If you ever played Diplomacy online, chances are you will be familiar with the Modern map. If not, browse back a few years, starting from the W1995A issue, to find a series of Pouch articles on the strengths and weaknesses of the various powers. Its designer, Vincent Mous, is also author of that other hugely popular 10-player variant called Empire. Whereas Empire is set in North and Central America, Modern focuses on the more traditional European theater.
The Modern variant
Modern takes 1995 as the starting year for no other apparent reason than that was the year after Vincent finished developing it. In '94 the conflict in Bosnia was still going on, with Sarajevo in the news almost daily, but other than that Europe was pretty much at peace, 5 years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
The whole of Europe? No, a small section in the North of Ireland was still a battleground of sectarian violence, as it had been for many years. Its name? Ulster. The conflict? "The Troubles". It was a battle between sects, between faiths, between Protestants and Catholics, British loyalists and Irish unionists, between empire and republic. In 1994 the IRA agreed to an armistice, but it would take another four years before a peace agreement was reached, known as the Good Friday Accords.
The trouble, if you allow me the pun, with the Modern map is that there is no Ulster. There is Ireland alright, hemmed in between the Irish Sea and the North-Atlantic Ocean. A unified island, whereas all other great countries have their national boundaries more or less intact, seems an odd distortion of the political reality. Even in game terms, the island itself has little strategic significance except as an extra dot for Britain. As island centers between two seas tend to be, it is too remote and too inaccessible to be worth fighting over. It is pretty clear though that Britain needs that dot. No other 4-center power has so much difficulty growing initially as Britain does. Gibraltar is usually lost to Spain when Morocco is taken. Holland, Denmark and Belgium usually go to Germany, as there's not much impetus for France to open North. Even Norway can only be secured by using 2 units to stave off the Russian army in Lapland.
Ireland for Britain in Modern is what Tunis is for Italy in Standard — a sure center, away from the action. In the case of Ireland this remoteness is even more pronounced, as the closest supply center other than Liverpool is 3 moves away. This means that the fleet in Ireland is not part of the action for another year, which compounds Britain's slow start. In game terms, it would make more sense to move the dot to Iceland with its proximity to Norway, and leave Ireland impassable as it is in Standard. Unless we redraw some borders…
Pencil and Eraser
In an attempt to increase the interaction between Britain and Spain, Vincent was experimenting with a new border between the South-Atlantic and North-Atlantic Ocean, making Mid-Atlantic less of a bottleneck. In a similar way it's possible to connect Ireland to Mid-Atlantic Ocean, again without breaking any old connections. Note that this does not yet give France the possibility to contest Ireland in the first year, because of the presence of the Bay of Biscay between Bordeaux and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.
The next idea that comes to mind is to connect Ireland with Britain. In Baron's 1900, another classic discussed at length in the Pouch, this is done simply by drawing an arrow between Ireland and Clyde to allow crossing even though the two territories don't touch. There is, however, a more creative alternative available in the form of Ulster (ULS), i.e. Northern Ireland, set up as a canal province akin to Denmark!
The Modern map with Ulster added
Ulster thus serves as a bridge between the Irish and British isles, bordering Ireland, Clyde and Liverpool on the one hand, and the water spaces of North-Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea on the other. From a historical and geographical perspective, defining it as a canal province makes sense as this is where the Isle of Man and the Hebrides are located. This proximity is expressed most clearly in the fact that Gaelish serves as the linguistic bond between Irish, Scots and islanders.
The positive thing about this change, in addition to adding a province on the map of historical significance as a conflict zone in the '90s, is that you can move an army between Ireland and the British main island without the need for a convoy, and that the Irish supply center now has four neighbours instead of two. That should make that center much more valuable as a launching stage, not just for the invasion of Britain, but also reversely for the conquest of Spain, as you need only one fleet (Mid-Atlantic) to convoy to either Navarra or Portugal.
This also breaks the connection between the Irish Sea and the North-Atlantic, and for a reason. With the new border between North- and South-Atlantic Ocean, if it were not for Ulster, Britain could have its Liverpool fleet in South-Atlantic at the end of the first year, without Spain being able to prevent this (unless it starts with a fleet in Sevilla)! That would put tremendous pressure on the Spanish, with seemingly no compensation for them — unless, of course, you turn the fleet in Liverpool into an army, as is the case in Standard.
Given that Ulster is a canal province, this army can, and in most cases will, be used to take Ireland in the first year, as Edinburgh and London can't reach it before the next Spring. Britain has the option then to at the same time move London over English Channel to Mid-Atlantic, in order to set up a convoy to Navarra or Portugal. This becomes especially attractive if Belgium is not in the cards. To prevent this, Spain will probably solicit actively for the French fleet to bounce such a move, as Navarra threatens Bordeaux also.
At the same time France will be interested in having a fleet in the Mid-Atlantic even if Britain promises not to move there, because it's an excellent position to pinch a British center (Liverpool, Ireland or London) in the second year. The British army is less able to fend off such a raid than a fleet would, so will probably have to decide between staying in Ireland until Mid-Atlantic is no longer a threat, or moving back to Ulster to defend against an attack against Liverpool or Ireland.
On the other hand, if Britain and France get it on, Britain may attempt to talk France into convoying his army to the Iberian peninsula, but that carries the risk that he won't be able to defend Liverpool when France moves to the Irish Sea, or find his army stranded in Navarra while France sails into Ireland. Hopefully he will have a newly built fleet (from the Ireland dot) to use as a deterrent.
What started thus as an attempt to increase interaction between Britain and Spain, and specifically to improve the Spanish northern strategy, turned into a setup that could redefine the whole BFS (Britain-France-Spain) triangle!
The next step for me was to create the altered map for the DPjudge, call it modern-up after a suggestion from Vincent, and set up a series of no-press games on UKDP, the DPjudge used for beta-testing. To speed up recruiting and at the same time test a new feature called TEAM_VICTORY, each player would control two powers (Duplex in nJudge terminology), with victory attributed to the first player whose combined sum of supply centers for his two powers would surpass half of the total.
The first two of these games, teamplay and team-up, have finished, with a third one, teammate, just starting. Both completed games finished after only 7 game years, largely following the same development with one player taking the lead and steadily increasing that until victory was obtained. Unfortunately there was little action in the redrawn part of the map.
Drawing from this experience, I'm setting up a new series. This one will have one power per player and, on special request from Vincent, use wings, a unit implemented originally for Modern on the nJudges, but deployable on any variant. To this end, and with the assistance of Chris Babcock, the map was duly ported to USTP:
The Modern map with Ulster and F LPL
In the case of wings, Britain traditionally starts with a wing in London. That makes putting an army in Liverpool less attractive, as wings can't convoy. Therefore Liverpool still starts with a fleet.
The first game of this series is called ulster01, and uses partial white press. If you're interested, please join this game or check out the openings on USTP for the next game in the series.
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