Thursday, 03 August 2017 14:44

Always a Weasel

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Over the years, two boards' worth of dedicated, active players have stabbed the club by leaving town. Some are now playing with other clubs, others show up on the tournament circuit now and again. None of them are former Weasels. No, we call them ex-pats, because our club will always be their home. 

Last night, we welcomed back Christian MacDonald, who now lives in Vancouver. MacDonald joined the Weasels late in our third season and quickly took the club by storm. In our fourth season, the first one that featured a league with running standings, he finished third. He also ran for and was elected to the charter Sneak that year, tied for second in games played, and won the first tournament he ever attended (the Buckeye Game Fest).

MacDonald is a good guy, a great player, and a visionary. While serving on the Sneak, he drafted a statement that still serves as an excellent guide for what the North American hobby could and should be. So when he moved away in 2011, it stung.

Game No. 346, played last night in MacDonald's honor at Diversey River Bowl during a Top Chef viewing party, started after 7 p.m. The late start gave us a chance to catch up, which was nice. (His son, Beckett, whose arrival forced him to curtail his Dipping, is 7 now, believe it or not. We're getting old.)

Anyway, once the game started, the reality of being an ex-pat hit home. MacDonald was Sundstromed and finished with two centers.

The game ended by time limit after the Fall 1906 turn in the following center counts: 

Austria (Brandon Fogel): 6; 13.846 points
England (Christian Kline): 2; 1.538 points
France (Brian Shelden): 2; 1.538 points
Germany (Jim O'Kelley): 12; 55.385 points
Italy (Ted McClelland): 8; 24.615 points
Russia (Christian MacDonald): 2; 1.538 points
Turkey (Chris Kelly): 2; 1.538 points

For O'Kelley, the game was the white whale he had been chasing all season--the big result he needed to contend for a record 10th straight Royale appearance. He started the evening in 10th place but now sits comfortably in third with two scheduled events remaining. 

The supply center chart is here. Players, how about your thoughts?

Read 2019 times Last modified on Monday, 04 September 2017 10:05
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# Jim O'Kelley 2017-08-03 16:22
As noted above, Chris Kelly (Turkey) Sundstromed our special guest (Russia) in Spring 1901. This while Brandon Fogel's hedgehog (Austria) parried Ted McClelland's dive into Trieste (Italy) and Christian Kline (England) and Brian Shelden (France) bounced in the Channel.

And there I was, sitting quietly in the middle of the board, all that animosity and mistrust roiling around me.

Now, when you're hitting on all cylinders, you don't even need to listen to the orders being read. You know what everyone else is doing because you've influenced their moves. This wasn't one of those games. To steal a line from Jay Trotter in the great film Let it Ride, sometimes you're walking around lucky and don't even know it.

Ted and I had talked about Trieste, so I knew that one was coming, but all those other big moves were news to me. I was Spring 1901's big winner, and it was purely by chance.

In the Fall, I played the Skag-Denmark continuation (The Jutland Gambit?), and I was able to parlay that into Sweden and a pretty strong position in 1902.

Other than the uber-friendly opening, I think the two key turns for me were Fall 1903 and Fall 1904.

In Spring 1903, I took Norway from Russia and Belgium from France. Neither center was secure. I fully expected to be kicked out of Norway. Both Christians were telling me that they were going to put the Kline Christian in. I was more optimistic about Belgium, as Kline had hatched a plot to yield St. Pete the next year and was offering to cut the Channel now to seal the deal.

As it turns out, I kept both centers. Instead of supporting the Brits in, MacDonald tried to take Norway for himself. The result was a beleaguered garrison.

As for Belgium, Kline cut the Channel, so I held the center and forced Burgundy.

I built armies in Munich and Berlin and marched them to Silesia and Prussia in the Spring. Warsaw was queued up and ready to fall ... except that Ted had moved armies to Tyrolia and Bohemia.

The safe play was to support a unit back to Munich, and I was able to persuade Brian that that's what I intended to do, so he was willing to convoy to Wales instead of cover Paris.

Near the end of the turn, though, I had an interesting conversation with Chris. He told me that Ted was miffed that he had been asked to use two units to slow me down while exposing Venice to assault from Trieste.

I decided to gamble that he would cover Venice rather than use two units to attack Munich. The gamble paid off.

Burgundy walked to Paris as Picardy convoyed to Wales, Prussia supported Silesia to Warsaw, and Ruhr bounced Bohemia out of Munich while Tyrolia scurried back to Venice.

Two more builds, and a commanding five-center lead over my closest pursuers. For the rest of the game, I was fighting everyone but Kline and Kelly, but I had plenty of options and was able to grab centers and keep growing despite losing Munich and Warsaw.

I played well and certainly more aggressively than anyone else on the board, but sometimes it's not the moves you make but the ones your opponents don't or do that dictate success.

I was lucky. And I'll take it.
# Jake Trotta 2017-08-04 13:18
Quoting Jim O'Kelley:

I played well and certainly more aggressively than anyone else on the board, but sometimes it's not the moves you make but the ones your opponents don't or do that dictate success.


Germany in a nutshell. As a Wise Old Weasel once said, "Do play with confidence. You're Germany. The black pieces should be respected."
# Ted McClelland 2017-08-04 14:49
Risking Munich to take Warsaw was a gutsy move. Jim deserved his board top.

I thought, based on my conversations, that there was no chance I could take Munich, because Jim was going to defend it with two pieces. Furthermore, I figured I'd done my work for the AIR by putting armies in Tyr and Boh, thus preventing Jim from attacking Warsaw. For me, there was risk with no chance of reward. Obviously, I trusted Brandon more as the game went on. Later, I supported him into Munich with both those armies while his fleet was still in Tri. There was no reward for me, but still the threat of losing Venice.
+1 # Ted McClelland 2017-08-03 21:38
I took some grief for not taking Munich -- and gave myself some. The fact is, I a) didn't think a supported attack would succeed, and b) as a result, didn't think it was worth risking Venice. Brandon had recently built a fleet in Trieste, which I regarded as anti-Italian. (I don't think that fleet ever moved, or even supported a unit.) Our alliance hadn't reached a level of trust. And frankly, I wasn't as into the idea of having Munich as Russia and Austria were into me having it. I couldn't have held it in the long run, and it would have extended my armies in a direction I didn't want to go. If I had taken it, I would have built an army in Venice, which probably would have been as active as Brandon's fleet. I can understand why Brandon and Christian wanted to knock Jim down a peg, but he was never a threat to me during the game.

After moving against each other on the first turn, Austria and I patched things up enough to ally against Turkey. Although when I took Smyrna and Turkey took Bulgaria, Brandon retreated to my vacated center in Greece. I vetoed a draw in the fall of 1905, and went up three centers in 1906. I took Constantinople and told Brandon I was walking back into Greece. "You're already in the Royale," I said. "I need the points." That seemed to satisfy him. A few turns earlier, I had supported Austria into Munich. In the final turn, Jim's Germany offered to support me into Munich. I took it. Eight centers. Not bad for Italy.
+1 # Brandon Fogel 2017-08-03 23:56
I think the main reason you want to fight Jim there is not that he might eventually threaten your centers but that he'll prevent you from topping. You needed to trust that I wouldn't dot you, but there are often moments like that in alliances. I had more to gain by not dotting you than by doing it, and you just needed to trust that I would see that. The same was true for you, which is why you didn't take a swipe at Vienna.

Your position was quite good at that moment. You had no enemies, France was collapsing, everyone was worried about Germany, and there were plenty of possible expansion sites. A fairly small strategic risk would have paid off handsomely.
# Jim O'Kelley 2017-08-04 07:01
I've been trying to teach Kevin to use the board as a filter for what the players are saying. For a game that swings on treachery and betrayal, he tends to place too much faith in relationships.

The challenge is learning to distinguish between possibility and likelihood and how to value the latter over the former. If you permit possibility to filter out every deal you're offered, you won't get anything done.

In my game, there was a turn when Kline lobbied me hard to move to Finland. I was worried that he'd follow to Sweden. Then I realized that I was digging in because of a possible move, not a likely one. I moved to Finland. The play never developed, but it was one more small move that helped keep an important janissary on side.
+1 # Brandon Fogel 2017-08-03 23:48
Congrats to Jim for getting a good result and securing a place in the Royale. A great lion can’t be chained indefinitely.

I should probably have some regrets about my play this game, but, well, I don’t. The main pivot was an early build decision that was both terrible and made with eyes wide open. As Austria, I built a fleet at the end of 1902.

On novelty as strategy
I remember a game at last year’s Pyle where Jake, as Germany, moved armies east earlier than seemed wise. “I wanted to try crossing the stalemate line with an ally,” he said at the time. “It’s a good tool to have in the box.”

I thought to myself, “Trying something new merely for the sake of trying something new is dumb.”

And then last night I found myself, at the end of 1902, with two builds, a solid Russian ally, a France with fleets in the Mediterranean, and a vacant Trieste. Even with all that, building a fleet looked like an objectively terrible idea. It would needlessly piss off Italy, with whom I’d developed a functional if uncomfortable working relationship (he’d made a play for Tri in S01 and then just violated a Ven/Tri DMZ in F02). It would do little to endear me to Turkey, with whom I had just begun to spar in F02. It should please Russia, but also leave me with little leverage over him; he could easily decide an RT would suit him better and then I’d have no allies. Finally, Germany had a build and EF were fighting, meaning Germany was free to use the build to meddle in the east.

“In a normal game, you would never build a fleet here,” I said to myself. “But since you don’t need this score for the league standings, why not try something new?” You know, just for the sake of trying something new.

It was dumb. I don’t regret it. I’ll never do it again.

On consequences
Russia turned on me immediately, causing me to lose Rumania to him and Bulgaria to the Turks, even though I was willing to give him Rumania in a way that would have allowed me to keep Bulgaria. He said he thought the expansion opportunities were better in an RT than an AR. He never advanced beyond Rumania.

By that point, Germany was capitalizing on the death match between Kline and Shelden in England and France, and Shelden made a critical tactical error. After getting displaced from Burgundy in F03, he pulled the piece off the board, thinking he could rebuild the unit in Marseilles or Paris and throw a little uncertainty into Germany’s build. But he forgot that he was going down a center from the loss of Belgium, and so he was left with one army to defend his home centers.

This forced a quick reorientation on the east. Our solution was an AIR to fight Jim and prevent Turkey from reaping the benefits. The plan worked moderately well; Jim crossed the stalemate line but only temporarily and at the eventual loss of Munich. Had Italy taken Munich in F04 or not misordered an attack on Smyrna in S05, or had we done better tactically against Jim in 1905, the final margin would have been closer and Italy might even have topped.

On risk and reward
Ted’s decision in F04 to cover Venice rather than support himself into Munich was the subject of much postgame discussion. Chris Kelly (Turkey) vehemently argued that Russia and I had been unreasonable in asking Ted to leave Ven exposed while swinging at Munich. We were asking him to take on all the risk for uncertain gain, he said. What should have happened, in his opinion, was that Russia and I should have moved our armies to the stalemate line, trusting that he and Italy wouldn’t gobble us up.

I was unconvinced then and still am. Italy had five units, I had four, and Russia had only two armies in the south. My unit in Tri was a fleet. I could have swiped Ven (in a strategically shortsighted move of the sort I never do; then again, I would never build a fleet as Austria in 1902). And then … I could have kept the fleet in Ven. On the other hand, my four centers could have been gobbled up in one or two years had I moved out. We were asking Italy to take a comparatively small risk. I was also risking Vie by having Italian armies in Boh and Tyl, so it was not all on Italy. As it turned out, I did not try to swipe Venice and Germany did not protect Munich.

Kudos to Chris and Jim for quality diploming that turn. Chris admitted afterward that he had worked hard to convince Ted that I would go for Venice and then had told Jim that Ted planned to cover rather than go for Munich, freeing him up to make a supported attack on Warsaw.

I think if Ted keeps faith there, he eventually challenges for the board top. Germany got a crucial build that prevented us from threatening Ber the following year. So instead of stalling, Jim kept on growing. And Ted would have gotten a build he might have leveraged into Marseilles or eventually Trieste.

The big lesson for me here? Never under any circumstances build a fleet as Austria in 1902. Unless you just want to try something new.
# Jim O'Kelley 2017-08-04 07:05
As I remarked in Spring 1903, if ever there were a time to try an early F Trieste, that was it.
# Brandon Fogel 2017-08-04 09:09
Conclusion: There's never a good time for an early F Trieste. (Barring a very friendly alliance player in Russia, I suppose.)

I wonder now if the status of the Black Sea also worked against me. Turkey had taken the Black in 02 and Russia expressed no interested in building a southern fleet in order to gain it himself. Perhaps a key to the early F Tri build is getting Russia to build an early southern fleet as well (also generally a bad idea).

In fact, I wonder if an early Russian F Sev build is necessary for an AR to work, from Austria's perspective. Without that, Austrian centers will always seem more accessible than Turkish ones.

Your thoughts? Should Russian refusal to build F Sev in the first 2-3 years be a deal-breaker for Austria in an AR?
# Jake Trotta 2017-08-04 13:14
Quoting Brandon Fogel:
Conclusion: There's never a good time for an early F Trieste....

In fact, I wonder if an early Russian F Sev build is necessary for an AR to work, from Austria's perspective. Without that, Austrian centers will always seem more accessible than Turkish ones.

Your thoughts? Should Russian refusal to build F Sev in the first 2-3 years be a deal-breaker for Austria in an AR?


Well that doesn't sound very "Zen of Diplomacy."

I think it can work (and most often does) without the second southern fleet. I find a lot of my ARs actually have Northern Fleet- Fleet Trieste builds happening simultaneously. Really, Eastern Alliances just have less of a script than those in the west. There's more dots next to each other, it's awkward, so each one is a little unique.
# Ted McClelland 2017-08-04 14:41
It seems like a bad idea to build F Tri unless a) you have a rock solid alliance or b) you plan to attack Italy. Since a was not the case, I assumed b. Any move it can make -- to Venice, Adriatic or Albania -- is threatening to Italy. If you had built an army and sent it off to Budapest or Serbia, I would have been much more inclined to throw everything at Munich.
# Ted McClelland 2017-08-04 15:07
alliance with Italy, I meant to say
# Jake Trotta 2017-08-04 13:12
Quoting Brandon Fogel:

I remember a game at last year’s Pyle where Jake, as Germany, moved armies east earlier than seemed wise. “I wanted to try crossing the stalemate line with an ally,” he said at the time. “It’s a good tool to have in the box.”

I thought to myself, “Trying something new merely for the sake of trying something new is dumb.”


Hey I split the top of that board! And should have had a big top had I not gotten irrationally frustrated with you.

But outside of defending my honor, I will also defend the "expand the toolbox" argument.

The scenario was I could have stabbed my ally for a bigger score, but it was the last game of the year and I wasn't within striking distance of catching the league leader (Brandon).

Instead I decided to try something different not "because it was dumb," but because crossing the stalemate line with an ally is something I'd seen at World's, but never had done. It wasn't because it was "new," it was because I had seen it work for someone else.

I didn't have anything to lose, so why not?

So while I wouldn't recommend passing up guaranteed scores or playing unconventional for the hell of it, the "toolbox" approach can help develop your game in the right context.
# Brandon Fogel 2017-08-05 11:41
Fair enough. I suppose one could argue that building a fleet too early has helped me develop a better sense of the appropriate time to build one. The Dip equivalent of muscle-memory training.

Conclusion: I now think "Because why the hell not?" is a fine justification for doing something in Dip. I'll put in the portfolio alongside "Because fuck him/her."
# Jim O'Kelley 2017-08-06 10:10
The ex-pat honor roll: Erica Alemdar, Aash Anand, Adam Berey, James Collins, Chris Davis, Greg Duenow, Matt Kade, Peter Lokken, Christian MacDonald, Ted McClelland and Peter Yeargin.

Honorable mention: Eamon Driscoll, Simon Marcelis, Nathaniel Olson and Gary Pryzbocki.

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