February was the new Oktober last night at the Red Lion in Lincoln Square…for the German players, anyway. On both boards, they played like the evening was a festival and the other players’ supply centers, beer.
We had fifteen show up for our monthly Red Wednesday event at the Red Lion (second Wednesday of every month. Plan to join us on March 8 and April 12!), including two who were specifically there to play only if needed. Chris Kelly won the coin toss to sit out, and games 329 and 330 started about 20 minutes apart. (Footnote: We had enough players to start Game No. 329 by 6:20, but since a couple of them were new, we delayed the start to give them a thorough introduction to Diplomacy.)
Game No. 329
This one started first and included a brand-new player, another playing for the first time since September 2015 and only the second time ever, as well as some grizzled vets from the earliest days of the club. It ended by time limit after the Fall 1906 turn in the following center counts:
Austria (Ali Adib): 0; 0.000 points.
England (Matt Sundstrom): 9; 27.551 points.
France (Mike Weinand): 8; 21.769 points.
Germany (Jim O’Kelley): 10; 34.014 points.
Italy (Bryan Pravel): 0; 0.000 points.
Russia (Pete McNamara): 0; 0.000 points.
Turkey (Sean Clarke): 7; 16.667 points.
Notably, the game featured the rare Koniggratz Freakout opening by Germany and Italy. I’ll write more about it in my endgame statement below, but for those unfamiliar, the Koniggratz Freakout is when Germany opens to Tyrolia while Italy slides his armies to Piedmont and Venice. Then in the Fall, Italy dislodges the German army, which, if Austria defends himself with a guessing game, retreats into the open center. It was good fun and something I had wanted to try for years.
Game No. 330
Meanwhile, Game No. 330 started about 20 minutes later in the backroom at the Lion. And despite the later start and the presence of The Human Rain Delay, Christian Kline, the players managed the same six game-years as their more punctual counterparts in Game No. 329. Just as February is the new Oktober, perhaps Ali Adib is the new Christian Kline? Discuss.
Anyway, the game ended by time limit after the Fall 1906 turn in the following center counts:
Austria (Brian Shelden): 0; 0.000 points.
England (Paul Digiulio): 7; 17.500 points.
France (Don Glass): 0; 0.000 points.
Germany (Brandon Fogel): 10; 35.714 points.
Italy (Christian Kline): 9; 28.929 points.
Russia (John Davis): 1; 0.357 points.
Turkey (Jake Trotta): 7; 17.500 points.
Digiulio and Davis both joined the club and played their first games ever last October. Kline, as a veteran of the club’s third game back in January 2006, represented the other end of the spectrum. Glass, meanwhile, was celebrating his birthday but clearly neglected to share that bit of information with the other players.
The supply center charts are here. Hopefully the players will chime in with their thoughts.
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Few things are as fun as coming into a final year tied with Brandon Fogel. This one did not go my way (poor tactical mistake I’ll elaborate on later), but that final year was a blast, with four realistic contenders at the end.
Boy, do I feel like I just always play Turkey. This was my 10th game as “A-turk-a-tur” out of 44 boards of diplomacy. Next highest is Germany at 8, but I nearly always select Germany in Santa Selection/ seeded selection, so that doesn’t really count. Seriously I play Turkey all the damn time, and even though I’m good at it, my reaction is usually “meh” unless Chris Kelly is in Russia.
Turkey is a great country for bar games in the sense that you’ve got a great shot at getting yourself into the final year stabfest/ beauty pageant. But once you get there, it’s not the easiest country to win the beauty contest with… usually there’s one more guy in your theatre that you pissed off than whoever comes out of the west. Plus because of the pair of boxes Turkey must escape (hit 5, Ion), it can be difficult to build enough tempo to put yourself ahead of the pack in the bar setting. That’s a big contrast to my most comfortable German playstyle. I tried to play patient in this one, got jumped, and had to negotiate/ stab my way back into the game.
IRT: When in doubt, screw it let’s kill Austria. But then it’s weird.
This game really turned in the east based on no one wanting to kill Russia (John), but no one getting the alliance warm fuzzies. 01 was somehow entirely standard on all eastern parties, with Russia choosing to support himself into Rum and allow me the black. S02 brought a joint Russo-Austrian swipe of Bulgaria, popping the unit. However, Italy convoyed into Albania at the promise of Greece. Russia recognized that he wouldn’t get anything off of me with my fleet in the black, and turned on Austria.
At that point, no one was in great position to attack each other, except Austria. So we all, whether coordinated or not, hit one of his SCs with support, and he went from 4 to 0 in one year. Sorry, Bri-guy.
So now you had Russia at 7, Turkey at 6, and Italy at 5. Normally, Russia is the hot date at the prom in that scenario and can pick their partner. But because John wasn’t giving Christian or I warm fuzzy feelings, I ended up siding with Christian.
Here’s why: I wasn’t breaking a 3-fleet Italy. If I sided with Russia, I’d have been entirely dependent on him for dots. Whereas if I sided with Italy, I would be able to pick up a couple on my own, while Italy would need my help.
Christian was also promising me a board top if I moved out of Aegean, and I decided that risk was worth it…
Stupid, tiny, tactical mistake that cost me a better shot at the board top.
I had fleets Con and Greece. I was about to take Sev, but might lose Rum. I had the tactics right, then changed them last minute to guarantee sev. At the same time, I thought of the best case scenario-moving that fleet up to Bul to help on Rum. Now, that benefit, if I held Rum, would have been zero because Russia would be pulling more units. I got into Bul, but was dislodged in Rum, with nowhere to retreat. This not only pulled an army away from the front, but also moved my fleets out of position to defend against Italy. Italy, who had wisely worked his way to two builds at the same time as this mistake.
In the next year, Christian stabbed me for Greece, I made another error that lost me Serbia, and I was sitting on 7 centers.
Overall, a bit frustrated with my performance. I played diplomatically lights out, but it was tiny tactical choices and believing Christian Kline (!) at the wrong time that stopped me from placing at the top or second place. However, learned a lot and had a blast, so another great evening of dip at the Lion.
Brian Sheridan, renowned Turkish emissary: Enjoyed having a buddy to teach about the game and share my thoughts with. You may be the only person to have actually heard what my real intentions are on a diplomacy board during a game. Hope to see you on a board soon.
Austria (Shelden): Some day we’re going to do a RAT together and it’s going to be awesome. Also, how are you always Austria?
England (Paul): You had a good thing working with Brandon. In a couple moments, the cross board alliance was useful. Wish we had talked more and look forward to seeing you on another board.
France (Don): Happy Birthday! Also excellent job of hanging in there after getting jumped HARD. Survival is a victory.
Germany (Brandon): Played a real clean game, to my memory. Deserved the top, did well to put yourself ahead of the EG, and won both the beauty and tactical battles the last two years. Still the biggest threat on any board.
Just for emphasis, BRANDON IS STILL THE BIGGEST THREAT ON ANY BOARD.
Italy (Kline): I learned a lot more about how to play and ally with you in this game. Your midgame was absolutely tremendous-I took notes-and deserved a good result.
Russia (John): First, Russia in this club is brutal. Toughest country to play. You got yourself in real good position and had a solid start. If you shore up an ally in 03/04, your game could have been tremendous. Very fun playing with you and look forward to seeing you on another board soon.
Turkey (Me): Wow, that’s what it feels like not to Sundstrom. Weird feeling. It would be great if I could stop pulling Turkey. Like, I’d like to play England sometime. What’s it like, playing England? Hell, what’s it like playing in the west? Last 6 games were Austria, Russia, Italy, Russia, Italy, Turkey. Only played in the west twice all season.
But really, enjoyed this one, tried a new thing, learned a lot, and the mistakes that prevented a victory are fixable. Onward.
#330 was a fantastic bar game, with dramatic turns of fortune and a result that hung in the balance until the last set of orders was read. This one went my way, but it easily could have gone to two other players (even a third). The decisive factor was simply that I hadn’t pissed off the eventual kingmaker, John Davis in Russia, as much as his other neighbors had. If there’s a lesson for me to draw from this game, it’s a familiar one: you want to be the one the others want to win the game.
The west was fairly straightforward. I (Germany) and England (Paul DiGiulio) ganged up on France (Don Glass). Paul was playing in his 4th game, and he and I had been neighbors in two of his previous games. Both times we had tried to work together but had come to blows, largely (imho) because his inexperience led him to be too cautious. He wanted to be aggressive here, and with Don likely to open defensively against me, I figured getting them tangled up was a good idea. With Italy (Christian Kline) willing to open to Pie, opening to Bur was a no-brainer.
Don supported Par-Bur, as expected. Paul got the Channel and, though we hadn’t discussed it, he opened Liv-Wal. Paul’s Diplomacy at this moment was perfect and reflects his rapidly maturing skill at this game. He had two good options for convoying the army, either to Bel or Pic. Bel was likely to succeed, given that Don was likely to use Bur to cover Mar, since Italy was in Pie. Taking Bel would have given Paul a second build, but would have complicated the EG, both by slowing down the assault on France and by his getting ahead of me. Switching to an FG would not have been hard for me at that point, so I was looking for signs that I would need to. Paul and I didn’t discuss any of this, but he understood it intuitively; he pushed the convoy to Pic, and so I snuck into Bur behind Don’s vacating army.
Don was wily in defense and did a great job of hanging on until the very last turn. Though it definitely wasn’t his intention, this worked to my advantage, as it gave Paul and me a reason to continue cooperating. We never did have outright hostilities, and we might have had France gone out sooner. Don thought Paul should have stabbed me a year or two before the end, and he may be right, although Paul would have needed Russia’s help to do so effectively, and that help was unlikely.
And so, the east. Apparently an emotional place to be this game. With Jake, the club leader and man on fire (https://68.media.tumblr.com/21f5fbc76d4b8c4b3d21805b1d3a59cc/tumblr_o2hjbhNGIR1v2ew56o1_500.gif) in Turkey, and savvy vets in Austria (Brian Shelden) and Italy (Christian Kline), an early elimination for Jake seemed probable. Instead, Austria went from 4 to 0 in 03 while Jake jumped to 6, which is a great place to be as Turkey in 03. Even worse, Italy and Russia had a poor working relationship and couldn’t trust each other. Jake seemed certain to run away with the game, and I was left cursing his seeming invulnerability.
So why didn’t Jake run away with the game? He cites some tactical errors, and surely those were relevant, but the real reason was Christian Kline. His mid-game here was masterful. He and Jake formed a highly unusual mid-game IT, and Christian got the better of it, growing from 5 to 7 in 05 and ending on 9 in 06. He also managed to take Mar without pissing France off, and to keep England from swiping it or Tun at the end. He walked a tightrope and nearly pulled out the win.
In the end, Russia was the key. Jake had stabbed him fairly early, in 03, and he felt betrayed by Italy on more than one occasion. I had been trying very earnestly to broker peace between the two of them for several years, and Russia and I were on good terms because of it. When we discussed his kingmaking position in the last turn, he volunteered that he wanted me to win. He even offered to walk out of Vie (and support me in with his unit in Gal). He wasn’t willing to support me into Norway, however; he didn’t want me to win by too much. But he easily could have thrown the game to Jake or Christian, and instead he chose me.
Did I win, or was I given the win? Dunno. The difference probably isn’t meaningful here. Machiavelli once wrote, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Maybe not in Diplomacy.
[b]Black and Blueprint
Or, a Plan for the Perfect Storm[/b]
Although our alliance was fraught with tension, Matt Sundstrom and I worked together Wednesday at the Red Lion. Normally, that story would lead. But as I noted above, this game also featured a Koniggratz Freakout engineered by me and Bryan Pravel. You don’t see that every day. In fact, until Wednesday, I hadn’t seen one on any day.
Oh, and I also eked out the board-top.
For all three reasons, Game No. 329 will stick in my mind for a while. Also there? A conviction that my result was more about navigating a perfect storm than it was following a blueprint that may lead to future success. Whatever, two rarities and a board-top made for a fun night in Lincoln Square.
I’ve wanted to try the Koniggratz Freakout for years, but as Edi Birsan writes in his article about the opening ([url]http://www.diplomacy-archive.com/resources/strategy/articles/koniggratz.htm[/url]), it truly is a set of moves for a specific set of circumstances. Sure, it can work, but as Italy and especially Germany, do you really [i]want[/i] to destabilize Austria in 1901?
For me and Bryan, the answer on Wednesday was an emphatic yes! Sticking it to Ali was a cause we could both get behind. The fact that neither one of us wanted to open against the new player in France contributed to our enthusiasm. Bryan also had a new player in Turkey, so the Freakout was a welcome alternative for him. That it was fun and new was gravy.
It all came together remarkably quickly. Our opening Spring 1901 conversation:
“Do you want to try the Koniggratz Freakout?” I asked.
“Remind me what it is,” he replied.
I explained the moves, and he said: “I’m in.”
That was it. Later in the turn, we confirmed from a good 10 feet away with an exchange of meaningful nods, and the Austrian assault was on.
Bryan dislodged my army in Tyrolia in the fall, and — after Austria bounced in Galicia again, supported the Turks into Rumania, and took Greece — I retreated to the open Trieste.
[i]Ah Freak out! Le Freak, c’est Chic.[/i]
For anyone who’s ever blitzed Austria as Italy, the continuation was pretty easy, so we didn’t have to spend too much time on it. Unfortunately for the G/I prospects, we didn’t spend much time discussing what the opening meant for the Italian unit mix, either. Specifically, Italy should have considered my army as his piece. Instead, Bryan, with a more traditional Austrian attack on his mind, opted for A Rome. France picked up three 1901 builds and Turkey, two, so that looked to be a poor choice and it was. France built F Marseilles while Turkey threw down long blocks in Constantinople and Smyrna. This development hurt Italy’s prospects a lot more than mine, which was kind of a theme for the evening.
[i]Ah Freak out! Le Freak, c’est Chic.[/i]
In Spring 1902, I took Vienna with Italian support while he followed into Trieste. As I recall, our plan to put me in Budapest while he took Vienna was thwarted. Austria did lose Greece to the Turks, though, to drop to two centers. He pulled his armies in Budapest and Serbia, choosing to keep A Bohemia and F Albania (Ionian?) instead. That created a vacuum in the Balkans that would take three more game years to fill.
Turkey was fleet heavy, and hadn’t yet pressed his advantage in the Mediterranean, choosing instead to use F Constantinople to help force the Black Sea in the Spring and then moving it to Smyrna in the Fall while F Aegean participated in the sack of Greece.
Russia was down to three centers and had focused his wrath on Turkey.
Italy was turning to face a furious assault from France – 1902 ended with French units in North Africa (an army), the Western Med, the Tyrrhenian, and Marseilles or Piedmont. Maybe both?
And I still had only the one unit in the theater. In fact, I didn’t bring in reinforcements until Fall 1904 (Munich to Tyrolia and Silesia to Galicia with support from Warsaw, which I had taken in 1903). Still, I managed to pick up Trieste from Italy in 1904, at Bryan’s request.
By this time, E/G relations had entered the heavy-handed stage. Matt, having taken his easy builds from the Triple, was now targeting centers owned by me that he thought should be his.
First, he put three units on Sweden, then he said, “Sorry to be heavy handed, but Sweden really should be mine…if we’re doing a Triple.”
I couldn’t stop him from taking it and was poorly positioned to fight him, so I acquiesced. But I did get him to agree to support me into Warsaw to offset the loss.
At one point late in the game, perhaps in 1905, I was talking with Matt and said, “You have a nice position.”
“Yah,” he replied, “but you have the lead.”
And then he paused, and at the same time, we both said, “But it’s all smoke and mirrors.”
It really was. Matt’s units were pushing forward inexorably on the left and right, and there I was all over the middle, weak everywhere but stronger than my neighbors. Everything kept breaking my way.
The penultimate year was a big one for me. At seven centers, Turkey was my only rival for Balkan supremacy. But he finished the year with five. Instead of vying with me over the Balkan dots, he spent the final year recapturing the centers he had just lost to Russia.
Meanwhile, I picked up Serbia — which I think had been sitting wide open since Austria pulled his army there in Winter 1902 — and Belgium from the French to give me 10 centers. My two builds were essential, as they helped me ward off 1906 attacks by England and France. I [i]did[/i] lose Warsaw to England in the final year but offset that with Budapest, which I took from the Russians.
That exchange kept my count at 10 and gave me a narrow victory over Matt.
[i]Ah Freak out! Le Freak, c’est Chic.[/i]
Because there are no dice, Diplomacy is often referred to as a game without any element of luck. Someone, maybe Don Glass, pointed out long ago that it more accurately should be called a game without chance. “There’s lots of luck in Diplomacy,” he said.
I played a good game, but the decisions that paved the way for my board-top – the Italian and Turkish builds in 1901, Austria’s pulls in 1902 – had nothing to do with me or my play. They were just lucky breaks.
But, as the saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good.
[i]Ah Freak out! Le Freak, c’est Chic.[/i]
One more thing, briefly. After the game, Pete McNamara, Matt Sundstrom and I were rehashing events over drinks, when Pete, reflecting on his zero-build opening, said to me, “I really thought I’d get Sweden. You’re always writing about that.”
True, but the careful reader will note my precise words: “It’s not your [i]job [/i]to bounce the Russians in Sweden. Rather, you need to consider the implications of the bounce to determine whether it’s in your interest to do it.”
In this game, it [i]was [/i]in my interest to bounce Sweden. I had successfully talked Matt into a Western Triple, not too hard to do with a novice in France and me assuming the risk as Germany. I didn’t want to give Matt a reason — stiff resistance from Russia — to abandon that course of action, so I couldn’t allow Pete to build in St. Pete.
Now, had I known about the A/T plan to deny Russia Rumania, I probably wouldn’t have bounced him, but I didn’t know about it. And given the presence of my army in Tyrolia, who would have predicted the Austrian support for Bul-Rum?
Carefully considered decisions can still go wrong. Had I known about the A/T plot and allowed Russia to take Sweden, it’s possible that the eventual disposition of units in the south would not have been so favorable for me.
Needs to be said-Jim played an outstanding game. He navigated the west with a new player in France that neither one of us wanted to attack. So the two of us could have just battered each other or find something more useful. So we went with the triple. France played with it nicely helped by Italy being weak in the Med. So I think Mike saw lots of room for progress that he eventually got. I liked the idea of pushing the triple because 1) it was a bar game 2) Jim and I inevitably fight and I wanted to avoid that and 3) triples often crack early. I wanted to see how far they could go. #3 became important because Jim eventually made serious inroads into Austria. That allowed him to grow without breaking up the alliance. I was looking quite good for much of the game (no fleet threat) but I was never quite good enough to explode. The dot grab at the end didn’t offer me much as Jim and Mike could both keep their losses to a minimum. Very well done by Jim. He deserved the board top.
tl/dr version of my endgame statement: I wasn’t the only person who played well enough to top, but I was definitely the luckiest.
Another fun exchange from the game, also with Matt. This one came the turn after I “ceded” Sweden.
[b]Matt:[/b] Now, Denmark…
[b]Me:[/b] Oh, no.
[b]Matt:[/b] No, really, have you read the article about how England should get Denmark and then the Triple can really roll?
[b]Me:[/b] Is it in your handwriting?
[b]Matt:[/b] [Flips through his order pad.] Yah, it’s right here.
Can’t wait for the next game. With a bit of luck, I’ll be able to make the one at Diversey River Bowl on the 22nd. Good luck, bad luck, board-top or not, our bar games are usually a ton of fun, and if you haven’t tried one, you’re really missing out.
I’ll also second Matt’s comments about Mike, the Frenchman. Once he sheds the new player’s cloak of caution, look out.