Back to Tempest 2016 AARs
This is the one game from the weekend that I’d really like to have back. I don’t think I’d play the other two much differently, but with this one, I can identify specific errors I made that prevented me from posting a big score. The opportunities were there, and my inability to take advantage of them exposed weaknesses in my game — for which I'm very grateful. This one was a good (if painful) learning experience.
I’ll boil my mistakes down to two significant diplomatic mistakes in the early game and a major strategic error in the mid-game. I don’t know that I top the board if I play better at any of those points, but I’m definitely in the running.
My first diplomatic mistake involved poor communication with England (Jim Yerkey). I had never played with any of the other players before, and I drew Germany. My S01 negotiations with France (Jay Heumann) were promising; he wanted a bounce in Bur but was interested in going to ENG. My negotiations with England, however, were icy. He wasn’t eager to talk to me, and, after I finally got him to chat, he didn’t seem at all interested in uniting against France. I wasn’t sure if he was biding time or just didn’t want me as an ally, but my opening was neutral and I figured I could collect more information after the moves. When France got into ENG, I thought, “Great! England will surely want to talk to me about going after France now. I’ll be able to play them off each other and pick a side. All I need is for England to express just a little bit of interest in working with me.”
As soon as negotiations started, England and I were left alone at the table sitting right next to each other. I decided I would perform a little test. I wouldn’t initiate conversation but would wait for him to do it. “He needs me more than I need him,” I thought. I just needed one little bit of initiative from him in order to feel more comfortable trusting him. Nothing. We sat there in awkward silence, eyes not straying from the board, for several minutes before other players returned and I went off to talk to people who actually wanted to speak with me.
Something very similar happened for two more turns, during which England worked with Russia against me while France advanced on him from behind. I finally broke the silence in F02 and asked him why he was so hell bent on attacking me. He replied, indignantly, that I hadn’t even tried to talk to him in 3 turns. My righteous indignation was an angry gorilla at that moment. He hadn’t EVER tried to talk to me!
I kept my irritation contained (as best I could, anyway). I quickly figured out there was little to be gained by talking about the nature of justice, so I probed to see if there was any way we could work together. He said I need to move on France and take Belgium, to which I agreed. I did take Belgium that turn (with France’s permission), but England still came after me, even with France surrounding his home centers. I didn’t get a chance to ask Jim later why he wanted to fight me his whole game (which didn’t last long), but I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten any satisfactory answer.
Even though I think Jim did more to poison our relationship than I did, I let him do it, and that’s something I had some control over. He may have needed me more than I needed him, but he was still useful to me. What was the big deal if he wanted me to initiate conversation? Sure, his initiating would have provided valuable information, but I let it be a litmus test, which unnecessarily constrained my options. Even worse, I failed to anticipate what his silence meant for the strategic situation in the north, namely that Russia (Chris Martin) had a very good alternative to me as an ally.
And that was my second major diplomatic error in the early game — I didn’t manage my relationship with Russia very well. I wanted to do the Nwy-Swe exchange in 02, but Russia hadn’t been able to build in Stp, meaning I would need to go to SKA to help him into Nwy. But our communication wasn’t great, and I failed to see that my going to SKA would make him nervous. We talked after the game, and he was surprised to find that I would have happily gone to HEL if I’d known he didn’t want me in SKA. So I failed to present myself to him as a good ally, and, while he could have communicated his worries more clearly, that’s a situation I need to read better.
We often hear game skills divided into three categories: tactics, strategy, and diplomacy. This moment is a perfect illustration of the nature of diplomatic skill. I good diplomer is able to read a desired ally accurately and present him- or herself in a way that the desired ally will appreciate. I did not diplome well in that moment.
Last, my strategic mistake in the mid-game. After having hostile foreign units in Bohemia and Tyrolia from S02 through S05, and also being besieged in the north by England and Russia, everyone finally backed off all at once. I had tap-danced all those years, never falling below 5, but it had been a slog with several nervous moments. Now I could finally move my units *and* get a build to get back to 6. I had *no* idea what to do. Italy (Ben M.) and Austria (Joe Wheeler) had been a thorn in my side for almost 4 game years, but they were suddenly fighting now. I dropped Mun-Tyr, thinking I would get a finger in their fight and try to get something out of it. I sent an army to Sil, a fleet to NTH and another to Nwy. It was an explosion in all directions.
While it felt good and was definitely cool, it was aimless, and I didn’t get anything out of it. I made a deal with Austria that required blind trust, and he didn’t come through. I let him get the upper hand on Italy and I didn’t get the crucial 7th build which would have allowed me to secure Scandinavia, which eventually fell to Russia. What I should have done was send two armies east, take War (Austrian at the time), leave Italy to fight Austria, and follow through into the remaining Russian centers.
I think what happened is that I had been fighting for survival for so long that I wasn’t able to shift smoothly into an offensive mindset. Also, I had been annoyed at Italy in particular during the siege years and I let that influence my actions in the breakout. The lesson for me here is that when there’s a dramatic shift in board positions, I need to take care to explicitly press reset in my mind and review the strategic situation with clear eyes. Letting strategic decisions be guided by feelings of relief and residual annoyance will not lead to wins.
I ended up on 5 in an 8-8-7-5-4-2. My French ally never turned, and his restraint impressed me (he finished at 7). Russia and Austria passed up stab opportunities and shared the board top. And I had fun, got the result I deserved, and gained some valuable experience.