When he was a younger man doing sketch comedy in Cleveland, a local arts critic never failed to describe him as beefy, to the point where he became known to friends as Beefy Nate Cockerill. I wonder how she feels about him now that he’s the North American Diplomacy Champion.
I hope Beefy will share his thoughts on the weekend. What follows are mine.
Meghan and I went to the Bears game Thursday night. I didn’t get to bed until around 12:30. Our scheduled departure time for the long road trip to Silver Spring, Maryland, for the North American Diplomacy Championship at Tempest in a Teapot was 2 a.m., so I set my alarm for 1:30.
Around 1:45, showered but a little shell-shocked, I headed downstairs to wake Kevin and was shocked to find him still up playing video games. Both of us were going to start this trip exhausted. We loaded the car and headed out front to wait for Nate.
Within seconds, Nate pulled up with Mike Morrison. Mike lives in Hyde Park on Chicago’s south side, but he happened to be up north that night, so he dropped in on the Red Lion in hopes of finding Nate there. He did. So, Nate didn’t get any sleep either.
Despite not having a bag and having plans for the weekend, Mike briefly toyed with the idea of joining us but thought better of it, so right on schedule, Nate, Kevin and I hit the road at 2 a.m. By 2:03, we were on the highway, and by 2:15, Kevin was fast asleep in the backseat.
Nate held out till 3:15, and thus began what I’m calling The Lonely Road Trip.
I stopped three times in the first five hours. At the second stop near Toledo, an armored car pulled up and emptied a crew of convicts on garbage duty. I stopped, looked at them, then back at the car, and thought, "This could go horribly wrong." But the bathroom beckoned.
In short order, we were back on the road. We had breakfast east of Cleveland. From that point on, Kevin was up, but he spent the rest of the ride on his Gameboy and was of little use to me. Nate, meanwhile, went back to sleep. He’d wake up every couple of hours to ask if I was all right and then would quickly fall back to sleep.
The rain started near Pittsburgh and was a constant companion the rest of the way. The drive was not easy, but we reached the Silver Spring Sheraton, home of the con, at 2:15 local time.
We checked in, got our badges, and then took the hotel shuttle a few blocks to an outdoor mall with a ton of dining options. We chose Noodles & Company.
I got an hour nap in before the first round, and at about 6:30 p.m., the 2013 DipCon kicked off with four boards.
I drew the one that elicited the loudest reaction from the room. I was Italy. Three of my neighbors played in the world championship game last year: Robert Rousse was Austria, Peter Yeargin was France, and Doc Binder was Turkey. Graham Woodring was England, and the Russian was Edi Birsan. The only unknown on the board was poor Steve Wilcox in Germany.
I couldn’t get any traction in the game. I committed to an A/I, but Robert never fully trusted me. I lucked into Munich in 1902 for my fifth center and built F Naples. I wanted to go after France, who built F Marseilles. In the East, Austria had been vacilating and was now working more with Turkey than Russia. Nevertheless, he wanted me to hit Turkey and pledged to join in.
Two factors pushed me east. The first was England’s strong position. I figured an attack on France would hand him the board-top. The second was Peter himself. He came to me right before the deadline and said he’s send his fleets after England if I’d agree to move against Turkey. I agreed, and we both moved as promised.
By 1904, I was in position to take Constantinople with Austria’s help. However, Austria’s skittishness had caused him to cover Trieste and now Venice was in jeopardy. To hold Con, one of us would have to back fill the Aegean. We each wanted the other to do it. He refused to vacate Greece, and I didn’t want to leave the Ionian, so neither of us back-filled.
I was more worried about an Austrian stab than the two Russian units on Munich. Just two turns earlier, Edi had told me and Graham that we were the only players who hadn’t lied to him. I thought that would mean something to Edi, so I opted to send my two armies to Ven and Tyo. Austria didn’t stab and Russia did.
I took Con but couldn’t hold it. Turkey reclaimed it in the Fall, and that same turn, France moved on Tunis. I disbanded and spent the rest of the game trying to ensure that Peter got no more than Tunis.
The game ended in Spring 1907. I finished in sixth with three centers. In the rank-based Carnage system, that result gave me 2,003 points. Graham topped and earned 7,009. The key result was Edi’s. He split fourth and fifth place with Doc; they each earned 3,504 points.
Kevin drew Turkey on the first board and got jumped on by all three neighbors. He was eliminated in 1903 to finish seventh and get the 1,000 "thanks for playing" points.
Despite his 10 hours of sleep on the Lonely Road trip, Nate didn’t fare much better as Germany on Kevin’s board. He finished in fifth place with three centers. His three was worth 3,003 points.
Kevin went to bed around 11 and slept soundly. After our games, Nate and I joined Peter, Graham, Doc and Dave Maletsky outside for cigars and kitbitizing. I was in bed by about 2.
Saturday’s round started at 10 a.m., and with a coffee (there was a Starbuck’s at the hotel) and a muffin in hand, I was ready to go. Kevin, on the other hand, was demoralized. He wanted no part of the second round and didn’t surface downstairs until around noon.
This round was the team round, but the tournament handled team selection a little differently, and I think I like the change. Instead of asking for teams before seeding the boards, which throws a wrench into the natural randomization of the boards, they seeded the boards and then gave us time to form teams. Canadian Mike Hall and I quickly formed a team, and we pulled in Nate Cockerill. Mike dubbed us Two Weasels and a Canuck, and Nate reported the team to the officials.
For this round, I drew Russia, a country I enjoy playing outside of Chicago, and although my tactics weren’t sharp, I had a good game. Working with Rick Desper in Austria, I got out to 10 centers by 1904. At that point, I tried my usual tactic in the Carnage system of trying to pass an early draw.
Diplomacy players are a pessimistic lot and often will take the result in hand. But at least one player thought he could do better, so the game continued. I was knocked back to nine the next year. In Fall 1906, I was sitting in two new dots and had a shot at catching Jason Mastbaum’s France for the board top, but Kevin really wanted to hang out with me, so I was pushing for a draw. Another one had failed in the Spring, but when it was reproposed that Fall, it passed, so I finished on nine and in second. During the post-game discussion, we learned that the Turk, the same Steve Wilcox from my first-round game, had misunderstood the instructions and had cast the wrong vote.
So, after the game, a group of us walked down to the mall and had a nice lunch at McGinty’s Pub.
When we got back to the hotel, Kevin and I saw Nate sitting with a group in the bar, so we walked up and asked how he he did.
"I soloed," he said.
"Against us," said Graham and Christian Pedone.
My tactics may have been poor on the board, but when it comes to picking teammates, they’re impeccable. Nate’s was the only solo of the round, so despite Mike’s last-place finish, we were team champions. Last year at World’s, I was also carried to the team title by a partner who soloed (Matt Shields).
I didn’t catch the other two results of the round, so I was hoping that my second-place Russia was in contention for Best Russia.
Saturday night was open. Kevin and I headed to Baltimore to visit our cousins. Jane (my cousin) and John McCall have three kids: Kristina, who’s a sophomore in high school; Jack, in eighth grade and six months older than Kevin; and Sophia, who is 8 and has been battling leukemia for the past year and a half. Fortunately, she’s winning the fight, and during most of our visit, she was actually at a birthday party next door. A great sign.
Jane’s sister Carrie was in California on business, but her husband, Chris Sapienza, and their two boys, Christopher and Nicholas, joined us at the McCalls’ for dinner. Kevin had a great time playing with the boys, and the adults and Kristina laughed around the dinner table for at least an hour after the table had been cleared.
After the Sapienzas left, we played Telestrations, a fun party game that’s a cross between Pictionary and telephone tag. It was a great visit and a nice break from Diplomacy.
Kevin and I had a nice chat on the drive home, which was another treacherous trek through the rain. (And thanks, by the way, to Andy "Buffalo" Bartalone, who happens to live about 15 minutes from the McCalls and gave us great directions to their place.) After a quick start to his Diplomacy career, Kevin has taken his lumps recently, and this latest defeat really discouraged him.
"Dad," he said, "I really want to like Diplomacy. I really do. But it’s no fun getting pounded."
"Well, do you want to take a chance that tomorrow will be a better day, or would you prefer to do something else?" I asked.
"I’d rather just hang out with you," he said.
Sunday was my birthday, I was due either England or France, and I really, really wanted to work in some Smeagol references.
"Give me Belgium."
"But I found Belgium. It’s mine."
"It’s my birthday, and I wants it."
But this road trip and the one to DixieCon over Memorial Day weekend were about bonding with my boy, not playing Diplomacy. At least that’s what I had been saying. And now I had to back that up. Plus, we were staring at a long drive home after the awards ceremony, so I said, "All right, let’s sleep in and then play other games."
When we got back to the hotel, we found a group to play Resistance, which Kevin had gotten from his mother for his birthday (Oct. 17). It’s a fun game that uses the Mafia/Werewolf mechanic. We played three games of it, and despite the long odds (27 in 512), I drew the spy role in all three games. We managed only one victory.
Before falling asleep at around 2, Nate and I talked about his solo, and he gave the kind of frank, open analysis that Diplomacy players too infrequently share. I hope he’ll write about that game here.
I slept until 10:45 and Kevin and I checked in on the games. There were four more, and Edi Birsan’s huge Germany appeared to be the only challenge to Nate’s victory. In the Carnage system, a solo wins the tournament against any combination of results that doesn’t include a solo. I also noted that Graham had the only large Russia. He stole Best France from me in the final round at Dixie and looked like he might do it again here. (As it turns out, Chris Martin had topped with 10 centers in the second round, one of the two results I hadn’t seen, so I wasn’t in the running for Best Russia.)
Kevin and I walked to the mall for lunch. By the time we returned, Edi’s board had conceded the solo to him in 1904. He was at 11 centers.
Or at least that’s what everyone thought. But while at the scoring table, I happened to catch a glimpse of the score sheet, and he was being credited with an 11-center board top.
Eventually we learned that the tournament rules did not permit conceded solos. That hadn’t been made clear to the players on Edi’s board, nor did the tournament official understand that the players were trying to concede a solo, not just end the game.
This confusion caused some anxious moments for Edi and Nate as they awaited a ruling. As it turns out, even with the solo, Edi would have fallen short of Nate. Nate was eliminated in his final game but still got the 1,000 seventh-place points. So, in addition to his solo score, he recorded 4,003 points for the tournament. Edi scored those 3,504 points on my board in Round 1, but he was on Nate’s solo board in Round 2 and, in fact, was on Team Cockerill at the end of that game. In a solo game, all the other players score 0 points.
So the Concession Controversy was really a controvery over second place, not first. The officials ruled against the concession, and Edi finished out of the money but had a Best Germany for his troubles.
After the awards ceremony, we said our goodbyes and hit the road. On the way back, Nate and Kevin were much better companions, and consequently, we made three stops instead of five.
The best stop was the first one in Pennsylvania. While in line at a Burger King, a man noted Nate’s cap, and said, "That’s a cool hat. Are you of Irish heritage."
"No," Nate said. "But I am the North American Diplomacy Champion."
The man was quite impressed by that, and when Nate walked away, he turned to his girlfriend and said, "Did you hear that? That guy is the North American Champion for Diplomacy."
"That would be great if I knew what it meant," his girlfriend said.
Nate would later comment that he thought the guy was hitting on him.
"I thought so, too," I said.
Nate better get used to it.
We made it home in 10 hours and 30 minutes. I did all the driving. Nate got all the glory. And he deserves it.
Kevin, meanwhile, is a pretty resilient kid. On Sunday at the awards ceremony, he turned to me and said, "So, are we going to drive to WAC?"
He’ll be back for more at the Royale.