Brawl Star!

At about five minutes till 6 on Wednesday night, exactly six of the players were seated around the table at the Red Lion in Lincoln Square, ready to start. That was the first sign that this bar game would be different than the 82 others we had played since March 2007.

Indeed, this game was the championship of our inaugural Bar Room Brawl Series, a subset of the league where we tracked each player’s best three bar games over the course of Season Eight. And at five till 6, only our War Weasel, Nate Cockerill, the game’s second seed, was missing. 
Beefy finally oozed in at about 6:20, and we promptly selected powers using the French method that we’ve used at the Royale the past four years. Briefly, in reverse seed order, the players establish the power-selection order. The sixth seed decides whether to choose before or after the seventh seed; then the fifth seed chooses whether to go before, after or between them; etc.

Only two players broke order. The first was the most shocking. Don Glass, at No. 4, dropped down to last in the order. He later explained that he wanted to avoid playing next to me, but rather than placing his name card right after mine, guaranteeing that he’d have at least two choices, he placed it at the end of the line of cards, a miscalculation that made his choice ours.

Less dramatically, Cockerill dropped from second to fourth. These changes elevated me from fifth to third, ensuring the availability of a plum corner power if I wanted one.

With the first choice, Matt Sundstrom took France, as he did with the top choice in the first three Royales. Josh Heffernan grabbed England with the second choice. England, as we recently learned, has topped 24 percent of our bar games, more than any other power. France is second at 19.1 percent. That number might have influcenced Heffernan’s decision, but he also posted his best game of the year as England.

I waffled briefly at No. 3 before taking Turkey. I grabbed it in the first Royale and promptly got stuffed by my neighbors. Turkey can be a lightning rod, especially when manned by someone who is perceived to be a strong player. Fortunately for me, I had been anything but in Season Eight.

Cockerill grabbed Germany at No. 4, closing the West. Sundstrom would later say, "I figured I’d grab France, and everyone would run from me."

Cockerill’s choice may have been a bit unexpected, especially since he prefers Austria and Russia, both of which were available. However, I thought it was a strong choice for him. All year long, he and Sundstrom battled for the top two spots in the Brawl Series and the league standings. In this championship game, he wasn’t about to leave his adversary’s fate in the hands of other players.

Phillips took Russia at the fifth spot, and Kline grabbed Italy. That left Austria for Glass. Worse, he was right next to me, the player he wanted to avoid. On the bright side, in four games as Austria in Season Eight, Glass had topped two boards and shared a second. He’s not afraid to play the Dual Monarchy.

The game that followed was even more intriguing than the selection. Hopefully the players will contribute some commentary. I know it’s not always easy to write lucidly about a bar game, especially a few days after the fact. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear thoughts from the other guys and our two spectators, Ben DiPaola and Matt Kade.

I’ll contribute my thoughts below. But first, the game ended by time limit after the Fall 1907 turn in the following center counts:

Austria (Don Glass, 4th Seed): 0; 0.000 points.
England (Josh Heffernan, 3rd Seed): 10; 34.014 points.
France (Matt Sundstrom, 1st Seed): 3; 3.061 points.
Germany (Nate Cockerill, 2nd Seed): 5; 8.503 points.
Italy (Christian Kline, 7th Seed): 4; 5.442 points.
Russia (Ted Phillips, 6th Seed): 0; 0.000 points.
Turkey (Jim O’Kelley, 5th Seed): 12; 48.980 points.

The supply center chart and opening moves are here.

We now turn our attention to Season Nine. Opening Night has been rescheduled for Sept. 13 at my home in Little Italy. Two seats remain.

Once again, we’ll run a Bar Room Brawl Series as a subset of this year’s league. We’ll schedule some games soon.

Join the discussion!

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 5 Comments

  1. Jim O'Kelley

    I’ve played on three top boards at WAC, one at GenCon, and in all five Royales, but this game was the first with a hard ending. Or at least with a hard ending that we all knew.

    For that reason, I felt the game would play out like a European-style top board. So, Toby Harris’ excellent recap of the Paris WDC last month really helped me prepare mentally for the game. And while I didn’t reread it, Doug Moore’s recap of his win on the top board at the Vancouver WDC in 2007 also came to mind as I thought about how I wanted to play the game.

    In a nutshell, I believed the game would be close; that most of the players would play balance of power; and that at the end, I needed to be the guy who the other players wanted to win (if they couldn’t win themselves) or at least I needed to make sure that I wasn’t the guy they didn’t want to win.

    It’s not easy to play a game of Diplomacy without pissing people off. Nevertheless, that was my goal. And in the first four moves or so, as I moved cautiously and committed a couple of stabs of omission, I felt like all I was doing was pissing off all my neighbors.

    A key turn was Spring 1902 when I took Rumania with Austrian support. Russia and I couldn’t agree on a plan as negotiating time expired. As we turned to walk back to the table, I said, “Play cautiously.”

    I knew I’d have the Austrian support for Bulgaria to Rumania. However, I was still incredibly worried about an A/I detente, despite Italy’s attempt to steal Trieste in the previous Fall. So instead of supporting my attack with F Black Sea, I ordered that unit to support Constantinople to Bulgaria. I expected nothing to move, which was fine, as I was trying to play patiently and cautiously.

    Russia surprised me with Rumania to Serbia, a move we had never discussed. We had discussed me moving there with his support, but never the other way around. Consequently, I took Rumania. I believe Italy convoyed to Albania at that point, so I was now confident enough to press my attack on Russia.

    If I remember correctly, France entered the Mediterranean in 1903. (Patrick just woke up, so I’m off on a walk. I’ll wrap this up later.)

  2. Jim O'Kelley

    One more key non-move in Fall 1902. Italy had lobbied hard for help against Austria. Instead, I stood by Austria and continued to help him against Russia, who was trying to flank Vienna. I ended the year with Sevastopol instead of Rumania, annihilating the pesky Russian fleet. Italy was still at four and was now more committed against Austria, with his fleets in the Adriatic and the Ionian.

    So, when France entered the Mediterranean, Italy was fairly desperate. He pitched a plan to take out Austria with each of us picking up two Austrian centers and poor Russia getting nothing. I felt good about my relationship with Austria, but I wanted to play a balance-of-power game, and at this point, it seemed prudent to help Italy get a couple of builds to check French aggression in the Mediterranean.

    I knew Italy was upset that I had reneged on my offer of help against Austria in 1902, but I had mitigated that somewhat by building an army in Constantinople. That build raised a lot of eyebrows, but I figured another fleet would burn all bridges with Christian.

    It turns out I made the right decision, as Christian was willing to give me another chance. This time, I supported him into Greece and took Rumania from Russia via a convoy from Constantinople. That set up Serbia for the Fall. Italy took Trieste that turn, I believe, and we each got our two builds. (I think Italy also got Vienna, but he lost Tunis to the French.)

    In Spring 1904, Matt moved one of his French armies to Galicia to help the Russians, but at the same time, the Brits turned on him while Italy set up his fleets to retake Tunis.

    Let me quickly say this: It’s really important to pay attention to the entire board, but I have a tough time doing that in bar games, and such was the case here. The tight quarters, which often force me far from the board during the adjudications; the quick deadlines, which make it tough to check in with every player each turn; and, of course, the drinks all conspire against me time and time again. I think my recollection of events in the West is accurate…

    Anyway, Matt moved an army into a key position to challenge me and was stabbed by an ally for his trouble. That ticked him off, and when negotiations opened in Fall 1904, he offered to janissary for me if I’d help him hold Tunis and survive the game. I quickly accepted his offer.

    Despite being attacked by all three of his neighbors, Matt stayed even that year. I delivered the necessary move to the Ionian to thwart Italy’s attempt to recapture Tunis, and I also supported Matt’s army in Galicia to Vienna. The fleet I had built in Smyrna in 1903 held in the Spring, but now it moved to the Eastern Med while I took Greece from Christian.

    I lost Sevastopol to a combined E/R attack, but I had gained Budapest in the Spring, so I was at eight now, and I grew steadily from there and kept building armies.

    Christian wasn’t happy about my perfidy, but I helped him hold the Ionian against Matt (whose army was working with me against Russia), and he appreciated my army builds enough that he remained more in my orbit than England’s, the rising power in the West.

    I expected to stay even in 1905. Matt moved Vienna to Galicia in the Spring, and in the Fall, he moved that army to Warsaw while I hit Sevastopol with two supports. Russia could hold Sevastopol or Warsaw but not both. He defended Sev, with British support from Moscow, as I had expected, so Matt got Warsaw. But in the last minute of the negotiation phase, Matt told me that he had seen Ted’s orders and asked me to move to Vienna to bounce a move there by Ted’s army in Tyrolia. I changed my orders.

    It turns out Ted was headed to Trieste (where he bounced with me and Christian), so I took Matt’s center by mistake (Matt’s).

    In Spring 1906, the penultimate year, I finally retook Sevastopol. Russia and Germany dislodged me from Vienna in the Fall, and the only open space for my retreat was Italian-owned Trieste, which I had moved through with Italy’s blessing in the Spring en route to Tyrolia. I wanted to keep Christian on “Team Jim,” but I knew only one year remained in the game, and Josh in England was now at 10 centers. So, I retreated to Trieste to go to 10 myself.

    Heading into the final year, I assessed the board. The only certain build I had was Vienna. Christian wanted me to return Trieste to him so that he could finish third, and I really [i]wanted[/i] to honor that request. I held the tie-breaker with Josh by virtue of having selected later. I expected Josh to lose Moscow, which I had offered to Matt, but I’d look like an idiot if Josh squeaked by me because I let altruism get the better of me.

    I did vacate Trieste in the Spring, but only because Christian wouldn’t be in position to retake it until the Fall, and I did it by taking Vienna. I also convoyed to Apulia (I had taken the Ionian with Christian’s blessing in Fall 1906).

    I also supported Matt’s army in Warsaw to British-occupied Moscow, something I had failed to do correctly the previous turn. I wrote the order the wrong way, prompting a disgruntled Matt to ask, “Are you new?”

    As I looked at the board on the final turn, I saw Italian units all over the Western part of the board in positions to help England take as many as three centers. However, he could only help England take Tunis if he chose to ignore my threat to Naples. I decided to cover Trieste and make a play for an Italian dot (Apulia S Tyrolia to Venice) to give myself a better chance of holding off Josh.

    The attack on Venice worked, giving me 12 centers. Josh replaced Moscow with some center in the West to finish on 10. After a hard fought seven years, I was our first Bar Room Brawl champion.

    Dan Burgess drove down for the end of the game with some cool awards. All six runners-up received cool pint glasses, etched with the Red Lion’s logo and the name of the event. I got a huge stein. (The Red Lion sponsored the Brawl Series and paid for the awards.) The glasses were a nice touch, and we all appreciate the Lion’s support.

    Afterward, as we rehashed the game, Christian mentioned that on the last turn, he and Nate went to the back room and tried to decide who they hated more, me or Josh (meaning whether they wanted to try to throw the game to the other guy). They decided not to throw the game, which validated my play. Maybe I wasn’t the guy they wanted to win, but I certainly wasn’t the guy they wanted to lose.

    So, thank you, Guys, for a really fun game and for helping make our first Brawl Series a successful addition to our club’s portfolio of competition.

    Thanks also to Doug Moore and Toby Harris for some really great advice.

  3. Jim O'Kelley

    As a final thought, I probably mishandled the meta-game. Five of us will meet again next month in the Weasel Royale club championship game. I barely qualified as the seventh seed, but this win will be fresh in their minds. Plus, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be playing next to Don again. He’s the sixth seed.

    Oh well, I suppose one championship in the hand — even a minor one like the Brawl — is worth two in the bush.

  4. Matt Sundstrom

    Don’t like to comment generally, but this was a bigger game and Jim always has a great summary. I resolved to pick first before arriving. Was hoping people would not want to be next to me but that was dead wrong. Maybe you really like me? I will say Jim chose the other side and won. Hmmm? October 26 looms.

    I was hoping to work with Josh (England) and held on to that thought for too long. Channel was open and I was in Bur. But England was holding his own while I was in guessing games with Nate. Could have prevented England from getting Belgium (Bur-Bel) in fall 01 to keep my options open. Instead, I moved Bur-Ruh and pissed off Germany. It succeeded as Nate moved Ruh-Mun. Brilliant! England should love me. Then Germany dislodges Ruh in spring 02 expecting Mun-Bur to bounce. Mun-Bur works and I retreat Mun. Double brilliant (and I’m covered at home given the builds and moves)! But I screwed up an order to hold Munich in fall 1902. Failed on what I call the “Pignotti pull-through”. If you ever played Paul, he’s a master at this. You need to learn it. I lost focus and f*&^%d it up. Sorry Paul.

    I was still at 5 and decided to retreat to Mun-Silesia in winter 02 to keep England onside rather than rebuild at home. Almost always a bad idea. The eastern unit was a nuisance and Jim had to take it seriously. I think two of my final three dots were Warsaw and Moscow. But bad to be that far from home.

    England was still at 5 but naked on the backside. I could have sent MAO-Iri and taken Lvp if he didn’t react. Josh saw this and moved Nwg-NAO. Acceptable. His second move to ECH on top of that made his explanation of “you could have taken Lvp” not very believeable. For the record, I moved MAO south and pissed off Kline. Ended up between a superior English position and an angry Italian. Lovely.

    So I’m down. But not out and at six BBKs into the game. All excellent. Can still think but not deeply and having fun. You want me as your friend at this point. Obvious attack on me=bad. Patience and advice=good. Jim’s experience pays off. Know your opponents.

    Rest of the game was a bit of a mess. I’m out of position and can’t do anything against England. Don’t expect much from Germany. Staying at six in 1904 was very satisfying even if not tenable (might have been Vienna, Munich, Tunis, Paris, Brest and Spain). I think EG hit me again after I offered to work against them going east. That hit threw me into the arms of Jim. I’ve always felt there is something to be said for punishing an attack on you by helping someone else get bigger. Even to the point of a solo depending on the circumstances. If you’re going to lose, what difference does it make? Especially in a game like this. And the threat has to be credible. That was the case here and I was spread out enough to do it. Not sure how well it worked but I was a nuisance to be sure.

    So my game was perfect and I should have won. Since that didn’t happen…

    Congrats Jim. Always a pleasure.

    PS-volunteered my phone for a timer and left it at the bar. Was able to retrieve it thanks to the good graces of the Red Lion. I’m told there would be a lot of male anatomy in my photo library had they not intervened. Yay Red Lion!

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