The Fourth Reich

If you don’t like beer, heavy food and cheerless efficiency, then life in the new world order may be hard on you.
Jake Trotta guided Germany to a dominant win in last night’s Bar Room Brawl Championship Game at the Red Lion in Lincoln Square. He topped the board with 17 centers to earn a permanent spot on Cockerill’s Orb, the new Brawl trophy. Named in memory of Nate Cockerill, the Cockerill Cup will reside in the Red Lion, Nate’s home away from home when he lived here.
Jake grabbed the lead with seven centers in 1902 and extended it from there. He was playing short with nine centers after 1903 and ended 1904 with 10 centers and a four-dot lead on his two closest competitors. The game ended by time limit after the Fall 1908 turn in the following center counts:
Austria (Matt Sundstrom, 6th seed): 0
England (Brian Shelden, 3rd seed): 0
France (Brandon Fogel, 1st seed): 1
Germany (Jake Trotta, 2nd seed): 17
Italy (David Spanos, 5th seed): 5
Russia (Ali Adib, 7th seed): 0
Turkey (Jim O’Kelley, 4th seed): 11

The supply center chart is here. Endgame statements are coming…

(Note that Ali Adib was filling in for Christian Kline, who finished second in the Brawl Series but was a late scratch for the championship due to a scheduling conflict. Adib was the second alternate. First alternate Geoff Serednesky was unable to play. Also note that we were on the clock by 6:20. That’s almost as impressive as Jake’s win.)

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This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Bryan Pravel

    Things that amaze me about this game.

    1. 17(!) centers in a bar game that ended by 11:00 pm.
    2. 17(!) as Germany in this club.
    3. 1908 with bar game timing (clearly the Christian Kline effect is real)
    4. Jake got 17 with Fogel, Sundstrom, Shelden, and Spanos as neighbors. That’s some legit competition.
    5. Spanos and Jim worked together well enough to stop the solo!

    Can’t wait for the AAR’s on this one guys. Congrats Jake!

  2. Jake Trotta

    The best thing that happened to me in this game is that I learned from all of my mistakes in the Royale, a game that definitely belongs on my least-greatest hits. Here’s what I learned about playing a top board:
    1) Too much tempo can make you a threat
    2) Patience is key. Drama will unfold and there will be opportunities, your responsibility is to put yourself in a position to take them.
    3) It’s a beauty pageant, not a race. Relationships are where the game is won or lost. People need to want you to win.
    4) If you get out of the gate with a buddy, you’re going to have a great chance to win. That means solid negotiation in 01.

    Brandon and I had talked the day before about power selection. He was first, I was second, and like the Royale, we agreed to France and Germany with the assumption of a Sea Lion. This is a risky strategy- I was choosing to share a theatre with a better player, exactly as I had done at the Royale. My goal in this was to get out of the gate, eliminate one threat, and make it to the dance. The fewer players vying for the top in the last year, the better my odds were.

    For power selection, I wanted a threat to end up in England, someone I could work with in Italy, and a strong Austria to cover my back. Ideally, Russia wouldn’t be a hothead as well. Shelden in England was good-I didn’t see it likely that he’d throw the west to Brandon unless I pissed him off (which, granted, I do most games. Fortunately this time I’d finally learned my “lessons.”) Spanos playing Italy was a total wildcard, but I was okay with that-potential chaos for France and the East. Ali proved to be a very reliable partner in Russia, and having Matt in Austria gave me a lot of confidence. Jim’s position in Turkey was also comforting.

    01 I had three goals: make sure Brian didn’t see the Sea Lion, make sure Brandon followed through on the Sea Lion, and arrange a long-term partnership with Ali. Brian and my negotiation went well-Brandon forced Burg on me, which made deflecting suspicion easy. I know he wouldn’t swipe Munich-too difficult to hold at the cost of an ally-so the Sea Lion was set to go. Ali agreed to the Sweden-Norway swap, his goal was ensuring no one got too big in the east. The Sea Lion worked, I got the North, and it looked likely I’d get out of the gate.

    Brian disbanded his fleet dislodged from North and built A-Lon, F-LVP (while having a fleet in Norway). This was an absolute dream for me-no real English threat. With two armies and Liverpool covered, the only logical progression of the Sea Lion was to give me London, as France had Portugal in the bank. Ali honored our arrangement and the army in Denmark walked into Sweden. David was in Tyrolia, and I figured he’d take a swing at Munich. I decided to move to Ruhr anyways-if I’m getting Sweden and London, I can just kick him out next year. It also slows my tempo enough to keep the east calm. He did end up hopping into Munich.

    F02 was an absolutely critical season. There was an opportunity to move Italy from Munich to Burg with a follow into Piedmont, but it wasn’t guaranteed. I talked to Dave about it, he seemed lukewarm, so I didn’t do it. Brandon and I were good to go, feeling good. Then Shelden came to me and said “hey do you want to go up 3?”

    Now, I was afraid of too much early tempo. I was afraid of ruining an alliance that could turn my midgame. Early RG conflict SUCKS. But he was offering me Norway-and letting me hold onto London. Ali had a fleet in STP NC and couldn’t really strike back. And with Spanos in Munich, I could look smaller than I actually was with a build behind me. Plus, I could take Edi any time I really wanted, in addition to serious leverage on STP. That’s a realistic pathway to 10, offered in 02. In a normal game, you take this deal in a heartbeat. In a championship game, you think “damn, I hope the board doesn’t freak out” and then do it.

    I went up Norway, Sweden, and London; I lost Munich. The East was a mess-Dave had swiped Trieste. The key for 03 was keeping Ali and Brandon calm. I told Ali that I needed him to keep Jim in a box, so I would stop after STP. He wasn’t furious, which was all I needed.
    Brandon was much more concerned. In the spring, we struggled to arrange a deal to give him London-I wanted to make sure I’d get that build back somewhere. But in the fall, I gave him London to ease his concerns and help him build fleet Mar. Spanos had moved to west med in Fall 02, so Brandon had to shore up in the South. Matt also told me he wanted me to win, which could be very useful down the line.

    Now, I built one with one in the bank. I built an army, but that put me a fleet short to move on Brandon. Mostly I wanted to shore up Ruhr. Then Bryan offered to Janissary for me if I took London from Brandon. I told Brandon I’d put him into Liverpool, didn’t order the support, and walked into London. Because I had a build in the bank, I built 2.

    I was 4 ahead, but it was only 8:30. Which, shit. Brandon wanted Jim to win.

    Now the board began uniting against me… or at least they tried to. Ali moved all his units back my way, but Jim stabbed him for Sev as he did.

    Here’s an important thing, folks: when you do a “let’s all stop the board topper” alliance, there are only 3 situations where you should really stab. 1) when it can catapult you into the lead quickly. 2) when the board leader is no longer a threat (or is about to be) 3) when it’s the last year of a bar game.

    Now, top board, there’s a different calculus with things, and I’ll let Jim explain his reasoning. But what ended up happening was Ali throwing both Moscow and Warsaw to me. There’s 12. For added fun, Jim walked out of Sev, so Ali could help me for another year.

    Then it was a race. I finally broke through and took Belgium, and build two (I had one in the bank.) In the east, I was RUSHING units over to hold Russia. The following year, I started spring by saying “well, I think it’s time for handshake” and finally grabbed Liverpool, his last dot, with his permission. That was 14.
    Brandon had been hard charging towards the North Atlantic, possibly able to give me headaches on the island or in Scandinavia the next year. But Spanos swiped Spain for reasons I’ll let him speak to, Brandon got frustrated, and actually vetoed a draw (that Jim would have accepted) at the end of 07 so he could retake Iberia.

    The final year was a formality-I took all of France in the fall, and had a unit in Galicia that took a shot at Vienna that didn’t work. I didn’t need more than just one more dot, even with dot throwing Jim maxed out at 14, but I decided to swing at the solo just in case. I asked Shelden if that would be a dick move, his response was if you’ve never soloed, go for it.

    Overall, I hit my four goals and won the beauty pageant. Even though I shot out of the gate, I did what I could to slow myself down and not cause the board to panic. When they finally did, I caught some breaks and was in position to take advantage. Frankly, I don’t think I played a dominant game. I played a sound, complete game and things just broke my way. That was enough for the Cockerill Cup.

    Player feedback:
    Matt (Austria): You not dying early kept Jim’s tempo down, which ended up being critical. You were between a rock and a hard place in this one; I’m frankly impressed (and grateful) you held out so long.

    Brian (England): Honestly, 10/10 janissary work. Absolutely crucial to my success and I very much appreciate the help.

    Brandon (France): We discussed this post-game, but your only mistake was leaving that half-opening in London when the stab made the most sense. That probably doesn’t happen if Spanos doesn’t hit West Med in 02, or if Ali doesn’t get out of position up north. Can’t really think of a lucky break you caught all game.

    David (Italy): Still my favorite player to have in the other theatre. I’ve been on the wrong side of #stylepoints in quite a few games, but the chaos in this one all worked out my way. Was surprised you didn’t go for AI once you took Trieste, but again, worked out for me.

    Ali (Russia): Thought we negotiated very well together. Tough with a growing Jim and growing Germany next to you, but very much appreciating you crowning the right champion.

    Jim (Turkey): Well, it sure made me nervous that you were slowly building momentum in the south. Your odds are much better if you don’t walk out of Sev when you did. Could have gone either way in 04/05, still had a great chance all the way through 07.

  3. Bryan Pravel

    There are some really great points in this AAR. Your last AAR in the style of our President Elect (ouch that’s painful to say) was my favorite from an entertainment standpoint, but this is an AAR I’d consider linking to in the Wise old Weasel for Germany. I wasn’t there so I’m not sure how the rest of the board took it, but IMHO I think you showed you learned your lesson about how others perceive you from the Royale by being willing to risk Munich early. That’s some high level play right there. Munich is one of the most important spaces on the board, critical even in the mid to late game phase. In the early game though, unless things are going poorly for Germany on other fronts, it’s not too difficult to take back. In this game at least giving it up to keep yourself from becoming too large a target early was a great call.

  4. Jim O'Kelley

    Mistakes? I made a few. But then again, not the ones you mention.

    I’ll start with my decision to buck the Grand Alliance and attack Russia.

    It’s true that I needed to slow down Germany to give myself a shot at winning the game. However, that last bit is key. The Grand Alliance does me no good if all it accomplishes is replacing the current board-leader with someone else not named me. I mean, if my blood is fueling the board-leader’s engine, then sure, throw in against him. But that wasn’t the case here.

    The Grand Alliance expected me to do two things in 1905. First, order Armenia to Ankara so that Russia could move to Armenia with his fleet, which I then would promptly dislodge, allowing him to convert the piece to a more valuable army. Second, begin pulling back my units so that they weren’t threatening the centers of my alliance partners. In the Spring specifically, I was supposed to move Serbia to Albania while Bulgaria and Greece bounced in Serbia.

    At this point in the game, I was trailing the board-leader by four centers. I had the tie-breaker, so if we could stop him, I’d need four more centers to win. That’s if the Grand Alliance stops him. But what if it rolls him back? Will the Grand Alliance’s gains spring a new leader? Will new units sprout in the East, obstructing my already narrow path to victory?

    Certainly, waiting was an option. The plan called for the destruction of the troublesome Russian fleet and would have left two of my units on Sevastopol. On the downside, it also would have left me with just one unit on Rumania. Still, it’s reasonable for the reader to conclude that Rumania and Sevastopol would be easy future gets for me. The reader, however, does not know Russian player Ali Adib like I know Ali.

    I’ll write more about his cautious play when I reach the part of this treatise that will discuss my actual mistakes. For now, suffice to say that if you believe Ali would have focused on shoring up against Germany while I had the F Bla/A Arm gun pointed at Sev, you’re crazy. He would have insisted that I back those units up as well before following through on the second half of his moves. (The first half being repositioning to the north, which he did in Spring 1905.) So, I’d have to back my pieces up. And then, as soon as I tipped my hand by moving back into position to take dots from him, he would have done exactly what he ended up doing–throw dots to Germany.

    My choice? Wait patiently and hope that a better path to victory would open, or take the immediate, near-certain chance to grow to eight and use the resulting momentum to assume the Russian role in the Grand Alliance.

    I went with the choice that strengthened my hand.

    Unfortunately, Matt Sundstrom in Austria had similar thoughts:

    [i]Do we really need Italy in the Grand Alliance? He can only contribute one army to the cause. His three other pieces, all fleets, are superfluous…unless he moves them against France, and then we’re all screwed. If I dot him now, I get a build to deter Jim, and, let’s be honest, I can’t win with three… [/i]

    It’s very possible that if either Matt or me had stuck with the plan, then the other’s gambit would have paid off. A classic prisoner’s dilemma, maybe? We both took the choice that was best for us, and consequently, we both lost. On a top board, however, there’s no such thing as a better loss.

    The second mistake you (Jake) mentioned was my decision to walk out of Sevastopol in the Fall. That’s not exactly what I did. I’ve been thinking about that decision, and you may be right that it was a mistake.

    Unfortunately, I’m classic Old Guard, which means I haven’t adopted Peter Lokken’s innovation of photographing the board for use during negotiations. Therefore, I can’t turn to my photo album now to confirm my thinking of Fall 1905. This I’m certain of: I couldn’t guarantee that I’d hold both Rumania and Sevastopol, but I could keep one of them and take Budapest from Austria (who had just dotted Italy, so the Grand Alliance had collapsed before I could force my way to the front lines and take over the Russian position). Those two were guaranteed.

    So, I ordered Ser S Rum-Bud, Bla S Sev-Rum. As it turns out, Russia didn’t use his army in Galicia to attack, so I could have kept both [i]and[/i] taken Budapest with Rum S Ser-Bud, Bla S Sev.

    I can’t confirm this because I don’t have a photo of the board, but I think I could have accomplished my same guarantee of two centers with Bla S Sev and Ser S Rum. I think the only unit that could have cut Serbia’s support was the Austrian army in Trieste, and if he did that and I lost Rumania as a consequence, I simply could have retreated into Budapest.

    The advantage of this set of moves, of course, is that it gives me the best chance of keeping both Russian centers, which would have allowed me to more rapidly advance on Moscow and Warsaw. Instead, I had to wait a year to capture Sevastopol, which cost me tempo.

    Anyway, I didn’t “walk out of Sevastopol,” I played for two builds. A look at the board position may confirm that I played poorly for two centers, but if so, I don’t think that mistake was as costly as the ones I’m about to discuss.

    [u][b]Mistake No. 1: Matt was where it’s A/T[/b][/u]
    If you sit down at a table with me and Matt and think to yourself, “Awesome, these guys can’t work together,” you’re badly mistaken. We can work together. We have worked together. Quite well.

    I’m speaking for myself here, but I think Matt would say the same: The truth is I usually view him as an ally of last resort. Not because I don’t like him. Not because I can’t work with him. But because winning the game becomes much more difficult if I march into the midgame with him as my equal partner.

    In this game, I should have realized that the last resort was upon me by the end of 1902. The F/G crushed Brian Shelden’s England, due in some measure to Mr. Shelden’s unorthodox–in these parts, at least–defensive measures. The West was virtually resolved, and in the East, we were still bumping into one another in the Balkans.

    At this point, I absolutely should have recognized–as Matt surely did–that he and I had to work together if we wanted any chance of winning the game. Instead, I remained fixated on killing Matt, a goal that was a lot tougher than it should have been because fear was Russia’s guiding strategic principle.

    I’ve been playing with Ali for a little over two years now. He’s been great for the club. Good player. Fun to play with. Has recruited a bunch of other players. But Jesus, his play style is so cautious that it’s nearly impossible to work with him as equals.

    In this game, he wanted me and Matt to fight. I get that. But he wanted to watch rather than participate because he feared that regardless of whom came out on top, he’d be next. So, he didn’t take Galicia when Austria was on the ropes early, and he declined an offer of two supports into Serbia for an attack whose only possible negative consequence was a standoff.

    I can understand a decision to stay out of a fight between two neighbors, [i]if[/i] you take that opportunity to do something else, but Ali sat on the sidelines in the Balkans while simultaneously muscling up in the South in preparation for what he viewed as the inevitable attack against him. Consequently, his promising game in the north evaporated. By the end of 1903, he was down to four centers and effectively out of the running.

    I don’t mean to criticize Ali’s play here. He did what he thought he needed to do. I do want to criticize my response to his obvious reluctance to work with me against Matt (and vice versa). I didn’t move against Russia until Spring 1904 (while still trying to thwart Matt). By that time, the game was already out of hand.

    Shame on me. Matt, I’m sorry for failing to recognize what was obvious to you.

    [u][b]Mistake No. 2: Hear and Listen[/b][/u]
    I also had two unfortunate misunderstandings. One cost me credibility and the other, tempo.

    First, credibility. As I noted above, Matt gave up on Ali before I did. In Spring 1903, he took Rumania. Because I’m an idiot, as we’ve surely established by now, my response was to help Russia retake the dot. I pledged support, and Ali asked me to order Bulgaria S Ukraine to Rumania. I agreed.

    Later in the turn, Ali approached me and said four words: “Support Galicia to Budapest.”

    “Okay,” I said, and he slowly repeated his move: “Galicia to Budapest.”

    All pretty clear, right? Well, we had not once discussed Budapest, so although he very clearly told me what he was doing, I understood him to be talking about Rumania, the space we [i]had[/i] discussed and that was now occupied by the Austrians.

    I ordered Bulgaria S Galicia to Rumania while Serbia moved to Budapest to help the Italians retake Trieste. Well, Ukraine to Rumania succeeded without my help, but there were consequences:

    1) Instead of shrinking to just two centers, Matt stayed at three and remained an impediment to my ambitions.
    2) Instead of staying even at five, Ali had to pull a unit. He removed a Northern fleet.
    3) Because I took advantage of the tactical situation to finally slip into the Black Sea–we had bounced for the first five turns–Ali viewed my non-support of Galicia to Budapest as a deliberate misorder. As a result, my Spring 1905 stab was the final straw in his mind rather than [i]a[/i] straw.

    Second, tempo.

    Perhaps due to a soft spot that developed during long, thoughtful discussions about the game in the formative stages of his Diplomacy career, or maybe it’s because, as we’ve already established, I’m an idiot, I kept trying to work with the Chicago hobby’s human SCUD, David Spanos. (In a glorious Fall 1902 sequence, David took a potshot at Spain that failed, stole Munich from Germany, nabbed Trieste from Austria, and cut a support of mine that almost gave Austria Greece. It’s thrilling to launch David. He truly could land anywhere. And everywhere.)

    As I mentioned previously, Matt and I had similar ideas in Spring 1905. In the Fall, I wanted to put David’s Italy back in Trieste. We were outside talking and had just agreed that I would support him in when I looked up to see Prime Weasel Brian Shelden standing in the glass window of the door, pointing emphatically at his watch. Time was up.

    Now, as was made clear in Jake’s write-up, the codes of ethics that we bring to the table aren’t always identical. Mine includes rule-following.

    True aside: I’m a direct descendant of a half-brother of Edward O’Kelley, a member of the James Gang and the man who shot the man who shot Jesse James. For the most part, however, we O’Kelleys have always been rule-followers.

    So, I was uncomfortable breaking the rule about negotiating after time expires, but I needed an answer.

    “Who’s the mover?” I asked.

    “Support Tyo,” he said.

    Not having embraced Lokken’s innovation was about to cost me again. “Wait, what’s cutting Venice?”

    Shelden was standing next to us now: “Guys, it’s time.”

    “Okay,” David said. “Adriatic.”

    Great. Adriatic is the mover, Tyrolia is cutting Venice, let’s write these orders.

    But wait. Is that what he meant? Or did he mean that Adriatic would cut Venice? Shoot. Now I was second guessing.

    I ended up writing Albania S Tyrolia to Trieste.

    Which was incorrect.

    I’m actually not sure whether having Italy shrink to three here was a bad thing for me, but Austria sticking at three [i]seemed[/i] bad.

    Since the dual stabs of Spring had doomed the Grand Alliance, my goal now was to swallow Austria as quickly as possible and bum rush the German line. Still a long shot for me, but an Italian fleet in Trieste would have looked much better come 1906 than an Austrian army.

    [u][b]Mistake No. 3: Misguided Loyalty[/b][/u]
    After the game, Jake asked me if I had played with any allies. I immediately pointed to David. Although he had kicked me in the shins on multiple occasions, I kept working with him.

    Even when I stole into the Ionian in Spring 1904, I did so to be potentially useful to him as he maneuvered fleets to defend against a French onslaught. I never seriously considered attacking him until I sailed into Tunis in Spring 1907. Failing to entertain the idea of his dots as an alternate path to victory was a mistake.

    Spring 1906 opened with Italy at three centers and me in the Ionian, Albania (army), and with a new fleet in Smyrna. I was fixated on my Mos-War strategy (debits for me, credits for Germany, if I could take them) at the expense of exploring other possible paths to victory. Like taking the Italian dots. I didn’t even build F Smyrna with an eye toward the Italian dots. I built it because I wasn’t sure how David would react to everything that went to hell in 1905, and I wanted the fleet for defense if necessary.

    Taking a shot at a convoy to Naples here, and then possibly picking up Tunis in the Fall? Or vice versa? Doesn’t mean I have to give up on Mos-War, just means I’m taking some of my eggs out of that basket.

    But I stayed true. And David dotted France, effectively killing Brandon Fogel’s will to resist Germany.

    Another quick aside: After reading Italy’s orders to retake Tunis in Fall 1907, Matt picked up my order book and said, “And here comes the Pignotti Pull-Through.”

    Never even contemplated it. My tactics are rusty.

    Another quick aside: For the Easterners and carpetbaggers reading this, named for Paul Pignotti, a masterful practitioner of the tactic, the Pignotti Pull-Through is an attempt to save a seemingly vulnerable center by using a non-adjacent piece to support the piece in the center into the attacker’s space. The opponent often overlooks this tactic, considering instead the likelihood that the non-adjacent piece would cut support if he attacks the other way.

    Another quick aside: Mr. Shelden, our new Prime Weasel, calls the Pignotti Pull-Through “Braces.” If he doesn’t adopt our ways quickly, Mr. Shelden may have trouble governing our hobby as an obvious outsider.

    Anyway, from the moment I attacked Russia in Spring 1905 into 1907, I felt like the game was in the balance despite Germany’s lead, which had shrunk. But my mistakes caught up to me in 1907, and Germany won going away.

    Well played, Jake.

  5. Jake Trotta

    Didn’t mean to imply that anything was a mistake, Jim, just a bit unorthodox.

    Interesting to hear about the different communication failures that messed up the east. Also interesting to hear the thought behind leaving Sev.

  6. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote]Didn’t mean to imply that anything was a mistake, Jim, just a bit unorthodox. [/quote]
    No worries. I don’t mind owning up to my mistakes. But I’m physically incapable of writing about them in fewer than 2,500 words. (Another O’Kelley trait.)

  7. Bryan Pravel

    Great writeup Jim. Helps clarify a lot.

  8. Brandon Fogel

    This game has gotten more nettlesome in my memory with a little distance. Jake played extremely well, especially diplomatically, and he deserved the win without any question. But the game’s lack of drama is my fault; Jake’s stab in F04 was foreseeable and easily countered, and yet I let it happen. I saw the stab opportunity, saw why it made perfect sense, and still decided not to take any steps to thwart it. Whatever rationale I had at the time was dumb and I knew it. This is an example of a type of wishful thinking I like to call the “Hopeful Pleasant”, which I’ll explain below. Wishful thinking can be a powerful sedative in Diplomacy.

    After I drop some ink on that topic, I’ll discuss Jim’s decision to stab Ali in S05. I do think it was a mistake.

    By the end of 03, I stood at 7 with my ally Jake in Germany at 9. He had gotten the upper hand in our alliance for two main reasons. First, Italy had gone Tun-WES in S02, part of a spectacular turn in which he took also slipped into Mun and Tri (in the fall he also interfered with Turkey, following through on the common Italian “no-allies” strategy). In his AAR, Jim referred to David as a SCUD; this felt more like a dirty bomb. The fleet in WES combined with the threat to Bur dramatically interfered with my early game tempo and prevented me from securing my share of the English dots. The diplomatic repercussions were even bigger; David and I never got far in discussions about teaming up against Jake. I take this is a diplomatic failure on my part. I should have found a way.

    The second reason for Jake’s advantage was that Brian in England had decided to help him as much as possible. Brian’s defense against the Sea Lion in F01 was to disband F NTH and build F Lvp and A Lon (Russia did not open north, so Nwy provided a build). He then supported Jake into Nwy in F02. I was too slow to realize how much Brian could imbalance the alliance, especially in combination with the radioactive waste cleanup forced on me in the Mediterranean. Brian and I tried to figure something out a few times, but with his fleet to the west of the island, I saw little I could offer. Even so, I should have tried harder. I simply was not thinking very creatively.

    The end result was that I needed Jake’s support into Lvp in 04,and I needed to leave Lon unguarded to do it. Russia was weak, so Jake had no pressure from the other side. His choice there is so obvious that I’m embarrassed to describe it in detail. He either sends armies east to capture Mos and War, leaving his backside vulnerable to me, the 2nd place player, or he takes dots away from that 2nd place player. With the east still a mess and with Brian (now down to 1 unit) offering to janissary until the end, it was an easy decision.

    As I began learning to play Diplomacy at a higher level, I found myself at times in situations where I needed something from someone who had a positional or dot-count advantage over me, and all they needed from me was not to interfere with them. I would be nice to them in hopes that they would be nice back. I now call this attitude the “Hopeful Pleasant”. As a general rule, if you find yourself in the Hopeful Pleasant, it means you’re about to get stabbed.

    To the extent that I thought this through, I thought it was not a good idea to attack Jake alone, and unfortunately there was no one on the other side who could pressure him. This, of course, is the perfect reason for him to stab me, so I should at least look to protect myself. I could certainly have slowed him down long enough for Jim to rise in the east. I had a vague thought that even if Jake did stab, he would be a clear runaway favorite, the board would unite against him, and I might be able to take advantage. However, unless you’re desperate, that’s a terrible strategy to rely on. Again, this was just a really dumb moment on my part. If I simply cover London and go to the Channel to protect Bel in the next year, I have a great shot to win.

    Now, Jim’s stab in S05. I think it was a mistake because Germany needed to be pushed back somewhere, and the eastern front (Stp/Pru/Sil) was where he was weakest. I think in the tumult of bar timing, Ali would not have been able to effectively police the location of every one of the Turkish units and Jim could have set up a later stab. If Jim felt he had to grow then, the Austrian dots would have been safer to take, since Matt was less essential to the Grand Alliance. He could have done it in concert with Italy, who could have provided an effective counterweight to me should I have gotten the upper hand on Germany.

    Of course, that would have meant forming a good working relationship with a neighbor he’d had difficulty working with, so I can see how that wouldn’t have been very attractive. But I think that path has a greater chance of success than the one he chose. Ali seemed on board with it, in any case. Perhaps having a clear purpose enabled him to be more decisive.

    Ultimately, Jake played probably the strongest gameI’ve seen him play, and he deserved the Orb. If it seemed like everything went his way, it was because of his magisterial diplomatic efforts. Three of his four neighbors fought for him to win, including two whom he had attacked. That’s no accident.

    Congrats on getting the Orb, Jake! Don’t rub it too much or you’ll go blind.

  9. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote]Now, Jim’s stab in S05. I think it was a mistake because Germany needed to be pushed back somewhere, and the eastern front (Stp/Pru/Sil) was where he was weakest. [/quote]
    My gamble was that I could push him back there in concert with the A/I push in the middle. Had the A/I held, my bet would have paid off.

    [quote]I think in the tumult of bar timing, Ali would not have been able to effectively police the location of every one of the Turkish units and Jim could have set up a later stab. [/quote]
    Could not disagree more. Had I followed through with the Grand Alliance plan, Ali would have built A Sevastopol and supported it, Germans be damned, until I backed out of Black Sea and Armenia. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.

    Then, once I backed up, he would have turned his attention to Jake, but not before restating his threat to throw dots to Jake if I moved on him.

    To have any chance of winning, I needed to participate in the Grand Alliance action against Germany, not turtle up in the backfield, which is what Ali and Matt were demanding.

    [quote]If Jim felt he had to grow then, the Austrian dots would have been safer to take, since Matt was less essential to the Grand Alliance.[/quote]
    I also disagree with this. Matt had enough armies to tie up German units in defense of Munich. Plus, he’s a brilliant tactician.

    And I didn’t feel like I needed to grow then. I felt like I was about to lose my best opportunity to put myself into a position to contend for the title. Had the plan, say, been for me to dislodge the Russian fleet in Sevastopol in the spring and then push up into Ukraine or Galicia in the Fall, I might have done that.

    [quote]Of course, that would have meant forming a good working relationship with a neighbor he’d had difficulty working[/quote]
    Wasn’t just me. Matt experienced the same difficulty. Ali simply is not willing to trust people enough to make moves that are optimal for the partnership. If there’s any risk to him, he shuts the plan down.

    [quote]But I think that path has a greater chance of success than the one he chose.[/quote]
    Well, we’ll never know, will we? What we do know is that the West got out of hand, and I was unwilling to work with Matt to clean up our side in time to respond. As a result, by 1905, my chances of winning were slim regardless of what path I chose.

    [quote]Ali seemed on board with it, in any case.[/quote]
    Yes, he followed through on his part of the plan…and on his threat to throw dots to Jake if I crossed him. But, as I said, there’s no doubt in my mind that come 1906, he would have insisted that I back up those two units before turning his attention back to Jake.

  10. Brandon Fogel

    Jim, you’re a better player than I with a lot more experience, so I should defer. Unfortunately, I’m not great at doing that.

    If Matt doesn’t stab Italy in S05, doesn’t he just join Russia against you? At that point, Matt would see that fighting Germany would only help you win, and he was unlikely to prefer you winning over Jake. (As it happens, Matt had concluded as early as 03 that he had little chance to win and was already plotting to help Jake.)

    Overall, it seems to me that if the board is out of balance and you’re behind, you need some balance to be restored to the board before you can tip it in your favor. Throwing the board further out of balance is the wrong direction.

  11. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote]As it happens, Matt had concluded as early as 03 that he had little chance to win and was already plotting to help Jake.[/quote]
    Matt is a great player not because he plots to help other people win but because he’s constantly plotting to help Matt win. That’s what great players do.

    Matt was also telling me that he wanted me to win. That’s what he does when he’s the little guy. [i]I’ll help you. Just keep me around.[/i] And all the while, he’s searching for a way back into the game.

    [quote]If Matt doesn’t stab Italy in S05, doesn’t he just join Russia against you?[/quote]
    Russia? No. Russia’s dead. But yes, Matt had no interest in a Grand Alliance simply for the sake of helping someone other than Jake win. Like me [i]and [/i]Ali [i]and [/i]David [i]and [/i]you, he was joining the Grand Alliance to give himself a better shot at winning.

    If my bet had paid off, I believe Matt would have done whatever he thought he needed to do to increase his slim chances of winning.

    [quote]Overall, it seems to me that if the board is out of balance and you’re behind, you need some balance to be restored to the board before you can tip it in your favor. Throwing the board further out of balance is the wrong direction.[/quote]

    Overall, you’re correct, but in this game, the problem with the Grand Alliance was that there wasn’t a credible path to victory for most of the people participating in it. That’s why I attacked Russia. That’s why Matt attacked David. That’s why David eventually took Spain from you.

    Other than possibly you, who had been stabbed by Jake, you could go right down the line and likely get the same response from everyone: “If I can’t win, what do I care if Jake does?”

    (Compare with the Royale’s endgame, where if England and France had been able to work together to slow down Turkey, each would have had at least [i]a shot[/i] at winning themselves.)

    The role given to me in the Grand Alliance — kill the Russian fleet and then turtle up — would have been good for you and only you, at least initially. Russia and any combination of A/I were not going to gain centers from Jake. They could have saved Moscow and Warsaw and forced him to tie up units in the defense of St. Petersburg, Munich and maybe Berlin, but his count wasn’t going to recede from 10 unless you (or Brian) were able to capitalize.

    Then what? Well, that depends on how Jake pulls. If he pulls in your favor, you’re the new threat and the Easterners can pull back to deter me. If he pulls in favor of the Easterners, then suddenly new units are sprouting in my path to victory.

    Meanwhile, the original units the Easterners committed to the cause? How far have they strayed from the dots I need to win? Not far enough.

    Again, as I said above, if the Grand Alliance’s plan called to push one or two units of mine forward against Germany, then maybe I go along. At least then, I can try to engineer the counterattack to my long-term advantage.

    But that wasn’t the plan. The choice I rejected was turtling up and hoping, [i]hoping[/i], that eventually there would be a better path to victory than the one that was right in front of my face.

    Look, I won’t argue the general point that Turkey is best played patiently. But we were at least halfway through a time-limited game, and I was behind by four dots, so I bet it all on a long shot that I believed to be my best shot.

  12. Matt Sundstrom

    Great commentary folks. Jim and I can indeed work together well if infrequently. I would have gone along with AT in 1903-04. There wasn’t much else to do that presented any kind of future. I had started the game very conservatively (hedgehog) in hopes that something would present itself. Nothing did. Italy poached Trieste, Russia was not willing to commit and it was hard to do anything with Turkey except stay out of each others way. AT was all I saw even if I was junior. I also believe there need to be at least two eastern powers working against Turkey to be effective. Anything else is good for the sultan. That was true in spades in this game. So I figured that was my best option.

    Once Jim did not follow through with me, my game was pretty well done. I did what I could to survive. I agree that Jim’s key decision was following through on the Grand Alliance in 1905. I believe Jim is correct in expecting Russia to demand that Turkey further back off after destroying the fleet in Armenia before any white units went after Germany. That was something I had not considered. Past that, Jim and I will probably disagree. Germany looked like he would surely win without resistance. AFR were best [positioned to do that. So I would say the better (if slim) chance for Turkey was the Grand Alliance. Germany going down 2 makes Turkey’s task easier. The other case is that the better slim chance is going for the gusto right away. If you think your chances are close to zero with waiting, you go for it. Sounds like Jim made that judgment. It was 8:45 when that happened, so your thoughts on how much time is left matters too. I thought there was enough. But I see Jim’s logic.

    Agree with Brandon’s assessment of Jake’s stab against France. That was Germany’s best move at the time, especially in a title game. Got to expect people will go for gains in a championship with time limits.

    Side note-I’d ask whether we have a policy on negotiating pre-game. It sounds like that happened and whoever drew England was screwed before the game started? Sorry if I misread this. I’m ok with it if everyone has that understanding. Might help to be explicit about it.

    Jake played this really well. 17 in a bar game is impressive. Congratulations to him and thanks to all for a fun game.

  13. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote] Side note-I’d ask whether we have a policy on negotiating pre-game.[/quote]
    This is what I was alluding to when I wrote this:
    [quote]Now, as was made clear in Jake’s write-up, the codes of ethics that we bring to the table aren’t always identical.[/quote]

    I don’t know that it makes sense to have a rule that you really can’t enforce. I think the best you can hope for is that you land in a game with six other people for whom prearranged alliances don’t pass the stink test.

  14. Jim O'Kelley

    …Otherwise, if people feel the selection method we use is being unfairly abused, then we could do away with it in favor of random selection. That would be a shame, in my opinion, although I do still have a bad taste from the prearranged alliance that launched Nate, may he rest in peace, to his Royale title in ’12.

  15. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote]I’m ok with it if everyone has that understanding. [/quote]
    Yah, I would rather do away with the selection method or even the championship games completely than normalize the practice of pregame negotiations. It’s a slippery slope from premiere game with power selection to house game with preference lists.

  16. Brandon Fogel

    Jake and I did talk the night before about going FG. Since we were 1-2 and the seed order was public, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. If there were a rule against it, we wouldn’t have done it.

    As it happens, in this case, I don’t think anything would have played out differently had we not talked about it.

  17. Brandon Fogel

    Out of curiosity, what’s the argument for prohibiting negotiating prior to power selection? Is the worry that alliances discussed prior to power selection will be tougher to break than those discussed afterward?

  18. Jim O'Kelley

    First and foremost, I’d say it’s unfair to the players who don’t have the opportunity to participate. Using myself as an example, the time I have to play Diplomacy is the time I spend sitting around the table with you guys. Now you’re telling me that I need to find time in the days leading up to a game to start scheming with the other players? That won’t fly at my house or my office. All negotiations should be on the clock. (Except during important turns when you need a few extra seconds with an ally.)

    Second, encouraging the practice of prearranging alliances is not in the best interests of the club. Those of us who lead the club, by serving on the Sneak or by being ever present, should be vigilant against the appearance of cliquishness.

  19. Jake Trotta

    I think this is the only time all year where it’s really even possible, and I think it’s a flaw of the selection method.

  20. Pete McNamara

    I was going to mention the pre-game alliance and negotiation too.

    This is not the only time it’s happened.

    I hosted a game this summer and two of the players discussed in the car ride up that they would work together. Now, they did not know which specific powers they would be but setting a pre-game ‘alliance’ can give a leg up in probably 80% of power selections. The fact that in my hosted game there landed in E and G made it a bit tougher for the poor chap that landed in F (me!).

    I think all negotiations for diplomacy should be “On the clock”. That would include deciding even at a high level to work together and certainly preclude deciding which powers to take and the specific strategy (sea lion) to take.

    I don’t view it as a weakness in the selection method, although I can see how that might contribute to the problem. Just don’t talk pregame would be my solution. We should be able to trust people to do that. Obviously enforcement is an issue but at this level ethics and honor should be implicit.

    Otherwise, what we will end up with is a club where frequent players or those with even more time will have an even more distinct advantage vs occasional.

    Jim’s arguments are spot on.

    2 cents from the guy who wishes he could play more.

  21. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote]Otherwise, what we will end up with is a club where frequent players or those with even more time will have an even more distinct advantage vs occasional. [/quote]
    I’d take this comment a step further. If we allow the practice to take root and spread, we will end up with a club of 15 frequent players and no one else.

  22. Jim O'Kelley

    “Past that, Jim and I will probably disagree. Germany looked like he would surely win without resistance. AFR were best [positioned to do that. So I would say the better (if slim) chance for Turkey was the Grand Alliance. Germany going down 2 makes Turkey’s task easier.”

    I will let my defense rest with one final, brief comment: I chose the bird in hand. The two in the bush might have been better. It’s also possible that they might not have existed.

    I made up the four-dot deficit in two years. Unfortunately, Jake kept growing. I was not concerned about Moscow and Warsaw falling to him. I reasoned that I could move fast enough to either take them from him or force him to devote sufficient resources to their defense to weaken his position elsewhere. I did not anticipate his continued success in the West.

  23. Brandon Fogel

    [quote]I made up the four-dot deficit in two years. Unfortunately, Jake kept growing.[/quote]

    It’s hard to see that as anything but the inevitable conclusion of the collapse of the Grand Alliance. Without the GA, there was zero chance Jake would lose centers, and a very high chance he would gain. His advance in the West was assured; I was lucky to hold on to Bel as long as I did.

    On the other discussion, I think two separate activities are being conflated. One is pre-game negotiating, the other is permanent working partners. The worry with both is that they lead to unbreakable alliances, which produce boring and frustrating gameplay for the other players. Permanent working partners strike me as especially problematic; if two people always work together no matter the rest of the board and refuse to stab each other under any circumstances, then the game is dull. That’s the sort of activity that creates cliques and lowers retention.

    The worry with pre-game negotiating is that such negotiation will produce more reliable alliances than on-the-clock negotiating. For newer players, that might be true, but I think an experienced player would be able to take advantage of such negotiation in the same way as any other. In Peter’s case, E or G could have stabbed the other in a way that benefitted an EF or FG.

    I’d argue that the Paris method makes pre-game negotiating interesting in a way that random selection does not, but I don’t feel strongly about it and would be fine agreeing to a policy against it (and yes, I would honor the policy).

    I have to stress again that in this case, the pre-game negotiating didn’t do much. I had resolved to choose France, and Germany is Jake’s favorite country. Weary of having to play defense in every recent game, I had also resolved go for the Channel and to force Bur (which I did not tell Jake; honestly I expected him to go to Bur). If I made the Channel and Jake was in Ruh, I would go Sea Lion. If not, I would probably have gone EF. There was never a moment where I thought I shouldn’t stab Jake because we had (briefly) discussed an FG the night before. [Note to future Englands: this is not how I always play France.]

  24. Chris Kelly

    I wasn’t there & have no opinion about the extent of any “pre-game negotiating” that took place, but would like to cast a vote in favor of random selection for all games.

    If you want to provide some seeding-related benefit, perhaps it could be done in some way that makes the scoring even more convoluted. 🙂

    (P.S. That would leave the problem of when two players simply decide to work together regardless of power selection, but that is probably unsolvable as long as human beings are playing the game. For example, I noticed at this year’s WDC that players who knew each other from the national tournament circuit sometimes formed tight alliances right off the bat to knock off opponents they didn’t know. All you can do, IMO, is hope that impulse is balanced out by a sense of rivalry between more experienced players.)

  25. Matt Sundstrom

    To be clear, I don’t fault Jake and Brandon. We’ve never explicitly dealt with this and there is no rule against it. It does happen at national tournaments as mentioned earlier. Some of that is pure familiarity and something travelers should know will happen. I was more asking that we be explicit about it going forward. Three options the Sneak might consider:

    1. Pre-gaming can happen and is understood by all.
    2. No pre-gaming with everyone agreeing to abode by this. I think people would comply once a rule is in place.
    3. Keep power selection but have the order of choosing determined by something like the NBA draft lottery. First place would have the highest likelihood of choosing first (say 50%) but it is not a lock. That would make it much more difficult to pre-game even if there is a rule against it. Adds a little more intrigue too.

    With weeks to plan ahead of time, 2 or 3 are my preference. There are probably other options. Hope the Sneak will consider going forward. I like the power selection stuff so I hope it is kept in some shape.

    Good discussion. Thanks for the thoughts.

  26. Jim O'Kelley

    [quote]To be clear, I don’t fault Jake and Brandon.[/quote]
    Yes, we haven’t been clear enough about the club’s culture. This issue seems to me to be another good reason to have a code of conduct that spells out what’s kosher and what isn’t.

  27. Jim O'Kelley


    After this game, we agreed to let Jake take Cockerill’s Orb on his own version of the Stanley Cup tour before returning it to its permanent home at the Red Lion at the next bar game. Well, Brandon and I dropped by the Red Lion for a bite last night, and Joe told us that Nate’s parents had been in for a visit. It would have been cool for them to see the Orb.

    Joe said he told them about it and promised to send them a photo once it returned.

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