Diplomacy (aka "Dippy") is a multiplayer board game of deceit and treachery, of broken promises and shattered dreams --- in other words, it's a lot like real life. There are many places online to read about the hobby and its history (e.g., http://www.diplomacy-archive.com/index.html , http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/DiplomacyWorld/10years.htm , http://www.badpets.net/Diplomacy/AtoZ/ , etc.).
My own affair with Dippy began more than three decades ago when, through a chain of events lost in the fog of memory, a copy of Graustark fell into my hands. It consisted of half a dozen typewritten and mimeographed pages, stapled together, carefully designed to weigh a hair less than an ounce so that the bundle could be sent for minimal postage to a few hundred subscribers. On the sheets were inscribed mystic incantations: "F MAR-LYO", "A MOS-WAR", "F ENG C A LON-BRE", "A SER S TURKISH A BUL-GRE", and the like. There were also inscrutable press releases --- "The Czar has a hankering for Yorkshire pudding this spring!" for example.
You see, Graustark was a play-by-mail Diplomacy journal, lovingly called a Dippy 'zine and produced every two or three weeks by City University of New York physics professor John Boardman. On the back of every issue was the motto:
**O P E R A T I O N** **A**t **G**reat **I**ntervals **T**his **A**ppears **T**o **I**rritate **O**ptic **N**erves
... "Operation Agitation". Why? I have no idea. But I still remember that acrostic pattern.
Although I had never seen a Diplomacy board nor read a description of the rules, by analyzing my first issue of Graustark I was able to deduce much of the core structure of the game. The board was clearly based on a map of Europe. Three-letter abbreviations corresponded to place names: BER = Berlin, SWE = Sweden, BAL = Baltic Sea, etc. There were armies and fleets, no more than one to a space, which could move to adjacent zones, attack one another, support nearby units in attack or defense, and dislodge pieces that were outnumbered.
Once I figured out that much, I was hooked. I bought a Dippy set in a local hole-in-the-wall store, sent in my entry fee to Boardman, and soon was involved in a game that he ran by mail. The pace of events was by turns glacial and frenzied: interminable waiting for the 'zine to arrive, blitzkrieg mailing of letters to allies and enemies, hours of staring at the board and planning tactics, convoluted conspiring with and against one another, and ultimately arriving at a set of moves to submit to the gamesmaster. Then, a week of breath-holding until the results arrived in the next issue. Repeat.
After a year, one contest wasn't enough --- so I began another, then another. The role-playing part of the game, including fantasy news bulletins and good-natured ribbing of other players, added to the fun. I subscribed to other Dippy 'zines, but found them less satisfactory than Graustark. The competition tended to lack Boardman's sophisticated humor, ran games with less precision, and were generally less professional in content and production.
Eventually, as do all infatuations, my obsession with Diplomacy faded. I finished up my postal games but still played occasionally over-the-board. Many years later when email became available I tried that medium, both with computerized "judges" and with human referees to run the competitions. It was entertaining, but by then I had too many other things to do with my life --- family, work, reading, thinking, and so forth. I began to feel guilty about spending the many hours per week that a game demanded in order to be well-played. I also grew to dislike the lying and manipulation of other players, even in a fantastical context.
Dippy is, I have come to believe, a younger person's passion or an older person's pastime. Over the years I've learned a lot from it, but at least for now it's not for me. Maybe again some day ...