Tempest 2016 was my second Diplomacy tournament and first tournament that I have traveled to. I chose Tempest for a couple of reasons. First, Brandon Fogel organized a road trip for some of the "New Guard" Weasels and that sounded fun. We could stay at his parents, and if that was too small Brian Shelden offered to let me split his room so it would be pretty inexpensive. Second, Brian said the Potomac Tea and Knife Society had very good players. Worlds 2016 at Weasel Moot probably had better competition overall, but he said at Tempest the competition would be more dense. I have been reading about the Pitkissers since the late 90s, so I was eager to see how I could do in a competitive environment.
The final reason I chose Tempest was that it was using Sum of Squares scoring. When I first moved from Austin, TX, to Chicago, IL, I found the Windy City Weasels on Meetup and went to a bar game. They used SoS scoring. I had only ever played Draw-based scoring and I didn’t understand it. I made arguments to them that made a ton of sense in long draw based games focused around stalemate lines but made no sense in timed bar games using SoS. I ended my first game with a one dot Germany. I didn’t like SoS. Over time though my attitude changed. I have learned to appreciate the shifting alliances that the scoring system encourages. More importantly, I love that it does not encourage player elimination. SoS games are more fluid, have more variety, and large players have an incentive to work with small players. This makes for a much more dynamic game. I will purposefully look for tournaments that are not draw based because I enjoy those more. Tempest met that criteria. I appreciate Peter using this system.
Understanding competition would be dense, my goal for the tournament was to place in the top half. I just missed this mark at Worlds so it seemed like a reasonable goal. My first board call put me in Turkey with Chris Martin and Joe Wheeler as my neighbors. Yup. Competition was definitely going to be more dense in this tournament. I had never played with Chris before but have met him a few times. I have a ton of respect for him and know by reputation that if you work with him, he can be a good ally as long as he comes out ahead. I *had* played an online game with Joe Wheeler and knew he was very good. We spent most of our online game fighting each other so I was not sure how he felt about me, but he had earned my respect.
I thought an aggressive anti-Russian A/T opening with a strong Austrian player in Joe had a real chance against Russia, even if the Russia was Chris Martin. England said he was opening north so I felt like it was time to pull out the Chicago favorite "Sundstrom" opening (aka the Crimean Crusher) and asked Joe if he’d be game for attacking Chris early if I sent Smy to Arm and supported him to Rum. Joe gave an enthusiastic yes so I felt confident. Step one was complete. I had my ally.
I opened negotiations with Chris and asked him how he would feel if I opened to Arm. I was genuinely curious. This happens so often in Chicago that Weasel Russians don’t always even view it as blatantly hostile. There are some fun follow on moves you can do to create an R/T from this opening and it tends to lure the east out of position. Chris said he would view this as completely hostile and if I opened to Arm we would be "going to the mattresses". I confirmed with Joe (Austria) that he was still game and ordered Smy – Arm. I was opening the tournament by attacking one of the best players in the world in S1901. I liked my odds though. I had a very strong ally in Joe Wheeler and I know from experience the Arm opening can really hamstring Russia. This was going to be fun.
Chris and I talked, Chris gave me a chance to back off, I declined, and he told me he didn’t care what happened to his own results, he was going to take me down with him. He wasn’t kidding about going to the mattresses! Joe and Chris went off to talk together for a very long time. It was way more time than someone who was a committed ally in the A/T should have spent talking. I started to get nervous. Next Joe said he didn’t want Rumania. Now I was really nervous. Why wouldn’t he want Rumania? Wouldn’t he at least want to bounce to make sure Russia didn’t get it? Why did he want me to take it? By this time klaxons were sounding in my head. Warning Will Rogers! Warning! I was terrified Austria was going to get me to take Rum and then use Ser to slip into Bul. I thought a hold in Bul made more tactical sense and had better defense, but what if Chris was bluffing and this was a ruse to open up Rum? Ultimately I decided that I couldn’t do this on my own, so I should trust my ally and hope he had a plan. Turkey cannot get out of the box without an ally. I needed Joe on my side.
Joe suggested I go to Rum with his support, build an army, use that army to fill in Bul, and we’d be off. I told myself "in for a penny, in for a pound" and did what Joe asked. He kept his word. Bul was safe. I picked up Rum and bounced in BLA and Sev. Joe did his part so I built the army in Con as agreed upon. I felt like the army was the wrong build, but at this point I didn’t want to risk anything that might cause Joe to flip. In retrospect this was a mistake.
S1902 was the critical turn of the game for me. I knew something was still wrong but I couldn’t figure out a good way out of it. I supported myself to take Sev and moved to BLA knowing both were unlikely to work. Here is where the genius of Chris and Joe’s plan came in. Joe supported Chris to Rumania, Joe bounced my army from Con in Bul, and my army in Rum had nowhere to retreat and popped. From here Chris supported Joe to Bul and I ended 1902 with a feet in Ank, an army in Con, a useless army in Arm, and a legitimate Lepanto as Ben(?) in Italy decided to join in on the dog-pile. Chris had done the better job at winning an ally and although I could tell something was wrong I just couldn’t see the way out. It must be really nice to be good at this game. 😀
Knowing my usefulness would end quickly, I admitted defeat to Chris and offered my services as a jannisary. I don’t hold grudges and respect good play. Chris had won the Diplomacy battle and kept me in the box. I respected that. Plus I enjoy playing this game.
For the rest of my game I tried to find creative ways to make myself useful. I was tap dancing. There were at least two situations where Russia could have convoyed my army in Arm and IMHO crush Austria. I was proud of myself for finding these moves. I still think they were good moves for all parties involved. Chris was playing a different game though and never executed the convoy. Maybe they were not as good ideas as I thought :D. My gut feeling is Joe and Chris had some sort of arrangement. I stayed at 3 or 2 dots for quite a while. F1905 should have been my last turn but I got lucky and was able to retreat back into a home center to keep playing.
The highlight of my game was the turn I was eliminated. Not because I was not having fun (I was actually having a blast trying to stay in the game), but because I had a really fun tactical scenario on the board. I owned a Russian occupied Con, Ank was open, Chris also had an army in Smy, and my last unit was an army in Arm. Side note. I am not sure my army in Arm ever moved after S1901! I hoped Chris would bounce his units in Ank, so I ordered Arm S Con – Ank. When the orders were read, Smy did go to Ank, but Chris forgot to order Con. I was eliminated in F1906 with a smile on my face.
A few lessons learned.
1. I have a new way to defend against the Sundstrom opening as Russia. It requires a willing Austrian ally and I suspect many Austrians will prefer Turkish support to Rum and getting the jump on Russia. However, if you can get Austria to join you it does make the Lepanto more effective and potentially blowing up the Turkish army is huge.
2. Feedback from Joe was that "let’s get Chris" was not the best opening line for negotiations. I am sure Chris disagrees, but I still believe if Joe and I had stuck together for real, it would have worked out well for us. I didn’t mean to make it personal. I probably would have pitched the same opening to Joe regardless of who was in Russia. It was more that I had played with Joe online, he had my respect, and I wanted to work with him. That is not what I communicated though. I need to be more aware of that.
3. I should have built the fleet in Con. No real A/T alliance should be threatened by that build (I might even argue it should be preferred). There was no excuse for that decision, particularly with doubts about my ally.
4. I knew something was wrong in F1901 but did not see a way out. I still like the Sundstrom opening, but I learned a major weakness is that if Austria doesn’t actually ally, you lose all sorts of tempo and position. This is another tool in my toolbox for Austria and Russia.
Besides those (huge!) mistakes I was pretty pleased with my play overall. Most importantly, I had a great time.