Friday, 15 July 2016 21:47

The Brandwagon Effect

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Brandon Fogel has now shared or topped outright five of the last six boards he's played. His convincing top in the penultimate Red Wednesday of the season earlier this week ran his league-leading top count to 5.5. In club history, that's second only to Peter Lokken's 7.5 tops in Season 6.

Wednesday's game ended by time limit after the Fall 1906 turn in the following center counts:

 

Austria (Pete McNamara): 6; 15.000 points.
England (Christian Kline): 4; 6.667 points.
France (Bryan Pravel): 3; 3.750 points.
Germany (Brandon Fogel): 11; 50.417 points.
Italy (Ali Adib): 3; 3.750 points.
Russia (Jake Langenfeld): 0; 0.000 points.
Turkey (Matt Sundstrom): 7; 20.417 points.

The supply center chart is here. Comments from the players?

While the seven of them played, Ben DiPaola, Brian Shelden and I taught the game to a walk-up named Kyle, who then spent a couple of hours watching the adjudications and listening in on negotiations. Hopefully we'll see him again.

And hopefully we'll see more of you at Pete McNamara's home on July 30 -- he's shooting for two boards -- and at the final Red Wednesday of Season 11 on August 10. Find game openings here.

Read 477 times Last modified on Sunday, 14 August 2016 17:59

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+3 # Bryan Pravel 2016-07-16 07:52
WCW#305 was my first game post Worlds. I had a fantastic time at Worlds despite middling to poor results. In a post tournament discussion with Dave Maletsky and Peter Yeargin, I was encouraged to "isolate what your play style is, own it, determine what its strengths and weaknesses are, and then focus on adapting to situations where said weaknesses are exposed." This really stuck with me. Since that conversation I have been doing the Diplomacy equivalent of soul searching. What is my play style? What are its strengths and weaknesses? When do I have the most success? When do I have the most fun?

Since I was exposed to some new play styles at Worlds, my goal in WCW#305 was to try some new styles to see how I felt about them. I had the following goals:

1. Be more honest. Reduce how often I purposefully manipulate people through blatant dishonesty. Use risk/reward game theory type analysis and only lie if the result will end in significant gain.

2. Try "alliance play." At worlds I saw a play style which was "hey I am going to go to the end with you but if you screw me, I am throwing dots." Since alliances have meant success for me, I wanted to see if I could make this work.

3. Do not reward moves against you. In my final game at Worlds I was questioned about why I decided to forgive a player who stabbed me early. That has never really bothered me. I like to consider myself a pragmatic player and re-assess the situation each year. In that particular game at Worlds I allowed the person who stabbed me to take advantage of this and he really got the upper hand in that game. I saw a lot of people say "hey you screwed me over, why would I want to work with you?" I decided to try that line and see how it felt.

When I drew France I knew this would be a good chance to experiment. My neighbors were Christian Kline as England and Brandon Fogel as Germany. Both were ahead of me in the league standings and very strong players. Keeping my personal objectives for this game in mind, I decided my opening approach was going to be a "let's get an alliance going early" pitch, I was going to do exactly what I said to build trust, and I was going to open neutral to see who was interested in working with me. I prefer the E/F to the E/G, so my hope was that I could work with Christian, but I have played with Brandon enough that I knew he would be a solid early game partner and I didn't want to upset him needlessly.

Christian (England) asked for a DMZ in ENG. I don't like that DMZ. In fact, I am one of those players in favor of moving to ENG as France because a bounce hurts England way more than it hurts you. But I kept goal #2 in mind (alliance play) and wanted an E/F. You don't start a successful E/F with a bounce in ENG. I agreed to the DMZ.

Brandon (Germany) spoke next. We agreed to a DMZ in Burgundy that I was confident Brandon would honor. He proceeded to pitch a Sealion attack on England. I wasn't ready to commit that early, so I declined and said I would open conservatively. As France I have the luxury of waiting. No need to get greedy. A good ally is way more valuable than a dot.

I am glad that I waited. Christian opened to ENG, but fortunately wasn't 100% committed against me and sent the army to YOR. Normally this is no big deal to me. Christian immediately told me what I wanted to hear. He would accept my support to BEL, move there with a fleet, and swap BEL for HOL when the time was right. I actually like this opening. However, I remembered Goal #3 (Do not reward moves against you). I put on the charade of one of those players who freak out over small things. "Don't be a pushover" I told myself. I was going to punish him for moving against me. It felt a little weird.

I tried to be honest in my responses (" I told you I was going for alliance play, why would I want to work with someone who lied on the first turn!), bounced MAO and PIC to cover BRE, and picked up SPA for my build. I don't hate getting 1 as France in 1901. You appear less dangerous but can pretty much pick up your second neutral whenever you want.

My builds would force me into a strategy so I confirmed with Brandon we were still good and built F BRE. Brandon built two fleets. You can hardly get more anti-English as Germany than that. Brandon was keeping his side of the agreement. I kept mine. The F/G was on.

Even better, Christian was acting *really* upset by Brandon's builds. He immediately started talking about throwing me dots. I mentioned it to Matt (Turkey) in passing and he said "that's really good for you, he'll do it" so now I had a decision. Brandon's double fleet build made him vulnerable in the middle of the board. Should I work with someone who I know has vengeance as their primary motivator (which is amazing), or stick with a dependable ally who just built in the most friendly way possible. I kept goal
#2 in mind. I was trying alliance play. I stuck with Brandon.

To Christian's credit, he was nothing if not persistent. For several turns he kept pitching me a "hey I will be your jannisary against Germany, you can take my dots when you need them, just tell me what to do". During my Diplomacy "soul searching" I realized I have a really bad tendency to let my eyes get bigger than my stomach. I see things the way I *want* to see them, not the way they are. That flaw showed up here. Around S1903 Italy (Ali) was in decline, around 3-4 SCs and at war with Austria (Pete). Matt (Turkey) was rolling through Russia and I knew Brandon (Germany) did not want Matt to get too large a score. I realized I could get ahead of schedule and move east early. Not only that, but I was doing so well that I could also attack Brandon (with Christian's "suicide squad" help) and would end up with an even higher score. In Sum of Squares, two mid sized players are better for the board leader than one similarly sized player. I could safely slow Germany down, thought we could get England into the North Sea, and even if I just chipped away an SC a year I had growth opportunity in the east. With visions of a 50 point bar game, I finally caved to Christian. Screw alliance play. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. I convoyed all my armies into the lowlands and moved to Ruhr, had control of ENG and MAO, and was ready to cut through the weak the center of the board.

Oh man was I wrong. Italy ended up with 5 SCs that year I think and was moving towards my weak flank in Iberia. England did not get North Sea. Holland was not left undefended as I expected. Italy was not going to threaten Munich as I expected. With one bad move, all of my tempo and momentum deflated like one of Tom Brady's footballs.

This was not the worst game that I have ever played (that happened at WDC) but this might have been the worst single decision that I have made in a game. Sure if it had worked I would have looked like a genius. But I forgot rule #1. It wasn't that the lie was bad. It is that the risk/reward was just not there. The reward was minimal, and the odds of it being successful were not great. If the payoff had been higher or if the risk less, it might have made more sense but there is no other way to put this than it was just a bad decision on my part.

I knew it was bad while the orders were still being read. Immediately afterwards I went to Brandon and begged forgiveness. I agreed to withdraw. Brandon is a great forgiver if it is in his best interest and I knew this was. Because I lost all of my tempo, I had no leverage against him. My sole path for growth was the two dots in England and then on to fight a surprisingly resilient Italian. Brandon on the other hand just had to finish off a weakened Russian (poor Jake) and then he would face down the Turk (Matt) who he considered one of the bigger rivals on the board due to his secure corner and the weak Russian position. He might also have help from Pete (Austria), but with Italy (Ali) managing to hang on, my guess was A/I would be tangled up for a while. I was no longer looking at a huge board top, but we could salvage a good score out of this. I could probably get into the 30s again which would probably be enough to secure my slot on the top board at the end of the season.

Remembering rule #1 I decided I had no value in lying to Christian here (a decision I now regret). I explained my change of heart. He informed me he was going to have to throw dots to Brandon instead. I knew we had Chris on the ropes and that Brandon was not a vindictive player. I was confident it was in his self interest to work with me because it meant an easier route into the east, he could out pace me, and I couldn't effectively stab.

My 1904 turns can be summarized in two words. Brandon flipped. Not one turn after I explain to Christian how I was trying to be an alliance player and I should never have tried to stab Brandon, he succeeds in getting Brandon to turn on me. Christian's never gave up and kept on fighting.

General Diplomacy advice is that once you pull out the knife, you should finish the job. Over and over I keep ignoring this advice. Over and over I keep struggling because of it. I didn't finish against Christian and he made himself attractive enough to flip Brandon. I tried to stab Brandon and then tried to put the knife back in the sheath. He was able to take advantage. I always assumed the reason to finishing a player off was the human element. People tend to be vindictive and emotional after they have been stabbed. That may be true, but in this game I think I learned of a different, more subtle reason. When you move in Diplomacy, there is weight in your movements on the board. When you pivot, you lose some of that momentum. A good stab will gain momentum in the new direction. A weak stab will stall out. Finishing someone is the Diplomacy equivalent of following through with your swing or shot in sports. It establishes momentum.

We have already established that my stab on Brandon was not a good stab. But I did gain a little position. In retrospect, while it would have been better not to stab in the first place, once I did, I should have stuck with it. I should have followed through with my movements. Brandon disagrees, but I think over the course of the next few turns, Christian and I could have chipped away and started to break through the German line. Growth would have been slow. I would have needed help in the east to keep Italy in check, but I think it would have been possible. Would it have been better than not stabbing in the first place? No way. Would it have been better than what I did? Heck yes it would. Of course I doubt things could have gone much worse so that is a very low bar! :)

But I wasn't thinking about momentum, finishing, follow through, or any of that in S1904. I was thinking about goal #2. I was going to try the "bad cop" side of alliance play. You know, the "If you come after me, I'm taking you down with me!" approach. There were a few problems though. First, I had no leverage. With Christian's help there was NOTHING I could do to stop Brandon and he knew it. Punishment requires the ability to inflict pain. I could not punish. Second, I just didn't believe it. That is not the kind of player I am. It felt weird. Words were coming out of my mouth I didn't believe. I wasn't comfortable, I wasn't talking to the rest of the board trying find creative ideas, and most importantly, I wasn't having fun. Oh, I also discovered I suck at it.

I think Brandon is tactically better than I am in general, but when I am uncomfortable, have no allies, and am trying to do something I don't enjoy, he's WAY better than me. He outguessed me on almost every 50/50 guess and my position melted. At the end I was so weak that the only way to be vindictive towards Brandon was to throw dots to Matt in order to threaten Brandon's board top but I wasn't even in a good position to do that. I was glad this was a bar game with a time limit because I would have been eliminated. Even if the board had organized I think this could have ended in a German solo if we had kept playing. If not that, at least a 15+ center SC board top.

So I started strong, screwed it up (twice!) and didn't enjoy the negotiation tactics I was trying. Yet I still found the game quite fascinating. It was probably the most "philosophical" game I have played and I learned a few things from this. I like a good alliance, but I learned I am not an "alliance player" in the sense defined at the start of this post. I am not a "I am taking you down with me player." I am also not a "get upset over little stuff and take things personally" player.

Goal #1 (being more honest) though I think has some potential. I felt good about this. It lends itself to a realpolitik style of negotiations. Maybe a "pragmatic" style of play might be the style for me to explore next.

I think my takeaway from this game isn't that I need to find my play style. I think I know what it is. I just need to clean up my game and get rid of some bad habits. I didn't walk away from this game with the score that I wanted but I am leaving with more self awareness about my game as a result of it. In that aspect at least this was a very good game.
# Jim O'Kelley 2016-07-16 15:02
Great post. Love the Brady line.
+3 # Brandon Fogel 2016-07-18 10:58
Bryan’s analysis of my stab is pretty accurate, and he very impressively diagnosed it correctly on the spot. It was all about tempo and Christian’s believability as a janissary. Had Bryan stayed ahead of me within our alliance, I would not have been able to stab when I did.

Even though I was all-in on the FG, with 2 fleet builds in 01, by the end of 1902 Bryan had the advantage on the English home centers, thanks to England (Christian) sending his units further east in 02. I had a fleet in the North Sea, but Bryan was in the Channel, his MAO fleet was guaranteed Liverpool, and a convoy to Wales would likely have yielded London in the fall. I was not even guaranteed Edinburgh, and with an English army in Finland, I still needed to protect Sweden. France was going to get the better of the FG (he already had Belgium), and there was little I could do about it.

This is the main reason I think Bryan’s attempted stab of me in S03 was a poor choice: the FG was already a good deal for him. Had he really wanted to stab me, he would have been better served to take an English center or two and then use Christian genuinely as a janissary. By not taking and English dots (or even putting himself in position to do so at will), he converted to a genuine EF. But Christian was out of position to help him, and an invasion of Germany solely by land is not a great idea.

My decision to stab Bryan in 1904 was not a no-brainer. I had convinced him to withdraw from Ruhr and Burgundy in F03, and then Christian offered to janissary for me in S04. I took the offer as about 80% genuine. I figured that I would try to take Burgundy and Ruhr in the spring, and if either of those failed or if Christian proved faithless, then I would withdraw and Bryan and I would be even on aborted stabs. But if I everything worked, Bryan wouldn’t get a build and I’d have a big positional advantage on his home centers. Fortunately for me, that’s how it worked out. Christian stayed faithful for 2 years, long enough for me to secure Paris and Brest and the board top.

After the game, Bryan and I disagreed about whether he had erred by pulling his forces back in F03. I think if he sticks with the EF at that point, it takes a while for them to break through my defenses and, when they finally do, Christian benefits more. In fact, I probably try to work out a deal with Christian, maybe throw him a dot and disband a fleet. I think it wasn’t pulling back from Ruh in F03 that was Bryan’s mistake, but rather leaving Bur undefended in S04. A self-bounce with Pic and Bel (without my knowledge) would have sufficed.

All in all, #305 was a fun game. Things broke my way, and I was able to take advantage.
+2 # Jake Trotta 2016-07-19 10:51
Quoting Bryan Pravel:
I always assumed the reason to finishing a player off was the human element. People tend to be vindictive and emotional after they have been stabbed. That may be true, but in this game I think I learned of a different, more subtle reason. When you move in Diplomacy, there is weight in your movements on the board. When you pivot, you lose some of that momentum. A good stab will gain momentum in the new direction. A weak stab will stall out. Finishing someone is the Diplomacy equivalent of following through with your swing or shot in sports. It establishes momentum.
Very good insight here. Timing stabs to give you positional, tactical, and diplomatic advantage is really tough to do. When you botch one, it can not only slow you down, but also puts a huge drag on your diplomatic value.

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