Such is the opening phase. Players enthusiastically role-play in their newfound quasi-historical personas and draft their longest letters, amicably hail their fellow opponents and deliberate night after night on their best course of inaugural action. This is usually the highest watermark of the game for all players.
The middle game tells a different story. Some players have either been mercilessly crushed and eliminated or find themselves subservient in a hopeless power-struggle for their last center(s). Pleasantries at this time will have waned, along with enthusiasm, and many players are probably already seeking out a new game. Worse for those in their death throes is the stigma that there is to be no concession of any kind: that their participation in the game should require even more commitment (in emails, strategy, time), when there may be nothing left to do (or care to do) than act as "kingmaker" or submit consecutive "Hold" orders week after week.
My question is this: what can be done to promote an enjoyable game for all players for the duration of the game? I've played lots of boardgames lately that have NO elimination factor, games such as "Last Night on Earth", "El Grande", "Railroad Tycoon" (to name a few) and invariably I find that these face-to-face games are always well-received by all. Even when you're certain you can't win, there's always SOMETHING you can do to make your final result better. All the games listed above keep all players engaged encourage trailing players to try something new next turn or avoid an early mishap, etc. This is not to say that the "one chip and a chair" maxim of Poker isn't applicable to Diplomacy: it IS possible for a one center Austria to defy the odds and win the game (who was that on Redscape anyways?)
So, with the new automated system coming online soon, there will be a change to develop original variants for it. Let me state unequivocally that there will be games of Standard Diplomacy supported for as long as I'm legally allowed to do so. However, I'd love to branch out and embrace more variants - particularly Tom's brilliant Explore!, WWIV, and NWO - variants at first, as these offer much more leeway for players in the mid-game and "small frys" to impact the game disproportionately related to their size. My ultimate goal though is to host a game type (of Diplomacy) that keeps ALL players equally engaged and dangerous until the curtain falls.
Let me know your thoughts on this matter. If you have any variant suggestions, please post them in the "Variant Lab" forum (we can start a new topic) instead of posting them here; I'd prefer to keep this discussion focused on what longtime Diplomacy players think of my interpretation of Standard Diplomacy and why I think it has serious drawbacks as an "enjoyable" game for all.