For all but four years (01,07, 08 and 18) I was in the lead, but I was deeply conscious of what players of this calibre would do to a runaway leader (ask Russia) so I ended up playing it as a grind really, trying to maintain my lead and positions of relative strength whilst moving us inexorably towards a draw position.
Which brings me to this article, the idea of which is to focus on a key moment or strategy that led to victory - but the way this game played out in general, and for me in particular the highlight reel is rather empty (see boring chart above). So rather than dredge up obscure tactical moves and assign them false importance I'm writing about one of things I think I did well in the tournament overall that I hope others will find interesting and helpful in future tournaments – my approach to the qualifying rounds.
The Best Possible Result
My objective in any game of diplomacy from any given situation is to “achieve the best possible result” and I will pick my strategy/moves/allies to maximise my chances of achieving that. This was absolutely true here, however I made the deliberate mental shift that the best possible result was not to solo but to qualify. This had a big impact on how I played because in qualifying rounds there is a difference – more than one of you can achieve the best possible result, this can fundamentally changes the dynamic of an alliance.
So my approach was to try and find an ally (ideally a neighbour) who bought into the vision of mutually achieving a high score along the lines of 14 centres each (14 to leave enough buffer in case some one stabs) - that clocks you about 46 points each - and then to play that out and not (necessarily) look to stab for the solo or board top
Of course the keen of mind will have already realised that getting a solo gives you the best chance of qualifying because it both maximises your own points and minimises those of other players. That is of course objectively true, but bear with me gentle listener. I believe this approach does two fundamental things compared to a traditional “go for a solo” playstyle:
Decreases risk: players tend to stab each other when their incentives diverge due to not being able to achieve their individual goals, this is much less likely to happen (and the stab may inherently be risk too); and
Increases effectiveness of your alliance: firstly in traditional play you will likely always be looking to increase your relative advantage over your ally by: looking for ways to get them out of position, make them grow slightly slower than you, leak a few of their moves. Hopefully you agree this can reduce the effectiveness of your combined forces. Secondly if you are less worried about them stabbing it may free up more units for the front line from defensive positions.
In summary the key differentiation for me is the strategy and approach you take along the way, in general creating the circumstances for a solo is riskier and can make your primary alliances less effective at overcoming others (not always, but in general).