In the last issue of the DipPouch ‘Zine, I attempted to demonstrate how France’s horrendous performance in an on-going 1900 game was primarily the result of the President’s deliberately poor Fall ‘00 moves (I can now say “deliberate” because post game comments revealed the President wanted the other Powers to eliminate France as quickly as possible). At the end of that article, I asked whether I had gone too far in emasculating France when I designed 1900. The focus of this article was going to be on how France’s overall performance in 1900 games compares with that of the other six Great Powers followed by some suggestions on how I believe a President should approach playing France when he begins a 1900 contest. In writing this article, however, I found myself spending more time discussing France’s performance and examining the obstacles it has to overcome than I thought I would. Given this, I have decided to save my suggestions regarding French play for an upcoming article.
So how does France compare with the other Powers in 1900?
If you have read The Gamers’ Guide to 1900, you know that one of my stated goals when I designed the 1900 variant was to attempt to improve on Classic Diplomacy’s play balance. To quantify how well I have accomplished this goal, I use a method of measuring play balance that I devised while I served as the Hall of Fame Coordinator for the late, great AOL Diplomacy Club. The Great Power Rating (GPR) assigns one hundred eighty points to each game. I simply divide these one hundred eighty points by the number of Great Powers that participated in a solo or draw, 2-way through 6-way. Surviving does not earn a Great Power any points and I ignore games that end in a 7-way draw (Gak!). The GPR is the number of points each Great Power has earned divided by the number of games played. An average GPR is 25.71.
When I attempted to determine Classic Diplomacy’s play balance, I had a very large sample size of games to draw from. Game results came from three sources: an excellent study of 3,485 games that appeared in Issue #81 of Diplomacy World (“The Strongest Country on the Diplomacy Map” by Thaddeus Black, on page 10), my own records of two hundred twenty-three games played on America Online, and fifteen games played in Tim Richardson’s The Old Republic.
By comparison, the sample size of 1900 games is significantly smaller. It currently consists of only two hundred six games, primarily from the DPjudge, that I have managed to record as of 4 May 2014.
What does the above table tell us? It actually tells us nothing definitive. The sample size is simply too small. I learned how deceiving numbers based on a “small” sample size can be while tracking Great Power performance in Classic Diplomacy games played under the auspices of the AOL Diplomacy Club. During one particular one hundred-game interval, Germany managed one measly solo and twenty-three draws. In its seventy-six losses, it survived twenty-six times and the other Great Powers eliminated it fifty times. Though these numbers are not as far off from the “average” German results as we might at first think (the much larger sample size shown earlier suggests an “average” Germany would have had eight solos, sixteen draws, and seventy-six losses over one hundred games), the single solo makes overall German performance look terrible. Imagine the implications if these results had come from a new variant instead of Classic Diplomacy, where we know Germany is just fine. I suspect most people, me included, would come to the conclusion that Germany is too weak and needs tweaking. We would all be wrong.
Allowing for the fact that the GPR numbers for each of the 1900 Great Powers might not be the “true” values we would obtain after playing an infinite number of games, I do feel safe in drawing a few conclusions.
Before I continue, I should mention that there are a large number of archived 1900 games available on Play Diplomacy On-line (PlayDip) that I have only started to catalog. When I am finished recording these games, my sample size will nearly double. Of interest to me is the fact that the results of those games vary quite a bit from the results I have seen on DPjudge. On PlayDip, Germany leads the way (no surprise) followed by Britain and Italy. The next clump of Powers consists of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and France. Turkey lags well behind them all. I will be curious to see if, in the long run, the apparent disparity in the performances of the seven Great Powers increases or decreases from what it is currently.
Now let us talk about France specifically.
As I have just discussed, 1900’s France is not the force its Classic Diplomacy counterpart is. At first glance, this is not necessarily apparent. France begins the gain in control of four supply centers (SCs) and four units, and seemingly has excellent access to neutrals. This initial assessment leads many new players, including many Presidents, to believe that France is far more powerful than it truly is. The simple truth is that France’s supposed advantages are largely fool’s gold.
Why is this so? Let us look at France’s position in more detail.
Though it is true that France starts each game in control of four SCs and four units, it is imperative that Presidents remember that Algeria is not a home SC and France cannot build there. If the vaunted Armée D'Afrique takes a SC in the early going, say Morocco or Tripolitania, any build from that conquest will appear in Metropolitan France, not in North Africa. This means that Armée D'Afrique is on its own until reinforcements from Metropolitan France can link up with it. Presidents must always keep in mind that any SCs taken by Armée D'Afrique early on are extremely vulnerable because the army can only effectively defend the space that it is in. As everyone knows, trying to defend two or more SCs with one unit is problematic and unlikely to succeed in the long run. Should the British or Italians seek to exploit French weakness in North Africa, the build the President made based on taking a North African SC may disappear quickly and undoubtedly at the worst time.
Regarding access to neutrals, it is true that France has six neutrals within two tempi of its opening position. Only Britain has greater access to neutrals at game-start with eight neutrals within two tempi. Consider, however, the following results from two hundred thirty-five 1900 games I have records for:
We must also consider how the altered dynamics of the 1900 map and starting units affects France.
The eastern and western triangles (A/R/T and E/F/G) are the primary driving factors in Classic Diplomacy’s dynamics. Though Italy impacts on both triangles, probably the east more so than the west, it is not really an integral part of either triangle. The many changes that appear on the 1900 map (e.g., making Switzerland passable, moving the SC in Venice to Milan, removing Tuscany, the addition of a North African coast, moving the SC in Smyrna to Damascus, etc.) and the altered unit configuration at game-start (e.g., Austria-Hungary with only armies, Britain with only fleets, a British fleet in Gibraltar instead of Liverpool, a British fleet in Egypt, a French army in Algeria, four German at-start units, etc.) combine to make the situation facing the Great Powers in 1900 very different from what their Classic Diplomacy counterparts face. Though the eastern and western triangles still exist, they now do so within two quadrangles: A/G/R/T and B/F/G/I.
B/F/G/I, much like its eastern counterpart, is an “imbalanced” quadrangle. This is because Italy has no means to threaten Britain’s home SCs until mid-game or later, and Britain’s inability to quickly/easily reinforce its Mediterranean fleets mitigates at least to some degree the British threat to Italian home SCs. France and Germany, on the other hand, are both vulnerable to attacks from the other three members of the western quadrangle. The relative strengths of France and Germany within the western quadrangle are markedly different, however. With its compact position, four units capable of reinforcing each other, and its excellent prospects for multiple builds in the first game year (2+ 95.3%, 3+ 61.3%), Germany is in a much better place than France is at game-start. Unlike the Second Reich’s units that capture neutrals even as they advance toward the most likely threats, two of the Third Republic’s three units in Metropolitan France generally vacant the area in their pursuit of neutrals. French prospects for early builds look good at first (2+ 53.2%, 3+ 33.5%), but we must keep in mind that one of these builds usually comes from an SC Armée D'Afrique captured in North Africa and is subject to disappearing quickly if France faces aggression. Germany is also unlikely to face a B/F/I alliance because the allies would quickly get in each other’s way. France, on the other hand, frequently faces the very real specter of a B/G/I alliance.
If we summarize all of the above, we get the following:
Wow! The above discussion paints a rather grim picture. Well, take heart, Presidents! Putting France in a position to succeed and possibly win is not quite as difficult as I may have implied in the preceding paragraphs. In my next article, I will discuss what I believe are some keys to successful French play.
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