Nature vs. Nurture

"I don’t get it," my wife said, peering over my shoulder. "Wouldn’t they both apply?"

"I didn’t raise my son to be a backstabber," I replied.

Turns out it didn’t matter. It’s in his nature.

Junior Woodchucks Kevin O’Kelley (12) and Calum Mitchell (11), Pete McNamara’s stepson, made their Diplomacy debuts today in Game No. 207, played at Tony Prokes’ home in Des Plaines, and each bloodied his hands at the expense of an ally and mentor.

Kevin has wanted to play with us since our first game at his home in September 2005. That day, he kept popping in on us with a toy rifle, asking if he could be a spy.

"That’s the first day I met you," Dan Burgess told him, when the two were comfortably allied as England and France, respectively. But in Spring 1903, Kevin sailed into the Irish Sea and then walked into Liverpool in the Fall.

Calum, playing Turkey, waited a little longer to stab his ally, Don Glass in Russia. He took Rumania in Fall 1904.

The game ended by draw vote in Spring 1907 in the following center counts:

Austria (Brad Harrington): 2; 1.739 points.
England (Dan Burgess): 3; 3.913 points.
France (Kevin O’Kelley): 9; 35.217 points.
Germany (Tony Prokes): 2; 1.739 points.
Italy (Jim O’Kelley): 10; 43.478 points.
Russia (Don Glass): 4; 6.957 points.
Turkey (Calum Mitchell): 4; 6.957 points.

The supply center chart is here.

We used bar timing and wrapped up by 3:30. It was a fun, quick game, and both boys had fun. Kevin is eager to play again next week, and asked me to pay his club dues. (We also collected from Brad Harrington and Tony Prokes. Have you paid yours yet?)

A few other notes before we turn it over to the players for their comments.

First, every single player improved his score for the year. That wasn’t hard to do for the newcomers, of course, but it was a feat for some of us.

Second, we decided that Kevin and Calum would play France and Turkey, per our club’s novice rules, so I drew from the other five powers. We figured we’d put Kevin in the opposite theater, but our clever plan was thwarted when I drew Italy.

Finally, speaking of Italy, for the third straight year, the green units topped the board in our St. Patrick’s Day game. Weird, huh?

Okay, let’s hear from the players.

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Find out more about an upcoming event or article, talk smack before a game, brag about your board top, or most likely, ask what on earth your fellow Weasels were thinking!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Pete McNamara

    1st, a big thanks to all the players (especially Don, Brad and Jim whom he dealt with most option) for making Calum’s first experience with Diplomacy a very positive one. He had fun, he learned a lot about the game and as a true measure of success, he wants to play again. I was busy most of the time taking care of Rosie but everyone treated Calum with respect and helped him understand his options.

    After the game in the car these were Calum’s comments:
    1) “I really wanted to work with Brad, but his centers were always the easiest for me to take”
    2) “I never knew who to trust”
    3) “Are there expansions? This game needs expansions – more maps and also airplanes that can move more than one space” (that’s my bonus-kid – always adding something to a game)

    Thanks to Tony and his wife for hosting and for providing kitty cats and a rabbit to help entertain Rosie.

  2. Jim O'Kelley

    I’ll echo Pete’s comments and also thank him for bringing Calum and for serving as an order-checker and rule-clarifier for the two boys. Pete also did a really good job of giving Calum ideas for things to talk about in a detached way that let Calum play his own game. If I get a chance to shadow Kevin for a game, I’ll use Pete as my coaching model.

    In this game, however, Kevin and I were opponents, and I had a lot of fun playing with him, so, again, thanks to all for helping to make that happen. I tried and failed to instill in him a love of baseball. Maybe we will share a love of board games, and of this one in particular. That would be all right.

    Anyway, I posted the photo above to our Chicago Diplomacy Facebook page, along with the caption “Nature or nurture? We’re about to find out.” Within 20 minutes, his French were putting Piedmont to the torch, the little bastard.

    For my part, playing Italy with the kids in France and Turkey sort of tied my hands. I didn’t want to fight either of them, at least initially, so I employed the Byrne Opening (named for the late Kathy Byrne Caruso, a legend in the old postal hobby): F Nap-Ion, A-Rom-Ven, A Ven-Tyo. I seldom open that way, as I usually don’t like to jump on Austria out of the gates.

    Three things happened in 1901 that caused me to change course.

    First, the aforementioned Italian foray into Piedmont.

    Second, Germany (Tony Prokes) moved to Tyrolia as well, which bounced two of my moves. Dan Burgess (England) was playing in the West, so I knew the Triple was a real possibility, but I hadn’t expected opening moves to both Piedmont and Tyrolia.

    And third, Russia (Don Glass) stole into Galicia as Austria (Brad Harrington) chose to defend Trieste instead.

    While Russia and I had chosen the same foe and had even talked elliptically (at least for my part) about hitting Austria, I prefer not to jump on Austria as Italy unless I can get the lion’s share of the spoils. After Spring 1901, it was advantage Russia, so I resolved to prop up Austria and confront the Napoleon-sized bastard in France.

    I moved to Tuscany in the Fall and supported France’s army in Piedmont to Tyrolia, hoping the creation of a possible second front against Germany would persuade France and his Britsh handler to abandon the Triple in favor of a German attack.

    In 1902, I sparred with Kevin. Tuscany moved to Piedmont, just as Portugal moved to the Mid Atlantic Ocean and Marseilles sailed into the neutral Spain. I also moved Tunis to the Western Mediterranean.

    Had I been handling Kevin at this point, I would have advised him to ignore the threat to Marseilles and ensure the capture of Spain. Instead, Kevin covered Marseilles and moved Mid Atlantic to the South Coast of Spain. I bounced that move and allowed the fleet in Spain to walk back to Marseilles, keeping Spain neutral for another year.

    Instead of hitting Marseilles, I attacked Tyrolia with support. That dislodged the French army. Kevin chose to retreat off the board rather than go to remote Bohemia, the only valid space for the retreat, and he rebuilt a fleet in Brest.

    Now, I had been pretty worried about Don Glass in Russia. Although he failed to gain any traction against Austria in 1902, he still looked poised for a breakout. Plus, he and England were cooperating against Germany.

    England did not share my fear of Russia, telling me point blank that a huge Russia was not a British problem. He also made it clear that Russia was his principal ally, which made me wonder what his long-term plans were for my little Napoleon.

    Dan built F London that turn, which meant Liverpool would be exposed unless he moved the new fleet to Wales. But if you’re worried about Liverpool, why build F London? Tony saw the same thing, and the two of us, independently, began working Kevin to stab Dan. That spring, Kevin sailed proudly into the Irish Sea and captured Liverpool in the Fall, along with the neutral Spain to grow to seven. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of him, not even when he hit a walk-off at Thillens Stadium in 2010 or jacked two homers in a game in 2011 or scored the tying run from second base on an infield single in the bottom of the seventh with two outs in Game 2 of the 2011 Welles Park Minor League World Series.

    Okay, maybe I was more proud of each of those accomplishments, but this moment was pretty great, too.

    As part of the stab, I had agreed to pull my fleet in the Western Med back, and I needed to do that anyway, because the young Turk was building fleets like his allowance depended on it.

    I had fun negotiating with Calum. He asked good questions about my intentions and wasn’t shy about asking for my help against Austria. I kept agreeing to give him Greece if he’d dock one of his fleets in Smyrna or Constantinople. We jockeyed for position against each other, but pretty much all the fighting we did, and really all the fighting I was willing to do with him, was in the sea spaces along his shore.

    Eventually, we got to the point where I either had to follow through on my promise of support into Greece or renege. I reneged. Sorry, Calum.

    But, it was 1904, and Calum at last had decided to flip sides and accept Austrian support into Rumania. Unfortunately, while he grew to six, he didn’t have the right mix of units to press his attack or even hold his ground. Six would be his high-water mark. He was back to four the next year, and intent on killing everyone around him as payback.

    I picked up Trieste in 1904 by mistake. On the turn that Turkey stabbed Russia, I had planned to support Austria from Trieste to Vienna while also walking into Trieste behind him. But at the last minute, Austria told me that he planned to support the Turks into Rumania from Budapest. I forget the exact math, but I quickly concluded that the Austrian attack on Vienna would need support from both of my armies, Tyrolia and Bohemia, so I changed my orders. Except that I forgot to cross out Tyrolia to Trieste and instead wrote Bohemia S Trieste to Vienna for a second time. It really was an honest mistake, but I’m not sure that anyone besides me believes that.

    The first draw was proposed in Spring 1905. It would have given Kevin the board-top at seven, with me and Calum tied for second at six. I liked that outcome and voted for the draw. It failed, twice. Pete conducted a second vote because of some confusion over the instructions, but the outcome didn’t change.

    In 1905, Germany flipped sides and tried to help England defend the island. The Brits convoyed his army in Holland to Yorkshire in the Spring. That slowed Kevin’s assault on England, but it opened Holland and the German coastal centers to the F/I armies.

    In addition, since Russia was now back on his heels, I chose to stab Austria for real. I took Greece and Vienna, along with Berlin, to grow to nine. Kevin was at eight. Another draw vote failed.

    In 1906, Kevin took Kiel and I took Budapest. Per Tony’s wishes and also because I liked the outcome a lot, I tried to orchestrate a shared board-top for me and Kevin, but apparently Tony and I crossed our wires, and his army in Yorkshire supported the wrong French piece to London. So I ended up beating Kevin by one, 10 to nine, for a slightly ill-gotten board top.

    When we got home and shared the news with Meghan, she said, “Really? You won the game with two 12-year-olds?”

    “One of them was only 11,” I replied. But in my defense, I only took my centers from the big kids.

    As I mentioned above, Kevin is eager to play again and has also asked about places to play online. Once he left Dan’s orbit, I became his handler and helped with his orders, but he had some pretty good ideas about what he wanted to accomplish each turn.

    He also picked up on other elements of the game, such as when he came to me and said, “Dad, we should try to split these other guys up.”

    Learning how to do that takes more seasoning than one afternoon. At one point, he passed Brad on the stairs and said, “Don’t trust Russia.”

    Brad paused for a moment, raised an eyebrow, and then continued down the stairs. Kevin will learn with time.

    Another favorite moment was when he said to me while we were negotiating, “Dad, are we in an alliance?”

    Hey, we had come a long way from the start of the game when his response to Pete, who had asked whether he really wanted to move to Piedmont, was, “I don’t trust my Dad.”

    And speaking of that, at one point, I told him to stop calling me Dad. “You’re making the other players nervous,” I said. “Call me Italy.”

    Of course, my typical advice to newcomers is to address the player you’re talking with by name and the players you’re talking about by country. It dehumanizes them, which makes the idea of stabbing more palatable.

    Anyway, I’ve written quite a bit more than I had intended, so I’ll stop here, In his tribute to Allan Calhamer, War Weasel Nate Cockerill urged us to take time to share this game that we all love. Sharing it with someone you love is even better. I hope those of you who have kids will get a chance to do that some day, and when you do, if I’m in the game, you can count on me to treat them with respect and kindness and patience and to do everything I can short of giving them my centers to ensure that they have a good experience.

  3. Dan Burgess

    As usual, Jim provided a very eloquent and lucid recap of the game. It was fun to play this, despite the poor showing for my England, and I hope we have made a positive impression of the game on the youngsters. I think we did.

    As Jim noted, as England it was natural for me to befriend France, both because I like E/F early in the game and because it is not my nature to attack a newbie playing his first game. (Unlike a certain other O’Kelly in this club.)

    I’d also worked well with Don Glass in previous games, so I decided to team with France and Russia. In 1901 I convoyed to Denmark, and Don slipped into the Baltic Sea, but Tony was able to build two units and did fairly well at fending us off.

    As Jim noted, I was a rather poor handler of Kevin’s tactics — if he had picked up Spain after 1902 and built F Mar, and/or walked into Munich the same turn, things would probably have turned out much differently.

    After the army disband in F1902 retreats, I knew Kevin would build F Bre, and I built F Lon just because it seemed like the right place to put another fleet. I wasn’t thinking about attacking Kevin by any means.

    But then in S1903 Puppetmaster Jim persuaded Kevin to attack me. And I can’t blame either party. When negotiating with Kevin I noticed he was just bobbing his head, after he had talked with his father, and I was pretty sure something nefarious was afoot. But foolishly I didn’t go to the Channel or otherwise prepare for MAO-IRI and BRE-ENG. Ugh.

    I soon buried the hatchet with Germany in a vain attempt at defending my homeland. Russia was a noble ally the whole game, he could have dotted me but he knew it would benefit the growing twin-headed France/Italy monster.

    Again, it was a fun game. On another subject, I’m not sure that splitting the two newbies into France and Turkey was the right call. As I recall, our rules/guidelines call for a father/son combination to be split in that manner, but we split the kids instead, which meant that Jim and Kevin were likely to be neighbors. Again, had my handling not been inept they wouldn’t have allied, but it still doesn’t seem quite right. But it’s a casual club and we had a fun house game and it’s all good.

    What isn’t good is that we had to scramble to get seven players.

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