Brown Out: A Game No. 17 Report
Eric Brown wasn’t the only big Turkey at the Windy City Weasels’ 17th Diplomacy game, which was held February 10 at Barry Johnson’s house in Lake in the Hills. Unfortunately, he’s the one who did all the gobbling.
The line-up was as follows:
Austria: Jim Collins
England: Thom Comstock
France: Michael Martinez
Germany: Barry Johnson
Italy: Jim O’Kelley
Russia: John Ritz
Turkey: Eric Brown
My initial diplomacy was shaped by the Eastern dynamic: Jim Collins was playing his first game with us and only his third game overall, and his first two games were with fewer than seven players. Meanwhile, John Ritz and Eric Brown were both regulars and strong players in Russia and Turkey, respectively. So, attacking Austria was out of the question. That left France and Turkey as viable targets, since an attack on Germany is difficult to sustain.
So, off I went to the Spring 1901 negotiation phase, in search of friends and a foe.
I talked with Austria first. “Don’t worry about Trieste,” I assured him. “We have to stick together. The last thing I want is to fight with you.” I suggested that he target Greece and Serbia, and not leaving anything to chance, I pointed out the proper moves for securing those two dots, since I’ve seen new players order Albania S Serbia to Greece. Lastly, I strongly suggested that he cover Galicia. “Seriously,” I then said, as I eyed England across the room, “don’t worry about Trieste. You can trust me.”
I then met with England, who immediately asked me about Piedmont. “I’m willing to move there,” I said, “but only as part of a three-way attack on France.” He said he was willing to move to the Channel, so we both agreed to speak with Germany.
Next, I chatted with Turkey. Now, my trend lately when playing Italy or Turkey is to try to avoid the self-fulfilling sea battle by offering to take Tunis with a fleet in exchange for a promise by Turkey not to build F Smyrna in 1901. Eric seemed receptive to the plan.
“You’re moving to the Black Sea, right?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.
“Good,” I replied. “You might want to think about moving Smyrna to Armenia as well.”
Then I was off to meet with Russia, who told me he expected to get Sweden in the Fall and to bounce in the Black Sea. “I need to see that bounce,” I told him.
He then told me that he thought Galicia would be open and asked whether he should move there. We went back and forth on whether we should hit Austria or Turkey first. I told him I’d jump either way, but neither one of us seemed inclined to hit Austria. I closed by asking him to request a bounce in Galicia. I really didn’t want to move to Trieste, but it’s nice to have options.
Next, I sought Germany. We talked generally about the need for the central powers to stick together, but I don’t believe we ever talked specifically about DMZing Tyrolia. Nor did he commit to attacking France.
Even so, I still intended to move to Piedmont … until I met with France, who spent about five minutes talking about DMZs and extracting repeated promises from me about not moving to Piedmont.
And that brought me right up to the deadline. I had already written F Naples to Ionian and A Rome to Apulia, but I agonized over A Venice’s move. I didn’t want to move to Trieste, even though I was confident that it would be open, and after swearing up and down that I wouldn’t move to Piedmont and without having a firm commitment for the French attack from Germany and not having reconfirmed the attack with England, I just couldn’t write the move to Piedmont.
I hate holding in Spring 1901, so I briefly toyed with A Venice to Apulia and A Rome to Venice, but in the end, I jotted down A Venice to Tyrolia. Again, it’s good to have options. (I’ll note here that there’s been a lot of discussion in our group lately about the poor showing of the central powers. I had resolved to do something about that if I drew a central power, so what did I do? I moved to Tyrolia, potentially destabilizing Austria and Germany. Sigh.)
The Eastern moves were pretty standard: Bounces in Galicia and the Black Sea, Austria positioning himself to take Greece, Russia working toward Rumania, and Turkey ordering Smyrna to Constantinople. The West was much more interesting.
France ordered his armies to Gascony and Spain, while his fleet moved to the Mid Atlantic. England stole into the English Channel, and Germany positioned himself to take three neutrals by moving his fleet to Holland and A Munich to Ruhr.
Germany’s moves had the greatest impact on my Fall diplomacy. I didn’t want Russia to pick up two builds, so I encouraged Austria and Turkey to work together to keep him out of Rumania.
Then I approached Germany with this pitch: “You’re set up to take all three neutrals. Why not let me walk into Munich? In the Spring you can take it back while supporting me into Burgundy. I move Venice to Piedmont and send my fleets to the Western Med and the Tyrrhenian Sea. France will never see it coming.”
Barry thought for a moment, and then said slowly, “Jim, I can’t let you take Munich.”
“But Barry,” I pleaded, “my second army is in Apulia. I can’t follow the move to Munich, so there’s no way I can hold it. You can take it back in 1902 for your sixth center, and France will be in big trouble. There’s no risk.”
“I can’t do it, Jim,” he said.
“All right,” I said. “Just think about it. If you change your mind, let me know.”
I then met with England, who was annoyed that I had bailed on the French attack. “You left me hanging,” Thom charged.
“No, I didn’t,” I insisted. I explained my Munich gambit to him and said Barry wasn’t buying it. “Talk to Barry. It’s a good play. France won’t see it coming. Besides, you’ve got the jump on him. What are you planning on doing?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I was thinking about Brest.”
“He’ll cover Brest with Gascony,” I said. “And you want his army to occupy it so he can’t build a fleet there. If I were you, I’d bypass it and move to the Mid Atlantic. That position is worth a center.”
I walked away having grossly underestimated Thom’s annoyance with me.
France was equally annoyed. “I heard you knew about the attack on me,” he challenged.
“Michael,” I said, “England and France are screwing you, but if I had known about it, I’d be in Piedmont right now. I’m not in Piedmont.” That seemed to satisfy him. As for me, I was kicking myself for not being in Piedmont.
I met again briefly with Turkey who confirmed that he would not build a fleet in either Constantinople or Smyrna if I took Tunis with my fleet. He also indicated that he expected Austria to support him to Rumania.
I’m sure I talked with Russia this turn as well, but I don’t remember what we talked about. I think we agreed that he should request another bounce in Galicia so that I could walk into Trieste, but I’m not positive.
So, when it came time to write orders, I once again found myself without a plan. I ordered the fleet to Tunis, deciding to stick with my arrangement with Turkey. That freed A Apulia to move to Venice. Lastly, I ordered Tyrolia to Munich, hoping that Germany either had reconsidered his opposition to the move or at least wouldn’t bother covering it. If the move succeeded, I could build fleets in Naples and Rome and launch a massive attack on France in Spring 1902. If it failed, I’d have two armies on Austria’s border.
Well, it failed. Germany covered Munich from Ruhr. F Holland, meanwhile, supported the British fleet in the Channel to Belgium while A Kiel moved to Denmark…where it was bounced by a British convoy from Yorkshire! That’s gratitude for you. Thom had passed up the free build in Norway to pay back the guy who was giving him Belgium for not having moved to Burgundy!
The French covered Brest as I had suspected, moved the fleet to the South Coast of Spain, and took Portugal with the other army.
In the East, Austria and Turkey did bounce the Russians in Rumania while Turkey sailed into the Black Sea.
It was a crazy first year, with Denmark, Norway and Rumania remaining neutral. I remarked that I had never seen that before. A couple of the players echoed that sentiment.
With a deep sigh, I plopped down a fleet in Naples. I breathed an even deeper sigh when France put down a fleet in Marseilles. (That’s what I get for telling the Brits not to go for Brest.) Fortunately, Turkey held up his end of the bargain by building an army.
Now, I’ve had some strong performances as Italy where I played a patient game, but here, I inexplicably panicked just because I had nothing brewing after two turns. Austria and Turkey were working together, so a Turkish campaign appeared to be out, and the French campaign collapsed before it could start, so I had nothing going in that direction, either.
So, I unwisely resolved to stab Austria, figuring that a quick gain or two from him would deter a French attack. But, while I informed Turkey about my attack, I stupidly withheld the information from Russia, so while I was supporting myself to Trieste, he was taking Rumania with a fleet instead of an army and doing something with A Warsaw other than moving to Galicia. At the same time, Austria took Bulgaria from Greece. I was in Trieste, but Turkey was down to three units, the only Russian unit in the vicinity was a useless fleet in Rumania, and Austria had four armies to my two, with no threat from the rear. Meanwhile, the French fleet in Marseilles held while the one in Spain moved to the Mid Atlantic.
I pointed all of this out to the Austrian, begged his forgiveness, and offered to pull out of Trieste. He said he would play to retake it and said he would be covering Greece from Serbia.
Turkey and I discussed our options. I pointed out that he had a shot at retaking Bulgaria. “I’ll go for it,” he said, “but you need to move Ionian to Greece so he will lose it Bulgaria. He can’t defend both.”
“Okay,” I said, but really, I didn’t want to move to Greece. I needed to address those menacing French fleets to my rear, so I was planning to move to the Western Med and the Tyrrhenian. Besides, if Austria was moving Serbia to Greece, I wanted that move to succeed so that Trieste could retreat to Serbia if dislodged.
So, I didn’t move to Greece. Regretfully, because Serbia supported Bulgaria. He also retook Trieste from Vienna, but as I was attacking Vienna from Tyrolia, I was able to slip in there and retreat A Trieste to Tyrolia.
Elsewhere, England managed to pick up Denmark, I think with German support, and Russia grabbed Norway to go along with Rumania. Austria was even, having effectively swapped Bulgaria for Vienna.
I put a new army in Venice and tried to figure a way to bust up the Austrian position. The rest of the board, it seemed, was focused on the large Russian.
In 1903, my diplomacy centered on convincing the Austrians that I didn’t want to kill him (a miserable failure) and convincing the French that we should sail our separate ways (also a miserable failure).
Against Austria, I succeeded only in swapping Trieste for Vienna. The Austrians actually annihilated one of my armies, which worked out in my favor, as I was able to build a third fleet. The third fleet was necessary because the lying French pigs had reneged on our agreement to stand down in the Mediterranean. As my fleets pulled back to the Ionian and the Tyrrhenian, he occupied the Western Med and Lyon. He also put an army in Piedmont. The Germans, meanwhile, were in Tyrolia.
Turkey managed to regain Bulgaria, knocking Austria down to four, while Russia lost Norway and Sweden to England, who ceded Belgium to France.
It definitely looked like a Western Triple to me, so in Spring 1904, I rallied the Eastern powers and laid out the situation for them.
“Jim,” I said, “I know I’ve lied to you for four straight turns, but we have to work together now. I need A Trieste to support Venice. If you hit me, I’ll lose both centers, and my position will collapse, and if that happens, France will flood the Med.”
I told Austria and Russia that they needed to work together against Germany, and I asked Turkey to sit tight.
Once again, my diplomacy was completely ineffective. Austria attacked and captured Trieste, causing Venice to fall to a Franco-German attack. At least Austria had left Serbia open, which allowed me to retreat there from Trieste.
So far, I had blundered strategically and diplomatically. With my other retreat, I blundered tactically, ordering A Tyrolia to Apulia instead of A Venice to Apulia.
Fortunately, a number of powers were able to convince Austria to tap Venice in the Fall, which allowed me to hold Rome and stave off complete disaster. I did lose the Tyrrhenian, so my situation was definitely grim, but I seized the opportunity to employ some psychological warfare. Despite grabbing Venice and generally kicking my ass, France was even, having turned Belgium over to Germany, who was building for the first time since 1901. I opted to retreat F Tyrrhenian off the board, which meant I was playing one short. I had a build and France didn’t, which rattled him a bit, I think.
I think Turkey captured Greece in 1904, growing to five and knocking Austria down to three. Eric also had Rumania and Sevastopol lined up, but throughout this game, Eric made outstanding use of janissaries. He couldn’t replace the Russian units that were holding off the British and Germans, so he left the Russian dots alone while he concentrated on Austria.
By the end of 1904, England was the board leader at seven, having taken St. Petersburg. Russia and I had four, and Austria was at three. Everyone else had five or six.
My situation was desperate. Serbia was at Turkey’s mercy, and I was going to lose Rome and Tunis. I needed to make myself useful to Turkey so that he would let me keep a Balkan dot. At this point, I finally started to play well. I convinced Turkey to leave Greece open for my retreat so that I could pull A Greece after helping him into Serbia in the Fall.
In the Med, I avoided annihilation in Tunis by supporting the fleet to the Tyrrhenian. In the Fall, I capitalized on overly defensive play by France and snuck that fleet into the Gulf of Lyon.
I was down to two now, so I pulled A Greece and Fleet Tyrrhenian, leaving me with fleets in the Gulf of Lyon and Naples.
England was now at 10 after stabbing both France and Germany, and his stab probably kept me viable.
At this point, my game was clear. All eyes were on Thom in England, except Thom’s and mine. We were both more worried about Eric’s six-center Turkey, which had several easy centers in its back pocket. Thom’s game has improved dramatically over the past year, but he’s still unfamiliar with the stalemate lines. I knew that. Our diplomacy in Spring 1906 went like this:
Thom: Eric is going to win this game.
Me: Look, if you keep me around, we can stop him from winning. But I can’t help you if I’m dead. You have to keep me alive.
Thom: I’ll keep you alive.
Me: Okay, Portugal is mine. I need Portugal.
France, Turkey and I then met to discuss the British threat. I explained that we would lose the Mid Atlantic to the Brits in the Fall unless France allowed me to move to Spain in the Spring. Otherwise we wouldn’t have sufficient fleets to keep the Brits out. I told him that he could support me to the Mid in the Fall, but if it looked like the move wouldn’t go, I’d support him instead while giving him Naples as compensation for Spain. Eric endorsed everything I said, so Michael agreed to the plan.
Of course, when the Fall rolled around, I didn’t vacate Spain or give France Naples, so I actually grew to three. Unfortunately, I was still in Naples and was thus unable to build. Eric, meanwhile, picked up three centers and was now at nine, tied with Thom’s England for the board lead.
In 1907, I continued to stress to Thom that I needed Portugal, and he continued to wonder why I didn’t take it. Meanwhile, I continued to lie to France about my intentions to vacate Spain. I needed to delay France’s recapture of Spain for as long as possible to deny him diplomatic play with England. I didn’t want the two of them to cut me out of Iberia.
My problem was I couldn’t just tell Thom, who was doing quite well at nine centers, that my solution to his Turkish problem was an ugly five-way draw. Despite having to withhold this crucial piece of information and in spite of my weak position, I still felt like I was in control of the game. Turkey was doing exactly what I needed him to do—getting huge—and the bigger he got, the more necessary I was.
He picked up three more centers in 1907 including my Greece to grow to 12. I recaptured Rome with his help, however, and since I was playing one short, I was actually able to build a new fleet in Naples.
In 1908, England and France finally pulled the rug out from under me. France hit Spain with two units while England moved to Portugal. My fleet in Spain, the only unit I had on or within reasonable distance of the stalemate line, was gone.
In the Fall, Turkey convoyed to Apulia and took a shot at Rome to keep me honest. Unfortunately, I had moved to Tuscany in hopes of putting two units on Lyon so I could perhaps reach Marseilles and reestablish myself on the line. So, I lost Rome and was now down to one.
Eric, meanwhile, again gained three centers to reach 15, but he had a vacant Naples and a vacant Tunis in his back pocket, so for all intents and purposes, he was at 17.
The question now became whether the West could hold Spain, Marseilles and Munich to stop Turkey at 17. Since I wasn’t part of the line and my unit wasn’t necessary to hold it, I kept my mouth shut. In the Spring, Turkey offered to support the Brits into Spain. While he did so, Eric also seized the Mid Atlantic.
At that point, the writing was on the wall—Turkey had breached the stalemate line. France, angry about being dotted for Spain and unwilling to play for another hour just to finish with the same likely result--especially when facing a 90-minute car ride home--decided to support the Turks into Spain. England responded to that news by trying to take Paris instead of supporting the Germans in Munich. As a result, Eric gained both Spain and Munich to go along with Naples and Tunis for 19 centers.
Eric played a great game. He was on the ropes after 1902, but he never gave up, and when opportunity knocked, he answered. As I noted above, he did a masterful job of using his puppets, not taking their centers until he could utilize them better than they could. He really deserves all the credit for this win.
For some of the other players, I suspect this game was a good learning experience. For me, it was a horrible performance that I nearly salvaged by forcing a five-way draw. In the end, my diplomacy failed me again. Sigh.
The final center counts were:
Oh well, it was still a heck of a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the next game already. Special thanks to Barry for hosting.
Gobble, Gobble, Gobble.