An Introduction to the South America Variants

Erlend 'Joe' Janbu

Probably many of you have had the creativity bug sneak up on you, grab your attention completely, leaving you feeling like making something new. I've had this feeling many times, and the result of one such experience is what I'm about to talk about. I bet some of the other variant designers out there wish they had as much spare time as I had during high school to design variants - I can only admit I was lucky, and now I feel like sharing my creation with all of you.

I hear you ask... why South America? This wasn't really what I initially thought of. Some of you may have seen or played in my World variant (created back from 1996 to early 1998), and noticed that there are a few similarities between the South America map in the World variant and the map of the South America variant (version 3.2). Sure, it is indeed from there that it evolved. I found South America a very interesting part of the map I'd created. [The World variant was my first Diplomacy variant and I aimed to create a variety of dilemmas to make the game interesting - rather than balance it. So, it is unbalanced, there are numerous stalemate lines, and as the research of the countries' military was minimal, incorrect powers have been chosen here and there.] I began tweaking it, and as you can see from the current version number, I've had quite a revision frequency. [psst, Joe, why South America?] Oh, well... first of all, it's circumnavigable - an interesting feat. Next, it's a region not used in many Diplomacy variants. And finally, I've always liked the Spanish and Portuguese words - future revisions will probably not have English named territories.

What did I want to achieve with South America? Well, I've had three major aims: one, to create a game that was very balanced, not to the artificial level of Chromatic or Migraine, but in a way that there would not be a power that nearly noone wanted to draw. Two, to create a variant where there are no stalemate lines. This is a matter of personal preference - some like the tactics of stalemate lines (finding a way to cross a stalemate line and maintain the bridgehead), some don't. Few variants are stalemate-free. Three, to create powers with a very distinct feel - to appeal to various types of players. Playing Chile in South America is very different from playing Colombia. The same can be said for other pairs of powers.

1. The Balance

So far it looks good. Argentina has most solos and Colombia the most survivals. I have limited data about SC counts, but what I have tells me that Brazil has the most centers. However, Chile is the most wanted power (flexibility, interesting to play) so far - and has, interestingly, been part of every declared draw so far. Argentina has less than 50% more solos than the one with least solos (Chile), and also interestingly has the most eliminations, 20% more than Colombia, the least eliminated nation.

2. The Stalemate Lines (or Rather, the Lack Thereof)

I don't know whether there is one, but I and others have searched, and after 100 games, no game has ended in a stalemate. That's good enough for me, even if there should turn out to be one. I am aware of the Colombia gridlocks in Galapagos Sea and when fighting for Caracas - but there are way more than 12 centers outside this "stalemate" and both cannot successfully be held at the same time with the centers within, thus this is by definition not a stalemate line.

3. The Differences Among Powers

So, what's so different about these powers, then? Let's take them alphabetically.

Argentina: the most vulnerable of the powers. Has two coastal centers, a neutral that is guaranteed (Uruguay) but must rely on negotiations with Brazil to avoid bounces in Paraguay and Islas Malvinas. Shares a long land border with Chile - and has a very soft spot in Pampas, bordering all it's home centers. Only has access to one sea space (Coast of Argentina).

Sounds like a difficult country to play? Indeed - what are the good sides, then?

Apart from Pampas, Chile can only threaten one home center with each army (Mar del Plata from Patagonia and Santa Fe from Gran Chaco), which means that if Argentina keeps Chile out of Pampas, then Chile's attack will be predictable and most likely futile. If Brazil bounces Argentina in both Paraguay and Islas Malvinas, he is likely only to gain Guyana the first year, conceding Caracas to Colombia, bordering everyone with no decent defense in either direction. This is, most often, a losing position for Brazil. If Argentina can convince Brazil of that, he could be looking at 3 builds the first year (but to pick up three, he needs to play Mar del Plata to Buenos Aires in the first turn, thus risking Pampas to Chile - unless a bounce is arranged from Santa Fe or he can snatch a Chilean home center!). A good thing for Argentina is that there is no border with Colombia. Thus, no fight will arise between Argentina and Colombia before either Chile or Brazil is reduced to a relatively small size. In this way, Argentina is an edge power - but does not have the long distance to supply centers like Colombia has.

Brazil: the geographically largest power, both in home centers and, on average, during the game and at the end. However, it is hard to solo with Brazil. Brazil has two soft spots, Roraima and Pernambuco, both bordering three home centers (both Brasilia and Belem, and then Manaus and Rio de Janeiro respectively), as well as several vulnerable fronts. Brazil will border all the other nations, has two interior home centers, and except Guyana, every reachable supply center is contested. Apart from Guyana and Caracas, Brazil cannot support himself to a neutral the first year without risking a home center.

Again, sounds like a difficult country to play? Myself, I find Brazil the most challenging country to play - especially in no-press games. It is a really high press country; in press games, you must negotiate a lot or you will suffer. But, Brazil does have it's good sides too:

Brazil is the only country to start with four units. That is not merely a minor advantage. This means it can reach eight supply centers the first year, in a variant where 13 centers is a solo (congratulations to Knut Eivind Brennhaug for pulling off the only 8 in the first year, to date). Brazil can reach seven neutral centers and two home centers first year (although Arequipa, Antofagasta, Santa Fe, Uruguay and Islas Malvinas are very unlikely). All other powers must consider Brazil in their opening strategy - if someone is unduly hostile the first year, Brazil can do some severe damage (but of course, Brazil itself may suffer in the process). Brazil can within two years guarantee Caracas, and if Colombia realizes this and does not make an attempt to take it, Brazil might get it in the first year (home + Crc + Guy = 6 already, which is the maximum size for any other country after the first year).

Chile: this long, thin country... it must be vulnerable, right? Well, it certainly does have it's soft spots. Southeast Pacific borders all the home centers, plus the three most likely neutrals for Chile - Lima, Arequipa and Islas Juan Fernandez! In short, don't let someone else into Southeast Pacific. In addition, there's Patagonia and Gran Chaco, which both border two of Chile's home centers. However, if Chile wants to have a hope of three builds, it must either leave Argentina completely alone and have Argentina return the favour, or he must manage to sneak into an Argentine home center. The likelihood of that is not good - Argentina will have them all covered, and you've gained yourself an enemy which has all his units within three moves of your home centers. In addition, it is likely to face the Colombian navy in the Pacific, and this ties up valuable resources.

Now, then how would you win with Chile? Chile has a very special chance of gaining momentum in the first year. He can strike Argentina with San-Pam in spring, he can strike Brazil in fall with Are s Ant-LaP (after San-Ant and Ant-Are in spring), or strike Colombia with F Con-SEP-GAL the first year, perhaps even accompanied by Ant-Are-Mnt and San-Ant-Are. There will be SCs to pick up the next year (Jua, Lim) and you are practically already in Colombia's backyard. These options make Chile a very interesting country to play - nobody knows where you'll end up. Fighting Brazil for a long time over La Paz can end up being counterproductive - you are both bordering Argentina and Colombia, but Argentina and Colombia don't border each other. If things go wrong, Chile has another advantage - Islas Juan Fernandez. If two large countries are battling for dominance, it can be a real pain for them to manage to take out your last bastion in the sea there - and if they can't, you're part of the draw! It can be useful for Chile to point out to the weaker of the two powers fighting for dominance that no draw has ever been declared without Chile (though he may also take that as a motivation to try to be the first do do so).

Colombia: All alone in the northwestern corner of the board lies Colombia. The board seems vast, the centers so far away you can hardly see them. And to get to them, well... a fleet in Galapagos Sea will have severe trouble getting into Southeast Pacific. You'll need to put armies into Montana and Amazon Basin to make any headway against Chile. Then there's the eastern front - unless Brazil is occupied in the south, you won't get into Caracas. And even if you do, there's little chance he's going to let you into Mid Atlantic, Roraima or Guyana, right?

Well, the thing is, you might be able to send them the other way. After all, even if you can't make any headway against them, they can't make much headway against you either! You start out with two free neutrals (Ecuador and Maracaibo), and you can gain significant territory if you play for position - F Baranquilla to Panama in the spring gives you Galapagos Sea the spring the second year at the latest (if Chile bounces you in the fall of the first year, you can build a fleet in Medellin and force your way in). You don't have to pick up Ecuador the first year, but can move Ecuador on to Montana. If Brazil is friendly and has decided to let you into Caracas, you don't have to pick Maracaibo the first year either, but can steam into Montana and Amazon Basin the first year. And as you are so far away from the action, chances are they will start squabbling with each other rather than with you. Unprotected backsides never proved hard to invade!

Intrigued yet? I sure hope so! When time allows, the South America homepage will include extensive information about openings and perhaps other statistics. More articles are on their way. Early next year, I'm planning a no-press team tournament! If you are interested, please check in at the South America homepage More information will soon be available there.

Want to get into a game right now? As of the time of this writing, there are games forming on the openings list for both version both 3.2 (a 4-player version) and 5.1 (a 5-player version) - take your pick!

Erlend 'Joe' Janbu

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