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A Weekly Threat Assessment of the Diplomacy Community

Nexus Gunboat Tournament Results

The second Nexus Gunboat Tournament is in the books. Many congratulations to this season's winner, tarakashka!
Tarakashka won on the back of a very strong game last game as Austria. There was an incredible turnout of 99 players in all this season. Thanks to Eustacchio Raulli and Derek Balling for hosting. Check out the final three games.
Nexus Gunboat League

Nexus is pleased to announce that they are forming a Gunboat League. Games will be launched in waves every two weeks, with multiple different end years depending on the game. Join the Nexus Discord server to access the Gunboat League channels.

Nexus Variants

The Diplomacy Variant Club has partnered with Diplomacy Nexus to become Nexus Variants discord server. If you are interested in designing, discussing, or playing in variant Diplomacy games, then this is the place for you. Head over to the discord server and check it out.

VDL signups for the June 5th league night are now open! Sign up and play a virtual face to face game (or two!) on the vWDC Discord server.
The Champions Corner is where recent tournament winners share a specific move or strategy that they believe helped them to emerge victorious.
 
For this issue, we welcome the victor of the Nexus Gunboat Tournament, Tarakashka.

Profile

"No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams

With years I have realized that a key component of communication is a point of reference. Without it, a conversation is confusing and doesn’t go anywhere. I, therefore, would like to spend some words sketching a quick profile of me and my perspective. I classify myself as a tactician (as opposed to strategist). What it translates into on a game board (regardless of the game) is that I come up with some interesting short-term gains, which sometimes causes long term problems. My strategically minded friend dubbed me a “pest” because in a long game his strategic mind eventually triumphs over my temporary tactical advances, and so he rightfully sees this as an annoying pestering, rather than serious threat. It doesn’t help matters that my chosen nickname of some years is Tarakashka (“cockroach” in Russian).

Mindset for the game and Prep

"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” ― Nicolaus Copernicus

Quickly about the tournament. The tournament is a gunboat (no press) until 1912 is completed with scoring system Mind the Gap. Having played 2 rounds 3 games each here’s what I knew:

a. Each board matters. Even if you have no hope of being in the lead, survival is important, as well as minimizing the gap between 1st and 2nd place.

b. Games are short, and some of the standard strategies that are successful in longer games would not work.

c. It’s worthwhile to open a gap between yourself and second place if you are a leader, and help the second place at someone else’s expense (you lose cumulatively if you give up your centers for the second place).

Having been given England, Turkey, and Austria, I was preparing for a very boring 3 games. The 3 nations have very limited tactical possibilities. I needed some strategic inspiration and so I scanned through a trusted resource: Richard Sharp’s “The Game of Diplomacy.” His thoughts had to be adopted to the short, no communications game, but the tactical ideas are still sound and worth considering.

The Games

"Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.”― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

England

Based on Sharp’s idea of hindering France, I opened into the English Channel and took Brest. Things were going quite well, and my plan was to contain France and work with Germany. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold Brest, but France would not be able to build in Brest, and that was the point of the enterprise. The goal was to fight Russia and, once I had it’s north locked up, decide wether to join forces with Germany or France. None of that mattered, since a German move to Skagerrack in the spring of 1902 eliminated me as competition of any sort. I now faced possible weaknesses on both sides of the board, and Germany was too preoccupied with himself to offer any hand. My goal from that point on was to prevent enemy forces from arriving at my shores at any cost. France was the more immediate threat, so I focused on them, only making feeble attempts to block Russia from expansion.

Turkey

That game is, to me, an example why Lepanto is tough in a short gunboat. Austria and Italy, due some miscommunication (weather on purpose or not hard to say), took too long to break my defense and Italy just gave up.

Austria

The quote from “The Art of War” belongs here, if I say so myself (and I do). Originally, I had very little expectations, having played for Austria with maximum achievement of 4 units. I also don’t believe in Lepanto in such a short game. It’s just takes too darn long to break Turkey, especially in a gunboat where coordination is hindered. Having just finished a game with a solo as Italy in the round before, I didn’t feel like being victimized by Italy this early, and so opted for a defensive stance. 

Surprisingly, I got into Venice. Because I didn’t move anything in Trieste, Italy easily understood it was a defensive move. I am sure he fully expected me to move back to Trieste (or, maybe he thought that a strong Austria is beneficial for him – which I was… sort of… almost to the end). Either way, if Italy would decide to go back and defend Venice, I had the opportunity to destroy the fleet, and go with all armies. I am not sure how it would work long term, but it would give me more attacking power against on land, leaving all navy action to Italy.  I needed to do something with the fleet, so I communicated to Italy that I will support him into Greece. As it turned out I was able to take Venice without a fight.

I will fast-forward through the middlegame, leaving only these general thoughts. I didn’t want Italy to grow or to dwindle. As I go through Russia and to Turkey’s backyard, I wanted to make sure Italy stays nice and steady strong enough to defend and pester England and Germany, but not growing so much that they might form any plans to capture my centers in the closing of the game. In 1910, as Turkey has departed, I seriously debated wether I should attack Italy. I could get to 14 centers, but I would not get more, and England or Germany would close the gap by taking out whatever parts of Italy I couldn’t grab first. I need to wait a bit longer. At the same time, I knew, that Italy might become very defensive or aggressive in 1912, since it’s a land grab at that point, with only one year left. Instead, I decided to try to take one of the German centers (he was marginally second at the time, with England one center behind at third). I maneuvered myself along the German border, but also started preparation for an eventual takeover of Italy. I had to come from north and south to have a hope of taking Napoli and Venice, and eventually Rome. What I felt was a nice touch was my seeming exodus from Turkey. I wanted to position my armies to protect the shores, once my fleet moved to Ionian, but knew it would look like I was actually relieving the threat to the Italian holding. I hoped he would move away from his position, considering the very real threat of England, and it would give me my chance – I knew I could always come back in 2012, if necessary. Italy believed I was leaving, so I took a second center from him without a fight in 1911. Having some success against Germany, I prepared to force myself on Italy in the last year. I was able to guess correctly the Italian’s move, and incorrectly the German's. I finished with 15 units – just enough to clinch the first place.

The Virtual World Diplomacy Community hosts regular sessions where a hobby expert hosts a discussion of a topic in which they excel. The Briefing's own strategy correspondent Natty Shafer brings us a synopsis of the talks. This issue he reports on David Hood's MasterClass discussion on avoiding groupthink. Earlier talks are available in the MasterClass archives.

Always avoid saying ‘always.’ 

David Hood began his May 16 Masterclass with the wry observation to “always avoid saying ‘always.’” There is no always in Diplomacy. It is situational, and there are not any moves, tactics, or strategies you should always do. The game of Diplomacy has continually changed. The hobby of Diplomacy has a “meta” or a groupthink about the right way to play, but the meta changes. 

Historically, the meta is always changing. The countries that have been thought to be strongest or weakest have shifted throughout time. David first started playing Diplomacy sometime in the 1980s. In those days, Diplomacy scholarship was conducted mostly through amateur zines, mailed via snail mail. In the early 80s, many zine authors argued Russia was the strongest power.  The weakest countries were thought to be Austria, Italy and Germany.

Soon the thinking shifted in favor of the corner powers, and authors argued that Turkey and England were strongest (or as the zines respectively dubbed them, “the Wicked Witch of the East” and “the Wicked Witch of the West”). A few years later, France took over the title as the strongest power. 

In 1971, Edi Birsan wrote an article that defined the “Lepanto Opening.” It took a little while for his idea to spread, but eventually players took notice. Jeff Key introduced an Italian opening where the army in Venice moves as quickly as possible to Serbia. These two innovations fostered an environment where experienced players often choose a path apart from fighting one another. Their success rates likewise increased.

However, sometimes historical articles are wrong, even within the context of the time they were written. Just because someone publishes an article advocating, for example, that Germany should never try to take Belgium in 1901 does not mean you should follow that advice.

There are also good sociological reasons to reject groupthink. In the world of business, new companies are continually emerging and innovating new processes. Soon, the “new” company becomes the industry standard. Diversity leads to different backgrounds and different viewpoints.

In the days before the internet, it was possible to find pockets of people with completely different ideas of how to play Diplomacy. There were local clubs that did not interact with the wider Diplomacy hobby. Many clubs had a way of playing, and players became dogmatic about the right way to play. You do not want to be the old man on the porch telling everyone to get off your lawn. You should seek out new opponents and new ways of doing things.

Until virtual Diplomacy exploded last spring, David says he was unaware how often Italian players expect Austria to loan Trieste to Italy. These days it is practically dogma. Perhaps you can become the next innovator by rejecting this common tactic.

Finally, you should reject groupthink in the interest of “fun.” It is less fun if everyone adheres to a few acceptable opening moves. Sometimes an unusual opening can shake things up. Diplomacy is a game about personalities and psychology. It is fun to try new moves and strategies. "Goofiness" occasionally works because the diplomatic negotiations work.

You need to have a plan, but still be able to deviate.  Be ready to reassess whether your plan is right. (These are game skills that extend beyond the world of Diplomacy; being flexible and trying new methods will serve you well in life.)

While you learn from your experience, you still need to assess how conditions have changed. If you are always preparing for the last war, you will end up fighting the last war and losing. Learn lessons, but don't assume that just because something was done one way it should always be done that way. 

David does say that his advice does come with a caveat: you probably should copy good players. We learn by mimicking, but at some point you need to assess whether or not their ideas work for you. It is okay to copy, but also okay to pick and choose. It is also more fun to be yourself instead of deciding there is one way to do these things.

To break up the meta, pitch trying to have "fun" to try something different. The meta gets changed by someone like you changing it.

May

June

May

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