And that's strange. Almost every game of Diplomacy -- whether e-mail or snail mail, but especially e-mail -- involves replacement players. I don't know if there any statistics on the subject, but my guess is that the average PBEM game has around three or four replacement players joining it during its lifespan. That makes dealing with replacements a very common experience, but one that's rarely dealt with in these pages or elsewhere. It is also how a lot of new players start playing their first games. So, following Richard's lead, this article presents some thoughts on playing as replacement, how it differs from play as a non-replacement player, and how to deal with these differences.
The title and the sub-headings in this article are all song-titles by a post-punk era U.S. band called The Replacements. Their spirit was very "live fast, die young." But the band in fact did better than most replacements, and lasted for nearly 11 years (that's 22 movement phases), from 1979 until they distintegrated around 1990.
To me, getting knocked out as a replacement player doesn't feel as bad as being a starter. It's like baseball: if the starting pitcher loads the bases, does anyone really blame the bullpen for any ensuing runs scored? (Well, at least not the first two or three.)
Playing in one game, as a replacement Germany, after a couple of years I offered a sensible alliance to Austria. He refused, because of an earlier stabette performed by the previous German player. When I pointed out that it wasn't my fault, he replied, "it doesn't matter; you Germans are all the same"! I thought often of that as I watched him being crushed by Italy and Russia.
(Usually Austrian players are most likely to be mad, for some reason. Has anyone else noticed that Austria players are often not the sharpest knives in the drawer? Maybe it is just me. And are they bonkers before they play Austria, or does the country do that to them?)
The answer is to keep reminding them that you aren't the same player that stabbed them back in 1902. You're new. You're different. You're older and wiser. And you won't make the same mistakes that fool made, that's for sure.
The other major date is (roughly) 1904. That's when starting players who are at risk lose interest because the game's not looking too good for them. Alliances are forming against them, they have just been stabbed, they can't understand why everyone hates them, whatever. They cut their losses and run (like the yellow dogs they are).
In passing, Richard Mulholland summed it up well: "In face to face games, there always was a loser who got himself killed in the first couple of turns. Essentially these guys were just a bunch of extra neutral supply centers. In e-mail games you have fewer of those guys, but instead you get these guys who drop out early. At least we can replace them with a decent player and continue."
The next main drop-out zone seems to vary by date, but roughly it's when the game has been pared down to three or four powers, all biggish, and the starting player realises he's unlikely to win or be in the draw (or has been stabbed by his best buddy in the game who is now going to do one of those two things). That's the often attractive-looking replacement positions you regularly see on offer: "S1908M Turkey 8/8!!". Before you make those Homer Simpson-style "Mmmm, Turkey" noises, you'll probably shout "D'oh!" when you see that Russia has 12 centers, and France has 14 and has just convoyed an army to Armenia or something.
And of course there's the traditional just-about-to-die position, of only one or two centers. They come up at any time throughout the game. They are generally hopeless. A good way of gaining dedication points. But not one to lose sleep over.
But what all three positions have in common is that you are invariably the new kid in town. I don't know how many of you moved to a new town and changed schools half way through as a child (I did, aged 12). Its tough, not knowing how to react, while all the other kids eye you suspiciously. Being a replacement is much the same. The other players have fed this game and watered it from a small seed in the games queue, and now you come along. Especially if you upset the already established order:
"Player X was a complete bozo, we were going to wipe him out. Then this new kid arrives, he's much smarter, makes some interesting proposals.... but we are still going to wipe him out because we've invested too much in the plan now to change course!"This happens a lot. Player X was either:
This is where Richard Mulholland's earlier article was spot on. Think where you are going to be if the worst happens and the two nasties keep coming at you. The answer may be "eliminated." So in that case, you have nothing to lose. My response is to go for broke and take big risks that offer big returns (as opposed to goofy-style moves). Cause havoc.
But this is also where Richard and I differ slightly. He thinks that when a replacement comes in, the game is in a fluid situation similar to the start of the game. I disagree. The game already has a history, a record, a past. Relationships have been formed and even broken. That's a very different position to pre-S1901M. I say: exploit that past.
In conclusion, here are my two cardinal rules for replacement play: