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Subject: World Diplomacy Championships XVII/DipCon XL rss

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Andrew Nick
British Columbia
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Well, I attended the World Diplomacy Championships this year, since it was held where I live—Vancouver, British Columbia. I attended mainly to support the local hobby, which has been waning over the past decade. Out of the eighty or so attendees, there were only about ten of us from the local Diplomacy community, although the number balloons considerably if one includes those from the slightly wider community in the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle. Otherwise, there was good global representation from Australia, USA, UK, Austria, Netherlands, Canada, and a significant contingent from France.

I was apprehensive about playing that much Diplomacy all at once. I’m just a casual player, once or twice a year if I’m lucky (besides the lack of cohesion within our local community, I like to play many other games), and I played two games in one day once before, a couple of years ago, at a mini con hosted in Seattle at the Washington Athletic Club and I developed a splitting “Diplomacy” headache during the second game. I vowed after that experience not to play more than one Diplomacy game in a day. So when I decided to attend the WDC, I intended to run variants during the second round on the days where there were two rounds scheduled (WDC ran for four days, with one round on Thursday evening, two rounds each on Friday and Saturday, and a morning round on Sunday), thinking that I wouldn’t be the only one that would get sick of playing that much Diplomacy in a high-stress tournament setting. The tournament structure was designed such that you could miss a couple of rounds and not have your overall score for the tournament too adversely affected. Not enough interest was expressed in playing the variants, however, so I ended-up playing all six rounds of the tournament, but, thankfully, was spared any adverse physical trauma.

I hesitated attending WDC at all for another reason as well. I find that the competition for ratings/rankings in the hobby in general, and even more so at tournaments, has, in my opinion, corrupted the play of the game. Diplomacy as it was designed and intended for play, is all about world domination, and this is reflected in its victory conditions (control of more than half of the strategic centres on the board by one player). These victory conditions encourage the purest style of play, which displays the delicate balance which must be maintained by players: push for solo victory (this strains negotiations), and when not in the lead, cut down the leader (this helps motivate successful negotiations). In a tournament, or other environments where ratings/rankings are at stake, there is less of a motivation for either a solo victory (even though solo victories are still the most well-rewarded result in any ratings/ranking system) or cutting down the leader—hence the current infestation of cheesy drawmongers and point counters. This makes for a frustrating game for the uninitiated, and results in a “metagame” where players will manipulate their play in any individual game to suit their overall position over a series of games. I understand how all this can be quite exciting, but it is nevertheless a different game, and is anathema to compatibility between casual/novice players and the “sharks”. Inevitably, this incompatibility results in negative experiences for an entire segment of the hobby—the very future of the hobby. The sharks tend to view the casual/novice player as “meat” in a metagame setting, because there is no benefit to developing any sort of long-term relationship with them. A shark’s primary goal is still to win any particular game, but he will more easily settle for a result that at least gets him some “points”. And he will value alliances with other sharks more than with novice/casual gamers, because any relationships that are nurtured with other sharks could pay dividends in future games.

Despite my poor showing in the first game on Thursday night, and the fact that my fears about the style of play of most of the experienced players at the convention were confirmed, I had a good time, and as the long weekend progressed, I enjoyed myself more and more. My play improved noticeably from game to game. I learned that opening yourself up to an ally does not foster trust so much as tempt them to stab you, which in this environment, they inevitably do. I learned that there are ways of pin-pointing which players are information-spreaders. I learned that an aggressive retaliation is often better than a retreat into a defensive posture after being betrayed, and can often regain the needed respect to repair the relationship and/or get noticed by other potential future allies. I learned that indecisive play will make it easier for other players to pick you as a target, since otherwise their choice would have been more arbitrary, and hence more difficult. I learned all this, and more …

I had my most fun but also most irritating game on Friday night (Round 3). The game was not without its sharks, namely Dave Maletsky (who played Turkey), but most of the other players were casual players, and even some relative novices. Chris Brand (England) was playing as well, and he’s a fairly experienced local player, but he’s such a nice guy, I hesitate to lump him in with the rest of the sharks. Rounding out the group was Mike (Germany, a New York urologist outta FLA), Rick (Italy, another fairly experienced player), the youngest participant at 11 or 12, Narek (Austria-Hungary), and Tony (Russia). The game was pretty relaxed, and everyone had fun, except Dave, who was cranky because he felt responsible for Narek who he felt was left out of negotiations too much.

The entire tournament was marked by a compulsion to eliminate the “Wicked Witches” (England and Turkey) as quickly as possible. I was approached early on by Germany (Mike) who offered an alliance against England, but I was concerned that Turkey would not face a similar threat on the other side of the board because of the inexperience of both the Russian and Austro-Hungarian players. So, I suggested that we initially try a Western Triple (Germany-England-France), so that I could head into the Mediterranean as early on as possible to help keep Turkey bottled-up. Turkey care-beared the Austrian throughout the game, and took part in the Russian spoils with England. As France, I convinced the Italian that I would bypass him (for the most part—I did need Tunis, though … ) to keep Turkey bottled up east of the Ionian Sea. I knew that I could snatch the Italian centres whenever I wanted, and England and I agreed that we would do the same to Germany when the time was right.

It was getting late, and Dave was making us feel all guilty about keeping Narek up, so, soon after England and I made our play on Italy and Germany (Russia had been long gone), we decided to end it, after I agreed to throw England a couple of centres, since Chris, after all, was in it for the tournament points, and I wasn’t.

The most interesting game, however, occurred, for me, in Round 5, on Saturday night. This game featured some extremely experienced players, including Jake Mannix (Germany), Vincent Carrey (Italy), Steve (Russia), Tim (France), Greg (England), and Racan (Turkey).

As Austria-Hungary, I initially felt hesitant to join Russia who was insisting we eliminate Turkey immediately, but when I suggested to the Turkish player that we move against Russia in concert, he demurred and took a wait-and-see attitude. This pushed me towards the Russian, and we quickly dismantled Turkey along with the Italian. My relationship with the Italian was strong from the start, and survived a brief stab by me due to pressure from the Franco-German alliance which itself was making short shrift of England on the other side of the board.

By midgame the alliance structure played out: Italy-Russia-AH, against Germany (who had maintained the lead the entire game) and France. And then something awful happened. Russia jumped ship on our alliance, and stabbed Italy and I just as we were making an effort to disengage ourselves from Turkey which we all shared. I question not the timing so much as the overall motivation of throwing in with the clear leader in the game, which to me could only hasten victory for him. But I realize that due to the inroads that Germany was making in Russia, Russia was convinced that he could bolster his tournament score by throwing in with Germany. Hell, Germany even stabbed France, but managed to keep him on as an ally! What the HELL was going on here?!!

The game was also marked, if not marred, by numerous misorders, including two (!) instances of duplicate orders submitted. The initial duplicate order was courtesy of Jake, and it resulted in my getting the jump on him enough to take Munich. I never did, however, because Jake managed to convince Steve as Russia to jump ship just at this time, thus saving his bacon. Later on, Vincent submitted duplicate orders, and the result gave us an opportunity to turn the game around. Vincent and I were outnumbered 22 centres to 12, but holding our own, and we were struggling to make some progress in the Black Sea area, but Vincent’s fleet was out of position. Russia kept hitting Bulgaria with his fleet from the Black Sea to cut support for my attempts to regain Rumania which I lost after the stab. So, I decided to vacate Bulgaria and let him have it. And took his place in the Black Sea! This was a turning point in the game. The Black Sea position is key to the area, and a fleet holding Bulgaria (and subsequently Rumania, after he was pushed back out) is not very effective, due to its inability to move (retreat) or support inland to the Balkans. Austria-Hungary and Italy were winning the fight against an opposition nearly twice our size!

There was some acrimony, as an esoteric discussion broke out at one point about the vagaries of the point system, with Vincent suggesting first a draw, then, I think, a concession, which Jake refused to take, and we ended up playing almost until 1 am, and we were about to move to the dorms to continue the game, when Tim agreed that he would let Germany walk into France’s remaining centres, and Germany, having stabbed Russia by now, and being able to take a couple of centres from Russia, was now in position where 18 centres was a likelihood, and so we conceded a solo to Jake.

Despite the solo victory, I think the moral victory was ours. Italy and Austria-Hungary could easily have taken it all away. I made some breakthrough moves, but a lot of the manoeuvring was thanks to Vincent’s brilliant tactics. Hats off, Vincent!
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