Thursday, 15 September 2016 13:43

Goose eggs and gander

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Great opening night last night at the Red Lion in Lincoln Square for the 2017 Bar Room Brawl Series. We had 14 players on the nose, including five first-time Weasels. (Plus David St. John dropped in for a few minutes to say hello.)

We put the newcomers on a board with Matt Sundstrom and Brandon Fogel. Matt recruited two of them and Brandon, a third, plus Brandon taught and/or reviewed the rules for all five. The rest of us retired to Red Lion's back room, a space underutilized by us and with easy outdoor access. It was a beautiful late summer evening in Chicago, so there was a lot of negotiating outside.

Anyway, here are the game summaries.

 

Game No. 311: The Newbie Board
The newbie board proceeded at a leisurely pace, with lots of explanation and 15 minutes per negotiation phase rather than the customary bar-timing drop to 10 after Spring 1901. The players voted for a seven-way draw in Spring 1904. The final center counts were:
 
Austria (Joe Beaulieu): 5; 14.535 points.
England (Brandon Fogel): 6; 20.930 points.
France (Daniel Mark): 6; 20.930 points.
Germany (Curry Dorris): 3; 5.233 points.
Italy (Matt Sundstrom): 4; 9.302 points.
Russia (Eric McNaughton): 5; 14.535 points.
Turkey (Jessica Hedrick): 5; 14.535 points.
 
Joe and Curry are Matt's co-workers. Curry had played years before and quickly made up for lost time, lying to and screwing with everyone around him. Jessica is a friend of Brandon's. Daniel found us on Meetup, and Eric found us on the Chicago Game Lovers Meetup, where we advertise our Red Wednesday games to cast a wider net.
 
Game No. 312: Back Room Dealing
This was my first game since the third round at WDC in June, and the gang welcomed me back by blanking my Russia in 1901 and 1902. Brian Shelden in Italy also put up a goose egg in 1901, but his was the result of a misorder. He wrote two different orders for one of the units involved in the convoy to Tunis. We both recovered, though. Brian finished with five centers. Check out my adjustments line: 0, 0, +3, +2, -1, +1.
 
Three of us went into the final year of the game tied at eight centers: me, Chris Kelly and David Spanos. The final year was fun and frantic, and it was unclear who had topped until we had counted the dots. The game ended by time limit after the Fall 1906 turn in the following center counts:
 
Austria (Christian Kline): 0; 0.000 points.
England (David Spanos): 8; 25.000 points.
France (Chris Kelly): 9; 31.641 points.
Germany (Jake Trotta): 1; 0.391 points.
Italy (Brian Shelden): 5; 9.766 points.
Russia (Jim O'Kelley): 9; 31.641 points.
Turkey (Ted McClelland): 2; 1.563 points.
 
The supply center charts are here. Players, want to fill in the gaps?
Read 2239 times Last modified on Monday, 17 October 2016 21:57
More in this category: « Paradox Lost? Doing 312 One Better »

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+1 # Jim O'Kelley 2016-09-16 12:34
The keys to my game after being shut out in 1901 were not panicking and being patient.

Now, the numbers favor panicking. We have 591 games on the standard map in our database. Russia was shut out in 71 of those games, which seems high to me. That’s 12 percent. (In three other games, Russia removed in 1901! We’ll set those aside, but why do you guys hate Russia?)

So, 12 percent of the time, Russia stays stuck on four centers. She’s a huge country with lots of territory to defend. A Russia who doesn’t build in 1901 looks weak, and for Russia, weakness is like blood in the water. It draws sharks.

In 39 of those 71 games, Russia was eliminated. In three others games, she either lost to a solo or voted herself out of the draw (back when that was a thing).

So Russia loses nearly three out of every five games that she’s blanked in 1901. But in those two other games, she at least rebounds to finish in the draw. … Look, I know we tend to be a pessimistic lot, but if we were talking chance of rain, you’d feel pretty good about 40 percent.

I wish I could build on that sliver of optimism. Including Wednesday’s game, only two of those 71 Russians went on to top the board, and both times, the tops were shared. But personal experience counts. Two of those other Russians were mine—an elimination and a five-way draw with one center. Okay, not much cause for hope there.

But in 2006, in the third round of the BADAss Whipping in Oakland, I clinched the Grand Prix with a 13-center Russian board-top that started with a goose egg. (You’ll have to take my word for that; the World Diplomacy Database has the result but not the supply center chart. Actually, if you really want proof, I’ll dig out my moleskine book from that tournament. When it comes to Diplomacy, I'm a hoarder.)

Anyway, I knew from personal experience that failing to build in 1901 doesn’t necessarily doom the Russians. That helped me remain calm.

My goal in 1902, perhaps counter-intuitively, wasn’t to grow. My goal was to break up the three-pronged, Austrian-German-Turkish attack. In my negotiations, I didn’t ask for anything. Instead, I offered supports.

Christian Kline in Austria was willing to put me in Rumania in Spring 1902, but staying compact was important. My armies were in Ukraine and Warsaw, where they could support each other. My fleet in Sevastopol could defend that space and the Black Sea. Moving a piece into Rumania would have made it more difficult to defend that center plus Warsaw and Sevastopol, I figured.

Similarly, David Spanos in England offered me Spring 1902 support into Sweden, but that would have left St. Pete undefended. Instead, I supported him in. (If I remember correctly, I misordered the support, but he got in anyway, and we were able to work together for the next two turns.

So, that’s what I mean by not panicking. One build wasn’t going to save me against an A/G/T blitz. Much better to use my units to break that attack up. I could worry about growing later.

Patience goes hand in hand with not panicking. Even a bar game usually has 12 turns. You’re probably not going to win it in the first four. I wanted to stay compact, break up the attack, and wait for the board to break my way.

I had some help in that last regard in 1902. Both Ted McClelland in Turkey and Jake Trotta in Germany made tactical choices that helped me get back in the game.

First Ted. In Fall 1901, Christian asked if I were going to support myself into Rumania. I lied and said I was. Instead, I moved Ukraine there unsupported while Sevastopol again contested the Black Sea. Christian didn’t want me to build, so he supported Turkey’s move to Rumania, expecting us to bounce. Ted grabbed it, and his follow-up army took Bulgaria for plus two.

Most Austrians don’t like seeing the Bulgaria-Rumania land bridge occupied by foreign armies. When those foreign armies are the same color, it’s especially troubling.

Because Ankara was occupied by his fleet, Ted had four choices for his builds (discounting waives): Two armies, two fleets, a fleet in one and an army in the other, and vice versa. Two of those choices probably keep the Austrians on side; two probably don’t. Ted chose one of the probably don’ts: F Smyrna and A Constantinople.

The other way 'round would have been far superior for pressing the attack on me, but conventional wisdom dictates F Smyrna in 1901. I think Ted probably made a snap decision here based on the conventional wisdom rather than thinking through the strategy and tactics.

My first conversation of Spring 1902 was with Christian, but before I left the table with him, I asked Ted, “Why did you build the army in Constantinople?”

“I want to get it in the Balkans,” he answered.

“Interesting,” I said and then walked off with Christian.

I don’t think Christian needed to witness that bit of theater. I think he had already concluded that a Turk with armies in Constantinople, Bulgaria and Rumania was a grave threat to the Austrian position.

Jake, meanwhile, had bounced me in Sweden, ensuring that I could not build. You can argue either side of that decision. I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on his Spring 1902 moves, because that’s the tactical choice that helped me and sealed Jake’s fate.

He moved, or at least oriented, 80 percent of his units--four out of five--toward me. Denmark supported Kiel to Baltic while Berlin and Munich took Prussia and Silesia. (I’m no dummy. I was willing to help Christian grow at Ted’s expense, which I did by supporting him into Rumania, but I still bounced him in Galicia.)

That German attack, so early in the game, essentially says to your Western neighbors, “You guys figure it out, I’m going to do this.”

England had opened to the Channel, and the two were fighting, but they weren’t entangled yet. Now, there are Diplomacy players who can’t see past the war they’re fighting. Whatever wrong they suffered—say the move to the Channel—they’ll fight tooth and nail to avenge it while the game passes them by.

But most good Diplomacy players are flexible, and they abhor a fair fight. Jake left David and Chris Kelly in France with a fair fight while he, the player who could most easily tip the balance one way or the other, swam the other way to the smell of blood in the water.

David and Chris watched Jake go and then in Fall 1902, they shook hands and buried the hatchet in his back.

I was patient, didn’t panic, and over the next two years, I gained five centers.

Next time your Russia is stuffed in 1901, maybe you'll find this advice helpful. But hopefully it won't happen to you because, seriously, what the fuck do you guys have against Russia?
# Jim O'Kelley 2016-09-16 13:31
In case you're wondering, Austria is the only power that comes close to Russia in blankings: 62 out of 591 games for 10.5 percent. The rest:

England, 35, 5.9 percent.
Italy, 31, 5.3 percent. (But that includes three six-player games. Really, it should be 28 and 4.7 percent.)
France, 11, 1.9 percent.
Turkey, 9, 1.5 percent.
Germany, 6, 1 percent.
+1 # Chris Kelly 2016-09-16 17:11
Quote:
England had opened to the Channel, and the two were fighting, but they weren’t entangled yet. Now, there are Diplomacy players who can’t see past the war they’re fighting. Whatever wrong they suffered—say the move to the Channel—they’ll fight tooth and nail to avenge it while the game passes them by.

But most good Diplomacy players are flexible, and they abhor a fair fight. Jake left David and Chris Kelly in France with a fair fight while he, the player who could most easily tip the balance one way or the other, swam the other way to the smell of blood in the water.

David and Chris watched Jake go and then in Fall 1902, they shook hands and buried the hatchet in his back.


A footnote on why David & I didn't pursue fighting each other: We both had 2 builds in 1902. (In fact, I was about to build a fleet in Brest until I realized this.) There's not much percentage in going after someone who's just reinforced his homeland like that.

David made a similar calculation, so we each decided to build in the least antagonistic way possible, and then agreed to go after the suddenly vulnerable German centers.
+1 # David Spanos 2016-09-16 17:47
Quoting Chris Kelly:

A footnote on why David & I didn't pursue fighting each other: We both had 2 builds in 1902. (In fact, I was about to build a fleet in Brest until I realized this.) There's not much percentage in going after someone who's just reinforced his homeland like that.

David made a similar calculation, so we each decided to build in the least antagonistic way possible, and then agreed to go after the suddenly vulnerable German centers.


Two additional considerations on my part:
1. By that point you had avenues for expansion that didn't involve English dots. I was willing to bet that you weren't particularly committed to going after me.
2. Based on playstyles alone, between the three of you Jake was by far the most likely to form a coalition against me. It made the decision that much easier.

Full report to follow.
+1 # Jake Trotta 2016-09-19 10:28
The highlight of this game for me was probably when I drew Germany (yayyy favorite country!) The good feelings were gone once I heard David "Style Points" Spanos and Chris "At this point, Jake, I've just given up on the idea of working together" Kelly were the E-F pairing.

Compared to my last game as Germany, where I was essentially pitching a perfect game through 6 innings, this one was rough all the way around. France opened their negotiations by saying "I'm moving to Burgundy" and being somewhat offended that I wanted a bounce. Not great. England said he'd go channel, so I went to Burgundy and decided to get my 2 and hope England and I could work together. Italy was in Piedmont and would have taken Marseilles had I not bounced in Burgundy again on accident. Sorry, Brian.

I did bounce R out of Sweden because I thought I convinced England to hit both Bel and Brest, holding France to no builds while likely getting a build, but he said he would do it then didn't. So I prevented Russia from getting a build, pissed off France twice, and had England lie to me in 01.

02 Spring I goofed by moving all my units east, while also failing to recognize the issue with me getting both Sweden and Belgium in exchange for giving England Picardy. In hindsight, that might have been a "dick move." England swiped Sweden in spring, I outsmarted myself (which is the nice way of saying made stupid tactical choices) to lose Denmark as well, and this provided the window for the French/ England screw Jake steamroller to form. Oh, and Christian moved to Bohemia and Tyrolia in F02. If I were the manager I would've gone to the bullpen here, but since diplomacy is not a team sport, I had a few drinks instead. I played well to survive and received a hard earned .3 points towards the league standings.

Everything I learned from this game was just proof about conventional wisdom. Don't go too far ahead of your ally without giving him anything. Don't overdo tactics or bounce Russia because #yolo. Don't move east on Russia when not in a western triple.

A few notes on player feedback. Very impressed by Jim's ability to deflect pressure and be patient. Spanos played lights out wire-to-wire, best game I've seen him play by far. Chris Kelly also did an impressive job of taking the first punch, making some solid tactical choices, and capitalizing his opportunities. Overall, an excellently played game with the exception of Germany S01-F03.
+1 # Jim O'Kelley 2016-09-19 14:56
Quote:
02 Spring I goofed by moving all my units east
Nice write-up, Jake. first, let me say that I think the most important thing for any player who wants to improve his or her play--no matter how experienced--is the ability to assess their game and figure out what they could have done differently, as opposed to focusing on how the other players did them dirty. Of course, sometimes you're just the hydrant, meaning through no fault of your own, you're going to get pissed on. But normally, you can find something that you can improve on for next time. You have this ability. Lots of players who have played longer than you don't, so kudos to you.

Second, I've been writing endgame statements for more than 24 years. I've always believed that thoughtful postgame discussion is a great way to improve the level of play, not just for the players in the game but also for the folks who read the commentary, especially newer players.

To that end, in the past few years, I've tried to get away from characterizing other player's actions as mistakes and instead have tried to talk about their actions as, pick a word, decisions/choices/risks that influence or force other players to make decisions/choices/risks. So, Ted's builds and your Eastern push presented third parties with decisions to make, and their decisions happened to work out in my favor.

David alluded to play style. I firmly believe that there is no single best play style. You can succeed in this game as a coalition-builder, a strategist, or a tactician who always makes his best moves. But regardless of play style, to be successful, players need a solid grasp of the way the spaces on the board and the pieces that move around them work together as a system. So, that's what I like to write about when I take the time to share an endgame statement.

(I'm home today with contractors in the house, so I'm writing this mostly out of boredom. ... Maybe I should have started with that?) Anyway, my hope is that the change in my style helps readers see the value of my statements as instruction rather than merely entertainment (hopefully?) or, worse, meta-gaming or propaganda. :-)

One last thing:

Quote:
Two of those choices probably keep the Austrians on side; two probably don’t.
This was probably too strongly worded. More likely, two of Turkey's choices would have possibly kept the Austrian on side. It's possible, even likely, that Austria would have felt like he had to address those two armies in Bulgaria and Rumania regardless of what Ted built.

Okay, what follows will be a public service to future German and Russian players.
+1 # Chris Kelly 2016-09-19 15:16
Quoting Jake Trotta:
... Chris "At this point, Jake, I've just given up on the idea of working together" Kelly...

For the record, I didn't say I'd given up on ever working together; I just said (or, at least, meant) that I'd stopped thinking about it one way or the other.

I assume we'll stumble into an alliance at some point. Or maybe you'll just keep finding a reason to attack me in Spring 1901, just as you've done the past three times we've played together. :D
+1 # Jake Trotta 2016-09-19 15:25
Quoting Chris Kelly:

For the record, I didn't say I'd given up on ever working together; I just said (or, at least, meant) that I'd stopped thinking about it one way or the other.

I assume we'll stumble into an alliance at some point. Or maybe you'll just keep finding a reason to attack me in Spring 1901, just as you've done the past three times we've played together. :D



Oh yeah I understand. I just very much prefer to paint myself as the victim in my admittedly-editorialized recaps.
+1 # Jim O'Kelley 2016-09-19 15:54
The Eastern Front: A Primer for Kaisers
I'll preface this by saying that Germany was the last of the seven countries I soloed with, which is to say it took me the longest to figure out how to play well. I love playing Germany now, but I used to hate it because I just couldn't buy a good game. The wisdom I'm imparting here is the result of a lot of hard learning.

On Sweden. As I noted in my initial statement, you can argue either side of the bounce. That's because sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't.

The most important thing here is to understand that it's not your job to bounce the Russians in Sweden. Rather, you need to consider the implications of the bounce to determine whether it's in your interest to do it.

How will a bounce effect the dynamics in the West, the East, and your relations with Russia? Don't let the SC chart be your only motivation. Consider the board, the players, and ask yourself whether it's in your interest to bounce him. Then act accordingly.

If you do decide on a bounce, consider telling him. Be sure to discuss the possibility of his move to Baltic and how you would deal with that. Let him know that you're fine with him having Sweden in 1902...even if you don't mean it. A bounce doesn't have to mean war if you handle the diplomacy well (and if the Russian player isn't a vengeful lunatic).

On Moscow and Warsaw. This is the part that took the longest for me to grasp, mostly because I was a terrible student of economics. You can quickly grow big as Germany by taking Sweden, Warsaw and Moscow, but here's the thing: A Russian collapse will spring an Eastern power or an Eastern coalition, and that means a lot of armies will soon roll your way.

And actually holding Moscow and Warsaw against a concerted attack from the south requires a minimum of six units and as many as eight. As long as you're not pressed from behind, your line will be impregnable from the south, but ask yourself this: Can you keep the momentum and either win the game or top the board with six to eight of your units, armies all, tied up in the defense of two centers? (Three if we count Munich.)

Unless the East is smeared with feces flung by monkeys, I say the answer is a resounding No.

Germany is a Western power. Ensure that the West is resolved in your favor before committing so many valuable resources toward an Eastern campaign.

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