Tactical Importance Points (TIPs)

By Dorian Love

When I learned to play Chess, back in the days when Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky were battling it out for supremacy, I was taught that different pieces hold different values. For example, a rook was worth five points, while a bishop was worth three, and a pawn, only one. These values serve no other purpose than as a teaching tool, to give a young player an idea of the relative strategic value of each piece, and help to inform strategic or tactical decisions.

I have noticed that players beginning to play Diplomacy often make poor tactical decisions, especially during their opening moves. A novice player might for example move F London - Yorkshire instead of F London - North Sea, or might open A Rome to Tuscany, or A Smyrna - Syria. All moves should be made on the basis of clear strategic or tactical gain, whether for reasons of furthering or courting an alliance, or for position on the map. Clearly what moves are made are dependent upon overall strategic plans, ie. Alliances. However, map moves should proceed in the most effective way possible and for many beginners moves are made which lessen their ability to influence play rather than promote it.

It is often very difficult to convey to a beginner a sense of the relative importance of different areas of the map. Why is the North Sea so vital? Why is Tyrolia always an issue? How does one quickly and efficiently convey this to a beginner without burdening them with more than they can handle? Pondering these issues, I began to wonder if a Chess-like points system might not help novice players understand the relative tactical strengths and weaknesses of various moves.

More experienced players should note that what follows is intended purely as a teaching tool and a heuristic. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with A Smyrna - Syria, or F London - Yorkshire for that matter. Both can be excellent moves for whatever reason, in the same way that a sacrificed Queen in Chess can often signal a brilliant game. The problem is that many beginners will sacrifice a rook for a bishop without a second thought, or move to Yorkshire rather than the North Sea, simply because "it seems as good a move as any."

The Tactical Importance Points (TIPs) system is both arbitrary and pretty simple, and is based on the idea that each space on the map can be given a value according to three criteria:

  1. How many other spaces on the map does this space influence (ie. adjoin)?
  2. Is this space strategic in terms of offering build opportunities ie. Is it a supply centre?
  3. Is this space strategic in terms of furthering alliances?
It stands to reason that, all other factors being equal, moving to a space that either allows you to influence other spaces, or to control a supply centre is better than moving to a space that influences fewer spaces, or does not get you a build. Influence need not directly be the ability or desire to move to another space, but may involve ability to support a move, bounce another player, cut support or prevent another player from exercising his own influence on the space.

Spaces will clearly have different TIPs according to whether the unit moving is a fleet or army.

The TIPs are assigned to a province as follows:

1 point - Each adjoining space to which you can move
+1 bonus - Adjoining spaces which are also SCs
+1 bonus - Adjoining spaces which are in addition a Home SC
Double - The Space itself is a SC
Treble - The Space itself is a Home SC [Applied only if a Home SC is under threat]
For example: (a Fleet in Edinburgh is trying to decide whether to move to the North Sea or to Yorkshire)

North Sea (19 TIPs)
Nwg (1), Edi (3), Yor (1), Lon (3), Eng (1), Bel (2), Hol (2), Hel (1), Den (2), Ska (1), Nor (2)
Yorkshire (7 TIPs)
Edi (3), Nth (1), Lon (3)

A beginner, seeing that The North Sea has a TIP of 19, while Yorkshire only has a TIP of 7, will move to the North Sea rather than to Yorkshire.

In the same way that a bishop on a long diagonal in Chess would probably warrant a higher score than 3, while a Queen trapped behind pawns may merit far less, as a player gains in experience, the TIP system may be adapted. For example, an army in Yorkshire can cover all three home centres, a fact which may be of incalculable worth. A home centre is not just a build, but also represents capacity to build. For the sake of simplicity this is factored in, but more advanced players may want to apply the scores only where they are relevant. For example the trebling of a Home SC province, or the +1 bonus for an adjoining home SC province, may only be applied where home dots are under threat. Moving to one's own home SC when it is not under threat does not warrant a bonus of any kind.

Paris has a TIP of 12 (18 if Paris itself is threatened), while Tyrolia has a TIP of 14. However, Tyrolia is more likely to be of importance during a game, bordering on no less than four home centres from three different powers, crucially affecting alliances. The two point differential hardly reflects this. This is where players need to apply the bonuses for having an affect on an alliance. Moves to Tyrolia are usually crucial to alliances.

In my experience, youngsters readily grasp the principles behind TIPs and are able to use the system to make better moves. I have not tried this, but it strikes me that totalling up the TIP counts of each player might also provide a fair indicator of who is winning the game. I say this because it is a question my wife often asks me over my shoulder when I am pouring over a map. It is a perfectly natural question, but one Diplomacy players probably find much harder to answer than soccer players for example. It is no use trying to explain early leader syndrome or why Austria, while ahead is actually pretty vulnerable if only, dear wife, you'd let me finish this e-mail which will persuade France to stab his ally and change the whole complexion of the game! As I try to explain the alliance structures to her, my wife's response is usually, "So you're losing!"

Wives are strangely perceptive in his regard.

Dorian Love

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