The Editor and the Readership
This time, though, my tack will be a bit different. This issue is noticably smaller than the first issue, and so, rather than presenting a topic for discussion in the next issue, I intend to spend some time discussing this difference. Heck, I guess that is a topic for discussion in and of itself, so if you feel like writing to me about the way the five different annual issues of the magazine are organized in my mind, feel free. Yes, I like that. Let's call this my and your topic.
As you surely know, the Retreat issues of the magazine are intended to be smaller than Movement issues. This issue proves the point nicely. Let me give you a quickie history of the last three months.
Most of my time in the last three months was taken up administering the LoebBourse "dippouch" game. Upwards of fifty investors are now active, and each, of course, needed to be supplied with a portfolio for their investments, and their questions answered. There must have been a megabyte of discussion about the rules of the game. (Check out the HISTORY of the game to see what I mean.)
I thank God that Andy Schwarz stepped forward and answered my plea for someone to take the Mastering duties away from me, even though this meant giving up his own investment portfolio. As I have pointed out in the game, Andy is fast making a name for himself in the hobby, and accepting the arduous task of Mastering "dippouch" was not only the best thing he could do for me, but the hardest and most difficult thing he could possibly choose for himself. Take it from a veteran Master and from the one who handed it to Andy: Mastering "dippouch" is the toughest, most demanding job the hobby has ever created. Andy and all who follow him in this task deserve all of our greatest appreciation. He most certainly has mine.
As it happens, my statement about not requiring articles from regular contributors for Retreat issues was heeded by most of them, and this worked out fine for me, since, as I mentioned, my time was totally consumed by the game. So I'm actually real happy with this issue. It confirmed my idea of the prototypical Retreat issue. I hope it doesn't disappoint anyone by its relative brevity compared to the first issue, because I hope it sets a tone which I plan to follow. Retreat issues will be a nice rest for all of us (especially me) who work on this magazine.
This is not to say, of course, that I will ever discourage contributions. No indeed. I'm just saying that it worked out well for me this time that the contributions didn't number as many as last time. It also fit right in with my totally baseless prediction about the size of Retreat issues.
So I guess what I'm saying is, "Isn't this Retreat issue idea great?" There. There's your question. Send me your answer, keeping in mind that the said idea was mine to begin with, so consider your audience (just joking).
Okay, enough about this issue. Let's let you see the letters received from the readers of the first issue.
My response: Good! It's high time all us fools came out of the closet! (Oh, wait...maybe not....)
My response: I'm sure the readership will chime in with all sorts of comments. Here is a quickie from me. The most memorable game I played where this opening was employed by England involved a negotiated E/F/G three-way, which England chose to break right off the bat with German knowledge. Germany, though, saw this rift between England and France as his chance to build three, and got into Belgium with support from both of the combatants. This resulted in a one-turn surprise E/F, taking Belgium from German hands in Spring of 1902. However, it remained under German rule because England and France were very easy for Germany to bust apart diplomatically given their earlier falling-out. Once there was a second disagreement, the two were irreconcilable, and Germany played each against the other for a good long time.
The other thing I have wondered about is a possible bonus for joining a game that needs replacments. It would obviously have to be much smaller than the penalty for quitting, but this might help encourage people to help out with mercy positions, etc., and get games going again faster.
It seems like some games wait for a long time for replacements. To try to help out, I make half my game starts replacements, trying to vary the quality of the positions that I take on.
Simon's response: Thanks for the message. I'm glad you liked the article.
Your point about a bonus for joining games which are waiting for replacements is a good one that I would have been worth mentioning. But the reason I didn't mention it is not because I hadn't heard of the idea, since I have been following the recent dedication discussions on rec.games.diplomacy. It actually looks a lot like a thread that went on around a year ago, in which I was a much more vocal participant. In fact, I may have started the thread but I don't recall for sure. At the time I was in something like 18 games at once, only six of which were not stalled for one reason or another.
At any rate, I was pushing pretty hard to get the dedication system reformed and there were many ideas, including the one about giving people points for signing on as replacements. The concensus among a few of the people who actually write judge code was that things like changing late penalties or CD penalties are relatively minor changes - just a number here or there. On the other hand, giving points to replacements would take quite a large amount of time and effort for writing new code. They said they'd be happy if somebody took that on but that they had things on their to-do list that had a higher priority so the chances of that actually happening were slim (there actually is a to-do list for judge programming).
Since then, I've directed my efforts at convincing people about the things that are easy to modify, since those are the things that are actually likely to get changed. When the idea about dedication points for replacements first came up, I thought it was a fine idea and I still think it is. But, since I don't think it's likely to change, I've stopped making a big push on that point.
I think your personal decision to make half your gamestarts replacements is great. I've recently signed on to three games that needed replacements. If more people did that, we wouldn't need to suggest giving dedication points as an incentive.
Jamie Dreier's response: If I wrote something inconsistent with this rule, it was a typo. I endorse this rule entirely. I think Conrad Minshall put it well. It is not fair for some players to gain a negotiating advantage by negotiating past the deadline, when others are sticking to the deadline. Thus, anyone not marked "late" should be free to negotiate with anyone else not marked "late." But no negotiations by or with lateniks should be tolerated. Of course, it's up to the gm. But I'm glad it's in the house rules this way, and I run my games by it.
It would be nice to add a column to DP about work going on improving the Judge code. There is a list "judgemaint". Could someone there become a columnist? Perhaps readers could make suggestions. I have one:
Sometimes a game starts with players unsuitable for the game for one reason of another.
I suggest that all current situations where a player is assigned a power, be replaced with a situation where the player receive a letter saying that he is being considered for the following game (and giving him the chance to back out immediately), and the GM receives a letter giving information about the player. The GM would have a special command allowing him to install the player in the position he has requested.
To return to Chess. If I always open 1. P-Q4 then I must prepare myself for one of a number of defences (there are at least 10 common defences to this opening). In response to each of these choices I must prepare my variation. But, typically, Black will have 3 or 4 responses to each of my variations. So I must prepare a response to Black's subvariation...
Opening theory in Diplomacy starts from the premise that you know what you want. Suppose that I am playing France. Then I have a large number of possible openings. Certain openings are "better" if I want to be pro-England, others if I want to be pro-Germany. Can I rely on Italy not to open agressively against me? Am I going for two or three centers? Where do I want to put my fleet? There is no one great opening, but given certain assumptions about the state of diplomacy there are better and worse openings.
It is interesting to note that several authors (including myself) have written articles examining how a nation's choice of openings effects the result of the game. There are trends. We can't say that "this is a bad opening, don't use it," because there are always games where a country chose it and did well (in one postal game Germany NMR'd in Spring 1901, but still won the game!) but we can say that "France scores significantly better with this opening."
It is worth remembering that certain authors (such as Richard Sharp) have developed opening theory based around certain ideas, e.g. that Germany must keep Austria strong or that Italy and Austria must ally together against Russia and Turkey.
The cautious player would immediately protect his home territory, while a more risky, expansionist player might try to defend the frontier. This plays a much greater role in the (addmitedly few) games I have played.
In the end, there are no completely random events, and most events that some might consider luck, often rely on trying to predict an opponents psyche. Addmitedly not a very precise thing, but not random either...
Jamie's response: I don't agree. Let me explain.
Take the main example I gave, the one where Turkey is trying to invade Italy.
Take Turkey's role for a moment. You are trying to guess whether Italy will protect Naples or Tunis. You realize that he is trying to guess, too, of course. You try to assess whether he is conservative or risky. Suppose you (correctly) decide that he is a risky-type. Does that mean he will cover Tun instead of Nap? No, it doesn't.
As for many, many situations in Diplomacy and other imperfect information games, the 'best' strategy (technically, the Nash equilibrium) is going to be a mixed strategy. A typical mixed strategy is, flip a coin, cover Nap if it comes up heads and cover Tun otherwise. There are many mixed strategies available. Actually, there are infinitely many. In fact, a large infinity! An uncountable one. Essentially, the coin Italy flips could be weighted in any number of ways.
If Italy adopts a mixed strategy, there is no way on earth that Turkey can figure out what Italy will do, not just by his smarts. He *has* to be lucky.
This sort of thing happens all the time. Practically every move in Diplomacy involves mixed strategies in the ideal case.
Now, as a matter of practical gamesplaying, you may be right that in practice many, most, players will not adopt a genuine mixed strategy at all. There is certainly room for some psychology. But I don't believe that all the psychology in the world will let you figure out for sure what the other guy is going to do.
Whether there are truly 'random' events or not is actually a red herring, I think. All that matters is whether the next move is predictable given the information available to players. So, even if coin flips are deterministic, we can regard predicting Italy's coin as out of the question!
(I would be very pleased to have Dan Shoham, or some other accomplished Game Theorist, comment on the above.)
I am a chess puzzle fanatic, but Diplomacy puzzles (especially this one) are, IMO, much more challenging, since Diplomacy has greater flexibility in how pieces can move.
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