Sunday, 23 October 2016 15:32

Tempest Round 2 AAR: Brandon Fogel

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Partner or Target?
 
This game was easily the most interesting of my three at Tempest. It was an 8 hour seesaw battle that featured dramatic reversals of fortune, a Rusty Blade-winning move, an epic temper tantrum, and, ultimately, a thrown solo. Despite coming away with zero points, I actually think my result more or less maxed out what was possible for me, given the board. Most games teach me something about my own strengths and weaknesses; this one taught me something about my approach to the game itself, namely, what I look for when evaluating an alliance offer. A simple question captures the idea: Am I being viewed as a partner or a target?
 
I played Russia and had been on my heels most of the game, fending off an AT in the south and not going anywhere in the north. In S05, Austria (fellow Weasel Jake Trotta) finally got the knife into my ribs, capturing Moscow and threatening to take me down to 2. I offered to janissary, and he accepted (with a look of supreme bliss) and then walked out of the dot. His stab of the Turk (Jay Heumann) didn’t go well, however, and he plateaued at 8.
 
In F08, I finally rebounded, going from 4 to 6 (home centers plus Ber and Kie). I had no northern fleet, Germany (Mike Johnson) was gone, and England (Mark Franceschini) and Italy (Andrew Bartalone) had carved up France (Brian Lee). Austria and Turkey were still fighting, with Italy going back and forth between them and becoming board leader in the process. I built two armies and figured I could talk England into moving into France and Iberia, where there were 4 lightly-defended Italian dots, while I moved south and took Austrian dots. It seemed a perfect opportunity for both of us; rather than fight over Stp, we could both expand in other directions and help each other out against Italy, who was poised for a big board top.
 
England had other thoughts. He convoyed an army to Nwy and moved fleets into BAR and BOT. I’m known in the local hobby as one of the calmer, more imperturbable players, but at this moment I was livid, angrier than I’ve ever been in a Diplomacy game. I can almost always eventually see the logic for my opponents’ moves. Even now, I’m still bewildered by this one.
 
This is the moment that “partner or target” started to coalesce for me. England and I had goals that aligned nearly perfectly: expand in different directions without letting the board leader run away with the game. If we fight, neither of us advances and Italy romps. It seemed an opportunity for a true partnership: we could advance together, each pursuing individual goals while providing support to the other. England, on the other hand, saw me as a target, a source of dots.
 
The moment that solidified the new rubric for me, and also pushed me to throw the solo, came the following year. Turkey, under assault from Austria and Italy for several years, had finally dropped from 4 to 3. I had no southern fleet and had armies poised to flood the Austrian centers. Since F01 — over 9 game years — Turkey had had two units on Sev. Usually in BLA and Arm, with one or two turns where a fleet was in Rum. There was a year or two where Sev had been Austrian, and it might even have been Turkish for a year, but there was never a point where I owned Sev and it wasn’t under threat from Turkey. 
 
Now, ever since he and Austria had started fighting in 06, Turkey had offered to support me into Rum, which was Austrian. I made clear, each time, that I couldn’t ally with him until either Arm or BLA was cleared out. As long as he kept both, any gains I made at Austria’s expense could be quickly transferred to him through a back-door stab. Why would I throw away a functional (even if lopsided) alliance to work with someone pointing a gun at my face?
 
With “partner or target”, I now have better language for this idea. Turkey wasn’t viewing me as a partner that could advance alongside him. He had been viewing me as a target the entire game, even while offering help. 
 
Back to Winter 1910, where Turkey had to disband one. He had fleets in Arm, BLA, AEG, and an army in Con. There were Italian fleets in EAS and ION, and an Austrian army in Bul. I was all armies, with an English army in Stp and another apparently on the way. Turkey and I had a lot to gain by putting our backs to one another and fighting outward.
 
Turkey disbanded F AEG, keeping F BLA and F Arm (a fleet, no less!). He was still viewing me as a target. Even as his home centers were about to be gobbled up.
 
It was then that I pulled Italy into the hallway and offered him a solo. I had the power to throw it, and the two parties who would need me to help stop the solo were both viewing me as a target. 
 
Austria joined in the effort, for somewhat different reasons, which I’ll let him explain in his AAR (coming soon). Suffice to say that his reasons eventually earned him the Rusty Blade award for worst stab and also pushed England into such a rage that he threw a fit and stormed out of the hotel (eventually returning to write hold orders for the remainder of the game).
 
I should be clear that I was not merely exacting revenge on England or Turkey. They had left me with no chance of fulfilling any of my goals and had even put me at risk of elimination. My choice was between fighting to stay alive for a small score or putting them at risk of getting zero. The latter had the added benefits of making them pay for what I viewed then (and still view now) as major strategic mistakes and perhaps establishing a reputation for myself as someone willing to throw a solo.
 
Note that sum of squares encourages this kind of thinking. I was looking at a score of 5 points or fewer, which just isn’t that different from 0. I placed a value on teaching England and Turkey a lesson, somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 points. In draw-size scoring, I still have a chance at a decent score. I certainly would have had more incentive to stop the solo once it got close. 
 
In this case, it didn’t matter; England never approached me about stopping the solo. If at any point he’d given me Stp and moved against Italy, I probably would have turned, even with sum of squares scoring. By the end, everyone except Turkey was throwing the solo to Italy. 
 
Some might think that the notion of “partnership” is irrelevant to Diplomacy, where everyone is explicitly pursuing self-interested goals in a zero-sum environment. To me that attitude is shortsighted. There are many instances where two players have mutually compatible short-term or even intermediate-term goals. They then have a lot to gain by forming a true partnership, at least until the time comes when their goals are incompatible. Because Diplomacy is a zero-sum game and there is only one winner, that time usually arrives, especially if the partnership is successful. Partnerships in life differ only in that we usually don’t reach an endgame.
 
Am I being viewed as a partner or target?  That’s a question I’ll now ask myself whenever I contemplate an alliance.
 
Read 205 times Last modified on Tuesday, 25 October 2016 19:14

Comments   

+1 # Chris Martin 2016-10-26 10:49
Great analysis, and in the fruhfruh over Austria's reasoning, I missed the bit about Mark going over the top while Italy was crushing.

Which speaks to a very real truth - not everyone is playing for the same reasons, with the same goals. Lots of players at tournaments don't care about the tournament scoring, and are only there to play diplomacy. Figuring out who those people are has to be a top priority for long-term tournament success!

Turkey doesn't make that disband if he doesn't see owning Sev as a higher priority than keeping Aegean. Was there a failure of diplomacy there?

Good tournament players absolutely form partnerships. Partnerships by their nature are limited by shared goals - and I guess the theme of my feedback here is that understanding other players goals has to come before forming partnerships.
# Brandon Fogel 2016-10-26 14:28
Quote:
Turkey doesn't make that disband if he doesn't see owning Sev as a higher priority than keeping Aegean. Was there a failure of diplomacy there?
If someone doesn't do what you want, it's always a failure of diplomacy, no? I'm sure I could have laid the groundwork better for Jay to make a different decision here. We both passed up several offers from the other for support into Austrian-held Rumania, and perhaps that led to some intransigence. I hadn't ever tried to get into Arm and I'd made clear several times that I needed him to move BLA or Arm for us to work together, so I probably had developed an attitude of "It's on him now". Now that I write it that way, it's reminiscent of my Round 1 problem, where I allowed a relationship to completely sour (to your benefit, of course). Not quite the same thing here, but the solution may be the same: maintain an open diplomatic posture.

Quote:
Which speaks to a very real truth - not everyone is playing for the same reasons, with the same goals. Lots of players at tournaments don't care about the tournament scoring, and are only there to play diplomacy. Figuring out who those people are has to be a top priority for long-term tournament success!
This was a huge lesson for me from the weekend. I think ultimately Mark was playing a draw-based game, where the center counts just weren't as important. I'd still argue that removing Italy's solo threat makes more sense than coming over the top, but at least the incentives are shifted (a bit) away from chasing a big board top. In any case, I learned that, even with a tournament-defined scoring system, everyone plays with their own internal scoring system, which may differ, and figuring out those internal scoring systems is critical to succeeding.

Now, I've heard expressions like "only there to play diplomacy", and I find them hopelessly vague. There's no such thing as Diplomacy without a scoring system. We might play without agreeing on one, but that just means we're playing a poorly defined game where the incentives become more and more opaque and confusing as the game goes on.
# Chris Martin 2016-10-27 08:16
Quote:
Now, I've heard expressions like "only there to play diplomacy", and I find them hopelessly vague. There's no such thing as Diplomacy without a scoring system.
When you find yourself saying things like that, recognize that this is a YOU thing, and not a thing that exists in the world. A requirement for structure on your part does not translate into the same for other people.

I joke, kind of, but seriously, this is the single biggest obstacle for most people to becoming really good at diplomacy: the idea that the way they understand the game needs to map onto the way other people understand the game. I know Mark, and he really was just there to play Diplomacy. In fact, he was offended by people who were playing the game in order to achieve tournament-based goals!

Quote:
We might play without agreeing on one, but that just means we're playing a poorly defined game where the incentives become more and more opaque and confusing as the game goes on.
Yeah, from where I sit that's definitely looking like a thing you bring with you to the table, not something that is universal. :D
# Brandon Fogel 2016-10-28 09:55
Definitely not saying I expect others to use the same incentive structure that I do. Btw, I use the term "scoring system" to mean the incentive structure within a single game. It identifies what results count as good or bad and usually ranks them relative to one another. Everybody uses a scoring system in this sense, even if it's just "solo or bust", which perhaps is what you have in mind when you say "play diplomacy".

If a scoring system isn't specified for a particular game, then the endgame incentives aren't clear. Everyone agrees that a solo is a good result, so you can always shoot for that. But if a solo isn't possible, should you risk a good alliance for a big board top? Depends on whether that's a good result or not. In draw-based scoring, topping doesn't matter, so there's less incentive to risk it. In sum of squares, hell yeah.

But note that's all single-game reasoning. Tournament, league, house game, it doesn't matter. If the players don't agree on what the good and bad results are, then the game is not well-defined. As a player, I still have the burden of figuring out people's incentives so that I can maximize my own results; that's true even if there's an established scoring system, since players can (and apparently often do) ignore it.

Using the scores to rank players in a tournament or league is a separate matter (although not irrelevant; some scoring systems are more useful for this than others). I definitely get that people play without caring about the multi-game ranking. I find it a little odd that someone might come to a tournament and then get angry that others care about their tournament ranking, but that's how it goes. I'm with you that it doesn't make sense to complain about it; better to recognize that it happens and figure how to use it to your advantage.
# Jake Trotta 2016-10-31 14:27
Quoting Chris Martin:
I know Mark, and he really was just there to play Diplomacy. In fact, he was offended by people who were playing the game in order to achieve tournament-based goals!


Yeah I noticed that.

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