Do we need a Short Game rule for Tournaments?

Phew. It’s been a long haul but I’ve finally come to the end of the series on tournament scoring, which started here.

As I’ve said before, when I have posted a new post, I tend to post a Tweet. Not always, especially when I’ve completed more than one post a day, but often. This one will be Tweeted, too.

One of the replies I got from one of my Tweets started a brief discussion with two people, Bryan Pravel (@BCPravel) and Asso Francophone des Joueurs de Diplo (@asso_diplo).

  • @BCPravel commented: “I’d love a new edition to be printed that brings back the ‘rules for a short game’ and makes topping the objective instead of a solo. It’s a variant, but I would argue a useful one for f2f club play and some tournament formats. I was once a draw based / solo purist but have found the ‘short game’ rewarding board tops to be extremely fun in its own way. The best players can adapt to both styles of play.”
  • @thediplomaticon: “Well, I think it’s obvious from my blog posts that I dislike it as a set of official rules. Certainly not what ABC had in mind! But if a Dip group or a tournament recognises it, within the scoring system, that’s what you play towards, absolutely.”
  • @asso_diplo : “The official rules are the original idea of ABC but I think the limited time games did not displease ABC. I believe he created for that a scoring system: Within the limit of thrice its number of centers, we score: – 10 points for staying alive; – 1 point per center; – 2 points if you are first alone; – if we are not first, minus 1 point per center that the first has, from his ninth center included.”

I want to expand on these thoughts here and put it in the context of tournament scoring.

The Short Game rule

The Short Game rule was introduced in 1961:

Since gaining control of Europe takes a long time, it is generally advisable to set a time limit for the game. The player with the most pieces on the board at that time is the winner.

“Rules for Diplomacy”. Games Research Inc, 1961. Accessed from the Diplomacy Archive: 3 Feb 2022.

This rule was in place, with some re-wording, through to the 1992 3rd Edition of the rules.

In 2000, the 4th Edition of the rules removed this rule, and it is absent in the latest set of rules, misleadingly called the 5th Edition, published in 2008.

In 1959, when the game was first published commercially before Games Research purchased it from Calhamer, the rule was absent.

I don’t think this rule was ever needed. Here is the 2008 version of the rules with regard to winning the game:

As soon as one Great Power controls 18 supply centers, it’s considered to have gained control of Europe. The player representing that Great Power is the winner. However, players can end the game by agreement before a winner is determined. In this case, all players who still have pieces on the game board share equally in a draw.

“The Rules of Diplomacy.” Wizards of the Coast LLC, 2008. Accessed from: 3 Feb 2022.

This rule, again worded slightly differently, existed from the start.

What you can see from this is that there was already a short game rule for Dip: if the players agreed, the game could end with everyone sharing in the draw. What the 1961 version added was that the agreement should be set before play, and a certain point be arranged to end the game.

It seems to me that the rule was introduced by Games Research Inc. There’s little to suggest that Calhamer had any input into this rule.

So this brings up the following questions for me:

  1. Did Calhamer support the additional rule?
  2. Why was it introduced?
  3. Why was it removed?
  4. Should it be reintroduced?

Did Allan B Calhamer, creator of Diplomacy, support the Short Game rule?

Of the questions above, 1-3 can only be speculated on. We don’t know, frankly. Perhaps Avalon Hill/Hasbro could tell us why the rule was removed, but I doubt it.

The answer to the first question can’t be known. However, there are clues to the possible answer. The first is in the rules to Diplomacy themselves. As mentioned above, this rule wasn’t in the 1959 edition. Why not? Because it wasn’t thought necessary; the short game was already covered by the objectives.

Another major clue, for me, is within Calhamer’s writings… or rather not in his writings. You won’t find anywhere Calhamer referring to this rule.

One problem with this is that the only easily accessible writings that I can find in the public domain are from the Diplomacy Archive. There is a section on the archive on Calhamer’s writings. One article especially stands out on this subject, an article I’ve referred to a number of times on this blog: “Objectives Other Than Winning”.

The article was published in the 1974 edition of the IDA Diplomacy Handbook. The Short Game rule had been in place, by then, for 13 years. It isn’t mentioned in the article. The only consideration in the article is that a game ends in a solo or an agreed draw.

Now, I’ve stumbled across some articles by Calhamer in Diplomacy World that are not listed on the Archive, which is disappointing. Perhaps they’re not there because DW keeps its own archive of past issues. However, I know that some of the articles from DW are listed on the Archive, so it seems that the Archive is a very unpredictable place. That may mean that a new archive is needed …

Anyway, the question should perhaps be asked why Calhamer doesn’t consider the Short Game rule as being a part of the discussion. One answer could well be that he wasn’t considering this type of game for the article, that he was only considering games played by mail. Short games were only usually found in tournaments or the like.

Another reason is that Calhamer gave no credence to the rule.

Why was the Short Game rule introduced?

Purely speculative here.

I’m not sure any tournaments would have been in place by 1961, just two years after Diplomacy was first published. In DW#5 (published Sept 1974) an article by Calhamer states that: “The first national Diplomacy convention … was held in Youngstown, Ohio. The sixth of these annual affairs was held in Chicago in 1973.” Assuming that one had been held every year, this would make the first NDC in 1968. That’s not to say that other tournaments hadn’t been held, but it gives some kind of time frame.

From this, then, it is unlikely that the rule was introduced to cater to tournaments. It may have been introduced following fan requests; in the same article Calhamer says that questions about the rules are sent to the manufacturer and passed to him.

Perhaps, after all, he had some input in the Short Game rule. Frankly, though, given that he never discussed it (that I can see) suggests that the rule came from Games Research Inc as a way to counter how long even a shorter game of Diplomacy was.

Why was the Short Game rule removed?

Given that this happened in 2000, when a new rule was introduced, it’s perhaps more likely that this was in response to fan input. Again, though, this is pure speculation.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, why the rule was removed isn’t important – it was removed and that’s that.

However, another possible reason is that tournaments have changed somewhat. If you look through the early description of tournaments (again, from Diplomacy World), they were very different to those of today. In DW#2 Calhamer describes a tournament as having just two rounds! In those days, apparently, games might end in a solo, in an agreed draw or in what Calhamer calls a “curtailment” (DW#8 “Thoughts on DipCon VII”). Today games may end in a solo, a draw, or a concession (where players agree that a player is going to go on and win). It’s rare that players will simply stop playing, which is what this curtailment involved.

Perhaps, then, by 2000, it was decided that the rule just wasn’t necessary. Perhaps it may be that the publishers realised that it just wasn’t what Calhamer had in mind.

Should the Short Game rule be reintroduced?

Well, as far as the rules go, I don’t see why it should be. It doesn’t add anything to the game and, frankly, if people decide to come up with their own way of playing the game then they will anyway!

But this brings me circling back to the Twitter chat.

Bryan suggests that the rule being introduced would:

  • Be useful for F2F club play and in some tournaments;
  • Be a fun variant in its own right, and
  • That good players can adapt to it.

For me, these reasons aren’t reasons to reintroduce the rule. Why would Dip clubs and tournaments need it as a published rule? If you’re participating in a tournament, the tournament will have its own house rules and these often have the way the game ends as different to the published rules. Certainly, as the widely used scoring systems tend to be SCS systems, then this probably encourages short game rules (although this isn’t always the case). Reintroducing the Short Game rule as an official published rule isn’t necessary.

It can be a fun variant, I’m sure. I might even find some enjoyment in it myself, as someone who thinks it’s non-Calhamerian and not what the game’s about. And I’m sure good Dip players can readily adapt to it – they’ve been having to adapt to various tournament scoring systems for decades! But, again, as a group of players, is it impossible to adapt the game to the way you want to play it?Impossible without this being a published rule? Surely not.

Reintroducing it as an official rule isn’t necessary. It was never necessary. The rules have always contained alternative ways to play: games for fewer than seven players, for instance. This rule should have been introduced in this way, rather than as an official alternative ending.

As far as tournament scoring systems go, well Calhamer did have the Calhamer Point system I’ve discussed previously. Then there is the Calhamer Tournament Scoring System which is described, a little misleadingly, in the Diplomacy A-Z.

Now I’m learning something different about this but I haven’t yet found this scoring system described other than in the Dip A-Z. There is something similar in Diplomacy World #10 from Calhamer. Neither of these match the system described by @asso_diplo.

I’m going to reserve judgement until I’ve actually managed to find the definitive Calhamer system for scoring tournaments. If it is based on the DW#10 system, then it doesn’t match today’s tournaments as it is based on curtailments. And, given that games that end in a solo or an agreed draw result in some division of 34 pts, it is effectively a DBS system, other than dealing with games that don’t end in a win or an agreed draw.

In terms of tournaments, then, I can’t find anything that suggests that the Short Game rule should be introduced into the rules again. If tournaments want to use a different system to end games, then they can simply apply it. Online tournaments, where a Game End Date is often used, do this by scoring games as if they’d been drawn at that time. (There may be some Calhamerian argument to say that these are ‘curtailed’ games rather than drawn games, I guess.)

In terms of tournament scoring, I haven’t yet seen anything definitive which ascribes an SCS system of scoring to Calhamer that fits in with modern tournaments. There is some evidence that Calhamer would accept this in games which just ended without a solo or an agreed draw. However, I don’t accept that SCS based systems are something Calhamer would like, given what I’ve read.

Even in that DW#10 article (and there were three in that issue, so the one we’re looking at is “On Rating Face-to-Face Diplomacy Games”) the use of some form of SCS scoring is almost begrudgingly accepted by the Great and Good ABC.

But I’ll keep looking.

As far as tournaments go, I don’t have a problem with any scoring system or tournament organisation they choose to apply. The same goes with any agreed way to end a game or score a game. Do what you are happy with!

What I will always hold to, though, is that some methods aren’t part of the Calhamerian design or concept for Diplomacy. And for me, that’s important. As I’m looking at running a tournament in the near future, you can bet whatever you want it will be Calhamerian!

Published by Mal Arky

I'm a Diplomacy nut... if you haven't guessed. I write about the game Diplomacy, mainly as played online on websites, such as Playdiplomacy, webDiplomacy and Backstabbr. I write books on Diplomacy, too. First one to be published soon!

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