Jake Trotta has stepped back his play considerably since barnstorming through the league over a 2 1/2 year stretch. The Young Wolverine burst onto the scene in July 2015. Through February 2018, he played 44 league games and captured three major titles, including the Bar Room Brawl championship twice.
A five-month hiatus followed, and since then, only an occasional game.
Still, every now and then, he’ll pounce on a board and cripple it for life. Such was the case on Sunday in Game No. 383, another boardless affair at Ali Adib’s home in Avondale. The game ended after the Fall 1907 turn in the following center counts:
Austria (Bryan Pravel): 9; 31.154 points.
England (Ali Adib): 8; 24.615 points.
France (Sybille Camblan): 3; 3.462 points.
Germany (Gus Spelman): 5; 9.615 points.
Italy (Jake Trotta): 9; 31.154 points.
Russia (Mick Johnson): 0; 0.000 points.
Turkey (Brian MacWilliams): 0; 0.000 points.
The supply center chart is here. And you can watch the entire game unfold on webdiplomacy.net right here. Click the Maps link at the bottom of that page to see the turn-by-turn moves. Also, note that for some reason, Bryan and Ali are flipped on webdip. The above roster is correct.
Find the updated league standings right here. Players, let us know how it went down by commenting below.
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Game #383 was memorable for three things. First, it was pretty much a New Guard reunion featuring the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Weasel Rookies of the Year (ROTY), plus two ROTY runners up. Second, the alliance play in this game would have made the Old Guard Weasels proud. Third, there were some pretty great socks. In true New Guard fashion (or perhaps just in true Ali Adib fashion), the game featured a hybrid of physical and digital technologies. We had a physical board that was updated after each round and a private webdiplomacy.net game for submitting and adjudicating orders. After a slow start involving a player not showing up, drafting of Ali’s flatmate Sybille to fill in, training players on the webdip interface, a practice round, and players swapping accounts to enable the Weasel newbie rule of starting new players in France or Turkey, we were off.
I drew England but swapped Ali for Austria because I had introduced Sybille to the rules of Diplomacy and we didn’t want to have the two of us in the same theater so she could more safely ask me questions about tactics. My neighbors were Brian in Turkey (who I had allied with in my last game and was playing his third game with the club), New Guard stalwart and ROTY runner up Mick Johnson (somehow playing his first game ever as Russia!), 2017 Weasel ROTY Gus Spelman in Germany, and a slightly less burned out and 2016 ROTY Jake Trotta in Italy. Ali, Brian, and I had all played games this season. It was Sybille’s first game. Everyone else was coming back after around a yearlong break.
As Austria, my opening goals are pretty simple. Goal 1 – avoid having all of your neighbors gang up on you. Goal 2 – Get Turkey to open to Armenia or failing that, don’t let Turkey grow too quickly. Alliances with Turkey can work very well, but you need to make sure you maintain pace. Once the Turkish Genie is let out of the bottle it’s really hard to put him back in. Goal 3 – Make sure Italy doesn’t fight you early. It never ends well for Austria and rarely works out for Italy in the long run.
First up was Italy. Jake is a veteran player, knows the downsides of early I/A conflict, and while he can be shifty, he rarely stabs without good position (or during the last year of the game). We quickly agreed to not fight each other early and moved on. Next was Turkey. Brian is new to the club but I watched him play a good game as Austria in our last game so I knew he understood the tactics enough to be a reliable ally. The problem was that he didn’t seem willing to commit to an early Russian attack (aka opening to Armenia) and I knew Mick was a very strong player, so that meant I needed to slow him down a bit. I didn’t need to hurt him, but there was no value in helping him at this stage either. Next up was Russia. Mick and I agreed to DMZ Galicia. I don’t do this often, but I’ve played with Mick enough to know that in this situation there was little value in him lying. I trusted him and in exchange he opened north. This meant that I’d have a slow go at Turkey if Italy and I decided to go that route, but at least I didn’t have to worry about a strong early R/T. I considered that a win. Next was Germany. He happened to stop by while Italy and I were talking so I pitched a Central Triple. He was on board. We agreed to DMZ Tyrolia and that gave Italy and I the direction we needed. For the Central Triple to work, Turkey is Austria’s first target and since Russia wasn’t attacking early, that meant Italy would need to join in the Turkish attack. We agreed to make it quick. Jake would move to Agean while I supported from Greece. Russia would keep Turkey bottled up in the north. Germany would be allying with the new player Sybille in France against Ali in England. Russia was opening north so Germany would have help. Italy and I would need to go as fast as possible to get tempo over Turkey and keep up with the western theater.
When the Spring 01 moves were read, everything went according to plan with one exception. Gus had a German army in Tyrolia. For those following along at home, the classic Central Triple does not involve Germany sending an army to Tyrolia. Frankly, there is almost no situation in which a German army in Tyrolia is good for Austria. Further raising my suspicions, France moved an army into Piedmont. I smelled some Weasely shenanigans going on. I spoke with my neighbors in Italy and Russia and let them know I suspected a Western Triple. They agreed. That meant that from F1901, my alliance structure was pretty much locked in. My new goals were as follows. Goal 1 – Keep Italy strong enough to hold the line in the Med. Goal 2 – Keep Russia strong enough to hold the line at StP or at least Moscow. Goal 3 – Kill turkey ASAP to use those dots to put units on my line. Goal 4 – Bottle the west up, frustrate them, make someone stab.
Gus (Germany) and Sybille(France) claimed they were going to try for Venice, but that didn’t make sense because Jake had an uncuttable support. At the last second during order writing I decided that I should cover Trieste and Vienna instead of pushing for Greece. This proved to be the right choice because Gus went for Trieste. It also meant surrendering Greece to Turkey and a severe loss of tempo in the east. The breakthrough came when Mick in Russia moved to Armenia and build a second fleet in Sevastopol. This meant that Mick was surrendering StP, but he could hold at Moscow and that fleet enabled Russia to get the Black Sea and by extension, meant that we would be able to force our way into Turkey.
From this point in the game the alliance structures sort of forced themselves. I made the hard choice to give up Trieste so that Italy could get an essential 3rd fleet and hold the line against France. This again delayed my tempo, but I feel very strongly this was one of the most important choices I made in the game. That 3rd fleet showed France she would not be able to get through our lines and encouraged her to slip behind England’s lines. The decision to hold the line against Germany meant that Germany was not able to gain centers along the Austrian/Italian line, frustrating him as well. In fact, only England seemed to be gaining from the Triple. My goal was to try and encourage Germany to join France against England. It was even better because Germany was lacking a second fleet so I knew that it would be a slow-go for him. As long as the game kept this way, the A/I/R alliance would have time to hold back the Western line and grow faster on Turkish dots than the west.
Poor Brian in Turkey just had a really bad draw. He made a couple of solid pitches, but since we needed Italian and Russian units on the line, it just didn’t make sense. If France had not moved against England or if Russia had not built the second fleet, things might have worked differently but the early Western Triple sort of forced the alliance structures in this game. I felt like I needed two builds to effectively move against Italy and didn’t have the needed fleets. Since the Turkish fleets were tied up defending the Black Sea I could have dotted Italy but would have made no real progress and then Mick (Russia) and Jake (Italy) could have teamed up against me in the middle.
The next big move came in S1904 when Jake and I decided we no longer needed Russia to hold the line. Jake and I had position to force our way into Turkey on our own and Mick was spread too thin trying to defend in the north. France (smartly) moved back against Italy while he was engaged in Turkey so Italy lost Tunis, but France didn’t have enough strength to press on into the Italian boot. I pitched the Central Triple to Gus (again!) and this time we executed. Germany and I jointly pushed into the Russian heartland and I *should* have had Sevastopol and Bulgaria but I misordered (side note, I far prefer the Backstabbbr interface) so I only ended up with Bulgaria. This cost me tempo and IMHO, probably kept me from having the sole board top. With two builds this game becomes even more interesting. I could have worked with Mick against Italy and probably take Trieste and Venice. Or maybe I spook everyone and Mick and Jake end up working against me. Or maybe Jake and I keep working together and I have the tempo to take StP. There are lots of things that could have happened but what did happen is that I lot a ton of tempo and it basically forced me to work with Jake.
From that point onward, I was looking for opportunities to stab Jake but couldn’t find them. Every single turn I was trying to find the right time to make a move. This shows the strength of a balanced I/A alliance. After you get past the intial scary phases where you have to trust each other, it’s difficult to stab. When it came down to it, I simply did not have the fleet power necessary to make a strong move against Italy. Jake had a similar problem. He may have been able to dot me, but he was fleet heavy and couldn’t effectively move against me inland. There was never a time where I felt the builds I could make would result in more gains than what I would get sticking with him. We were slowly but surely taking Russian and Turkish dots and neither of us could make a strong move against the other. There was also enough chaos in the west that I didn’t feel pressured for time.
It still was not easy. In 1905 I had a ton of heartburn and had to trust that Jake wasn’t going to dot me. He had a similar situation in 1906. I had an almost equal amount of angst about choosing to forgo the stab. Was I missing a great opportunity? At the end of the game everyone on the board was giving me tons of options for support against Jake but I didn’t feel I could capitalize on it. Jake and I ended up filibustering. We locked each other up for the entire negotiation period and wouldn’t let anyone else talk the other playing into stabbing. We ended up having a solid enough relationship that in the end, Jake helped me into a dot that I couldn’t take on my own and likewise I helped him. Either one of us could have not offered that support or dotted the other but never once did this result in more dots than we would have gotten by working together. It was an alliance of necessity, trust, and some smart play on Jake’s part (and I’d like to think on my own) where neither one of us made ourselves too tempting a target. In the end the alliance worked. We shared the board top at 9/9. If the game were to continue, we still had good growth opportunities. The west had the units to stop us from crossing the line but not the position. It would have been really interesting to see how this game ended if we hadn’t ran out of time.
Maybe there really is something to this Old Guard style alliance play. Maybe us New Guard Weasels are maturing our play? Or maybe I am just lucky that I took the Scorpion home and didn’t get stung. Either way, it made for an exciting game.
England: Ali, you played a really good game. Your game has matured so much since we first started playing together. You showed strong strategic vision for your theater, were an excellent negotiator, and most importantly, were not frustrated when you were being attacked. You played a very patient game and maximized your opportunities. Your ability to come back from behind was impressive. You had a complete game of tactics, strategy, and diplomacy.
France: Sybille, you did extremely well for your first game. You not only understood the tactics, but had solid strategic thinking to back it up. Many new players can’t see past the turn they are in and you saw how your actions would impact future turns. If you stick with this game I think you could do very well. Thanks so much for giving up your Sunday to help us get 7 and play this game!
Germany: Gus, this is a very different game if you have a second fleet. Without that fleet you can never prevent England from controlling Scandinavia if they want it. That being said, you “hid the Central Triple” very well (ha!) and I’m glad we ended up being able to work together. Your play made this an extremely fun game and you are just a really fun person to play this game with.
Italy: Jake, I had a blast with this alliance. One of the best things you did was move that army to Venice in Spring 1906. Without that, I would have been even more tempted to dot you in the end game. I was not expecting you to follow through with the supports at the end of the game. It was very much appreciated and will be remembered. Burnout may have been good for you.
Russia: Mick, I’m glad you finally got to play Russia. I very much appreciate that build of the second southern fleet, but I’m not so sure that was the best for you. I think it relieved a ton of pressure from Italy and enabled the A/I to happen. I probably don’t move against you if that unit was an army. I always enjoy playing with you and can’t wait for our next game. Russia is my favorite country to play because it is almost always one turn away from explosive growth and rapid collapse.
Turkey: Brian, you got a horrible draw this game. They say there is no luck in Diplomacy but I don’t think that is entirely true. Sometimes you just end up in a situation outside of your control and you have to react. Our last game where you were Austria and I was Italy was like that for me. You asked me after the game if there was anything you could have done to change the outcome and that’s difficult to answer. Frankly, any time there is a Western Triple and you have players in the East who can recognize it and know how to stop it means that Turkey will have at best an extremely slow game. I don’t think you had a tactical or even strategic failing. I think your failing was diplomatic. Turkey shouldn’t hate the Western Triple. In fact, Turkey might even LIKE the Western Triple. You just need to be patient. What you needed was for Russia to feel safe focusing on the north. Mick gave up a *ton* when he built that southern fleet. Now that you have seen this situation, you can know that you need the Russian to believe 100% that he has nothing to fear from you and that you want him to be confident holding the line in the north. Let the Russian know you are going to swing fleets around to work with France against Italy. Russia doesn’t hate a strong France if he knows that France can’t keep moving into the Mediterranean and will work with him against England. Work with France and Russia to coordinate this. Austria won’t want to be the odd man out, so you will probably have a choice between Russia or Austria as your mid-game ally once Austria sees that Italy is doomed. This is some pretty high level stuff and requires a lot of cross theater thinking. This is a skill that you will develop the more you play. Frankly, sometimes you may have the vision but France or Russia may not see it and you still end up getting the short end of the draw. I love the fact that you are looking for ways to learn. Jake Trotta wrote an article that I think you may appreciate. If you really want to start improving your game, I think it’s fantastic advice for the stage of the game you are at right now: http://www.windycityweasels.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1148:get-out-of-the-box&Itemid=324
Fantastic game all. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to play with many of you. Those who didn’t come to this game missed out on a very good game with some of this clubs most fun players.
[i]Edited for spelling and grammar.[/i]
Note to future boardless games: Letting the interface be the chart doubled the amount of work that goes into logging the game.
Also, great recap, Bryan!
… That moment when you realize that you’ve been doing this so long that you’ve started to recycle your clever titles. (http://windycityweasels.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=666:welcome-back-trotta&Itemid=296)
Thank you for the (second) welcome back, Jim. I enjoyed this one, and we’ll see about playing more often. Burnout is a bear to deal with, and I’ll comment on that for a bit. I love diplomacy for its purity of competition, but the way it arrives there can be quite tricky. Not everyone plays to win, and the purist in me wants those folks to try their hand at a different board game (with the exception of newbies- all about getting new competitors). Getting jumped nearly every game is not a super fun experience, especially when the club leaderboard looks nearly identical between years. And there is quite a cultural difference in the ways by which people try to win diplomacy- and the ethics kept within that. I stepped away because playing wasn’t quite the harbor for my cutthroat competitive side it used to be. Not sure what a new relationship with the game/league might look like, but I definitely approached something differently.
[b]Ali is the most improved player I’ve seen in the last year or so[/b]
One of the hardest skills to develop in diplomacy is the resilience to come from behind, and Ali was masterful at that in this one. He should have been dead to rights in this game once France took Liverpool. Then he should have been a non-factor in the endgame, but somehow came up with 8 centers in total scorpion style. Very well negotiated with the new player, as well as swiping dots and getting tossed one to come from out of nowhere to a solid result. A very Jim-like performance- and that is a real compliment.
[b]New players, pragmatic altruism, and Italy[/b]
I really don’t like to jump newer players as dying in the early game sucks and you learn more from the mid-game anyways. Also, beating out a rookie in the late game is much easier than a wise old weasel. But when you’ve got rookie France and newish Turkey as Italy, you really don’t have options. I am not a big “let’s murder Austria in 01” guy because Italy has ALL the negotiating leverage early in that relationship.
[b]Sybille is very savvy and played a solid game[/b]
For a new player, she did extremely well. I don’t like putting newbies in France. Newbies in France almost always go for Western Triples. I don’t think this makes sense for them- the triple is extraordinarily hard to navigate diplomatically, so rookies often get taken advantage of. Instead, new players should use their shiny new player leverage to pick their target and roll. Once Sybille saw she was getting the short end of the stick, she made the wise move and turned on Ali. Once she saw that I was getting the better of that deal, she turned back and threw off my tempo hard. Some tactical things that she’ll learn quickly, but if she chooses to play more regularly, she’s got a shark-like strategic feel.
[b]I got jumped in 01 anyways- but it did cause a great AIR.[/b]
My warm welcome to the game was a Western triple, with openings to Tyrolia and Piedmont. Compounding matters, Turkey opened F01 negotiations by announcing that he’d like to go west. Without excellent coordination, AIR is screwed against a western triple. Most of the time as Italy, playing the triple sucks. You get squeezed out as soon as Turkey gains a little ground. Essentially, my job was to buy enough time for the west (read: France) to change their mind. The biggest move in the game, for me, was convincing Mick to drop a second southern fleet in F01. That prevented Turkey from flowing west and forced AIR to work in lockstep. Bryan made the wise move to flip me Trieste for a third fleet (deserves a heck of a lot of credit), and the triple broke. Mick, Bryan and I all held up our ends of a very difficult bargain, and 2 out of 3 reaped the benefits. I like 2/3 much better than 0/3.
[b]AI won this game because they avoided stupid eastern stabs.[/b]
The east has a ton of dots close to each other, so a single poor stab can prevent the theater from ever resolving… and cause an easy western win. There were stabs in this game weasels usually take that Bryan and I passed up. For that reason, the east resolved quite easily. if this game continues, we’re rolling.
My one bone to pick with Bryan’s AAR is that his mis-order cost him the sole board top. My take is it hurt the alliance in the long run, but there was no good short-term stab. This is due to how beautifully entangled we were. Because I already owned Trieste, he’s not getting a fleet build, so he’s dropping two armies. Those two armies will definitely take Trieste, but then what? I have two armies on the boot and can easily convince France “don’t help Austria- you want to kill me, not him.” Additionally, Austria can’t hide, so the west would likely resolve themselves to address that threat… plus, with where my armies were placed, he wasn’t getting past Trieste. Further, if he doesn’t mis-order, there’s another Russian disband- likely in Turkey- which accelerates my timeline for Turkish domination, or, worse for Bryan, leads to coordination around the black. Plus, Austria didn’t have any fleets, so if he does break our alliance, I have plenty of time to start flipping dots to France at the back. That’s of lot of ways a stab could go wrong for one dot.
[b]Bryan and I had an excellent alliance, and for that reason, I gave away the sole board top.[/b]
I played a game at World’s with Tom Kobrin, who is A) an excellent player and B) a very charming man. In that game, he could have gone for a bigger result, but decided to leave his ally with a couple extra dots. Chris Martin has a video of him explaining that he was rewarding his ally. I disagreed with his choice at the time, but since my zero-sum approach probably contributed to my burnout, I decided to follow his example here.
In the mid-game, I would’ve been happy to work with whichever of A and R was more convenient, and A happened to get me all of Turkey. But Bryan and I did an excellent job of avoiding the bullshit one dot stabs that prevent the east from resolving in far too many Weasel games. Heading into the final season, I had a path to a 10-7 result, but I decided to help him into two dots, not dot him for Vienna, and split the top. But this was truly an alliance win- a Trieste flip, trading builds between each other, numerous Austrian seasons in Ion, and stabs left behind in several years. Bryan and I had an excellent alliance, he played brilliantly and he deserved a solid result.
Welcome back, Trotta, indeed. You’ve been one of the best in the league at playing scrappy, and looks like you needed that skill for the first couple years. Hope to see you on more boards in the future.
Wonder if you could say a bit more about your reasoning on the last turn. Early in the AAR, you write that one of your previous concerns was that some people didn’t play to win. Would you say you were still playing to win on the last turn, or that your feelings on that point have changed?
Also, were France’s holds in Gascony, Marseilles, and the Mid-Atlantic negotiated or oversights? Looks like she could have protected Spain and retaken Brest.
Re: France- The moves in the last year suggest some roommate carebearing- especially with the support into Bel. I believe Brest was a mis-order and we had to get a rules clarification there. Again, credit Ali for picking up 3 dots that he really had no business swiping.
You’re right, I played to tie instead of to win- that was a deliberate adaptation to club culture. I won’t lie, it wasn’t as fun as winning is, but I think it was the right call. As to why I didn’t pull the trigger, there are a couple reasons. I’ll start with the personal. In my last game back after a long hiatus, I topped in a very purist competitive style- pulling out a last year victory from behind. That win felt awesome… and I burned out again in the next game.
Even though I’m a competitive purist, not everyone on a board will be, and I don’t think it does anyone good to try to weed out other styles of players. I wasn’t enjoying banging my head against that particular wall, and I’ve made my perspectives about changes in the club, club decisions, and the scoring system pretty clear over the past year or so. As a result, I came into this game not really caring too much about results or the league or any of that… I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to play.
There’s also a strategic piece. I had and still have a big target on my back. A huge problem I was running into was that people were afraid of me on every board. That’s not so bad as long as they’re balancing that fear with their fear of other equal or greater threats- that’s not what I was experiencing. I actually enjoy getting beat if you’re doing it to improve your chances at winning. Eliminating a big threat is a strategy. And in fairness, there is a skill to managing being targeted well and playing from behind. But looking at the league leaderboards over the past few years, it is pretty clear that people are either bad at targeting OR are not balancing threats well enough. That’s tremendously frustrating and makes the playing experience suck.
The decision to split the top with Bryan was pragmatic altruism. Bryan definitely deserved a good result, we had an awesome alliance, and it sucks that this game didn’t continue. But bigger than that, if I want to have my playing experience not suck, I’ve got to do something about the target on my back. That target comes from a belief that if I’m viable on board, people feel they’ve got less of a chance to win. Rewarding good alliance play (and being more selective about when I play to win) is a way to address that belief.
You make a really good point about new players in France leading to Western triples; I saw this in the last bar game I attended. It’s obvious why this happens: neither England nor Germany wants to be the bad guy & attack the new player, so they propose a triple, which is nearly impossible for the newbie to refuse… even if (as you say) they will eventually be taken advantage of, how do you say no to *both* of your neighboring players on the first turn of a game you’ve never played before? This is probably something the club should think about addressing.
Regarding competitive styles and being targeted, you seem to reluctantly understand that there’s a connection, but I think it’s worth emphasizing. As you’ve noted in some of your excellent strategy articles, this is a game where you need to have an early ally to get anywhere. But if you get a reputation as a “win or bust” player who will lose interest/give up if you don’t think you have a chance to win, then how desirable an ally are you?
You’re right that this group is apparently terrible at targeting Brandon, given his dominance in the club standings. But I think that’s because Brandon is exceptionally skilled at persuading at least one of his neighbors not to join in targeting him. Look at this paragraph in his most recent AAR (emphasis added):
[quote][b]In general, I think the western powers all overemphasized the threat I posed at various points.[/b] Jim repeatedly sent units my way in the early game, wasting opportunities in the west. Matt allowed Ali to keep Munich an extra year in order to have more units to fight me. And as Christian rebounded in the midgame, he focused on me rather than consolidate his invasion of Germany or fight the burgeoning Ali. [b]Note to future neighbors: This sort of behavior makes me a good choice for an ally.[/b][/quote]
[i]“See, player X? You don’t have to be afraid of allying with me, because players Y and Z will be doing everything they can to contain me.”[/i] (Repeat this with each neighbor as player X.) There’s a name for this skill: Diplomacy. Brandon’s damned good at it.
I’ll add, perhaps unnecessarily, that this isn’t a matter of club culture. I started playing Diplomacy in tournaments & spinoff house games in California in (egad) the previous century, and the targeting of good players was one of the first things I noticed. It’s a challenge the best players routinely have to deal with, and the very best find a way to pull it off and win anyway; it’s just one more facet of the game to master.
And, as you seem to grudgingly realize here, one simple way to convince people that allying with you isn’t a sucker’s bet is to have some factual examples you can point to. Otherwise, you eventually run out of suckers.
(P.S. Speaking of suckers, I’m sorry that you won’t be able to attend the next bar game! I’m sure you would attack me in F01 as usual, but I’ve come to appreciate that as a kind of tradition, like Lucy with Charlie Brown and the football.)