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.