As we march toward our 100th game, we're going to revisit a classic Weasels article every five games. Today, we'll look at game No. 2, which was played at my old home in Chicago on Nov. 12, 2005. That game brought Andy Lischett, Nick Rohn and Barry Johnson into our mix.
Jim showed us his egg timer, we agreed to initial half hour negotiations, and Jim put seven colored blocks in a box top. As I reached over my head to pick a county, I jokingly said, “There’s only one green block in there, right?” and then I picked it. Bummer. Jim passed out name tags with out respective countries’ flags (Hi. My Name is Italy”), and we began.
The first person I talked to was Austria. Nick is very articulate and precise and suggested that we consider a plan whereby I (Italy) would move to Trieste in the Spring, then into Serbia with Austrian support in the Fall, and would forego taking Tunis in 1901 so that my fleet could swing toward Turkey unexpectedly and then Austria and I would take out Turkey quickly. I was all for it, until he pointed out that this was Turkey’s first game and maybe we didn’t want to discourage Deric from ever playing Diplomacy again. Softy that I am, I agreed, so Austria and I instead settled on non-aggression and a player to be named later.
Then I talked to France. I hate playing Italy. Scott is a nice guy with a cool car. I asked if he was going to attack me and he said he just wanted Spain and Portugal for now and to figure out who, up north, gets Belgium. We agreed to leave Piedmont empty and I said I would just do normal, dull Italian stuff and maybe work out a partnership with Austria, and maybe even move to Tyrolia if I could get any commitments against Germany, etc., etc. Then I talked separately to England and Germany, who were very cagey and ambiguous, with a lot of maybes. Do you want to attack France? Why, do you? Would Germany help? Would England help? Everything was iffy, with lots of hints but nobody ready to commit and me looking at a life sentence in Tunis.
Then I talked again to Austria, who I trusted already and asked what he thought of heading north into Germany if we could get Russian help. He told me that Russia and Turkey had been locked in a room for 25 minutes, and he—Austria—was nervous. So there I was with about three minutes to the deadline with no plan and no prospects. Three pairs of two players were off behind different closed doors conspiring against me as I stood alone in Jim’s dining room staring at the board and eating potato chips.
Twenty seconds before the deadline, Jim (“Hi. My name is Germany”) pulled me to a corner and said, “England will move to the Channel if you’ll move to Piedmont.” Deal.
So, I stabbed Scott by moving to Piedmont. He wasn’t happy, but neither was I. I’d taken Piedmont, but Scott had not moved from Marseilles, and my other army was in far off Naples, and my fleet was stupidly in Ionian. I apologized to Scott and he was very gracious, but I could tell he hated my guts. My near future, I was convinced, would be Tunis and beating uselessly on Marseilles and Spain while England and Germany turned their backs on France and went romping off to Russia. Those cads.
But they didn’t. Again just before the deadline, Jim whispered, “I think I’ve convinced Scott to bounce me in Burgundy with his Army Marseilles, but I won’t bounce him. Move to Marseilles,” and I did and I got in.
And that’s how the game went for the next couple of years. I built two in Fall ’01 and said I don’t think I’ve ever had that many centers as Italy. Austria stayed loyal, England and Germany did go romping off to Russia, but also helped in France. Russia was played by Barry, a nice guy with a gray beard and long gray hair and soft voice, who mentored the novice Deric/Turkey through the entire first negotiating period. Of course Deric stabbed Barry in Spring ’01, and after that the alliance structure—if there was any—among Austria, Turkey and Russia was impossible to decipher. But then, my universe was Iberia, so maybe the Balkans made sense.
At about 2:00 pm, November 12, 1903, we took a lunch break and ate beef sandwiches and chit chatted. Everyone razzed Jim for his musical taste, which was all female singers, but I kept quiet because 1) my favorite singer is Grace Slick, and 2) I’ve always liked girl groups(“It’s a cruel, cruel summer”), and 3) my Rock & Roll education basically stopped in the mid ’70s, and although I’ve heard of all of the groups they were discussing, I don’t think I could tell Hootie and the Blowfish apart from Dave Matthews or a whole bunch of other whiny singers. Someone jokingly asked Jim if he has any Mozart or Beethoven and I offered to get Mozart’s Requiem Mass from my car, but, fortunately, no one heard me.
As we finished our lunch and music critiques, Scott headed toward the kitchen and asked if anyone wanted anything. I said “Spain.”
We were now in the Mid-Game, and I got Spain. France was down to Brest and Belgium, while Germany took Paris. Portugal was still neutral! Italy (me), England (Jason) and Germany (Jim) were all healthy and buddy-buddy, while Austria (Nick) was semi-healthy, as was Turkey (Deric). This still made no sense, as Russia (Barry) was not as sickly as one would expect, especially since England and Germany were also coming at him, but again, to me east of Venice was Tasmania, and as long as Austria stayed in Tasmania I was happy.
However, with France crumbling I had to make a decision. East to Austria, or north to Germany, or north through and around France to England. Austria had been true to his word and I could see no way that attacking him would work. Austria agreed in principle to an alliance against Germany (who was up to 8 or 9), but was not yet settled enough in the East. No way would England consider stabbing Germany, and he was too stretched out to do it. That left England, who was in the same sort of position as I, looking for new frontiers, and who had reneged on a deal. Before the Fall turn in which I took Spain, Jason, Jim and I agreed that Jim would get Paris, Jason would get Brest, and I’d get Portugal, but when, the very next season in what I thought was a perfunctory conversation, I reminded Jason that I was to take Portugal, he said that I was welcome to it, but only if I ordered Tyr-Ion. I couldn’t do that, so we bounced in Portugal and the following season I moved F Tyr-Wes and my idling F Tun to North Africa. Also at about that time Jim stabbed England in Scandinavia, and soon I took Portugal and Brest and eventually London, and Germany took Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belgium and Scandinavia. Also around then Austria finally subdued Russia and/or Turkey, which leads us into the End-Game.
In about 1907-1908 Austria had 9 or 10, Germany had 10 or 11, I had 8, France was out, England was in Saint Petersburg, and Russia and Turkey split the rest.
Being one of three viable powers, I now had to ally with Austria against Germany or Germany against Austria. Nick had been loyal, had never lied and had provided valuable information and advice. Jim had been loyal, and only told a couple of tiny lies and had provided valuable, real support. Germany was bigger and I was out of position to stab Austria and defend against a stab by Germany, so I offered an alliance to Nick. He said soon, I said okay.
In Spring 1908 (that fateful year) I sailed into London (without promised support, Jim) as Nick ordered F Eas-Ion. It’s a good thing that Nick is a teacher rather than an actor, because his, “What!? I wrote East to Aegean, not Ionian. Let me see those orders. Oh, darn!” was not at all convincing. We went out on the dark and dreary front porch, and I told Nick that if he attacked me he would lose the game, as I would give all of my centers and support to Jim, even if Jim was allied with Nick. He said that he understood and would leave Ionian, and we went back to the dining room table where I announced that I was doomed, and inverted my Italian flag/name tag as a symbol of distress.
Yes, Nick left the Ionian, and yes, it was to the Tyrrhenian Sea (and yes, I had to look at the board to spell that). He walloped me and he walloped the remains of Russia and Turkey and by Fall 1909 it was Austria 15, Germany 12, Italy 6 and England 1. It was an excellent stab, but not excellent enough. I abandoned London, Brest and Portugal to the whims of Germany and blocked up the Mediterranean as Nick took Italy. After each of the remaining few seasons’ adjudications were read, Nick would take me outside and say that he saw that he’d been wrong, and that he could not get to 18, but that was no reason to let Germany win, and that by swinging my fleets back north we could stop Germany and force a three-way draw. Each time I said no, and each time Jim never touched my centers, but instead orchestrated a stalemate line to stop Austria. The line included Jason’s English fleet in St. Pete, although he’d changed it to Defunct Russian White to liven things up.
I proposed a 3-way draw and in a secret ballot it failed. Jim said that we should include Jason, so then a 4-way failed. We played another deadlocked turn and then another, and each time both draw proposals failed, with Nick (he later admitted) vetoing the 4-way, and Jason vetoing the 3-way because someone (could it possibly have been me?) foolishly suggested to him that if he were in Jason’s position he would veto any draw not including himself. … DIM: Draws Include Me.
Another motionless season was played and another pair of proposals died. Sitting around the table Nick insisted that he would vote against a 4-way, and Jim insisted that he would not knock out Jason.
Jim and I went off to a side room to “negotiate,” (like there were any secrets left) and then called in Jason. Jason, have a seat. Are you comfortable? Would you like something to drink, a pillow? If Jim’s not a salesman, he should be. He explained that he might veto the draw if he were in Jason’s position, and that he definitely would veto the draw were it a postal or e-mail game with long deadlines, but this was real-time, and we could sit out there rewriting the same orders for two more hours and be in the same place. Jason suggested that Jim take his center and Jim refused. Jim told Jason that it was up to him, and whatever he did would be fine. We then went back out, proposed a 3-way Austria/Germany/Italy draw, and seven and a half hours after the game began, it ended.
As I hope you can tell, I enjoyed the game a lot. It was a nice group of people who I’d just met (except Jim, who I officially met in 1993 at Brad Wilson’s Vertigo Games) and everyone played well. I even played well for me as Italy, although a lot of my success was maneuvered by Jim, I suspect, to keep the French and English rabble manageable.
Thanks, Jim, and if you feel like correcting any of the thousand or so errors in my account for next time, please do.
I left Jim’s at about 8:00 or 8:30 PM, and stopped on Irving Park Rd. for a couple of slices of pizza. The clerk looked at me funny, and only after I got home did I realize that I still had an Italian flag hanging around my neck.