Paul Pignotti was one of the great characters of the club’s early days. The Hammer of the Old Guard burst onto the Windy City Weasels Diplomacy scene at Season 1’s Weasel Pyle.
He was brash, intense, and seething with testosterone and menace. In fact, he once grew a full beard over the course of a house game.
To know him was to love him, but getting to know him was like an organic chemistry class–the process weeded out a lot of hopefuls.
And then he had kids.
Fatherhood mellowed Paul and also cut into his hobby time. The frequency of his trips down from Wisconsin diminished. When he did show up, his play style and general demeanor were more relaxed, even happy-go-lucky. Occasionally, his eyes would flicker with rage, but for the most part, Paul the father treated the hobby as a getaway, not a battleground.
But every now and then, the Hammer will pounce on a board and cripple it for life. Such was the case in Game No. 361, played February 11 at Pete McNamara’s home in Evanston. The game ended by time limit after the Fall 1908 turn in the following center counts:
Austria (Peter Buczak): 0; 0.000 points.
England (Pete McNamara): 9; 26.299 points.
France (Mick Johnson): 0; 0.000 points.
Germany (Jake Trotta): 0; 0.000 points.
Italy (Mike Whitty): 5; 8.117 points.
Russia (Paul Pignotti): 11; 39.286 points.
Turkey (Bryan Pravel): 9; 26.299 points.
The supply center chart is here. Players, how about filling in the gaps?
Check out the league standings here.
Mellow Paul still will tell you that he’s an acquired taste.
“I’m like a bitter beer,” he likes to say. “It takes a few bottles.”
If you haven’t tried him, you’re missing out.
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Game 361 was one of the most fun games I have played in a while. First, Pete McNamara is one of the club’s best hosts. For me, it’s a long trek to Evanston, but I always enjoy the games Pete hosts. His home is gorgeous, he always provides great food and drinks, and there is tons of space for negotiation. You really can’t ask for much more. Second, this was the first game that I have ever played with Paul Pignotti. I have played at many events where Paul was present, and of course knew him by reputation (only Matt’s “Sundstrom opening” is more famous in the club than the “Pignotti Pull-Through”), but never had a chance to be on the same board. Finally, this was the first game I played in 2018. It felt so good to make it back on a face-to-face Diplomacy board.
I drew Turkey, a power I haven’t played a ton in the club and while I don’t consider it one of my stronger powers, it also isn’t one of my weakest. I figured with this being a House game, I could play a relaxed game and wait to see if any opportunities opened up towards the late mid game. I grabbed a beer and went to meet the other powers.
Austria was led by Piotr Buczak. I haven’t had the chance to play with Piotr before. He informed me he had played a few games with the club and played online for a year. My initial impression from our opening discussions was that he understood the tactics and I felt I could work with him. I mentioned that Paul was a veteran and I was willing to work with him against Russia. He wasn’t willing to commit. I mentioned that when I am Turkey and am going for Bulgaria I usually try for Greece. He still wouldn’t commit. I suggested we meet back later and touch base again. I wanted to open against Russia but not without help.
Paul (Russia) and I had very quick negotiations. We agreed to the bounce in Black, briefly discussed Sweden (I had not heard anything yet), and Galicia (he was expecting a bounce). He asked me not to go to Armenia and I said at the moment I was leaning towards the standard Bulgaria opening.
Next up was Mike Whitty in Italy. Mike and I have played a few games. I like playing with Mike a lot. My general impression is that Mike is a very reliable ally. We tend to work well together in the games we have played. He also has a background from the University of Texas so it’s nice to find someone with that shared experience in the club. The main thing I wanted to know was if he wanted to move against Austria early. I figured Mike would either have an early commitment vs Austria, early commitment against me, or a “wait and see” approach. I wanted to work with Austria but didn’t want him running away with the game so I encouraged Mike to make the early commitment against Italy. He decided to wait and see. Not ideal but better than an early commitment against me.
Next up was the “west”. From England (Peter), I wanted an early attack on Russia. He wasn’t ready to do this so that was the final confirmation that the Bulgaria opening was correct. We mentioned the “witches” theory (England and Turkey are the corner power “witches” and statistics show that the two powers often have success or failure together even though they are across the board) and agreed to try and help each other out and share info. From Germany (Jake) I wanted a bounce in Sweden. I can’t recall exactly what we discussed. Probably something like “see you in the mid-game.” From France (Mick) I wanted conflict in the west but I didn’t care who allied with whom specifically. I like France as a cross board partner in the late game. We can be friendly rivals. I just didn’t want France doing so well he would beat me to Italian dots in the Med.
When the spring orders were read, it was pretty “vanilla” with one major exception. Austria opened to Bohemia and left Greece wide open for me. That opening dictated the rest of the early game for me. I turned to Paul and said “I guess we are doing a Juggernaut?” and that was all we needed. It was no longer a question of if we would work together, but a question of how do we make this so fast the West doesn’t have time to respond?
If I recall correctly, Austria was either eliminated in F1902 or early 1903. I tried propping Piotr up to slow Russia and make sure I got more of the Balkans but I think he could see that’s what I was doing and wasn’t really into it. The other major thing that happened was the Italy built and army instead of a fleet. This meant that the Med was wide open. There was a Turkish fleet in the Ionian in F1902.
Eventually the West sort of got their act together and started playing some defense. Mick (France) sent a fleet into the Med to help prop up Italy and prevent me from steamrolling in the south. It was not a great move for him in the short term. He really could have used that unit to help his attack on Italy. However, it did succeed in slowing me down in the long run. I am curious how Mick feels about the decision. IMHO the big winner from that decision was Pete (England) who had French units behind his lines and then got some breathing room when Mick pulled those units back.
The West was not as unified against the R/T in the north. Relieved of French pressure, England worked with Russia (somewhat at least) against Germany. This meant that Paul was having more success in his theater than I was in mine. Jake (Germany) pointed this out to me and encouraged me to stab. I wanted to see if France would keep supporting Italy before I made the decision. Mick did, so at the last second, I pulled Pete aside who said he would be taking a dot from Paul in the north (Sweden I think) so I wasn’t alone in this. I wrote a new set of orders to stab Russia… and ran out of time. I ended up not putting them in. Pete didn’t follow through with Sweden either (I probably didn’t give him enough confidence) so Paul just kept growing.
By this time Jake seemed fed up with England and started throwing dots. That sucked for me because this time I *did* write the stab… and proceeded to mis-order. I showed my hand, didn’t gain anything, and my new rival had another power actively feeding him dots. Paul is a veteran. He saw this and encouraged me to pull back and keep on with the R/T. I figured at that rate Paul would probably end up with at least a 13-14 center Russia and my best upside was probably around 9. The new league scoring encourages best scores plus and average score. I calculated that my best possible score would only come if I followed through with the stab, plus I knew I had Italian and French help. I decided to maximize the best outcome that I could in this game and kept attacking Paul. I couldn’t let him run away with this game more than he already was.
It was immediately following the mid-order that I feel I made my best play of the game. I knew that I had to keep Paul from getting builds no matter the cost. I played risky, something I don’t do very often. It paid off. I ended up with a fleet in the Black Sea, a fleet in Armenia, and an army in the Ukraine. If that hadn’t worked, Paul would have gotten another build and would have ended up with a potential solo.
After that the game was pretty static for me. I helped Mike Whitty’s Italian unit’s gain Russian dots, had some good tactical decisions and poor tactical decisions that sort of evened each other out, and then in the last turn I pushed to get an extra dot off Italy to improve my average score and ended up tied for second. While not much changed as far as center counts go, I really enjoyed this phase of the game because I felt like it was my strengths vs Paul’s strengths which are very different from each other. It was fun to watch it play out.
Austria (Piotr): I want to sit down and talk through the move to Bohemia some time. I am super curious about your thought process. I hope we can play again some time.
England (Pete): You are one of the club’s best hosts and I was impressed with your ability to not only survive, but ultimately tie for second place. I thought you were done!
France (Mick): I am really curious what you and others think would ha e happened if you had continued to take advantage of your position against England instead of sacrificing for the rest of the west with no gain. At a minimum you should have demanded more from your allies since you were giving up *two* key units to hold back the R/T. I don’t know if I stab Paul if you don’t hold me back though. You probably would have been looking at holding the line in Iberia and MAO and then encouraging me to stab Russia after I control Italy. It’s crazy how balanced this game is where one fleet can change the entire balance of the game. This is a classic example of the butterfly effect in Diplomacy games.
Germany (Jake): I should have stabbed earlier while you were still in it. You did everything you could this game. Not much you can do when you have an explosive Russia and England determine to work against you. I should have encouraged Pete more strongly.
Italy (Mike): Besides your decision to build an army instead of the fleet early on, I felt you played a really good game. When Austria falls that quick it’s really hard for Italy. You and Mick did a fantastic job of slowing me down and if you hadn’t convinced Mick to help, there is no way we end up working together at the end. I like the patient play. Frankly if this had not been a timed game, I think we could have gotten a few more off Paul if you, me, and Pete work together.
Russia (Paul): You played a great game and had a well deserved win. IMHO whatever magic you did up north to control Scandinavia and then flip Germany as an ally was the difference in this game. This was a very fun matchup where I feel I was competitive but ultimately you out played me. I respect that a lot. I can’t wait until we play on another board because I enjoyed my time as your ally and my time as a rival.
[b]Wait, the juggernaut is actually a thing?[/b]
This was my 44th WCW league game, but it was also the first time I’ve seen a juggernaut worth a damn. I have, however, seen people freak out about RT on almost every game I’ve played on. It was also the first time I’ve seen Austria open to Bohemia without telling anyone else that’s what his plan was.
[b]What the hell?[/b]
That’s what I said. Opening to Bohemia alone is like telling everyone “guys, I would like to see a juggernaut in this game, but I would like to see none of the gains of said juggernaut.” Let’s run through the impact of this decision:
1) Austria loses tempo. At best, can only pick up on build, which can easily be taken away by Turkey in the next year or so.
2) Turkey is gonna have a great game. Creates perfect storm for a juggernaut as Turkey gets two builds. Plus, with two armies already in the Balkans, they’re free to build two fleets right away.
3) Italy is in for a slow boring death. Italy’s game is pretty much done if they open conservatively and two Turkish fleet builds in 01. Mike Whitty is one of the most reliable guys in the club-he opened standard. Plus he had to keep an army in Venice because Austria’s fleet didn’t move.
4) Germany can no longer be Austria’s Anchluss buddy and needs a friend. Germany (me) is now worried about FOUR neighbors in the second season of the game. Because I needed a friend, any friend, oh god I wish I had a friend, I don’t bounce Russia in Sweden.
5) Germany has nothing better to do than screw Austria if Austria remains hostile. I also don’t bounce Russia because if Austria fucks with Munich, my game is over and the best thing I can do is punish bad play.
6) The west should triple up in response. This almost happened, and is super bad for Austria.
7) Burned all negotiation capital. Failure to inform anyone of the bohemia move made everyone think “wtf is this guy thinking.” No one wants to work with a madman.
To recap, it was terrible for position, devastating strategically, and depleted any diplomatic goodwill, all in S01. This is the worst opening I’ve ever seen on a diplomacy board, and I once saw John Gramila accidentally bounce himself in North as England in S01.
[b]The three mistakes that killed my game.[/b]
I got up to 7 at the end of 02. This happened, ironically, because I was able to help EF realize that the juggernaut is actually going to roll the board if I’m not around. Pitching England was easy- he would lose Norway unless I helped him hang onto it, and the best way to do that was for me to get Sweden. France was willing to give me Belgium so I could move hard on Russia. Here’s where it went wrong:
1) Moving hard on Russia before E or F is weakened. Pete was still relevant when I moved kitchen sink east to stop RT in 1903.
2) Poor tactical guess in Scandinavia. Hard to explain specifics, but moving Denmark when Sweden is under threat is a risky proposition. It cost me Denmark. Mick taking Belgium meant losing 2 in 03.
3) Swinging for the fences… and therefore handing the west to Pete. Pete and I made a deal to weaken Russia- trading Sweden for Denmark. He had just lost Norway and needed a dot to stay level, so I fed him tactical information on France, ensuring he’d get Brest as I took an open Marseilles. He chose to dot me instead, and since France was crippled, had no western threat. That was his pathway back into the game and near a board top.
[b]An honest evaluation of honesty.[/b]
I had a blast playing with Pete- and he beat me pretty bad here. I’ve been trying this new strategy called “not lying” and it has not been working for me. I didn’t lie to Pete the whole game. We made a deal to swap Den for Sweden four consecutive seasons, and it was very much a Charlie Brown football situation. His repeated dotting ended any chance I had to be relevant. Credit to him that it worked out, even with me throwing dots to Paul.
This honesty thing is interesting and causing me to really rethink things. I am trying to work it more into my game because I understand you need allies and partners to score bigger in tournament play. However, Weasels are generally dotty by nature. I have been making solid strategic pitches to players who are more focused on individual seasons and years, and that hasn’t been working for me. Part of the problem is I’m pitching a lot of loss avoidance- stop the board leader, don’t let RT roll you over, etc. The problem with loss avoidance is it can be demotivating, especially for short-term focused players.
Still think it is important to be as reliable an ally as possible, but I am definitely reevaluating how to pitch to players who think shorter term strategically.
[b]This game could have had some bigger scores.[/b]
There were a couple stabs left on the table by Paul, Bryan, Pete, and Mike late. Both Paul and Bryan said in postgame “damn, I should have moved sooner.” This game looks very different if Russia takes Black when he had the chance, if Turkey moves north as Paul was going up to 11, if England moves hard on Scandinavia late, or if Italy starts dotting people in the last two years. Paul won because he played the most aggressively and because he managed the EG relationship brilliantly.
Austria (Piotr): Always fun hanging out man, hope to see you on another board soon.
England (Pete): Great hosting and really well played game. You had a rock to my scissors approach that paid off.
France (Mick): You’re definitely coming along. I regret not being more forgiving on the Belgium situation, and Marseilles was too big of a risk. You are a more long term strategic thinker, so I’m sorry that you’re the one guy I was a dotty bastard to.
Germany (Me): Had a great 02 and a great job as a janissary. Welp.
Italy (Mike): Patient play paid off, always a blast being on the board together and felt we worked together very well.
Russia (Paul): Well earned win, had a great time hanging out. I am sorry that you did so well that we couldn’t work together.
Turkey (Bryan): Played a solid game. What prevented it from being explosive was waiting on the stab and England not wanting to form EG. However, it was well done to make sure Paul did not go boom.