Anyone who reads the Pouch very likely agrees that Diplomacy is a wonderful game (if not, why are you here? ). However… that doesn't mean it's perfect.
Baron Powell's 1900 is a carefully crafted variant that tries to improve on the original, making it both more historically accurate and more fun to play.
The chief spark for 1900 came from an article by Stephen Agar which appeared in issue #80 of Diplomacy World. Stephen identified points that he thought were problems in standard Diplomacy, and proposed seven changes to the game to address them. This led to some discussion with his readers, eventually resulting in a "Diplomacy II" variant.
Baron was intrigued, and for the next issue of Diplomacy World he wrote his own article, "Improving New Improved Diplomacy", in which he comments on the points and proposes additional and alternative changes. The response from DW Edtior Douglas Kent and others was so positive that Baron went on to create and playtest a variant that implemented them. After the first playtest, he continued to modify, test, and improve the variant.
Today, 1900 (so named because it represents the map of Europe as it actually appeared in the year 1900) seems to be one of the most popular variants available on the DPjudge. It's certainly the most meticulously documented one; Baron wrote a series of articles for the Pouch which he eventually compiled into a Gamer's Guide to 1900. All this material is available online. This issue of the Pouch includes the chapter on Turkey, with links to the previous chapters; while the PDF version of the complete Gamer's Guide is maintained along with the variant map and description at the Pouch's Diplomacy Variants page entry for 1900.
Note: For readers' convenience I can also link directly to the PDF, but that link will become obsolete as soon as Baron uploads in a new version of the GG! If this link doesn't work, you'll have to go to the Diplomacy Variants page.
The Pouch has even published a fair number of articles about 1900 that were written by authors other than the variant's designer, on 1900-specific topics such as:
…and more are to be expected in future issues.
It seems that Baron has succeeded in generating interest and support for his variant. But what are the features that make it so popular? How well does it meet the stated design goals of making the game more balanced, fun, and historically accurate?
One of Baron's guidelines in designing 1900 was to achieve these goals with minimal changes to the map and rules. Too many dramatic changes could discourage players from trying the variant by making it seem too unfamiliar and complicated.
Even so, the differences in map topography are necessarily significant:
As you can see, the variant map includes many (but not all!) of the modifications recommended in the "New Improved Diplomacy" article, plus a few additional ones.
The designer discusses all the changes in great detail in the Gamer's Guide to 1900, providing an in-depth analysis of the reasoning and history behind them, and tracks the evolution of the map to its present state. This makes for fascinating reading — even if you never intend to play the variant, Baron's observations about standard Diplomacy alone are worth the read.
In addition to the changes to the map, 1900 includes two special rules:
These rules may seem pretty complicated, but that's only because I've stated them in full. Put more simply, they just mean that units can move between MAO and Egy/Hej at half strength, and Russia gets an extra unit if he's invaded so long as he holds on to at least one home SC.
The game starts in 1900 rather than 1901, but the seasons and phases are otherwise exactly the same as in standard Diplomacy.
Note that the victory conditions do not change in 1900: the goal for a solo is still eighteen supply centers. This is a deliberate choice on the part of the designer, intended to encourage more solos. It also means that the smallest possible draw consists of three Great Powers, rather than only two.
Which leads me to the next section…
The Great Powers in 1900 bear the same names as those in Diplomacy; but the character of each is very different! The designer has made many carefully-considered modifications affecting each of them, with three important goals in mind:
Again, I have to emphasize that Baron explains all his choices very thoroughly in the Gamer's Guide to 1900, which includes a separate chapter for each Great Power. What appears below is merely my own summary.
The most important changes to Austria involve Trieste.
Added to all this is another significant internal border change: Bohemia is extended to touch Budapest. This cuts off direct movement between Vienna and Galicia, which is something of a mixed blessing: defensively it means foreign armies in Galicia only threaten one Austrian home SC, but from the offensive standpoint it also makes Austrian action in Galicia more difficult. However, it also makes it easier to launch an attack on Munich (A Vie-Tyr, A Bud-Boh).
Austria-Hungary is also significantly affected by other map changes. Together with Bosnia, the new Turkish Macedonia province takes Greece further out of Austria's reach; however, other changes to Turkey also reduces the friction between these two Powers, making an AT alliance more palatable than in the standard game. The existence of a passable Switzerland also opens up Austria's western borders, increasing the chances of movement across the Alps from either side.
Overall, Austria-Hungary is more defensible and more flexible in 1900. It has more equal prospects of allying with either Russia or Turkey in the east, and has better prospects for early westward expansion.
Britain, the properly-renamed England of 1900, is vastly different from its Diplomacy counterpart.
The topography of the island of Great Britain itself is pretty much unchanged — except for the addition of a passable Ireland. Armies can move directly between Ireland and Clyde without a convoy. Furthermore, the new Ireland space borders directly on MAO, making Britain's defensive position less secure if any foreign fleet takes that space. Britain no longer starts with an army in Liverpool, and that too can make defense problematic if the Empire is attacked.
However, the greatest changes to Britain lie in the starting disposition of her fleets. There is now an Empire! The four Royal Navy units start equally divided between the Home Islands (Edi and Lon) and foreign possessions (the new Gibraltar and Egypt spaces). These far-flung resources offer new opportunities and dangers; the Prime Minister has good reasons to negotiate seriously with everyone, right from the start.
The fleet in Gibraltar is the only unit on the board to start on a non-supply-center province, and is located right in the midst of what would otherwise be French territory. As mentioned in the Suez Canal Rules example above, the PM can order it to support an unstoppable F Egy attack on MAO on the very first move. However, if relations with France are cordial, he can instead use it to take one of the nearby supply centers.
The fleet in Egypt can be used for the aforementioned attack on MAO, though this risks losing Egypt itself if Turkey opens with a move to Palestine. Alternatively, it can be used to affect events in Tripoli and/or the East. Britain is a major player in the Mediterranean in the opening, although the lack of home supply centers (which again, Egypt is not) means this influence may be short-lived.
In the very first playtest, Britain proved formidable; so much so that her power had to be scaled down. In the current version of 1900 that potential is still there, but is mitigated by the addition of new challenges. Britain's widely spread influence means that any Prime Minister will almost certainly have an interesting game.
Baron deliberately set out to weaken France, which normally performs extremely well in Diplomacy.
He accomplished this more through external changes than any adjustment of France itself. The Third Republic is the only one of the Great Powers whose home territory is exactly the same as in Diplomacy. The only difference there is in the addition of a new French army in Algiers, within striking distance of neutral SCs in Morocco and Tripolitania. If anything, you would expect that to increase France's strength rather than reduce it!
However, those other external changes make up for this:
There is a slight repreive in the addition of the new Alsace space in Germany, which prevents any immediate German move to Burgundy on the opening turn. And in the long term, a France which survives can become extremely strong, much like Austria in the standard game. Still, the trick is in surviving that long.
With four contiguous home supply centers, three (practically) uncontestable neutrals within easy reach, numerous possibilities for a fourth, and good prospects for expansion after that, any competent Kaiser should be able to get off to a good start. What happens after that is up to him, but a good diplomat will generally do well.
Germany is the colossus of 1900.
This strength is due mostly to the transformation of Ruhr into a home supply center (Cologne) with a new starting army. In addition to the extra power it provides in its own right, this change gives Germany immediate access to Belgium on the first move — which in turn reinforces the German hold on Holland. The new Alsace space also means Munich is not directly threatened by a French move to Munich. In theory, France can order armies to Picardy and Burgundy for a supported attack on Belgium in the Fall; but this is unlikely at best. Generally it takes a strong effort by Britain and France together to prevent the Kaiser from dominating the Lowlands early on.
However, Germany is by no means an automatic winner. Alsace helps France's defense as much as Germany's, and when occupied by a foreign army gives extra leverage against Munich and Cologne. The passable Switzerland space makes Germany's south less secure than in Diplomacy. Britain is stronger, and Austria can turn westward to attack Munich with less warning.
But overall, Germany is in an excellent position. In the middle of Europe, with enough strength to act, the Kaiser is generally a major player in the game.
As previously mentioned, 1900 adopts some of the changes used in the Milan variant. Venice becomes Venetia, with Milan becoming the third Italian home SC; and Tuscany is absorbed into Rome.
However, there are other changes as well. The new Switzerland SC, to which Italy has a strong claim, provides access to Burgundy (not to mention Marseilles and Munich) without extending the Piedmont border as in Milan. And the changes to the Mediterranean add new possibilities for Italy. There are the four centers in North Africa, two of them (Alg and Trp) only two moves away from the fleet in Naples.
Together these changes mean that there is a strong pull for Italy to head westward against France, though this is by no means inevitable. An opening attack on Austria is still possible, and Britain and Turkey offer competition for those Mediterranean centers. Switzerland isn't guaranteed, either. It's even possible for Italy to be denied all neutrals in the first year, which cannot happen with Tunis in Diplomacy.
Still, Italy enjoys many more possibilities in 1900, and is much stronger overall.
Russia was the other Great Power that needed to be cut down to size; and as with France, this was mostly accomplished by changing the country's surroundings rather than the country itself.
In fact, 1900 makes only one change to the internal borders of Russia: Moscow is split, with the eastern half becoming an open Siberia province (much like Bosnia was created from Diplomacy's Trieste). This was intended mainly to break up the stalemate lines a bit by making the defense of StP, Sev, or Moscow more difficult. However, this only comes into play when Russia has suffered an invasion.
The real impact on Russia comes from the strengthening of all four of the Rodina's neighbours:
As discussed in other sections, these strengths aren't all one-sided; they come with a few weaknesses, too. But they do mean that the Tsar has to tread lightly to start, and be sure not to create a coalition against himself.
In early games, it was found that the overall changes had weakened Russia too much; there was not a single Russian solo until the introduction of the original Russian Emergency Measures rule (at that time, aptly named the "Russian Steamroller" rule instead), which basically gave Russia one extra unit so long as the Tsar still held at least one of his home centers. However, this version of the rule seemed to swing the balance back too far in Russia's favour.
The current version of the rule is a compromise. It makes Russia more defensible in the event of an invasion, but does not add to Russian strength if the country is already doing well. It is possible to game the rule by allowing an ally to take a Russian home center, but in practice that doesn't seem to happen often enough to skew the results — few Tsars are willing to make the sacrifice so far.
Turkey is perhaps the most dramatically transformed of all the Great Powers in 1900.
This is easily visible on the map. Although the standard game theoretically starts in 1901, the Diplomacy map actually depicts Europe on the eve of World War I in 1914, after the Bosnian annexation (1908-09), Italo-Turkish War (1911-12), and Balkan Wars (1912-13) had stripped away much of the Ottoman Empire's territory. In the year 1900, Turkey actually still controlled many provinces in Europe and Northern Africa. In fact, those provinces included Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Tripolitania.
However, historically Turkey didn't enjoy the industrial and military strength that those centers represent in terms of game mechanics, even if having the country start with five centers wasn't unbalancing in its own right! So while they are outlined in yellow on the map, they aren't actually counted as Turkish at game start.
Turkey does have new provinces in Macedonia, Palestine, and Hejaz. While none of these are supply centers, they all add new dimenstions to Turkish play. Macedonia provides a buffer space in the heart of the Balkans; Palestine borders on Egypt; and through the Suez Canal Rules, Hejaz borders on MAO. Macedonia thus potentially reduces tensions with Austria (while still permitting a Turkish attack on Serbia if desired), while Palestine and Hejaz offer new routes for expansion into the Mediterranean and even the Atlantic.
This trend is supported by the move of Turkey's third home SC from Smyrna (now "Konya") to Syria (now Damascus). This provides a unit-building space closer to these new fronts, while drawing Turkey's center of gravity away slightly from the north. Of course, Western powers can also attack through MAO to Egypt and Hejaz to threaten Damascus; Turkey's corner position is slightly less secure. Still, that seems a small price to pay.
Basically, Turkey in 1900 gets lots of new options, while still enjoying the old ones.
It's evident that this variant is very different from standard Diplomacy. You need only look at the map to see that it achieves two of its goals. You can see from the changes in the Balkans that 1900 is historically accurate; and you only need to notice the fact that British-held Egypt borders on Turkey to appreciate how it encourages player interactions.
But what about that third, crucially important goal? Is is balanced?
Unfortunately, this is at present a difficult question to answer.
As in the previous installments of this column, I believe that the Swiftest Route to Victory can be a good indicator of each Great Power's strength. So, borrowing the table from Chris Dziedzic's article on Russia:
|Centers Reachable In...||Total|
|1 Move||2 Moves||3 Moves||4 Moves|
|Vie, Tri, Bud||Rum, Ser||Bul, Swi, Mun, Mil, Rom, Sev, War||(6 of 9) Gre, Trp, Mar, Ber, Col, Kie, Nap, Mos, Con||N/A||34|
|Britain||Lon, Edi, Lvp, Egy||Mor, Spa||Bel, Den, Net, Nwy, Por, Trp, Alg, Bre, Mar||(3 of 9) Gre, Swe, Par, Col, Kie, Nap, Rom, Stp, Con||N/A||29|
|France||Par, Mar, Bre, Alg||Mor, Spa, Swi||Bel, Por, Trp, Egy, Lon, Mun, Mil, Rom||(3 of 11) Den, Net, Nwy, Tri, Vie, Edi, Lvp, Ber, Col, Kie, Nap||N/A||28|
|Germany||Ber, Col, Kie, Mun||Swe, Bel, Den, Net||Swe, Bud, Tri, Vie, Mar, Mil, War||(3 of 11) Nwy, Rum, Ser, Spa, Edi, Lon, Bre, Par, Rom, Mos, StP||N/A||27|
|Italy||Mil, Rom, Nap||Swi||Gre, Spa, Trp, Tri, Vie, Alg, Mar, Mun||(6 of 13) Bel, Bur, Mor, Por, Ser, Bud, Egy, Par, Bre, Col, Kie, Con, Dam||N/A||35|
|Russia||StP, Mos, War, Sev||Nwy, Rum||Bul, Ser, Swe, Bud, Ber, Mun, Ank, Con, Dam||(3 of 10) Bel, Den, Net, Swi, Tri, Vie, Edi, Lon, Col, Kie||N/A||29|
|Turkey||Con, Ank, Dam||Bul||Gre, Rum, Ser, Egy, Sev||Trp, Bud, Tri, Nap, Mos||(4 of 9) Mor, Por, Spa, Vie, Alg, Bre, Rom, Stp, War||42|
Chart developed by Baron Powell
Cells starting with "(x of n)" indicate that if the Power already holds all closer centers, it only needs x of the n supply centers listed in the cell to reach eighteen. Italics indicate that the italicized center is not needed at all, except as an alternative to a closer center.
On the surface of things, it seems that there is a large block of powers who are almost equal (Britain, France, Germany, and Russia) in the 27-29 move range, with Austria and Italy about six moves behind, and poor Turkey bringing up the rear with 42. The spread between lowest (Germany, 27) and highest (Turkey, 42) is one less than that in standard Diplomacy.
However, it's important to realize that this analysis is problematic when it comes to France, and especially Britain. The table does indeed give the right distance from their starting unit positions. However, the starting units in Gibraltar, Algiers, and Egypt do not start on home supply centers. This is important, because the Swiftest Route to Victory model assumes that new units can also be built on and start from the same positions. When that isn't true, this has two important implications that skew the analysis:
There's also a problem in that this analysis doesn't take the Suez Canal Rules fully into account. It only takes one fleet in MAO to prevent Turkey (or whoever) from taking the space, so all those centers bordering on MAO may be safer from Turkish expansion than they seem. Turkey can still make it to eighteen within 42 moves without those centers; but it cuts off options.
I'm not sure how to account for these two items. The 'orphan' units in Gib/Alg/Egy are significant, and do have an effect on the game; but it's hard to put numbers to them. All I can say is that the long-term Swiftest Routes for Britain and France actually involve more than 28 or 29 moves, but fewer moves than if the orphan units didn't exist at all. As for Turkey, the effect is even less quantifiable, though it seems that Turkey too may require more moves.
The positions of the other four powers aren't affected by these considerations, however. So it seems that Germany and Russia should be at the top, while Turkey is just put even further at the bottom.
So is that borne out by actual game results?
Again, unfortunately, at this point the results are inconclusive — if only because I don't have access to enough results for the current version of the variant!
The game designer actually keeps very careful track of 1900 game outcomes. This careful monitoring has in fact led to significant improvements to the game — which is part of the problem. The latest such improvement was the addition of the Russian Emergency Measures rule, and as of this writing I'm not sure how many games have been completed using the REM rule rather than previous versions! And that's important, because the previous versions did have imbalances.
In the first stable version of 1900, there was no special rule for Russia at all. However, as explained in the Gamer's Guide chapter on Russia, over time it became clear that Russia was at a severe disadvantage. There had never been a Russian solo — not even one! — and the country's overall performance was abysmal compared to the other six. After analyzing the problem, Baron created a new "Russian Steamroller" rule, granting Russia an extra unit after the first year so long as at least one home SC stayed in Russian hands.
The first Russian solo ever occurred soon after that. And then another, and then another. As Chris Dziedzic describes in the last section of his article on Russia, seventy-one games in all were played using this rule, and the results were just as unbalanced as before — only in the other direction! Russia became a powerhouse, while the previously viable countries of France, Italy, and Turkey suffered.
So Baron Powell went back to the drawing board, and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. After more careful analysis, he replaced the Steamroller rule with the current REM rule, which serves as a compromise between the previous two extremes. And that's where things stand now.
He's still tracking results, and when last I asked he said that early results from REM games looked "promising". With all the careful thought that's gone into the variant so far, I'm sure this last tweak will have the intended balancing results. And if not, you can be sure there will be another one, until the desired result is achieved!
It's no wonder that 1900 has become so popular. It has many wonderful qualities, all of which can be attributed to the incredible effort Baron Powell has put into developing this masterpiece. This is easily the most carefully thought-out variant you will ever see.
It's familiar enough for players of regular Diplomacy to understand, but different enough to be interesting. It adds flexibility and intriguing new possibilities that just aren't there in the standard game. It encourages all the players to negotiate intensively with each other from the very beginning of the game, and remains dynamic and exciting up to the very end. Of all the variants I've tried, 1900 is far and away my favorite.
Give it a try: I'm sure it will be yours, too.
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