An Application of the Risk-Taking Experiment

By Brahm Dorst

Part of the continuing dialog generated by Simon Szykman's "risk-taking" experiment whose results were initially presented in the Spring 1999 Retreat issue of the zine. See also Simon's followup article in the Fall 1999 Movement issue, as well as Marc Leotard's new analysis which appears in this issue.

I recently played a face-to-face game of Diplomacy, my first in about two years. I was by far the most experienced dipper at the table. Only two others had played the game before. It was about 1903. I, as Germany, had a deal with England to invade Russia, while a non-aggression deal had been reached whereby France was left free to attack Italy. Anyway, I was on the front porch, reassuring Russia that I did not have any plans to attack him, and that I would be moving from Silesia to Galicia in an attack on Austria. I stepped back into the living room and as I did so, France and England looked up, somewhat startled by my sudden return to the room. Each had in his eyes a look of paranoia, and nervous guilt. In turn they scanned my face trying to ascertain how long I'd been at the door. I smiled and nodded which seemed to reassure them, for they had been standing upright with shoulders high, and after my gesture they both returned to their normal slouching posture, exhaling just slightly more than usual.

France had finally talked England into attacking me. I knew he'd been trying to talk England into attacking me for a while. I'd been delaying my attack on Russia, and France had been getting nervous about his flank, as his units were now committed to a Mediterranean invasion.

So an Anglo-French stab on me was obvious, but the negotiation phase was over and there was no chance to talk them out of it. I don't think I could have anyway. Besides, I would have had to reveal my knowledge of the stab, and it's usually better to always know a little more than anyone thinks you know. Holland was the obvious target; the only question remaining was how it would be attacked.

At this time, I recalled Simon Szykman's little experiment, and decided to look at the pieces on the board. I looked carefully at the English fleets in North Sea and Edinburgh, the French armies in Belgium and Burgundy. The angle of the fleet in Edinburgh suggested a move to North Sea. Such a move only made sense if England expected his North Sea fleet to be moving out, not supporting. It also meant that the attack on Holland would not be made by a convoyed army, but a fleet.

Based on the assumption that they'd shifted their units while planning and demonstrating their attack, and had neglected to restore Edinburgh to a less suggestive position (or had not noticed that it had been left as such), I did not move Denmark to the North Sea, for this would have been percieved by England as a stab on him. I merely moved Ruhr to Belgium, and that single move foiled the entire operation of G/F. It turned out to be what I considered the decisive move of the game. England wouldn't be able to take a single SC for a whole extra year. In that time, I gained Russia's loyalty by slipping into Venice unexpectedly. This also gained the loyalty of Italy who was fighting a hopeless battle against Austria-France. The extra unit allowed me to build a German fleet which effectively made it impossible for England France to crack open the Vaderland for another year.

While France had planned to support England in a quick and crippling blow, he was now faced with the prospect of supporting England in a war in which Germany would probably not lose any SCs for two years, and those that were most vulnerable, Denmark and Sweden, would obviously go to England first. I managed instead to convince France to convoy his army in Belgium into Wales, and promised that I would not interfere with his attack on England, but instead focus on Austria.

At the same time France invaded Liverpool, Russia retook St. Petersburg. England basically determined that he had lost, and resolved to offer anything to see Russia -- but especially France -- suffer. Italy was also resigned to defeat, bitter at both Austria and France. Russia planned to attack me later, but for now was willing to work with me. France was divided fighting England and Italy, and by attacking Austria, France was alone against Italy while I kept Austria occupied. France no longer had sufficient forces to take Italy quickly. My attack on Austria was going unexpectedly well, and France began negotiating with me for help in a division of Italy. I had everyone on my side, and there was not so much as a non-aggression pact between any other two members of the game. My growth continued apace from that point on, and in the final year (circa 1910) I had about 14 SCs. I realized that if I stabbed every single player left on the board I was sure to reach 17, and I figured if I made enough unexpected moves, someone was bound to not give proper support, allowing me to reach 18. As it turned out, every single attempted stab worked out better than I could have imagined. In fact, even one move that had been intended to cut support, ended up occupying Venice. I went from 14 SCs to 22 SCs in a single Fall season!

This was only my second FTF solo victory, my third in my entire Diplomacy career, and the first time I'd ever been a part of a FTF game that had ended in a legitimate solo (rather than giving the solo to whoever has the most SCs after 8 hours, or the first to reach a lowered victory condidtion). It was also the first FTF game that finished before the scheduled time had elapsed.

Of course, I invited all the other players to celebrate my spectacular victory by treating them to a round of beer and chicken wings at a local pub. Yay me, and thank you Simon!

Brahm Dorst

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