Often times, when attempting to bring seven people to together for a good face-to-face game, conflicts occur, or people forget — or it turns out that some of them donít even like Diplomacy — and when the dust clears only four or five people have actually shown up. Thus, I was desperate for a good four- or five-player variant that my friends and I could play. However, as we soon realized, there is a fundamental problem with almost all of the said variants out there: there just isnít enough diplomacy involved.
However the game turns out, it just isnít as satisfying as the complex alliance system that a good seven-player game should create. To combat this, a friend of mine discovered and then developed a concept originally used in James Nelson's Napoleonic Diplomacy, which greatly improves gameplay for these smaller variants: minor powers.
These are smaller nations that can be controlled by the players. Prior to each Spring Diplomacy Phase, an "Influence Phase" occurs. During this phase, each player bids their "influence points" for control of minor powers (players may talk prior to bidding). Players earn three influence points for each supply center they control at that time. Players can split their influence points between as many minor powers as they see fit. Once all players have bid, control of each minor power is given to whatever major power bid the most for it for the rest of the year. (This includes retreats and builds.)
There are a few key details it is important to note about bidding:
After the year ends, playerís influence points from last influence phase remain with the minor power they were bid on, but there is "decay." All previous influence points are reduced by half. If they retained an odd number of points, then the points after the decay round up. In addition, if a major power that controls a minor power occupies one of said minor powerís home supply centers following the fall season, then that major power loses the right to control that minor power for the rest of the game, and from then on all their supply centers only give them two influence points for bidding on other minor powers.
An optional rule — which I personally recommend using whenever possible — is anonymous control of minor powers. Obviously, using this rule means you must have a GM. All players submit their bids to the GM, who then privately tells each player what minor power(s) they control, if any. At the beginning of each influence phase, the GM tells all players what the bids currently are on each minor power, but not who made which bid.
So, what do minor powers add to a variant? They increase the amount of diplomacy that should occur between the players, especially if used with the optional rule stated above. They are used best with variants made for four to six players, and preferably there should be one or two more minor powers than major powers. Beyond the guidelines stated above, they can be applied in any situation you see fit, and open a world of possibilities in variant-making.
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