With two annual winner-take-all league championship games in the Weasel Royale and the Bar Room Brawl, not to mention this summer’s top board that will bestow a world championship, it’s good that we get so many opportunities to play in tight games with fixed endings. Our bar games, always fun and often light hearted, still offer valuable training for future games where the stakes will be much higher.
Granted, the Royale is open ended, so the endgame is usually different, and the top board at WDC, while in a timed round, should be a much longer game than our typical bar game. And in no way am I suggesting that the level of play in our typical bar game rises to the level of play on a WDC top board. Indeed, on Wednesday night, there were enough botched moves, non-moves and rusty tactics to keep a Diplomacy advice columnist busy for weeks. Still, the conclusion to Game No. 294, played Wednesday night at the Red Lion in Lincoln Square, was exactly what you’d want in a top board–taut, exciting, and unresolved until the final order was read.
After he won the world championship in 2007, the great Doug Moore, a fellow graduate of the Harvard of the Midwest, shared his keys to victory on the top board in a wonderful article for a hobby publication. I still remember one of his keys: He wanted to be the person whom the other players wanted to win if they couldn’t win themselves.
Unless you’re playing in a kill-happy draw-based system–an unusual choice for a top board–then there are bound to be players on the board at the end of the game who have no chance of winning themselves. While they can’t be kings, those players can be kingmakers. Throughout that championship game in 2007, Doug kept that in mind. He wanted the kingmakers to crown him. And they did.
You can try several tactics to influence the kingmakers. You can be the affable guy who makes the game fun for everyone, even when you’re pulping them. You can avoid needless lies and try to be as forthright as possible in all your interactions. You can go out of your way to give the little guys some game. You can do a combination of those things. But you should also know that the kingmaker frequently crowns a king because of who the player isn’t, not who the player is.
Another reminder from Wednesday’s game: When you know in advance when a game will end, the time to start planning your board-topping moves isn’t in the Spring of the final year.
Game No. 294 was interesting from the start. In the West, Brandon Fogel drew France. He had taken over the club lead after last week’s action at Peter Lokken’s home, and on this night, all three of his neighbors jumped him. He and Bryan Pravel in England bounced in the English Channel on the first turn and continued fighting for the next three, culminating in a swap of Liverpool for Brest in Fall 1902.
After that, though, the two enemies forged a tight alliance and worked together to blockade the Mid Atlantic against my surging Italians. They entered the final year with three centers between them and a decisive voice in the final outcome.
Meanwhile, newcomer Jackie Trimier played Turkey in her first game ever. Unlike the previous two newcomers who cruised to board-tops as Turkey, she never got much traction against David Spanos in Austria and Don Glass in Russia.
Through three years, David, Jake Trotta in Germany, and I shared the top at seven centers. In 1904, Jake captured Edinburgh unopposed to take the lead at eight. (Once Bryan committed to the Mid Atlantic blockade, he spent very little time adjacent to his centers.)
That set up the final push, which began in 1905. The key that year was Jake’s decision to support me into British-owned Paris. His support was part of an agreement in which I supported his attack on Vienna (which David sniffed out and stuffed). Jake also lost a center to Don, who started out strongly, picking up Norway and Rumania, but misordered in Spring 1902 and fell back to four centers where he languished through 1904. (Another lesson: Don’t give up. Don played a doughty defensive game, hung around, and finished the game on five and could have finished on six if not for a tactical decision in Spring 1906 that he’d like to have back.)
Anyway, Jake gave me the lead going into the final year, which caused some of the other players to question his sanity. But Jake’s decision had the strategic benefit of flipping me in the East, where David had been poised to run away with the game. Although the attack on Vienna failed, I did successfully support the Turks into Greece, knocking David down to six. And my build from Paris was an army in Venice. The three-horse race now looked like a two-horse duel between me and Jake.
Secondly, whether planned or not, Jake’s decision to support me into Paris put that center in play for the final year. As mentioned, after fighting tooth and nail for the first two years, the E/F alliance was now the tightest on the board. It’s highly unlikely that France would have supported me or Germany into British-owned Paris in the final year. Italian-owned Paris, however, was another matter.
So here’s how 1906 went down. In the Spring, I tried to support myself in Paris, but England cut the support while Germany moved to Picardy and also supported France into Paris, popping my unit there.
I did manage to take Trieste though and had two uncuttable supports for it against three Austrian units and a wildcard Turkish army that had just taken Serbia from Austria. Meanwhile, Jake had positioned himself to take Norway. Don in Russia could have thwarted that but instead of moving to Sweden with support, he chose a self-standoff there. The mistake ended up costing Don, but it didn’t matter in the final outcome. If Don had positioned himself to support Norway, Jake would have walked into an open London instead.
Either way, heading into the Fall turn, Jake looked to have a certain eight. My best hope was to keep and tie him there. To do that, I needed to accomplish three things:
- Ensure that Jackie’s Turkish unit didn’t participate in an attack on Trieste.
- Get England to cover Brest against Germany’s unit in Picardy.
- Convince France to hold in Paris so that I could support him.
Objectives two and three were related, and I was able to talk to Bryan and Brandon at the same time since they had essentially been operating as one power since 1903. My pitch was that a shared board-top was a better result for everyone than a sole board-top. I didn’t work it too hard.
Objective one was harder. David’s pitch to Jackie was that he’d rather she take Trieste from him than Serbia. I also argued that she should vacate Serbia but in the direction of Bulgaria, which Austria had snatched from her in the Fall.
Okay, we all turn in our orders, and as Don prepares to read them, Brandon says, "Read mine last."
No one appreciates drama more than me. Jake and I had made our pitches, and now Brandon was going to either give Jake the outright top or me a share of it. Might as well save Paris’ decisive order for last.
Jackie used Serbia to retake Bulgaria. I’d finish on eight. Objective one, check.
Jake took Norway instead of London–poor Don–ordered Picardy to Brest, and cut my support from Gascony.
Bryan moved Mid Atlantic to Brest as requested. Objective two, check.
All that was left were the French orders. His fleet in the Irish Sea held, I think. Army Paris stayed put, as I had requested, but it supported Picardy to Brest. Scrawled next to the order were five words, which Don read along with the order:
"Because payback is a bitch."
Game No. 294 ended by time limit after the Fall 1906 turn. The final center counts were:
Austria (David Spanos): 5; 11.574 points.
England (Bryan Pravel): 1; 0.463 points.
France (Brandon Fogel): 2; 1.852 points.
Germany (Jake Trotta): 9; 37.500 points.
Italy (Jim O’Kelley): 8; 29.630 points.
Russia (Don Glass): 5; 11.574 points.
Turkey (Jackie Trimier): 4; 7.407 points.
The supply center chart is here.
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[u][b]Epilogue and another point[/b][/u]
The 2015 Bar Room Brawl Championship game was every bit as close and exciting as this one was. In fact, in that game, three players had a shot at winning on the final turn. Ali Adib in Germany, Chris Kelly in Italy, and Brandon Fogel in Austria.
I was one of the potential kingmakers with a paltry fleet in the Black Sea as my only unit. My general approach to the game and king-making is to try to play the board. That way, my decisions don’t feel personal.
Chris and Brandon tanked my game that night, so on the final turn, I tried to throw the crown Ali’s way. If I remember correctly, I cut Sevastopol’s support for Moscow, allowing Ali to take it.
Another kingmaker was more successful than me, however. Chris, not Ali, won the game. Regardless, Brandon didn’t.
I’m reminded of the White Sox’ television announcers. Often when a batter is hit with a pitch that clearly was thrown without purpose, one will point that out and the other will say, “It still hurts though.”
My impersonal decisions are only impersonal to me.
While debriefing after the game, Brandon said to me, “You really looked disappointed when my moves were read.”
I was. When you want to be the guy whom the kingmakers want to win, it hurts when they choose someone else. But my disappointment was brief. Game No. 294 was a fun game with a great finish. I’m glad I got to play in it.
And that brings me to my mention of Doug Moore’s article. Those of us who have played by mail or online are familiar with the concept of endgame statements. You may call them EOGs for End-of-Game reports or AARs for After-Action Reports, but they’re all the same thing, and in the online and postal hobbies, they’re customary.
In face-to-face play, endgame statements usually take the form of lively discussion after the game, but there was a time when the comment sections of these game reports were filled with insights from the players. I’d love to see more of that.
Bryan Pravel, perhaps you’d like to start us off?
One more thing: The title of this article, A Fogel Finish, is a play on photo finish–obviously, I think. That reminds me that I forgot to take pix on Wednesday.
Photos with the game reports liven up our home page. It’s easier to remember to take them when I’m not playing. Anyway, next time you’re at a game, take a few action shots, and if any turn out good, send them to me.
One more thing: I found Doug’s article. [url]http://diplom.org/Zine/F2007M/Moore/dougstale.htm[/url]
I didn’t have a great result this game, but I learned a few things and had a great time. From the outset my goals were simple. In my previous games with the Weasels, I had played pretty opportunistically or tried out some risky openings. “Not this game, avoid creating a pattern” I told myself before the game began. My goals were simple: 1. Survive. 2. Prove yourself a dependable ally and avoid the early stab 3. Don’t mis-order. 4. Open conservatively.
I was playing England. I felt great about the opening discussions with Germany (Jake) and felt France (Brandon) was playing cautiously and willing to work with me down the road, so I was comfortable with both of my neighbors. The wildcard was that Russia (Don) told me he was opening to the north which sort of rattled me a bit. I like the E/R in online play but had never tried it in face to face. I planned to open with a traditional English northern opening to be safe, and wanted to keep the door open to work with Russia vs. Germany rather than encourage him to come after me. About one minute before the clock expired in S1901 I was approached by Germany (Jake) and Italy (Jim) who said they were opening to BUR and PIE and invited me to join in. I didn’t want a two front war, felt this was a great way to eliminate a threat early, and feared France was going to open to the channel so I violated goal 4 (open conservatively) and did the Yorkshire opening, moved to the channel, and gave up on the almost guaranteed build in Norway.
France (Brandon) also opened to the channel (tipped by Jim or Jake?) so we bounced. Germany (Jake) successfully made it into BUR and Italy (Jim) made it into PIE, so I knew France was in trouble. Russia (Don) had made it clear that he was going to Norway so I knew I couldn’t pick that up in F1901, and when Germany (Jake) offered support into BEL, it seemed foolish not to jump in and take my share of the French SCs. So despite not opening conservatively, I felt like I had played the board situation properly and was pleased with my result. More important than the fact I had a build, I felt I had a good ally in Jake. I was well on my way to goal #2 (prove yourself a dependably ally and don’t stab early).
For my 1901 builds I decided that this hadn’t been a traditional 1901 opening, so why not try for an early army instead of the fleet? France was already contained and I was already in the Channel. English players need to get armies onto the continent if they want to win, so why not take the risk and go for the army now? I’ve thought about this a bit and I’m not sure if this was a mistake or not. It was a gambit to not try and force MAO and I think I raised a few eyebrows, but Germany (Jake) seemed OK and I was “all in” on the E/G early game alliance, so I was satisfied.
Regardless of whether or not the build itself was a strategic mistake, what I did in 1902 pretty much ruined the game for me. I had agreed to give Germany (Jake) support into PAR so in S1902 rather than moving BEL – PIC and supporting BUL – PAR the following turn, I convoyed my army in YOR – PIC with support from BEL. I figured this would give me better tempo and keep me from playing second fiddle to Germany. The convoy would have been awesome except that France (Brandon) wisely moved F MAO – IRI. Holy crap. I just convoyed my only defense out of England, was going to lose a home SC, and needed a build or I’d have to disband.
Because I knew I was going to lose an SC, I wanted German support into PAR but Germany (Jake) pointed out that Russia had built F StP (nc) and we couldn’t hold Scandinavia without Germany getting a build. Turkey (Jackie) and Russia (Don) seemed to be getting along fine, so I felt that Russia was the bigger long term threat. I hated to lose a unit (particularly an army on the continent), but I decided to keep goal #2 in mind, and try to prove myself a dependable ally. My army in BEL was not in position to contribute to anything in the next turn or two. If Germany (Jake) got a build, he’d be able to immediately put that unit to good use and bottle Russia up. Russia (Don) all but told me he was coming my direction, so I decided to “take one for the team” and allow Germany (Jake) to get the build, supported BUR – PAR, France took LIV, and I disbanded my army in BEL. At the time I blamed myself for not building the fleet. In retrospect, I think the real issue was that I convoyed the Army off the continent too quickly and should have kept it back for defense. If I hadn’t convoyed the army, my position on the continent would be the same, and I would have kept France from picking up one of my home SCs which would be a two SC swing in my favor.
At the outset of 1903 my goal was to take BRE. However, when I took a step back and examined the board as a whole, I noticed that Italy (Jim) had somehow organized one of the most successful western Italian openings that I had ever seen. No matter what I said to Austria (David), he didn’t show any interest in moving against Italy. A voice in the back of my head (that sounded remarkably similar to Brandon as France :P) kept warning me that once France was gone, Italy (Jim) could force his way into MAO and because I had gotten behind on my SC count, it was almost inevitable that Germany and Italy would work together against me next. Russia also seemed in GREAT position to take advantage of that scenario, so I feared that even if Germany and I were to stay allied, an I/R would outpace us. I would not have the SCs I needed to hold the Stalemate position around MAO. I was convinced the only shot I had was to catch back up on the SC count but I couldn’t find a way to do it.
I managed to resit the temptation (I kept telling myself to remember Rule #2, avoid the early stab!) until Russia (Don) and France (Brandon) approached me together with the offer of Denmark in exchange for Sweden, and Paris in exchange for not taking Brest. Denmark was the piece that broke my resolve. I would get two builds (one in PAR, one in DEN), France would retain a fleet, we would have enough strength to hold MAO and if we played our cards right, could force Gascony and from there, Italy would have a really rough go at things and become more enticing for Austria to stab. I knew Germany would be upset, but I convinced myself it wasn’t really a *stab* per se, it was just getting myself back on pace; I was simply undoing the mistakes of the previous season for the good of the board. I was breaking up the I/R that was going to sweep the board and would get back in the game! :p
Of course it didn’t work out like that at all. Russia (Don) never moved into position to get me into Denmark. To make things worse, I mis-ordered so France didn’t manage to take Gascony either. In one single turn, I managed to violate rule #2 (no early stab) and rule #3 (don’t mis-order). It wasn’t even a very good stab! Had I moved the previous turn before I disbanded the army, I think it could have been effective early game stab. However, in retrospect switching strategies in 1903 when I did was foolish. I would have been better off either stabbing earlier, or sticking with my ally. Once again I proved the truism that the “half-stab” never works in Diplomacy. If you bring out the knife make sure you can back it up.
At this point, any chance I had at offense was done. Italy had locked up Ibera and WES. I felt my only value to the board at that point became holding the line at MAO. The rest of the game consisted of France (Brandon) and I supporting each other to prevent Italy (Jim) or Germany (Jake) from advancing on our position, and generally just enjoying the conversation. I made a halfhearted attempt to convince Italy and Austria to fight, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to happen. At this point in the game Austria (David) and Turkey (Jackie) were swapping SCs so there was little incentive for Austria to flip, and Italy’s units were out of position to do anything effective without telegraphing things a few turns in advance. I had a few negotiations with Germany and Italy around GAS/PAR/BUR but nothing serious.
Towards the end of the game, Brandon and I basically got to play kingmaker between Germany (Jake) and Italy (Jim). I felt a lot like a “jury member” in the TV show Survivor. It was surprisingly enjoyable to hear Jim and Jake make their arguments as to why they should get the top score instead of the other player. Neither were particularly convincing but they sure were enjoyable. You don’t get this situation in online play so this was a very new experience for me. This was probably the highlight of the night for me, and I guess the silver lining to my poor board position is that I would have never gotten to experience this aspect of the game without those mistakes.
On the last turn, Jake’s (Germany’s) pitch to me was to allow me to survive (he chose not take my final SC) in exchange for my support into an SC that would allow him to top the board. Despite the fact that I was basically Germany’s lap-dog the entire game, I still had a great time working with Jake. I strongly considered throwing the board top to him. He worked really hard all game and the “hey I’m a nice guy and will remember this in the future” argument had more sway over me than I expected. However, Jim’s performance as Italy was one of the strongest that I had ever seen for an Italian opening west. I may have been Germany’s lap-dog, but I felt I was marching to the beat of the Italian’s drum from S1901. Italy is my favorite country and I rarely see successful non-traditional Italian openings, so I felt Jim’s result was worth rewarding. It takes a great manipulator to create the situation where Italy can move to the west this strong. Ultimately I accepted Jake’s offer to allow me to survive, but did not follow up with support and tried to force a tie between Germany and Italy for the top of the board. I figured the tie was the closest thing I could do to improving my own score at that point in the game. In the end it didn’t matter because Brandon supported Jake in for the board win, which secretly I was glad to see because Jake really did play a great game and was fun to work with.
Coming primarily from the online world, face-to-face has been a (quite fun) adjustment for me. My first two games with the Weasels, the clock was my enemy and I really couldn’t focus on anything else. I feel a lot more confident in the time management, have had fewer mis-orders (although that’s still not perfect yet), and generally am getting more comfortable with the logistics of the face-to-face game. I still don’t feel I have time to make detailed plans with every player, but I’m getting more comfortable going with my gut. I’m learning that even a bad plan is better than no plan!
The scoring on the other hand has been a more difficult adjustment. Until I started playing here, I hadn’t ever played Sum of Squares scoring (or any other SC based system) before. I’ve only played in Draw based systems (even in face-to-face games). In a draw based system, I’ve gotten pretty good at forcing myself into draws by controlling key board positions, trying to force stalemate lines to form, and using the long time limits between turns to figure out the perfect way to “out-tactic” my opponents. In this sort of scenario, it doesn’t matter “how many dots” you have. It’s more about shrinking the draw to as small a size as you can (while making sure you don’t get eliminated). In the draw system I don’t really care if my ally has “more dots” than I do. What is more important to me is that I am the one holding the key board spaces so if my ally tries to stab me, they are throwing the game to their opponent. I draw a lot in my online games as a result. Every once in a while I get lucky and can race my ally for the win. I think they call this a “care bear” style of play. I usually don’t like to stab until the mid-game (after you are down to around 5 players and can switch to a cross-board partner) or preferably the late game when I’m gobbling up SCs as fast as I can to avoid a 3 way draw.
That is *so* not the right way to play Sum of Squares on a short time limit. 😀 In last night’s game, me giving up the build in Belgium makes sense if I know my ally will need me around to hold the Stalemate position around MAO and can’t stab me. I don’t need to increase my SC count as quickly in a draw based game. So long as our *alliance* is growing faster than my enemy’s alliance, it doesn’t matter which particular alliance member has more SCs. In Sum of Squares I am learning this is just a silly way to play. For one thing, Bar games should never solo. There isn’t enough time. We’re lucky to get to the mid-game and you don’t even get to the point that the stalemate line has much meaning. The impression that I’m getting is that in this system, every player needs to grow at a similar rate to his neighbors or he will become the attractive target.
The change in the scoring system has exposed some really bad habits that I didn’t realize I had. It’s definitely making me re-evaluate the fundamentals of the game and challenging the way I play. It’s a lot of fun. I love how dynamic these games are when compared to the online community I am used to playing in. After playing Diplomacy this long it had gotten pretty repetitive and playing these games here I feel like I’m starting over playing a brand new game. I think this scoring system is very well suited to face to face play, it keeps the games exciting.
David (Austria): We didn’t interact a ton. You weren’t attacking Germany which was fine by me. I was hoping that you could convince Turkey (Jackie) to move with you against Russia, but I was content with chaos in the east so I didn’t try and push for anything. Was there anything that would have swayed you to attack Italy?
Brandon (France): Very impressive job to stay in this game after that start. I meant what I said about your arguments being convincing. It would have been a very different game had I listened to you in F1902 and stabbed earlier when I still had 2 armies on the continent. My lesson here is to keep my eyes open for opportunities and remember I’m playing Sum of Squares, not a draw based game. I learned a lot just listening to you negotiate, thanks for letting me sit at the table with you at the end.
Jake (Germany): The best compliment I can give you is that I enjoyed the butt kicking you gave me. I don’t think I realized how much I was playing your game until I started writing this today. You figured out my goals for this game and played them perfectly. I’m glad you managed to top the board at the end. I had a blast. If I hadn’t made the tactical blunder of convoying that army too quickly, or if I hadn’t gone for the early game half-stab, I’m curious if you would have been able to stick with me, or if you’d have taken the easy dots. I feel I should have either stabbed earlier, or not stabbed at all (preferably without the tactical blunder in that case).
Jim (Italy): I have never seen an Italian take Iberia that quickly in all my years playing this game (even on a table full of newbies). I feel like I hardly had time to blink and you were in control of the whole of Ibera and about to rocket through MAO. Well done sir. My entire goal with bottling you up was to hope that Austria would stab and give me a shot at something offensively. This is another example where I need to keep the scoring and length of the game in mind. The main question I have of you is whether or not you feel if you had gotten through MAO if you realistically could have improved your score.
Don (Russia): It was nice meeting you for the first time. In retrospect, I think I’d probably have been better off working with you and France vs. Germany, rather than trying to keep you bottled up. I was so worried about your Northern fleet that the thought didn’t occur to me until it was too late. I appreciated your honesty. I never once felt like you were trying to “play” me, even when we couldn’t come to an agreement. I am curious if the mis-order which kept you from being able to support me into Denmark was intentional though. 🙂
Jackie (Turkey): I hope you enjoyed your first game! I think I mentioned the theory about the “Witches” doing well or failing together. You made out better than I did, but I don’t think either of us got the result we wanted. If we were in this situation again, I think I should have encouraged you to focus on Austria more, which could have encouraged Italy to head east instead of my direction. I enjoyed playing and hope we get the opportunity to play again some time (perhaps with better results for us both!).
Sweet! A proper endgame statement complete with player feedback. That’s how we used to do it in the postal hobby.
First, let me say that Bryan emailed his AAR to me yesterday, before I had written my game summary, but I didn’t read his report until afterward. I was happy to see some of the same themes in his report as mine.
When I’m writing an endgame statement, I try to tell the game’s story through my perspective and explain the rational for the decisions I made. But when I write a summary article for a game, I try to come at it from an objective standpoint, usually focusing on an aspect of the game or event that I found interesting, instructive or amusing. When I participated in the game I’m summarizing, it can be difficult to know how objective I’m being, so at least on some of my points, Bryan’s report served as affirmation.
Second, most would agree that Italy is the toughest country to play well. She’s especially difficult to play well in a bar game because she requires more time than the other powers to conduct her negotiations. That’s probably because of her interloper status in either sphere.
Anyway, in Game No. 294, time was especially short. Every negotiation seemed to run long. I didn’t get a chance to speak with Turkey–a brand-new player playing a country whose ambitions needed to be compatible with mine–until the third turn of the game.
I wish I had had more time to cultivate a relationship with a western power so that I could have better exploited my strong start.
Third, getting around to your specific question, Bryan, yes, I think I would have had a better shot at topping the board had I taken the Mid Atlantic. Similar to a basketball team deploying a marksman to loosen the opponent’s interior defense, I probably would have moved up to the North Atlantic to stretch out the E/F defenders and weaken the defense of Brest and Paris.
My problem wasn’t so much your blockade. I built the fleet I needed to break through in Winter 1903–at least it would have helped me break through by the time it got into place because you were removing pieces–but that same Winter, David in Austria plopped down a new fleet of his own. That meant my new fleet had to hang around in a watchdog role while David followed through on his stated intentions for that new fleet, so I never got the chance to steam west and bust into the Mid.
Finally, after the game, Brandon complimented me for “killing it” as Italy in this game as well as in Game No. 282 at Peter Lokken’s home. ([url]http://windycityweasels.org/game-reports/wcw-2016-season/891-the-lyin-aint-over-til-the-fat-lady-sings[/url])I noted that in both games, my options had been limited, and my strategy dictated, by the presence of a novice.
Unless forced, I don’t like to attack beginners. That’s a personal code, not a Weasel rule of thumb, but it’s a personal code that played a part in two recent successes as Italy where I employed vastly different strategies–jumping on Austria back in September (because there was a novice in France), and heading west on Wednesday (because there was a novice in Turkey).
In weighing the two strategies, I hate to come down on the side of the Austrian attack, because I’ve always been partial to the A/I and do believe that more often than not, the two countries must hang together or hang separately. However, it’s difficult to ignore the economics of the game.
As fast as I moved Wednesday night, I still couldn’t avoid a situation where I needed the units I had gained just to hold onto my gains. When you successfully jump Austria, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nor does it seem to be the case with a successful attack against Turkey.
My first game with WCW was the April 2015 Red Wednesday. I remember nothing of it. My next game, the next month, also at the bar, went by much the same way – in a blur. This time I had Christian Kline as the Austrian neighbor to my Turkey, and my earliest memory as a member of the WCW is the series of lies, stabs, and tactical beatings delivered by him to me. It was wonderful.
It took me a few more goes to realize that being a scorpion is not the only viable playstyle in Diplomacy. In the meantime I lied and stabbed my way through September to a total of 12 centers in 5 games.
I find perplexing the amount of attention that continues to be given to an article written on a now-defunct corner of the internet. It’s not like Diplomacy is that obscure: many board gamers and non-gamers I ask are familiar with it even before I start rambling about my latest game. Even so, I cannot admit that it has not influenced me. Before the October game I decided to take the advice given by the author’s diplomatic consultant and try being honest. Whaddaya know, 16 centers in 2 games. To be fair, one only happened because Jake kindly played kingmaker.
Defaulting to honesty has given me a degree of calmness in negotiation. I’ve always been a bad liar. I find that people deceive themselves just fine. Applying this to Diplomacy was natural and inevitable once I calmed myself down and broke out of tunnel vision. Developing strategic vision and tactical competence also lends weight to your interactions with other players. I grasped this immediately in theory, but it’s nice to feel it start coming to fruition. But: I let the pendulum swing too far. Substituting the hope for a lasting alliance for strategy is as lazy and inflexible as habitual dishonesty. In the last three games, I’ve bought hook line and sinker into an RT once and an AI twice. All three times my partner stabbed me, and for various reasons I deserved it all three times. This is not to be mistaken for the price paid for a good reputation. Indeed, people seem to consider me opportunistic and driven by self-interest. Nobody to my knowledge has walked away from a board thinking of me as a steadfast alliance player to the end. Nor should they. However, I do hope that in the future I will be become a player who strikes tough but fair bargains based on mutual interest and a flair for creativity.
The game. Wednesday’s game. We had a new player. Jim thinks we should be nice to new players. I think that’s cute. If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Jackie can thank me for making her a considerably stronger player. I not-killed her with determination matched only by ineptitude. For their part, Don and Jim both benefitted by playing a western game and leaving the two of us to duke it out. I think Don could have done better by engaging in, well, diplomacy. He could have used the one or two southern units standing guard for leverage and gotten another center out of it or at least kept Sevastopol. Nonetheless, setting Jackie against me and minding his own business worked out decently. I don’t know what I did to earn Jackie’s distaste so quickly. Maybe she thought Don was giving her a good deal in leaving her alone. I suspect she prefered Don’s laying out of the options to my direct attempts at persuasion. In F01 she blocked me out of Greece, giving Russia and Italy six and five centers, respectively, to our four. Later, she opted to create a three-army conga line in Bul, Con, and Ank with nowhere to go, refusing to swing Ank to Arm for additional leverage. I can only hold so much against her, being her first game and all.
My own actions were less forgivable. There was the obvious tactical mistake that cost me Bul late in the game. In hindsight, whether or not I took it I was not going to take out Turkey before the time limit. An Italian ally, a new Turkey, and a distracted Russia are as good as it gets for Austria. Focusing all my efforts on Turkey was the second-worst decision I could have made behind stabbing Jim. Once I had established a line that Turkey would be unable to break without help, I should have maintained it with three or four units and sent the other three, four, or five north. I knew the clock was ticking before Jake’s Germany and Jim turned against me, but I suppressed the possibility in my mind until it became reality.
The way in which my inflexible approach lead to the Italy/Germany attack is best illustrated by the construction of my second fleet. I had an army in Warsaw. Jake coveted Warsaw and was able to force it. He promised to support me into Moscow the next turn if I promised to build a fleet in order to attack Jim. After taking Warsaw he left me hanging in Moscow, citing somewhat reasonably that the dot would make me too powerful. At that point, I should have built an army and gone for Jake’s throat. Or, I could have built a fleet to maintain plausible deniability for another season and swung existing armies toward him. Instead, I built the second fleet and sent it along the Balkan coastline behind the first. I told myself that I could use it if Jim stabbed me. This was irrational because: 1) Jim was in no position to attack me alone; Turkey would not make a good partner; Russia was nowhere to be found; so he could only do it with Germany’s help, and 2) given the choice between Jake and myself at the same number of centers, Jim would have preferred to work with me. I hope Jim will clarify if my perception was correct. Anyway, my fleets wouldn’t have been in position to force Smyrna until the last turn. Bad move, David.
Yay! Another endgame statement, and it’s also a good one!
First, when your hobby beard is as grey as mine, you may feel differently about attacking new players. But for now, your focus is, and should be, on your best interest. If that means attacking the new person, then you should absolutely do that, as you did on Wednesday.
Second, during a couple of our conversations on Wednesday, I mentioned that I’m always assessing the board to determine whether my current course is the best one but that in general, as long as my alliance is working for me, I’m inclined to stick with it.
For the early part of the game, our alliance worked well for both of us. I only seriously considered another course on one turn. I told you about it later in the game. I forget the specifics, but while standing at the board with you, Jackie and Don, I saw an opportunity to work with Jackie on a stab that would net me Trieste and Greece and her Rumania. I wanted to pitch it to her, but I couldn’t be obvious about it.
I tried to quietly ask Don to take you away from the table so I could negotiate with Jackie over the board, but he didn’t pick up on my cue. So I let the opportunity pass.
When I finally did turn on you, it was because our alliance was no longer working for me. I was stalled in the West, and you were about to gobble up Turkish centers. I thought you were poised to run away with the game, so I started talking with Jake, and we reached the agreement that I wrote about in the game summary.
In time-limited bar games, I think it’s really important to keep the center counts close. More of those games should go down like this one did, in my opinion. Most don’t.
I wish I could have kept pace with you by growing in the West, setting up a final year in which either one of us could have topped the board. Instead, I made the deal with a devil named Trotta.
So, if I had pitched an attack on Jake in, say, 1904, would you have accepted?
Another good tool/tactic you’ve picked up, David, is the ability to pin a player down on the specific moves for certain pieces. Makes it harder for a guy to quietly set up a stab.
[quote]So, if I had pitched an attack on Jake in, say, 1904, would you have accepted?[/quote]
Yes. When I approached you about that attack, your response was, “Let me take two centers from Turkey, and then I’ll help you hammer Jake.”
I had zero growth prospects at the time, so I figured if I played on your timetable, I’d lose any chance at topping the board, which was my goal. That’s when it became clear that our alliance was no longer working for me.
That was a lot of fun! It’s some sort of magic that I pull my first board top and Jim O’Kelly still ends up at the top of the league standings at the end of the day.
Most diplomacy games have 4 Eastern Powers and 3 Western Powers. Generally these alliances break into a 2-on-1 in the West, and either a 2-2 stalemate, or a 3 on 1 that turns into a 2 on 1 in the East.
That was not what happened this game. 5 powers opened towards the Western theater, while Austria and Turkey got in a 1 on 1 slog that never really resolved itself. The alliance structures were also very fluid, with the exception of AI.
I believe the game pivoted on 3 early builds. First, England choosing to build an army instead of a fleet at the end of 01. With a rapidly growing Italian, England needed one more fleet to hold the Med, which created an alliance with France and its much needed fleet.
Second, the Russian build of a fleet in STP NC. Very early commitment north that signaled to Turkey “HEY I AM YOUR FRIEND EVERYTHING’S FINE JUST MESS UP AUSTRIA.”
Third, the Turkish built an army instead of a fleet. Normally this would mean a strong anti Russian offensive with Austrian assistance. But Austria decided to hit the army-heavy Turk, resulting in a slow developing war that ended level at the end of the game.
Italy, having no natural rival as a result of these builds, stormed through Iberia essentially unchecked and without pressure from the east.
Germany (me) was tremendously fortunate to board top. Because it was a bar game, Italy decided to stab Austria with a little encouragement and a Parisian appetizer. Had this game kept going, that stab doesn’t happen and the game would’ve been AI teaming up against a GR (with two Russian Northern fleets!) I can’t see that ending terribly well for the GR.
In my previous games as Germany, I don’t believe I topped five centers. In this game, I found myself with no allies in the midgame. Though highly stressful, that made negotiating a way forward an extremely fun challenge.
[quote]Though highly stressful, that made negotiating a way forward an extremely fun challenge.[/quote]
A challenge that you handled masterfully, Sir! While I fell short of my goal this time, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see players like you and David–guys who at this time last year had never even played the game–developing into strong players.
Also, Jake and Bryan, go read my comment in the write-up from the event at Lokken’s house last week.
[quote]It’s some sort of magic that I pull my first board top and Jim O’Kelly still ends up at the top of the league standings at the end of the day.[/quote]
The deeper we get into the season, the more “net score” comes into play for the most active players.
Composite scores for the league standings consist of just a player’s best three results. That way, players who aren’t as active can still compete for the Weasel of the Year title and/or a spot in the Weasel Royale league championship game with just by playing two or three times per year.
Jake topped the board and earned 37.5 points in the game, but since he had already scored three games, the lowest of which was around 25 points, he only netted 12 points for his composite score. At the start of this game, my third score was a zero, so my entire haul went directly toward my composite score.
294 was a fun exercise in misery for me. It brought out interesting cultural questions about metagaming, which I’ll get to after dispensing with the less interesting AAR on my own play. Despite the night not going well for me, I found it entertaining and useful for highlighting some weaknesses in my game.
The first year was just plain bad. I failed to sniff out the strength of the GastroIntestinal alliance in the initial negotiation period, didn’t protect myself properly in the fall moves, and then made a poor tactical choice in the second moves. On top of not getting a build, I had an Italian army in Mar, a German army in Bur, and an English fleet in ENG. I knew that if I couldn’t turn these jokers against each other asap, I’d be heading home early.
England (Bryan) building A Lon in 1901 created the opportunity. I figured he would convoy to the continent, which would leave Lvp open for the taking. Then he would face a choice between taking Bre or supporting Germany (Jake) into Par (and then losing a unit). Either choice would fray their alliance. After I moved to IRI in Spring 1902, I made my case to Bryan — stab Germany now and I’ll help hold back Italy. Bryan considered the offer carefully and then went to talk to Jake. The two of them came back to the table after time was up, both complimenting me on my persuasive abilities. “Not convincing enough, apparently,” I noted, knowing Bryan likely wouldn’t be going for it if he’d told Jake about the offer. Indeed, he supported Germany’s Bur-Par and pulled A Bel off the board.
1903 was the pivotal year for England and myself, and unfortunately it turned on an English misorder. Seeing that Italy would be upon him before I would even be gone, Bryan was ready to work with me. I offered to support him into Par (with Bre) and to Spa (with Por), and he agreed (Bryan remembers Don being part of this, but I don’t). But instead of writing MAO-Spa (sc), he wrote ENG-Spa, just a plain old brain fart. Had he taken Spa in the spring, Italy wouldn’t have been able to take Por in the fall and would have been forced to choose between retaking Spa or keeping MAO. Assuming he’d retaken Spa, EF would have had fleets in MAO and LYO (or WMS) and an army in Por. Whole new ballgame. I’m not sure Bryan or I would have recovered fully, but we’d have had a fighting chance.
The rest of the game in the west involved Bryan and I holding Italy out of MAO (despite rather colorfully phrased entreaties from Jim) while Jake slowly expanded. Jake showed a degree of careful treachery the whole game that I hadn’t seen from him before, and I was impressed. Especially shrewd was some late cooperation with Jim, which both have detailed in their AARs.
Which brings me to The Decision (see Jim’s AAR for the details). After being set upon by all 3 of my neighbors at the outset and barely surviving to the endgame, the role of kingmaker had fallen to me. From Fall 1901 until Spring 1903, the negotiation periods had been very lonely for me; no one wanted anything from me, apart from a piece of my soon-to-be corpse. So there was a simple emotional sweetness to being courted again. It feels nice to be wanted.
Why did I choose Jake over Jake/Jim? Good question, one that raises questions of meta-gaming which I think are interesting and worth discussing.
If I had simply wanted to maximize my point total for the game, I would have chosen Jake/Jim, which would have netted me 3 SCs instead of 2 (and my first increase the *entire* game, it should be noted). It was hard to find this compelling, however, since the game is part of two series of games (the league and the brawl), and I knew the score wouldn’t change my standing in either. Note that this is already a meta-game consideration, although one that I don’t think anyone finds objectionable.
I figured both Jake and Jim would pass me in the league standings regardless of what I did, so there wasn’t much to guide my choice there. I would have kept Jake from passing me in the board-top count, but that didn’t mean much to me.
I’ve played with Jim a few times now, and I find him enjoyable to play with. He doesn’t try the hard sell, but rather watches, listens, and strikes surgically. His strategy is to let others do most of the talking and then react. He makes me think of the karate master who tells his students to let the opponent move first and then reflect the force back; use your opponent’s aggressiveness and strength against him. Unfortunately for me, Jim’s wisdom has led him to use me as leverage in one game (leading to my elimination) and then prevent me from having a chance at a board top in another.
Jake and I joined the club around the same time, and we’ve made our way up the ranks together. He has a friendly, analytical approach to the game, which I appreciate. “You have to applaud a well-executed stab, even if it’s against you,” I once heard him say. We’ve worked together a few times, enjoyed a couple unspectacular stabs, and have generally gotten along well. This is the first game we’ve been at loggerheads from the beginning.
Do I like one more than the other? Not really. I probably feel a bit more kinship with Jake, since we’re in the same Weasels class, but that’s not enough. Do I hope Jim thinks twice before making self-uninterested moves against me in the future, and also that Jake throws some sugar my way some day? Probably, but I could easily have switched the names and that makes it sound like a decision based in self-interest. Maybe it was, in part. But the truth is that I also went for maximum fun, and Jake topping alone just seemed like a funner outcome.
Is any of that appropriate? “Meta-gaming” is a bad word in the hobby, and some forms are truly objectionable. But it seems like reputation and relationship management across games is the really fascinating part of being in a Diplomacy club; it makes the league year as much of a game as each board, with similar types of strategic considerations. And love of grand strategic considerations is why we’re all Weasels, after all.
Great report, Brandon.
You and Bryan better recollected the events of Fall 1902 than I did in the initial summary. I was certain that the Bre-for-Lvp swap had happened, but your eyewitness accounts as well as the supply center chart bear witness to your account.
[quote]“Meta-gaming” is a bad word in the hobby, and some forms are truly objectionable. But it seems like reputation and relationship management across games is the really fascinating part of being in a Diplomacy club[/quote]
Unless you’re taking seven strangers off the street, teaching them the rules, and turning them loose, it seems to me that some level of meta-gaming is inevitable, whether it’s an old score that needs settling, a crazy opening that you read about online and have always wanted to try, or a personal crusade to improve Austria’s results. At least our league with its ongoing standings makes it easier to figure out a player’s motivation.
Cross-gaming–for example, I’ll help you top this board if you’ll help me top that one–is a far dirtier term, I think, but that’s something you’d be more likely to see in the postal or online hobbies where people are playing in concurrent games.
Over the years, our league standings and their occasional effect on play have ruffled some feathers. Usually the feathers of seasoned players who are looking for a one-off game. On balance, though, our league approach has been a positive for the club. It adds a fun layer of competition that encourages a large core of players to play a lot of games, which in turn makes it easier to fill boards when the occasional players are ready for a game.
Occasional meta-gaming is a small price to pay for access to frequent face-to-face Diplomacy games.
[quote]some level of meta-gaming is inevitable, whether it’s an old score that needs settling, a crazy opening that you read about online and have always wanted to try, or a personal crusade to improve Austria’s results.[/quote]
Actually, I gave a better example of meta-gaming in a previous comment. Allowing a reluctance to attack new players to affect my actions is an example of meta-gaming.