The History of the UK Diplomacy Zine Poll

(Part 3 - 1986-1988) 

by Stephen Agar 

John Piggott was a controversial Pollster. The letters pages of Mad Policy carried several denouncements of Richard Walkerdine's choice for the succession. Take this example from Len George: "In championing Diplomacy only, Mr Piggott is being divisive in a hobby which I, at least, love. Do you really approve of this throw-back to a past era of a lesser hobby?... I think the narrow-minded throw-back is better ignored and must ask myself why you have favoured him. Perhaps your interest in hobby politics is the answer. What better way could there be to ensure the popularity and glory of Walkerdine as Zine Poll organiser than to arrange for him to be compared with an eminently unsuitable successor?" Or how about this gem from Chris Wright: "If John renames his poll the 'Diplomacy Zine Poll' [which he did] then that would be a fairly accurate description of what it was about, though perhaps the 'Bigot Poll' would be better." 

After a long and pointless debate about the finer points of including European zines, Irish zines, European zines edited by British nationals, previous Zine Poll winner who don't run (a) Diplomacy or (b) any games at all, Piggott finally announced the 1986 Zine Poll criteria in July - basically you had to see 2 or more zines and to be eligible a zine had to be based in the British Isles and have published two adjudication of Diplomacy or a Diplomacy variant in the previous year. Bohemian Rhapsody, Diversions, Hopscotch, Rostherne Game Review and Take That You Fiend! were also specifically included at Piggott's discretion despite not satisfying the above criteria. In essence, what Piggott had done was to also include zines with a substantial cross-over to the main postal Diplomacy hobby - a practice which continues to this day. 

The results of the 1986 Zine Poll were carried in Ethil the Frog No.96 which was published in November 1986. 194 people voted (with very few Europeans indeed) and the result was a narrow win for Home of the Brave over Dolchstoß. John Piggott took the opportunity the results booklet gave him to respond to the furore caused by his narrowing of the focus of the Poll in the following terms: 

"Few people quarrelled with my decision to restrict our own Poll to British zines. By and large they accepted my argument that language and distance barriers mean that a composite poll is unsatisfactory, and Jaap [Jacob's] new European Poll is a logical development... By contrast, judging by the howls of anguish which greeted my decision to remove non-Diplomacy zines from the Poll, you'd have thought I was assassinating Bob Geldof. However, the evidence was clear: comparatively few of the 'postal games' folk bothered to vote at all last year even when their favourite zines were eligible, and while the obvious response would be for these people to establish their own poll I wasn't at all surprised when it didn't happen. I guess they dislike each other as much as they dislike us. There were several proposals for rival, 'all-zines' polls, but the people who floated them were generally the sort who can't be trusted to fulfil the commitments they already have, let alone make a success of new ones, and in the end it all turned out to be a load of hot air." 

In that last respect, Piggott was hopelessly wrong. Less than 10 years later and the Zine of the Year Poll is now clearly ahead of the Zine Poll when it comes to the number of voters it attracts - however, the main focus of the ZotY Poll is clearly football games, and Diplomacy zines don't really get a look in. That's why in the Diplomacy hobby the impact of the ZotY Poll has been very limited. 

1987 saw the high water mark of the Zine Poll with 339 votes, though the results were to a small degree discredited by what was revealed later. The winner was War & Peace with Zeeby second and Cut & Thrust third. Piggott's well known antagonism towards non-Diplomacy zines encroaching on the established Diplomacy hobby institutions brought even more antagonism in 1987. Piggott's case was simple: 

"Historically, the Zine Poll has always been limited to the postal Diplomacy hobby, apart from a few aberrant years in the early 1980's when Richard Walkerdine took a more eclectic view of things. Although he has never said so publicly, I believe that even Walkerdine felt that a change was needed after 1985; the Poll had become hopelessly unwieldy and most of the results that year were frankly farcical... I have consistently asserted since then that 'Postal Diplomacy' is a separate hobby, distinct from the wider 'Postal Games' which many others favour. Personally I have never seen the slightest connection between (for example) Soccerboss-type zines and Dungeons and Dragons-type zines, and I prefer to view the world of 'Postal games' as a conglomeration of separate hobbies, each with its own traditions and conventions. We overlap, of course." 

"Criticisms of my stance usually take two forms. First, that I have 'banned' certain zines. If this means anything at all, it must mean that I am preventing the zines in question from being published, and that is nonsense. As for excluding a zine from my Poll (which is what these illiterate characters really mean), the rules are clear; if an editor wants his zine included in the postal Diplomacy poll, he has to run postal Diplomacy. Simple as that. Secondly, I am often accused of having 'disenfranchised' various people. If by this they mean that I won't allow people who don't see Diplomacy zines to vote in the Postal Diplomacy Poll, then I cheerfully plead guilty!" 

For what it's worth, in essence I agree with Piggott. The world is big enough for more than one Poll. However, whenever people who should know better start criticising zines like Spring Offensive as being too insular and not welcoming enough to the football zines, perhaps they should remember the antics of the likes of Mark Boyle back in 1987. Many of the sports zines had decided to run a single game of Diplomacy just to qualify for the Diplomacy Zine Poll and John had even received many ballots which had identical votes "Scorpio 10; Vienna 2; Dolchstoß 1, Mad Policy 1" but he had included them anyway. Very odd, but all was to be revealed when Mark Boyle wrote to Piggott after the 1987 Zine Poll results were announced: 

"As I warned you, the backlash for your ban on non-Diplomacy zines has now happened. It couldn't happen on [your] first poll, but in this one the banned sports zines were now eligible, and they took it out on those who sought to ban them. In Scorpio 15 / Eggbert's Zine I issued my clarion call to the sports zines: 'Vote high for our clique and give low marks to the zines trying to exclude us from the other parts of the postal gaming hobby'. A number of zines photocopied what I said and distributed it to their readers. Editors whose zines were banned were very rabid; they even specified targets: Dolchstoß, Mad Policy and Vienna. Why?" 

First, Dolchstoß has your subzine in it, and besides Richard Sharp is blamed for being the original agent provocateur behind the whole nasty proceedings. Mad Policy was obvious. Richard Walkerdine handed over the Poll to you - after you'd said you'd do this and that. Despite the chorus of 'No, no, not Piggott' and the umpteen other contenders, Richard gave the job to you. Think about it from the position of the people who knew their zines would be banned, or from the people like me who knew it would render them unable to vote. So, this year RJW suffered the backlash. 13% gave him less than 5 points; nine voters gave him between 1.0 and 1.9. Vienna was the most striking: 20% gave it under 5, and 12 voters gave it between 1.0 and 1.9. Although Vienna wasn't antagonistic towards the soccer zines and sports zines, it did nothing to help them either, and it was heavily associated with the Old Hard Core. Hence it produced a group of folks determined to ensure that it did badly. But just look at the zines banned last year!... most dramatic of all was Scorpio. First try, and it entered at number 7, with only 9% of the electorate voting for it. It just happened to be the zine in which the clarion call for 'revenge' was made." 

"So what does all this prove? It proves that the sports zine hobby won't stand for this nonsense. This is just the first year. What about the next, when even more sports zines will be eligible, and the next? The whole Poll could just turn into an excuse for inter-clique squabbling. I've proved that such a thing can happen, agreed? What happens when the extremists in the not-so-nice soccer clique get hold of this? Len George, Ian Lee and the rest of their cronies could really damage it in the future - as if a spanner hasn't been put in the works already!" 

Richard Sharps reaction to all this wasthat  "it was inevitable that Dolchstoß would suffer from the traumas of '87, and the slide to 10th place in the Zine Poll, equalling the worst position ever, was no great surprise. Once again, though, I can't help noting that the number of current Dolchstoß readers who voted was exactly equal to the number that rated Dolchstoß average or better: it would be nice to think that the other 20+ votes came from people who were confusing Dolchstoß with something else, or just don't like zines beginning with 'D'..." 

The 1988 Diplomacy Zine Poll saw numbers down to 235 and a win for Realpolitik from Zeeby (always the bridesmaid...). Piggott attributed the fall in votes to the fact that the vote rigging scandal the previous year had discouraged people from voting, especially since John no longer allowed editors to forward ballot papers (to minimise organised block voting). 

On the launch of the Zine of the Year Poll in 1988, Piggott was dismissive as usual. In reviewing 1998 Piggott notes "Finally, there was a distinctly unwelcome development when one Kevin Lloyd launched his astounding scheme to discover the "Zine of the Year". Lloyd, readers may recall, was one of the wreckers who tried unsuccessfully to sabotage the 1987 Zine Poll. Terrorism having failed, he resorted to guile with his own poll - 'at last, a poll for the whole hobby,' he barfed to anyone who'd listen. In actual fact of course, the Zine of the Year Poll attempted to cover no less than four different hobbies, and was an abject failure in every single one. The total number of voters amounted to just 21 per hobby. In addition he used a discredited methodology and deduced unsound conclusions from his results. Poor Lloyd. Poor, foolish Lloyd." 

In the end the future of the ZotY Poll has turned out quite rosy- it went through several formulations and since Mark Boyle took it over it has gone from strength to strength - though some of his tactics are questionable (but what would you expect). One way Mark has helped achieve a high number of voters is by putting back the Poll deadline to give him time to persuade more people to vote (even though if it means that a different zine wins) and he has also been known to send out SAEs to people who haven't voted to boost the numbers further. At the end of the day, the relative success of the ZotY Poll has to a large extent proved Piggott right - it is in effect the Sports Zine Poll that Piggott always claimed someone should run, the ballots cast from outside the sports hobby having the same sort of marginal effect as the sports votes did on the Diplomacy Zine Poll in the 1980s. The only difference is that it fails to call itself the Sports Zine of the Year Poll, because that is what it really is. 

As it happened the 1998 Zine Poll was to be Piggott's last. John's contribution to the postal Diplomacy hobby has always come and gone in spurts and he just never got around to organising the Poll in 1989. By the time of MidCon in November 1989 it was clear that Piggott wasn't going to do anything, so a group of people at MidCon agreed that Iain Bowen should do so. This was greeted with general support, though Brian Creese did voice some objection to the coup in NMR! 109: "a faceless, and nameless, cabal appears to have decided that Iain Bowen should run the poll along with his own zine and Mission from God. No doubt it seemed a sensible decision to these people - whoever they are - at the time." 

But more of this next time.

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 33


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