Allan Calhamer, the inventor of Diplomacy, the game, recently passed away at the age of 81. He was an unusual fellow:
Allan Brian Calhamer was born on Dec. 7, 1931, in Hinsdale, Ill., and reared in La Grange Park; his mother was a teacher and his father an engineer.
As a boy, exploring the attic of the family home, Allan encountered a book of old maps and was captivated. On its pages, the past really was a foreign country, with evocative names — Livonia, Courland, the Ottoman Empire — that conjured a distant era. From that book, Mr. Calhamer said long afterward, Diplomacy would spring.
At Harvard, from which he graduated cum laude in 1953, the young Mr. Calhamer studied European history with Sidney Bradshaw Fay. Reading Professor Fay’s seminal 1928 book, “The Origins of the World War,” about back-room intrigue among the Great Powers, he thought, as he later recalled, “What a board game that would make!”
Mr. Calhamer developed his game, originally called Realpolitik, in 1954, while he was enrolled at Harvard Law School. Law students, he found, adored it, as it enfranchised aggression, and it was refined over many late-night sessions in his room.
Disinclined to pursue a cutthroat career, Mr. Calhamer left law school before graduating. He lived for a time at Walden Pond in homage to his idol, Henry David Thoreau; he later worked briefly as a foreign service officer in Africa and a park ranger at the Statue of Liberty.
In 1959, after Diplomacy was rejected by several game publishers, Mr. Calhamer had 500 copies produced at his own expense, selling them by mail for $6.95 apiece. It was acquired shortly afterward by Games Research and has since passed through many corporate hands, including those of Avalon Hill and Hasbro. The game is currently published by Wizards of the Coast, which also makes Dungeons & Dragons.
On the strength of Diplomacy, Mr. Calhamer was hired by Sylvania’s Applied Research Laboratory in Waltham, Mass., to bring his analytical stills to bear on real-world military problems. But he chafed amid corporate culture and left after six years. With his wife, the former Hilda Morales, he settled in his hometown. Besides his wife, whom he married in 1967, Mr. Calhamer’s survivors include two daughters, Tatiana Calhamer and Selenne Calhamer-Boling.
Mr. Calhamer remained deeply, if quietly, proud of Diplomacy, and though the royalties did not make him rich, they did once let him buy a Mercury Monarch. His other board games, never brought to market, include one in which, as Tatiana Calhamer described it on Monday, players move through dimensions of the space-time continuum.
For 21 years, until his retirement in the early 1990s, Mr. Calhamer delivered the mail in La Grange Park. He took pleasure, his family told The Chicago Sun-Times this week, in factoring into primes the license-plate numbers of cars on his route.
He almost certainly took pleasure, too — for this thought was doubtless not lost on him — in the idea that on any given day, slung unobtrusively over his shoulder, there might lurk a letter from one Great Power to another, filled with all the threats, blandishments and cunning hollow promises Diplomacy entails, awaiting delivery by its creator.