that
people who don't have time/inclination for such are able to still get the
real oil about the tournament through the announcements only list.
send press releases to local newspapers. They love this sort of thing.
They'll send reporters out and everything. But do it properly. Speak to
someone who is experienced with producing press releases and get their
input. Timing of your approach is critical.
Posters in games shops, games clubs etc., are worth doing, but are a
low return on effort item compared to the above. Ring people... anyone
who responds by email etc., get their number, and ring them... talk to
them "in person" and find out what they like, etc. Maintain a database on
your potential entries to get a handle on the demographics of your group.
Follow up regularly. Ask what they would like. Don't make promises... explain
you can't do everything that everyone wants, but if they don't ask for
it they definitely won't get it. Find out what your existing entrants do
respond to and do more of the same.
Always talk it up. Hide the disappointments like when people drop out -
gloss over them, and really pump up the volume when big names agree to
There will be people who complain. They'll want it to start later, or finish
earlier, or will want to wear shorts when the dress standard is trousers,
or will want to play loud music, or whatever it is that gives them the
opportunity to bleat. Make sure they complain to you personally and not
to the email mailing list you are using - set the return address to your
own email account, or make the list moderated. Discontent can spread like
wildfire, and it can chew up a lot of your energy that is better spent
elsewhere putting out such fires.
- Step 8: Develop a checklist.
- This checklist should contain everything you need to do:
Items you need to have on the day
Draw up a calendar/timeline with deadlines on it for all the things you
need to organise leading up to the tournament - includes accommodation
organisation, logistics, player follow up schedule to make sure they all
come. You will also need a draw for the tournament... several draws actually
- If you are expecting 28 players to turn up, you'll need a draw for if
there are three boards (21 players) per round, 4 boards (28 players) per
round, 5 boards (35 players) per round, and probably even 6 boards (42
players per round). You need to be prepared. In a three round tournament
I split the countries up into three groups:
I have included for your reference a copy of the scoring sheet used at the New Zealand
- Laptop and associated supplies - calculator (batteries) power
pack for laptop etc.
Diplomacy sets - estimate number of players and arrange double the required
number of sets. There's nothing worse than getting a boomer turnout and
not having enough sets for everyone to play on and having to send some
people away. If others are bringing sets for you, make diary notes to remind
them 2 weeks, 1 week, 3 days, 2 days, 1 day prior to the tournament.
spare pens, paper etc.
voting forms for things like player's player (if applicable)
boxes for orders to be placed in
signs with game names on them
a list of game names you're going to use - load these into the laptop prior
to the tournament so each game's spreadsheet is ready to go
Float - you need a considerable amount of cash in your float to be able
to give change to people who pay entry fees on the day
a locked box for storing the float in - I have had money stolen off the
Tournament Director's table
A draw voting system - we use two tokens, one for yes, one for no, secretly
put in a box etc... if you decide to do similarly organise designated box,
and voting tokens.
Write a welcome to the tournament speech.
Write tournament rules. Include scoring system, including tie breakers.
I have included for your reference a copy of the
tournament rules I use for the New Zealand Diplomacy Champs.
Have the tournament rules available at the venue for players to read.
Post (snail mail and/or email) the tournament rules to confirmed entrants
in advance of the tournament.
Have conference maps and tournament rules available at venue.
Rubbish bins and liners so the venue can be kept tidy.
And I try to ensure that players only play in each group once so that players
get a variety of game types. Diplomacy draws are very complicated as you
very rarely have an exact multiple of 7 players. It will help you enormously
if you can organise two or three people to be assistant Tournament Organisers
who will play extra positions if you need them to at short notice. Some
Tournament Directors Downunder have friends who come along, and who play
positions if needed, but if they are not needed stay and play cards or
something with the Tournament Director. If you can organise a couple of
people like this it makes getting the draw to work much much easier.
England, France and Germany
Italy and Austria
Russia and Turkey
- Step 9: Advertise some more.
- Step 10: And some more.
Keep Your Spirits Up
Organising a Diplomacy Tournament can be hard work. You put in a lot of
time and effort. Diplomacy players are, by nature, a very opinionated bunch.
Sooner or later one of the entrants is going to say something, or do something,
that gets your back up. Be prepared for that. Expect it. It will happen,
and when it does, let it go. You goal is to run a successful Diplomacy
Tournament, not to keep all of the entrants 100% happy all of the time.
It's up to them to make sure they have a good time. Your job is to simply
provide the framework for them to have an enjoyable weekend within. Don't
let one tired, drunk, or disappointed person's comments ruin your sense
Be prepared for disappointments. When the tournament runs each player
might see one or two glitches... they go away thinking it was a great tournament,
despite the glitch or two they saw. The point is, they thought the tournament
rocked. Now, as Tournament Director there's every chance that you'll see
all 15 glitches that are bound to go on... you'll come away disappointed
that everything didn't go to plan... but what you have to remember is that
you're the only one who saw ALL of the bad stuff... at most any given player
might have experienced 2 or maybe 3 suboptimal moments in the running of
the tournament - the rest of the time they're too busy to notice... And
it's the players' PERCEPTION of how well things went that matters, not
the reality. They will come back, or not, based on their perception of
how the tournament went. So don't beat yourself up if things aren't perfect.
After the first tournament I organised I was a bit down and everyone
who played in it was buzzing. Craig Purcell was very down after last year's
inaugural Waikato Open which was the first tournament he ran - he
was ready to quit the hobby he was so upset about how it went. I played
in in it and thought it was an excellent tournament. Grant Torrie was the
Tournament Director at this year's New Zealand Diplomacy Championships.
He was also pretty down after the tournament, but the players have all
said it was great and went away bubbling with enthusiasm.
One way to ensure you come away from the tournament a little more enthused
is if you organise a great Social scene before, during and after the tournament
The Social Scene - life blood of your tournament.
If players have a good time socially, there's every chance they'll come
back to your next tournament even if they got thrashed at the Diplomacy
Board. The players who most often get thrashed are the newbies. If
you can include them in the social events at the tournament they're much
more likely to go home feeling like they had a good time, and therefore
much less likely to throw in the towel and decide they suck at Diplomacy
and that they aren't going to come back.
The way I see it, there are three types of people who play in Diplomacy
As a Tournament Director you should only worry about the "maybes". The
other two categories will do what they do regardless of your efforts. You
should be trying to maximise the number of "maybes" who have a good time
and decide they want to play Tournament Diplomacy again. A large part of
that equation is the social scene... Try to organise one social event per
day for your tournament... it doesn't have to be compulsory, but if there
is at least one thing organised outside the playing of the Diplomacy then
you'll find that people then spontaneously organise things to do... some
will want to drink, some will play games, some will watch videos, some
might play some sport. You just need to provide an environment which is
favourable to these sorts of things.
The die-hard Dippers who will always come back, no matter what.
Some newbies, who are trying it out for the first time, and who are just
not cut out for Diplomacy, and who won't come back to a tournament no matter
how hard you try or what you do.
The people in between, including some newbies, who may or may not come
back, depending on how good a job you do of running a tournament.
So what social events do I have in mind? One concept we apply quite
a bit now in DAANZ tournaments is the pre tournament dinner. The night
before the tournament someone makes a booking for dinner at a restaurant
and an open invitation goes out to all who may attend the tournament to
come along. We have dinner, perhaps drink a little wine, catch up with
friends from out of town/state/the country who we haven't seen since the
last tournament. New players get to meet and socialise with the hobby's
experienced names, and get to feel included. It's also a good way to break
the ice with new players so that when they line up at the board the next
morning they feel like they know a few of the faces arrayed against them,
at least a little bit anyway. Sometimes these dinners progress into nights
out dancing and partying to the wee small hours... knowing when to call
it quits and get some beauty sleep is all part of the tournament strategy...
Diplomacy never stops.
Often on the night of the first day's play we'll have a BBQ or something
at one of the local's houses. Games inevitably get played. At the moment
Settlers of Catan is a favourite. This sort of environment is crucial for
the health of the hobby in your area. It gives the developing players a
chance to sit and talk with the top guns, and ask them why they played
the way they did, why they thought something the developing player did
was a mistake. These sorts of discussions are a great way to cross pollinate
the hobby and ensure it keeps developing.
- Plan. Plan well in advance.
- Advertise. Lots.
- Follow up up with potential entrants. Relentlessly.
- Aim to excel. Be the best you can be and try to make your tournament
the best it can be.
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