(Part II of III)

by Baron von Powell

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.

RUSSIA 3723 112800 30.34 449 140 185 126 60 15 5 2743
FRANCE 3723 110418 29.70 364 176 285 200 68 17 5 2608
TURKEY 3723 98832 26.58 329 149 275 160 57 15 5 2733
ENGLAND 3723 98454 26.48 300 183 280 194 54 17 5 2690
GERMANY 3723 95019 25.56 327 156 214 139 69 18 5 2795
AUSTRIA-HUNGARY 3723 82821 22.28 284 126 179 159 56 15 5 2899
ITALY 3723 70896 19.07 221 124 172 150 66 17 5 2968

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.

GERMANY 206 7335 35.61 25 3 27 13 10 0 128
RUSSIA 206 5520 26.80 19 3 18 12 5 1 148
BRITAIN 206 5505 26.72 16 4 20 15 10 1 140
AUSTRIA-HUNGARY 206 5049 24.51 15 6 19 7 9 1 149
TURKEY 206 4710 22.86 15 3 18 10 5 1 154
ITALY 206 4635 22.50 13 4 22 9 5 1 152
FRANCE 206 4326 21.00 14 1 20 6 6 1 158

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.

  • Though I designed Germany to be “first amongst equals,” the numbers suggest that it is probably just a little too powerful. As a result, I cannot claim that 1900’s play balance is really superior to that of Classic Diplomacy’s play balance. This is not the same, however, as saying that 1900 is so imbalanced that it does not give each Great Power a reasonable chance of success. On the contrary, the table reinforces the notion that Germany is far from being all-powerful (it loses over 62% of games played) and the other six Great Powers all solo or draw on a regular basis.

  • France is most certainly not the powerhouse it is in Classic Diplomacy. Classic Diplomacy’s France solos or draws in approximately 29.9% of Classic Diplomacy games played. By comparison, 1900’s France solos or draws in approximately 23.3% of 1900 games played. This represents a 22.1% decrease in France’s scoring rate. In fact, my numbers say that France is performing worse than any of the other Great Powers, though probably not “significantly” worse from a statistical perspective. Does this mean the player who draws the light blue block is doomed? Absolutely not! France clearly has a reasonable chance of soloing or participating in a draw. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of France’s demise appear somewhat exaggerated.

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:

  • Belgium: Belgium is clearly within Germany’s sphere of influence. A Cologne to Belgium is by far the most popular opening for that unit (80.3% versus 17.9% for A Cologne to Netherlands). The Second Reich has taken Belgium first 75.3% of the time, as compared to France taking Belgium first 17.0% of the time. These numbers suggest that France will most likely take Belgium only if allied with Britain or if Germany opens to the east. Almost certainly, the Kaiser will view a French attack on Belgium as tantamount to a declaration of war against Germany.

  • Morocco: Morocco usually goes to France first. France opened with A Algeria to Morocco in 57.5% of the games I recorded and took Morocco first 62.6% of the time. The problem for France, of course, is that Armée D'Afrique must now defend both Morocco and Algeria. Good luck with that! Worth noting is that British F Gibraltar to Morocco was the most common opening for that unit (32.9%) and that Britain took Morocco first 34.9% of the time. An analysis of games generally supports the conclusion that Britain opens to Morocco when allied with France. This makes sense when you consider that F Gibraltar would likely be supporting F Egypt to Mid-Atlantic Ocean or moving to Spain if Britain was fighting France.

  • Portugal: The numbers for Portugal are very similar to the numbers just shown for Morocco. France has taken Portugal first in 60.9% of the games I recorded, while Britain has done so in 35.3% of those recorded games. Unlike the situation with Morocco, though, British involvement in Portugal suggests that Albion is an opponent of France rather than an ally.

  • Spain: Presidents should consider control of Spain as part of their birthright. Though Britain claimed Spain first in 21.7% of the games I recorded, France more than tripled that number (75.7%). A Marseilles to Spain was the most common opening for that unit (53.6%), while British F Gibraltar to Spain (ec or wc) occurred only 16.3% of the time. If A Marseilles does not open to Spain, it frequently moves there in Fall ’00.

  • Switzerland: The prospects of an early French conquest of Switzerland are not nearly as good as they might seem. In fact, France claimed Switzerland first in just 9.4% of the games I recorded. This is actually not too surprising given that Presidents generally use A Marseilles to take Spain instead of Switzerland. A Marseilles opened to Switzerland in 21.9% of the games I recorded. By comparison, Germany opened with A Munich to Switzerland 41.9% of the time and Italy opened with A Milan to Switzerland a whopping 80.7% of the time. Significantly, Germany supported France’s opening to Switzerland a paltry 3.4% of the time versus supporting Italy’s opening to Switzerland 13.2% of the time. This suggests that Kaisers would rather see Italy (or the Reich itself!) possess this key SC instead of France. As for Italy, Popes clearly see Switzerland as part of the neo-Roman Empire. Italy took Switzerland first in 73.2% of the games I recorded. Though both France (7.7%) and Germany supported A Milan to Switzerland, Italy did not support France into Switzerland even one time and supported Germany into Switzerland only four times (in return for German support of A Piedmont to Marseilles in the Fall). The message seems crystal clear: the Pope will take any French designs on Switzerland as a declaration of war.

  • Tripolitania: Though Tripolitania may seem tantalizingly close, I think it is generally best for Presidents to eschew taking it in the early going. France took Tripolitania first in 14.0% of the games I recorded. Britain and Italy, on the other hand, took Tripolitania first 27.7% of the time and 56.6% of the time respectively. If France does grab Tripolitania first, it faces the situation I have mentioned a few times already whereby Armée D'Afrique must cover two SCs with one unit. My belief is that Presidents should leverage their potential ability to influence who gains control of Tripolitania as a bargaining chip to cement an alliance with either Britain or Italy rather than taking the SC for themselves (normally with support from Britain).

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:

  • One of France’s at start units is completely isolated in North Africa and the SC it stands guard over, Algeria, is not a home SC (i.e., a SC France can build in). This means that the capture of Morocco or Tripolitania in the early going will result in a build that is likely to disappear quickly if France faces any competition in North Africa from Britain or Italy.

  • Though France is in immediate proximity to six neutrals, it only has a solid grip on Spain. Belgium and Switzerland are clearly in Germany’s and Italy’s sphere of influence. Britain is frequently a fierce rival for control of Portugal. The French usually need British assistance to take Tripolitania and doing so leaves French North Africa in a delicate position. Likewise, Morocco often falls into French hands in the first game year, but at the cost of leaving Algeria vulnerable.

  • Of the three Powers that make up the western triangle, France is by far the most vulnerable. This is because France has to deal with the very real prospect of war with Italy, a Power that is no threat at all to Britain and only a secondary threat to Germany.

  • France, unlike the other Powers in the western quadrangle, is frequently in the unenviable position of playing defense at the expense of growth or pursuing growth at the expense of defense.

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.

B.M. Powell

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