Location, Location, Location

Part 2: ...Sold!

Larry Peery

My comments about spatial locations and relationships (available in the Fall 1995 Retreat issue of the Zine) drew comments from two readers, John Roberts and Peter Rauch, as well as their versions of the List of Seven: the seven most critical spaces on the regular Diplomacy game board. In addition, Michael Ross sent in his List of Seven sans comments. Prior to looking at their lists I had drawn up one of my own, just to have a basis for comparison. Even without knowing anything about their Diplomacy playing backgrounds, it may be interesting to compare our choices. So, without further ado, let's do so!

Roberts Rauch Ross Peery
North Sea X X X X
Ionian Sea X X X X
Mid-Atlantic OceanX X X
Black Sea X X X
Aegean Sea X
Baltic Sea X
Galicia X X X
Tyrolia X X
Serbia X X
Munich X X
St. PetersburgX X
Berlin X

As you can see only two spaces (North Sea and Ionian Sea), both water locations, were picked by all four of us. Two more sea spaces (Mid-Atlantic and Black Sea) were picked by three of us. The Aegean and Baltic each got one vote. Among the land spaces Galicia got three votes; Tyrolia, Serbia, Munich, and St. Petersburg each got two votes; and Berlin got one.

What were the rationales behind these choices? I'll let the selectors speak for themselves. Michael Ross's "two cents worth" came without explanations.

North Sea
Roberts: The first of England, France, or Germany to dominate it usually eliminates one of the others, although it's important to distinguish fleeting occupation from genuine domination.

Rauch: The North Sea is the most important province to England. It borders six supply centers, and the country which controls it controls the Northern Seas as well as the English home supply centers.

Ionian Sea
Roberts: Whoever blocks it holds back the foe almost indefinitely, and once the block is in place the focus of fighting (and the strategic picture) shifts northward.

Rauch: Just as the North Sea is the key to the Northern Seas, the Ionian Sea is the key to the Southern Seas. It is crucial at the beginning of the game, securing containment of Turkey or conversely a breakout of Austrian or Turkish fleets. It is likewise important at the end of the game, for it has a say in which side of the Mid Atlantic-Mediterranean stalemate line Tunis falls on.

Mid-Atlantic Ocean
Roberts: For any of Austria, Italy, or Turkey (and rarely Russia) to break into the north; or for England, France, or Germany to make southern conquests; the Mid-Atlantic Ocean is the prize -- once's it's taken and held it's impossible for the other side to hold.

Rauch: The Mid-Atlantic Ocean is the waterway that links the Southern to the Northern Seas. For a Southern power, it represents a breakout from the Mediterranean; for a Northern power the way in. For both it is crucial in controlling the Iberian centers and with them France's home centers.

Black Sea
Rauch: I list the seventh most important province as the Black Sea. Why are five of the top seven locations waterways? Twenty-seven of the 34 supply centers have a coastline. Each of these may border two others, but the waterways between them border more. The Black Sea borders on five. Getting a single fleet into it is usually sufficient to hold it. This fleet can support armies around the perimeter, heavily influencing all five centers and, indirectly, Smyrna.

Aegean Sea
[This was Michael Ross's solo pick, although it is easy to see why he selected it.]

Baltic Sea
Rauch: The Baltic Sea is the sixth most important province. It borders four supply centers, and is crucial to Germany and Russia in efforts against each other, providing key support to Scandinavian superiority or a land invasion of the neighbor's home centers.

Roberts: In the early days, as a no-man's-land between Austria and Russia; it is often resurrected when England, France, and Germany are close to winning; or if Turkey is making a breakout. A close runner up with similar characteristics is Burgundy.

Roberts: It's pivotal in Austrian, German, and Italian interaction throughout the game; and is a key point in any attempt to cross the main stalemate line.

Rauch: Tyrolia is needed for any land invasion of Austria or Italy, by Germany or each other.

Rauch: Serbia is the most important land province. Since it has no coast, its secure owner has the land power to rule Austria and the Balkans. Like the North Sea, it exerts influence on six supply centers (including itself). For Austria, it represents security; for Russia and Turkey, the crucial first phase of the juggernaut.

Rauch: The fifth most important province is Munich. Landlocked like Serbia, it takes several armies to hold securely. For Germany this is key, because it is difficult to reclaim. Munich exerts influence over four other important inland provinces. Burgundy, a step away, lays open France. Ruhr or Silesia are the first steps of any land invasion of Germany. Finally, Tyrolia is needed for any land invasion of Austria or Italy, by Germany or each other.

St. Petersburg
Roberts: For many of the same reasons as with Ionian --- once you have it, it really clogs up the oppponents movements.

Roberts Not because it's valuable in itself, but a change in ownership usually signals the beginning of the end for someone.
So much for the comments, what of the pecking orders? Here's how each of our four sources ranked each mentioned space.

Roberts Rauch Ross Peery
1. Tyrolia North Sea North Sea North Sea
2. North Sea Serbia Ionian Sea Ionian Sea
3. Mid-AtlanticIonian Sea Black Sea Black Sea
4. Galicia Mid-AtlanticGalicia St. Petersburg
5. Ionian Sea Munich Tyrolia Munich
6. St. PetersburgBaltic SeaMid-AtlanticGalicia
7. Berlin Black Sea Aegean Sea Serbia

It's pretty obvious that sea spaces dominated most of our thinking most of the time. This can be seen from the other comments sent by the respondents, which are presented below, and to cap things off I regale you with a true story that answers once and for all the question of what the most important location on the board is.

From John Roberts:
I think you need to distinguish between the spaces needed to get a win, and the spaces needed to finish the win. For example, I rate the North Sea very highly in the early/midgame (if one is England, France, Germany, or Russia), but by the end of the game it is usually unimportant.

As with your article, it's not what's on the land already that makes it valuable, it's what's around it. You don't get a big windfall from buying property with a factory already on it --- you do it by buying property that has factories nearby. That's why my five top picks are not supply centers.

From Peter Rauch:
It seems that the territories on my list are polarized into land and open sea holdings. My runner-ups include Spain (left out because the Mid Atlantic can usually control it), Denmark (usually controlled by the Baltic and North Seas), and St. Petersburg (once taken from Russia, it can easily be held against her. Therefore it is imperative that Russia keep it free for the construction of northern fleets).

From Larry Peery:
The True Tale of Mr. Smith and Mr. Wong

I remember some thirty-five years ago, when San Diego was one-third the size it is now, and the downtown area's looks hadn't changed much in the previous thirty-five years, one local real estate mogul (who would have made a great Diplomacy player by the way) decided he wanted to build San Diego's first five star hotel to go with his bank, his airline, his taxi fleet, his insurance company, his baseball team, etc. etc. He had the property for it all picked out, a square block right in the center of downtown. Over several years he had acquired the block, one lot at a time. Only one property owner held out, refusing to sell. It was an old Chinese gentleman, who had owned a small Chinese restaurant that covered the small lot for years. It wasn't a great restaurant, but it was popular with members of the local press and judiciary, who hung around the downstairs bar and scoffed up the 35 cents a plate lunch specials during Prohibition, and $1 double martinis in the early 1960s. I ate there a few times, just before the place finally closed, and I have to admit that the neon dragons and black walls were more impressive than the Chop Suey. Still, the old Chinaman had his pride, and he wouldn't sell to the local tycoon --- mostly because the tycoon, who used to eat there in his less successful days, wasn't willing to come in and make an offer himself. He sent his lawyers and real estate agents to do his dirty work.

Well, over the years; while the city waited and watched to see who would win the battle between the multimillionaire on his way to his first billion and the Old Chinaman; the other buildings on the block came down, leaving only that ragged old Chinese restaurant surrounded by empty dirt. The tycoon wouldn't even cover the rest of the block with parking lots. He wanted everyone to know he didn't need the income. He wanted his hotel. Finally, the rich tycoon (his name was Smith) decided to build his hotel anyway. If he had to, he said, he would build around the Chinese restaurant's site. Imagine, a beautiful twenty-two story, highrise hotel done in Louix XIV architectural style, surrounding a dirty, old Chinese cafe with a cellar bar!

Finally, the Old Chinaman's children (there were eleven of them and he had put every one of them through the best schools and universities money could buy, except for the nine of them that won NMF scholarships) convinced him it was time to sell, and move to a new location. So, he picked out a site in the eastern part of town, not far from where I live now, packed up his kitchen, bar, staff, and gaudy neon dragon sign, and moved. For a while his old customers from the newspaper and courts followed him, although the 35 cent luncheon special had gone up in price to $3.50, but times had changed. The Old Chinaman, who had been old as long as anyone could remember, decided to retire. He polled his children to see which of them was interested in taking over the restaurant. None expressed any desire to take on the job. Although it was a goldmine financially, it required long, hard, hot work in the kitchen and constant supervision. More importantly, it lacked the dignity of their new professions: lawyer, doctor, real estate mogul, etc. Finally, the Old Chinaman realized his children had moved up in the world, and owning a Chinese restaurant was beneath them; just as he had once thought taking over the Chinese laundry his folks had owned in the '80s, the 1880s, was beneath his dignity.

The Old Chinaman, his name was Wong, was broken-hearted, but too proud to let his children see his disappointment. He decided if they didn't want the business, he would find someone who did, and who would run it the way it should be run. He interviewed several members of the local Chinese community (most of whom already owned restaurants of their own), but all they seemed interested in was how quickly they could move his staff out, their own relatives in, and switch to pre-prepared frozen egg rolls from the local Price Club. Not pleased, he finally sold, with a very low interest loan rate, to a young Vietnamese couple, who had only been in the country a few years but with whom he had more in common than his own children. Within a few weeks the restaurant had been totally redone, although the golden dragon sign was repaired and painted and looked as good as new, complete with a Chinese and Vietnamese menu. Still, the $3.50 lunch remained, and if you were a reporter, court clerk, or student at the nearby university and short of money, your credit was good until payday. Jimmy Wong died a few years ago, but the restaurant remains.

And what of the multimillionaire tycoon, Mr. Smith? The Westgate eventually opened, rumored to be the most expensive hotel ever built (on a per room cost basis). Its first night guests included an ex-president and half the U.S. Senate. It got its five star rating and for years was considered to be San Diego's best hotel. Its ballroom was the most beautiful, its dining room the most gourmet, its elevators had crystal chandeliers. Mr. Smith was hailed as Mr. San Diego of the Century. He dreamed of bigger things. Nixon was a close friend. The Republican Party's convention would come to San Diego and his hotel would be their headquarters. It was to be the high-point of a life and career built in acquiring real estate. Alas, it was not to be. Eventually, the courts dealt with Mr. Smith. They said that he couldn't run his bank, even though he owned it, the way you or I run our checkbooks. He lost his real estate empire, his daughter sued him, his wife divorced him, and today he lives alone, existing on his social security pension check. He doesn't even own a home anymore.

Is there a lesson for us here? I think so. The most important space on the Diplomacy board is the one you don't own, and the one you need to gain your eighteenth dot!

Finally, my thanks to John Roberts, Peter Rauch, and Michael Ross for their contributions. As promised, the prize goes to Peter Rauch for his effort. Peter wins two pounds weight worth of back issues of that other Diplomacy publication, Diplomacy World.

Larry Peery

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