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Subject: Of Chess and Dice and Black Holes rss

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Randall Bart
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Before my wetware archives wither away, I would like to note for posterity a part I played in the history of Diplomacy variants. It's a story about Chess, dice, and award winning stupidity.

The story begins about 1972 in the math office (room H-1) of Granada Hills High School. In the office were a Chess set and two dice of differing colors. Tony Hecht and someone else wanted to make the outside more valuable in Chess. They created a game called Black Hole Chess. After every move they rolled the dice, and one square of the middle 36 of the board became a black hole. The piece was eliminated, and they put a black hole marker on the square. Pieces that made multispace moves could move over a black hole, but you could not stop there.

Many months later I read an article on Dippy variants by Lewis Pulsipher. I wrote a letter in response which was published in a widely read Dippy zine (Hoosier Archives or Pulsipher's Blood and Iron or possibly both). I wrote about some variants our group had played, and some we had discussed but not played. The paper was in the typewriter and I just kept typing to fill the write space. I took a Chess variant and turned it into a Diplomacy variant.

Black Hole Diplomacy: After each season, randomly choose one of the 75 provinces of the board. That space becomes impassible (like Switzerland), any unit or supply center is lost.

I soon was contacted by Conrad von Metzke. He gifted me a subscription to his Dippy zine and put me in a game. He offered to put me in a second game, which I declined. He begged me to play a second game. I said I would play a second game only if my country was named UFPDRIKON (United Federated People's Democratic Republic of the Inner Kingdom of Outer Nowhere), and a second game was played on those terms.

Soon I heard that several Black Hole games had started in several postal zines, and that it had been played face to face in many places. There was a mail in ballot for some annual awards to be announced at some convention. The winner for Variant Design of the Year was Black Hole Diplomacy. I don't recall all the details, but I do recall very specifically the word "design". I don't know if my name (I went by Randolph in Dippy circles) was associated with the award. No one specifically told me about it, I read it in a Dippy zine (probably Hoosier Archives).

As an egotist who brags very much about pages 134-136 of Connection Games and would very much like to go down in the history of game design, one might think I am all and and cool about this and I would certainly have made a big effort over the decades to be sure everyone associated the name Randall or Randolph Bart with Black Hole Diplomacy. Well, I certainly would, except blush for something I could have told you in the few seconds between when I conceived this variant and when I committed it to paper:

Black Hole Diplomacy gulp

I voted for 1776. I was shake just seeing Black Hole on the ballot, and yuk when it won. The games in von Metzke's zine and others were abandoned after just a few turns. I said the game is always a stalemate but never a draw, and I said that to von Metzke before the games started. FTF players found that soon there was no space to maneuver, and you just kept turning cards (rolling dice/whatever) until someone was last man standing. Better Diplomacy skill increased your chance of owning that last supply center, just as Killer Bunny skill increases your chance of having a magic carrot.

I designed Black Hole Diplomacy. To the best of my knowledge, no postal game of the game I designed was played to completion and no FTF group played it twice. Black Hole Diplomacy was Variant Design of year. wow I must be leaving out part of the story.

Black Hole create quite a in the rather close knit world of postal Diplomacy. Everyone who was interested in Dippy variants heard about it, and those who were willing to add randomness to the game all wanted to try it. They didn't want to take two years to find out how a postal game goes, they wanted to play now. Several people made stacks of 75 cards or tables for rolling dice, they got together the gaming gang and played. They found it was snore yet they were still for the concept of randomly changing the map.

The game that then emerged is properly called White Hole Diplomacy. In Black Hole, the eliminated space is impassable, like Switzerland. In White Hole it becomes a free move space. If Burgundy is gone, an army can move from Munich to Paris in one turn. It can also support.

We don't know who invented White Hole Diplomacy. It likely was invented by several people in several places over the space of a few weeks. Most people continued using the name Black Hole Diplomacy, but the game that people played and liked and played again was actually White Hole. White Hole was not on the ballot; Black Hole was.

From there, people came up with other map morphing variants. Turn land to sea, turn sea to land, combine two provinces, split a province in two, and even the wandering dot. There were hyperspace variants which can't be represented in two dimensions. It all began with a Chess set and a pair of 16.
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