The History of the UK Diplomacy Zine Poll

(Part 2 - 1981-1985) 

by Stephen Agar 

Did the Poll Grow Out of Control?

Two serious candidates emerged to take over the Zine Poll after the fold of New Statsman, John Marsden (who wanted to include some non-Diplomacy zines) and Chris Tringham. However, in NMR! No.13 Brian Creese suggested that Richard Walkerdine was the most appropriate person, a consensus emerged, so back to RJW it went. Richard announced the "1981 Walkerdine Zine Poll" in issue 2 of O Tempora! O Mores! a mini zine he'd started nine months earlier just to needle Steve Doubleday when he re-launched Gallimaufry. The eligibility criteria were a zine must carry at least one game of regular Diplomacy ("because this is supposed to be a Poll of Dippyzines...")  and have published two issues in the first five month of 1981. As before voters needed to see at least two zines to be able to vote. The results were calculated on the basis of a preference matrix, with average votes being calculated as well for reference only. By giving publishers 21/2 months notice Richard did manage to revive the Polls fortunes, pushing the number of voters back over the 100 mark. Greatest Hits won for the 3rd year running, an achievement which has never been equalled. At least that was the official result - a week before the real results were due out the likes of Richard Gooch, John Dodds & Co. managed to circulate a fake issue 3 of O Tempora! O Mores! which claimed that A Voice in the Wilderness had won the Zine Poll, which was stretching people's credulity just a bit. 

The following year, for the "1982 Zine Poll", Richard decided that to qualify a zine should receive votes from at least 8% of those voting and have published at least 2 issues in the first half of 1982. European zines weren't excluded, but none overcame the 8% hurdle. Zines without Diplomacy (e.g. Hopscotch were excluded) and the clear winner was John Marsden's Ode. The biggest surprise wasn't so much the Zine Poll results as the way they were announced, as Richard had decided to put the results in Mad Policy No.74 (26 July 1982) and resume his publishing career. Old publishers never die, they merely take a break. 

In Mad Policy No.82 (28 March 1983) Richard Walkerdine announced a radical change in the eligibility criteria for the Zine Poll which was to cause so much controversy over the next three years. "Last year I expanded the old 'one game of Diplomacy'  rule to include stats-zines and the like, and this year I want to go a good bit further. Despite what Tamlyn may think I have no interest in promoting any sort of 'purist Diplomacy' image, for the Poll or for anything else. I've never disagreed that 50& or so of 'The Hobby' has little to do with Diplomacy these days, and the Poll ought to reflect this.... this year I'm hoping to include zines that don't run Diplomacy but run En Garde, Soccerboss etc. as well as the stats-zines and genzines..." So, the Poll was now open to everyone, Diplomacy or not, UK or not. The seeds of quite a bitter dispute had been planted. 

The results of the "Zine Poll 1983" were published in Mad Policy No.87 (15 August 1983). The turnout was huge - 224 voters compared with 101 the year before - no doubt partly explained by the fact that the Poll had been opened up - and no less than 115 different zines were voted for! The result (calculated according to the Preference Matrix) was a clear victory for Greatest Hits (Pete's fourth victory in five years!).  The impact of the non-Diplomacy zines wasn't felt much due to the use of the Preference Matrix - the highest sports zine was 25th and none of the European zines made the 8% qualifying limit (so Richard published separate Sports Zines and European Zines results as well). All this was to change in 1984. 

In Mad Policy No.93 RJW floated the idea of using Average Votes instead of the Preference Matrix (because so many zines were being voted for that it was just too complicated). In MP No.94 (19 March 1984) this change was confirmed when the Poll was announced. The change in the zines eligible introduced the previous year, combined with using the Average Votes method and 258 voters was to radically alter the Poll results which were published in Mad Policy No.99 (6 August 1984). The winner was Alan Parr's Hopscotch which didn't run Diplomacy at all. In 4th place was the German zine Die Poppel-Revue which although it only managed 22 votes (just one vote more than the minimum) had a high vote from its German subscriber base. Mach Die Spuhl which also only had 22 votes came 9th. The success of the German zines was due to the fact that 36 votes were received from West Germany.  William Whyte offered to calculate the Preference matrix results for Richard and the clear winner was NMR! one of the UK's top Diplomacy zines with Hopscotch third. Die Poppel-Revue was =35th!  

Many were not pleased with the way the Zine Poll was progressing. Chris Tringham's views were, if anything, understated. In Megalomania No.46 he said: "Basically, the problem is this: many years ago there were a few people playing Diplomacy in a few small zines. All the zines were mimeo (or even spirit duplicated), all appeared quite frequently, and each ran a few games and had a bit of chat. the Zine Poll was a fair comparison between 14 zines, and each voter had to pick his top five. Up till three or four years ago the number of zines continued to increase, as did the variety of the games run and the differences in style, but the Zine Poll remained a reasonable comparison between the zines. Since then, various well-meaning attempts have been made to widen the scope of the Poll (it used to be Diplomacy zines which had published at least 5 issues in the UK) thus increasing the number of zines and the number of voters. Unfortunately this makes the Poll almost meaningless. How am I supposed to decide between a 3-weekly free FRP chatzine, a monthly multi-games fanzine that runs a huge number of games, and a five to six-weekly Diplomacy zine? All are, in their own way, enjoyable, but in very different ways." 

In Ode No.59 John Marsden (who you may remember offered to take over the Poll back in 1981 on a platform of including multi-games zines such as Hopscotch) announced a new Ode Diplomacy Poll confined to zines running at least two games of Diplomacy! He quoted Tringham with approval and said "...This it seems to me is the crux of the matter. there are simple too many zines eligible that are not really comparable, so that people voting for them are not voting for the same things or in the same way. Now, in saying that... I am not denying Richard's right to run his Poll in precisely the way he wants. It is the Mad Policy Zine Poll, and long may it continue." After only 14 votes were received, this was later explained away two issues later as a spoof (winner Dolchstoß, from Boojum). 

John Wilman probably spoke for the majority when he pleaded in Watch Your Back No.73 "I can't help hankering back to the days of the UK Diplomacy Zine Poll, as it was when I first encountered it. A poll of British Diplomacy zines with a half-way decent system of producing results. RJW's Poll is now so far removed from the original idea that there is room for its re-introduction. Any takers?" 

RJW was sensitive to all this criticism, so he proposed going back to a Positional System (as had been used in the first Zine Poll) and by Mick Bullock (to widespread condemnation in 1978). Hence when the 1985 Zine Poll was launched in Mad Policy No.106 (8 April 1985) Richard solicited votes for at least two but no more than 10 zines. First place on a voter's ballot would get 10 points, 2nd place 9 points etc. Winner would be the zine with the most points. As before, non-Diplomacy zines and European zines were included. It had to be admitted that this system did favour the bigger circulation zines and when Mad Policy No.110 was published (12 August 1985) after 248 votes had been cast the winner was... Mad Policy. Yes, after eight attempts, RJW had finally done it - he had managed to create a system which allowed MP to win the Zine Poll! As the 8% criteria was abandoned (all zines receiving votes from 5 people were included) no less than 85 zines featured in the official listing (though thanks to the new system the highest foreign zine was 27th). Of the non-Diplomacy zines, Hopscotch was 4th and Rostherne Games Review was 16th. All in all 143 zines received votes of some sort with no less than 83 voters from continental Europe. 

As you would expect, there was quite a bit of comment in the Hobby over the new way of calculating the results and the fact that RJW had won it at last. As Peter Doubleday put it in Thing No.39: 

"RJW has been running the Poll for eleven years on and off.. and this is the first time he has won it. It would be churlish, therefore, to claim that he would not have won it this year had it not been for the system which he devised, but even churls must stand up for the truth, so I shall claim just this. I believe that this is the stupidest and most pathetically inaccurate system that one could possibly apply...  Many people have said that the ranking system favours large circulation zines. I shall go further and say that it favours Mad Policy and the zines read by the subscribers to Mad Policy, which are often, but not always, the large circulation zines. Now, it would be perfectly possible to define the Hobby as those zines read by subscribers to Mad Policy, in which case this is a legitimate zine poll, albeit slightly Richardocentric even then..." 

In the following issue of Thing John Piggott revealed his interest in running the Poll, which prompted Pete Doubleday to announce his Zine Poll Organiser's Poll (but he was taking the piss). The results were announced in Thing No.41 - Piggott won, but there were only 7 voters one of which was Piggott. 

Mad Policy No.113 proved to be a turning point. In that issue John Piggott wrote to Richard in the following terms: 

"I personally think there are good reasons why the Poll should be run by other than a zine editor and why you in particular should pass it on: (a) Hobby members in general are nice people and will tend to discriminate in favour of the chap running the Poll if his zine is eligible; (b) Readers of said zine are in any case more likely to vote than others (that's why MP always receives the greatest number of votes in the Poll despite not having the largest circulation) and so the electorate itself is not a fair sample. 

These two factors will always give the zine running the Poll an advantage over its competitors. this is true whatever method is used to calculate the results. This year's formula which used total votes cast rather than averages, simple exacerbated the problem. In addition there is now a third argument specific to you: (c) After a decade of trying, you have at last won your own Poll. Well, congratulations. Silly joking aside, it would be a great shame if a zine the standard of MP failed to win the Zine Poll at some stage during its run. but where will you go from here? Broadway? For the first time, you can't set yourself a target of doing better in next year's Poll. A graceful retirement now might save a great deal of recriminations later... Well, as I said, it's your decision, so off you go and decide. It only remains for me to say what changes I'd like to see made for next year. 

First, and most importantly, voters should once again be asked to rank all the zines they receive and the main results should be calculated by means of a preference matrix. And since it's clear that a preference matrix for 150 zines would test the patience of a saint, let alone a Walkerdine, the criteria for eligibility needs to be tightened up a lot: Out with the Soccerdross zines for a start; as far as I'm concerned the name of our Hobby is postal Diplomacy and the zines that don't run it are in a different hobby... I would also want to see the European zines excluded. Like it or not, connections between the continental zines and the UK hobby are pretty tenuous... Finally, as in previous years, zines should have to be mentioned by a significant proportion of voters in order to feature in the final results." 

To which Richard replied: "The Zine Poll is my invention, my responsibility and will continue to be run by me for as long as I find it convenient to do so. Arguments such as yours will sway me not a jot (and the gibberish of Pete Doubleday even less so) because any thought of handing it on would come solely from realising that I no longer have the time needed to run the thing properly. However, as it happens, the Poll is a lot of work in a short space of time, and with a monthly zine to run it's very difficult to fit it all in. So a new home would be very welcome. As you've asked for it nicely, you've got it. And the best of luck... 

So RJW relinquished the Zine Poll to John Piggott. Next time in Part Three... The Backlash (1986-1988). 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 32


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