During World DipCon in Vancouver, I was approached by fearless editor Charles Roburn about writing a 'my WDC experience' article for the Zine. I can recall only very little about the conversation other than Charles refused to take no for an answer and there was a sudden shooting pain in my arm when the twisting process began immediately after the conclusion of Charles's first sentence… but I digress. Put simply: I agreed to write an article.
Before continuing, let me offer some (truly very necessary) thanks and congratulations. WDC 2007 was an incredible experience. Of course, I'll allow that I might be a bit biased since I won the tournament, but still, it was very well-organized and extremely entertaining. Regardless of their individual results, I believe that everyone will agree that this was an outstanding tournament. To the organizers, the local supporters and all the travelers who made the tournament a success, but mostly the organizers, you have my thanks (and thanks for Belgium, too!). If future tournaments are run half as well as Vancouver's WDC, we'll all be happy stabbers.
After much thought about what exactly this article should be about, in the end, I decided to write something a little different. I wanted to write about my approach at WDC, rather than the games themselves. Let me explain why: when I first started playing tournament Diplomacy, I was surprised at my ability to remember my games, the players, the key moves, and the intricate diplomacy. I expressed surprise when other — more experienced — players had a hard time remembering a game that ended five minutes ago. They pretty much told me that my game recall would fade. And they were right. With several years of tournament Diplomacy behind me, it's hard to keep everything straight in my head. The specifics of my games at WDC are no different.
Though I did save my orders (actually I've been using the same notepad all year), and I probably could re-construct what was occurring, at least generally, on my boards, I'd prefer to avoid getting into the details of my games. I tend to find articles about the details of a particular face-to-face game to be hard to follow. Without the benefit of being involved in the diplomatic conversations and observing all the subtle interactions among the players, it's really tough to understand why decisions were made, and how the conflict situations developed and resolved. So, instead of talking about specific games or events, I want to talk about how I approached the tournament.
With drop-dead master clock timing, an ante scoring system and five rounds to accumulate points (and I wanted to play as much Diplomacy as I could), I felt I could put myself in position to make the top board by playing to my strengths, adaptable, and by being confident and having fun. It sounds trite, I know, but that was my approach.
Self-confidence and fun are more important than you'd think. I'm sure it's no surprise that I set out to win WDC. I suspect the great majority of players did the same thing. I can't speak for them, but I know that I expected to have a good tournament and make the top board. Despite my high expectations, it may be a surprise that having fun at WDC was more important to me than winning. I believe that your mental state — like self-confidence and enjoyment of the game — show through during play. And people, in my experience, generally like to work with someone who knows what they are doing, is having a good time, and is confident that things will work out.
Playing to your strengths as a player sounds obvious, of course, but it's important nonetheless. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can adapt your diplomatic and strategic campaigns accordingly. I know my strengths: I'm relatively difficult to eliminate because I (usually) play solid strategic and diplomatic defense, I can play forever if necessary, I don't take stupid chances, I can read a board extremely quickly, and I'm good at understanding another player's point of view. I know some of my weaknesses too: I can be abrasive, overly aggressive, and when I'm tired or hungry I can be cranky.
With my play style in mind, I knew that I didn't necessarily need to solo a round to make the top board. If I could get a solo, well, that would be great. But let's be frank: solos are tough to come by. Plans relying on solos for success are generally going to fail. Since I wasn't relying on a solo, I figured I'd grind out points, board by board — playing to my strengths. Hopefully, I'd accumulate enough points over the five rounds with solid, if unspectacular, results and earn a place on the top board. In the end, I soloed in the 5th round; but even if I hadn't, I would have had 5 solid results — and perhaps enough for the top board.
After you get to the top board, you need to keep in mind that playing on a top board isn't so much hard as it is different. The dynamics of top boards are very different from those of regular boards. If you don't adapt and adapt quickly, you're likely to have a rather hard time. I don't want to debate whether or not top boards are a good idea (though I do think that is an excellent topic for future discussion), I just want to make the point that I think that because whoever tops the board wins the tournament, this has a huge impact on game play. With that in mind, I focused on how this board would be different from my five previous rounds.
It wasn't hard to quickly develop the list of differences: the top board had an immensely talented group of world-class players on it; with a winner guaranteed from among the seven players sitting around that table, early leader syndrome was a much greater danger; alliances were going to shift rapidly; and, perhaps more important than anything else, I was certain that everything was going to go to hell in a hand-basket come the final couple of years à la C-Diplo.
Keeping these factors in mind, as well as the likely board dynamics from the draw and the other six players themselves, I formulated a strategy that I thought would give me a chance to top the board and win WDC:
The first point relates directly to my belief that, despite the caliber of the players on the top board, a certain amount of early leader syndrome would develop. Likewise, I believed that alliances would probably shift rapidly to contain fast-growing powers and keep things close. With this likely fluidity, I felt that if I could grow at a moderate pace and either stay right behind the leaders or be only slightly ahead (a dot perhaps), I would probably have a good opportunity to stay below the radar and top the board at the end.
My self-imposed desire for patience was reinforced when I drew France, which is arguably the most difficult power to eliminate when competently defended. You can survive a heck of a long time as France against any combination of determined enemies. In a top board situation, I felt that I could relatively easily split any "Get France" alliances based on the threat of throwing the bulk of my spoils towards one player and making the attack unpalatable for the other alliance partner(s). Moreover, top board strategy notwithstanding, I find that patience when playing France is almost always rewarded — you straddle the stalemate lines and are extremely defensible. There's no need to get six or even five dots in '01 because there's no competition for those other dots. Portugal and Spain are always going to be yours in the early game, so don't stress if you don't pick one of the two up immediately. In fact, sometimes, I find sandbagging a dot as France makes you look weaker than you are, aiding you in both flying under the radar and in splitting enemy alliances. Just be patient and you'll get your chance; remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Being patient and trying to stay below the radar as much as possible, though potentially very rewarding, also meant that I would need to keep a close eye on growth patterns, the likely size of my neighbors in the coming seasons, and their maximum growth potential. With drop-dead timing, keeping track of the board through diplomacy is much harder than normal. You just don't have all the time you need. But, paradoxically, with players of this caliber, knowing each power's likely size, their logical growth targets and their realistic size maximum is almost as useful in predicting alliance shifts as the time spent talking during diplomacy time. All the top board players are able to read the board at a glance and all have the same desire to win. I knew I could depend on them to act in their own interest and keep each other in check.
And, relying on the capabilities and self-interest of the other players meant that I didn't have to badger them about various dangers, or someone else winning, or a dot they could grab. I knew they would see it. I might have to gently encourage them, but I wouldn't have to explain anything and everything. Plus, in my experience, too much friendly "advice" to a very good player can turn them against you, and I didn't want to irritate the other players too much. I wanted them to view me as reasonable, accepting of their interests, and willing to help them within the confines of my interests. In my advicewhere given, I would try to acknowledge my own interest in said advice — it's not like they couldn't divine my interests after all.
This frankness and reasonableness, in my opinion, would make me more acceptable as a board topper. With a future champion on the board, it's inevitable that you'll select an acceptable 'second'. Everyone's going to think, at some point, "Well, if I can't win, then I want so and so to win." I wanted to be acceptable as an alternate winner to the majority of players, if I could. If I could pull this off, I might get a remnant power to throw me dots, persuade someone to join me in a cross-board alliance that was advantageous to me, or be able to influence the other side of the board to check the growth of a competitor and allow me to win.
Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to have a lot of fun. Playing on a board with six other world class players is a treat, by itself, but my other experiences with top boards have been less than stellar. I wanted the top board to be fun and the highlight — win or lose — of my tournament.
WDC 2007's top board, with Yann Clouet (Austria), Dan Lester (England), Adam Silverman (Germany), Tom Kobrin (Italy), Chris Martin (Russia), and Jake Mannix (Turkey), was everything I hoped it would be. It was fluid; it was dynamic; it was challenging; it was surprising; and, most importantly, it was a cracking good time.
I'm glad my approach worked; but really, just playing on a board of this caliber was reward enough. Topping it and winning the World Diplomacy Championship was just the icing on the cake.
|Doug Moore, c/o the Editor|
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