by Andy Hull

Like Yann Clouet's recommended Turkish opening of Con Holds, my WDC article is a little late to the action.  Firstly I apologize for inaccuracies in my account of events or even to players whom I have inadvertently omitted. All eyewitness testimony is fantastically unreliable, and this humble article should be considered as realistic as an offer of support into Belgium (or Greece for you Eastern types) in the Fall of 01…

I felt like I was about to plunge headfirst into the great white shark tank as I left San Francisco to jet across the border to Vancouver. My positively-reinforced goal was to deliver a performance better than my last tournament circuit appearance where I was awarded the Dead Meat cap for being eliminated the most (what an honor!). With improving local tournament results, I was curious to discover how I my diplo-mettle would test against the best players in the world. The same kind of curiosity that cats on their eight-lives get  After touching down I was quizzed by an officer of the Border Services Agency about what I was going to be doing in Vancouver: Pleasure yes… what am I going to be doing? Well a tournament actually (yeah that sounds cool)… uh, a board game… which one? Diplomacy. I guess it was dorky enough to sound convincing… I mean who would make something up like that?  On arrival at Vancouver airport, I was diligently intercepted by Matt Shields and Mike Hall who were very kindly rounding-up the new arrivals and driving them to the university campus, probably as a civic duty.

The University of British Columbia occupies a pleasant campus just north of the airport that extends serenely out towards the bay. My first impressions of Vancouver were of tranquil, leafy boulevards with friendly, relaxed people; almost like the Bay Area without the too-kool-for-skool attitude.  I checked into the student dorm-pod populated by my fellow B.A.D.Ass pod-people, Edi Birsan, Don Del Grande, Adam Silverman,  Jack Twilley and Chris Young plus honorary B.A.D.Ass Don Williams from SoCal.  After settling in I was whisked away for dinner and beer with David Norman and Mike Hall at a rather pleasing, local Irish pub. After a brief jaunt into the Kitsilano district for some beverages we retreated to the dorms for the Wednesday night poker game. Or rather for me, the Wednesday night socializing around the poker game. Poker is one game I just cannot play... the learning curve is too too expensive for me. After meeting all kinds of cool people and forgetting half their names I bade my blurry-eyed farewells to prepare for the psychological marathon ahead.  

Having a few hours to myself before the first round on Thursday I embarked on a personal mission of exploration around the university campus to acquire a general sense of location. My first target was the Museum of Anthropology located right along the shore. Arriving early I decided to take a short walk on the beach to distract my senses from the thirty minute wait until the doors were to be opened. True to character and past performance I ended up on an unexpectedly rocky adventure that took me between trail heads on the rather aptly named Wreck Beach.  Thoroughly at home on the wild shore as an adopted West Coaster, I scrabbled over the head-sized pebbles and mossy, fallen tree-trunks for over an hour until I made it back up the steep, winding trail to return almost right next to where I started from.  The Museum of Anthropology was a fascinating journey through the culture of the First Nations peoples who populate the area.  Passing through the great wooden carved totems and beautiful spiritual masks,  I recalled the treasures of the Anglo-Saxons from my homeland so far away. A sense of connectedness left with me and hovered as I walked the paths of the manicured Japanese Memorial Garden.

Centered and calm, I was ready to face the enemy. I had a plan too. I was going to tell the truth… well, mostly. Honest.

Lesson One: Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em

Drawing Austria in round one was a good omen for me. The little red country that might is my favorite of all the Great Powers in Diplomacy. I secured an early alliance with Italy that ended in the curious situation of being surrounded by helpful Italian units, including an errant force in Bohemia. An apparent Italian-German alliance was quashed when a single Italian army made an unexpected attempt on Munich. Steve Cooley's Germany covered the threat nicely and sent the invaders packing.  Russia fell to Germany and Turkey was mostly gobbled up by Italy until I (genuinely) misunderstood an arrangement I had with Buzz Eddy's Italy that left his ambitions of a Turkish conquest in tatters.  It would have been a clumsy, unsupported stab at best and I truly did by my best to explain it to my trepidatious ally who saw his future now with the boxed up remains of Turkey.  Invoking the spirits of 1683 and Jan Sobieski my Austrian forces put an end to the Ottoman Empire, leaving Italy to find a new friend.

With Russia, Turkey and England now only imperial memories and my western Italian neighbor accidentally neutralized, I started to wonder where my next supply of centers would be found.  A quick survey of the board totaled my center-count to eleven, actually a new personal record for me.  Fueled by power-craving I made a somewhat unsound decision to liberate Sevastopol from German hands.  With the benefit of hindsight, my aims would have been better served by destroying the antagonized Italian, yet I felt some kind of loyalty to my former ally. Even if one-sided.  Foolishly I refused an early offer of a draw and was soundly taught a lesson by Dave Maletsky, Steve Cooley and Buzz Eddy as they fed me a few turns of humble pie in the early hours of the morning.  Stabbing Germany was a big mistake, and I should have concentrated on making a push on the Italian rump state or accepting the draw with dignity.

Lesson Two: Patience is a Turkish Virtue

My Friday morning round was somewhat of a bust for me as I drew Turkey, a power I struggle to do anything useful with at the best of times.  From the very beginning I was set upon by Racan Souiedan's Russia in alliance with Austria. Fighting for my life in close-quarters with aggressive neighbors, I began to find common ground with Nicholas Sahuget's slowly expanding Italian empire.  I spent most of the game boxed in with a three-center Turkish turtle hoping to survive the game by being obstinate.  As the game ground on, I managed to offer some crucial support in the Balkans and ended up at making some in-roads as a helpful junior partner in a late game I-T alliance that I practically begged my way into.  Clearly Italy was very concerned for my welfare as he landed in Smyrna to ensure nothing improper happened there, leaving me at four centers in a classic C-Diplo style dotting.  I am quite sure other things happened in the game but I have no idea what they actually were; I think there might be a another lesson in there somewhere for me.

Lesson Three: Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

With mixed results over my last two games I was eager to jump back into the evening meat grinder. Fortunately, Chris Martin's Austria was there to oblige by turning the handle.  As Germany I negotiated a strong alliance with Rob Vollman's France to jump on England from a standing start.  In fairness to all concerned, the plan proceeded well until it became obvious that a strong Austro-Russian monster was forming on the board, leading to the rapid demise of Turkey with assistance from self-professed Weasel and animal-lover Greg Dunow.  Taking the Russian, Todd Lawson, aside I explained my fears over the potential for an Austrian solo and then my prognosis for Russia existing merely as an extended dot-farm for Austria.  My diplomatic mission fell flat on it's face and I struggled to find the right persuasive magic to get Russia to come to the side of good and prevent an Austrian explosion.  Desperately, I tried to organize a coalition of the willing with Italy, France and a very reluctant England.  Sadly relations between France and Len Tennant's England were pretty much irreconcilable and England continued to harass the rear as we rushed to form a solid front against the oncoming red menace.  My Germany was crushed under the Austro-Russian advance and I fell back into the low-countries to continue the war by proxy.  Seeing the mighty Austrian navy (!) surging through the Mediterranean while swallowing Italy whole was a sight to behold.  Somewhat shaken but not stirred, I demonstrated at the table the correct moves to hold to the Pillars of Hercules with the French navy.  It was at this point that Chris Martin took me aside and offered me the deal of the century: if would stop helping organize the defense, he claimed he would keep me alive into the draw.  Politely I accepted his most generous offer then defiantly continued to help out where I could while he was off negotiating.  There would be no draw unless we stopped Austria.

Sadly for plucky Germany, it was all for naught.  Predictably Russia was stabbed at the last moment and Austria dashed across the finish line with a rather rapid solo victory.  If we had recognized the threat a turn earlier, I think we could have stopped the offensive in its tracks and ended in a stalemate. The German government in exile surrendered in Belgium; at least the beer was good.  I was pleased with game under the circumstances.  Summing up, I believe the game was won tactically by Austria and lost diplomatically by the Western Powers.

Lesson Four: A Few Good Men

On Wednesday night I had the chance to meet and talk strategy with Seattle's Mark Zoffel. We found a care-bear-buddy in each other and I realized that we might be able to wreak some beautiful havoc on the board.  Apparently it was a good portent as I found myself, rather bleary eyed, at the same table the next morning.

The irony of the draw for this game was not lost on me as I, of British origin drew the Sceptered Isle while Vincent Carry drew his homeland of France across the channel from me.  In the spirit of Anglo-French cordiality, I slipped a fleet into the Channel and proceeded to disembowel France with assistance from Mark Zoffel's Germany. In the grandest of care-bear alliances Germany tore into Russia while I sent swarms of fleets into the Mediterraenaean with Tom Kobrin's Turkey menacing the east.  My naval forces relieved France of his Iberian holdings while my army finally managed to take Marseilles from Rob Stephenson's Italy after his Austrian ally bugged out Piedmont.  At that point the game really swung in favor of the Anlgo-German war machine. German armies devoured the continent while I held an outpost of French soil and sent my navy in to batter away at the Italian coastline. The growing tensions, between Mark Zoffel and I, lead to some very strange builds and we developed what I can only describe as a type of cold war by continuously building to prevent a stab by the other until a few turns from the end of the game, when we agreed to decline our builds and push out our front-lines.  Tom Kobrin added an element of excitement and danger as his Turkish corner slowly gobbled up the remains of his neighbors.  Mark had indicated that he wanted to be one or two centers ahead of me at the end but I managed to keep up in center count, until ultimately I might have perhaps dropped a unit from my center count during our negotiations.  We had both walked up to the Abyss and were staying into it with fourteen centers each with Tom at seven.  It was definitely time to agree to a draw for me.

This was without doubt the best game of Diplomacy I had played.  Better players than me at the table had pointed out that I could have stabbed Germany about half-way through the game and I can see how that may have been the smarter move to make for me.  In all probability, I played too conservatively in the last half of the game because I was in possession of more units than I had ever previously commanded on the board. By the end of the game we were stab-proofed and twitchy with my three armies sitting on the British Isles and Mark's two fleets tucked away around the Baltic.  The three of us breathed a sigh of relief when the game finally ended.

Lesson Five: Keep Your Friends Close

Ever since I saw Germany open to Tyrolia at the hands of Adam Silverman during the 2006 Whipping, I have been dreaming of an Italian attack on Germany with Austrian support or even complacency. Something about the position feels very un-Italian and I confess it appeals to my sense of continental-mischief making.  So with that grand strategy, I explained the whole plan to Faisal Kassam, in the role of my trusting Austrian ally who was about to experience problems in the east with Anna Binder's aggressive Russia and Frank Oosterom's expansionist Turkey.  Taking Tunis with my fleet in the Ionian saw me build an army in Venice with armies positioned in Tyrolia and Bohemia, awaiting an order to the pull the trigger on David Norman's German army in Munich.

I took Munich just as the Russians arrived to threaten Germany from the East. At this point I made a huge mistake and agreed to David Norman's pernicious request to help him hold back the French advance into the heartland. All this achieved was to annoy France who could very clearly see my single fleet as a minor obstacle to his expansion.  In hindsight, offering to help Russia into Berlin was a another big mistake and I found myself booted out of Munich by a single-dot stab that seem to come out of nowhere.  My next mistake to was to tap the Austrian defenses at Trieste, which caused Austria to crumble rapidly without any gains for me. To add insult to injury, French fleets started to pour into the Mediterranean, which spelled impending doom for my outpost in Tunis.  Playing for time by tying up French fleets, I retreated to North Africa in an attempt to make myself a real nuisance behind the Gallic lines.

At this point Don William's England came crashing into the crippled Germany and rapidly cleaned up his centers.  I pulled an army to keep my pirate fleet in play as the best defense against the French.  Upon its final, inevitable destruction I was already playing short; so I availed myself of the opportunity to put a fleet in Naples and change my strategy to be one of useful sycophancy towards Charles Roburn's French.  Pleading with him for my life, I offered my support into the Turkish held Ionian, hoping to trade and enemy for an ally in that sea space.  Stalling for even more time, I supported the French into the Adriatic to harass the Turkish held Dalmatian coastline. Somehow I was still in the game with three centers and although I had been totally enveloped by the French naval cordon, I was at least safe from Turkey in some Faustian sense of the word at least.

Mercy was finally delivered when dot-hungry England stabbed his erstwhile French ally causing enough consternation on the board for the game to be called.

Lesson Six: Never Give Up! Never Surrender! (No, Really)

By the time Sunday morning rolled around I was truly exhausted. Things looked up when I pulled France with Steve Cooley across the channel, Murdock as Germany and Buffalo Bartalone as Russia. Smiling to myself as I realized extent of the mischief and mayhem I could invoke, I set to work convincing Germany to join me in jumping on England. I sold the same plan to Russia and watched in delight as England was contained quickly. I pulled off a badly conceived convoy to Edinburgh with Murdoch's help but it was not well supported and ultimately destroyed by Steve Cooley's superior tactics. Time for plan B.

And then everything changed. Riaz Virani's Turkey was starting to go ballistic and there was a collective moment of recognition of the extreme danger the rest of the board faced from being steamrolled flat in very short order. Old grievances were forgotten and the Western Powers, with Michael Binder's Italy under the Turkish knife, deployed a solid defense to check the approach of the gathering storm. My French fleets surged into the Mediterranean and were poised to recapture Tunis for the good of the cause.

Nobly admitting the caper was over, the Russians proposed a five-way draw which we hungrily swallowed. However, relief slowly turned to disappointment during the post-game banter as the board position was subject to a post-mortem. There was a neat convoy to Livonia that would have broken the Russian line and allowed him to be rolled back and the situation in the south was far from locked up. If anything, the Western Powers could have reversed the offensive in my opinion.

What I Learned About Enlightened Self-Interest

So how did it all work out for me? Telling the truth (most of the time) seem to work very nicely. Playing with some of the European players who were more comfortable with C-Diplo style games reminded me of my earlier stab-frenzy playing "style".  I made some good alliances in a few of my games including my fourteen center three-way with Mark Zoffel's Germany and my stays of execution by making myself useful to Charles Roburn's French and Nicholas Sahuget's Italy.  I noticed a reflection of my earlier playing style in some of the less experienced players who repeatedly stabbed for little gain and certainly not enough to cripple their victims.  This is a lesson I have been learning for the last year and one which I think I applied somewhat successfully during the whole tournament.

I also had a great time socializing with players from all over the world. This was my first Diplomatic venture outside of the San Francisco Bay Area and I was gratified to feel a welcome member of an extended but close family of old friends. This truly is a special group of people and I am honored to know as many of you as I do.

Now, how about that support into Belgium? Come on… would I lie to you?

Andy Hull

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