The Editor and the Readership
Well, here we have enother Diplomatic Pouch mail bag. Once again, there were lots of letters waiting for me when I took this assignment on. I've tried to pick out some of the more interesting ones for publication.
However, before we get to that, in the last issue David Cohen tossed out this trivia question:
In Standard Diplomacy, what province on the board could possibly be occupied by more different units than any other in 1901?
We got a whole bunch of responces to this question, including quite a few wrong answers. Among the respondants who answered correctly were: John Troiano, Michael Zalar, Robert Cochran, Jason Whitby, Eugene Hung, Geoff Baker, Steve Araps, Gary Waines, Brendan Gau and Kevin Kacmarynski.
The correct answer is:
Denmark can be reached by ten different units. Kiel, Berlin, Munich, London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Paris, Marseilles, Warsaw and Moscow.
About half the answers we received were correct. The most common wrong answer was "Belgium with 9". Which is a pretty reasonable guess.
And as this is becoming a regular feature, here's a new one for you:
In Standard Diplomacy, what property to Vienna and Smyrna have uniquely in common?
Think you know the answer? Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org!
I am a great fan of face-to-face Diplomacy, disovered the Pouch a couple of months ago and had (email) fun ever since. I also read a lot of the literature on your site, but still I am wondering about one thing: why is the leader of Ausria-Hungary the Archduke?
How did it happen that in diplomacy circles, he became the figure everyone relates to? Becuae if we take the year 1901, Franz Ferdinand was admittedly the man of the future (although highly unpopular), but if we take the First World War, he was dead, as we know. Do you have any idea why itīs not the Emperor?
Manus Hand's response: I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed my my response, which is basically: "You're right! I never really thought about it! The persona adopted by most PBEM players is indeed the Archduke, who never ruled, rather than Franz Joseph, the actual leader of the country! I don't know why that is -- I hope the answer is not ignorance of history. I guess it's just become a tradition of sorts."Adam's response: Thanks for your prompt answer. I am not disappointed by your answer... by the way, I have often wondered if we Europeans feel different about Diplomacy than Americans? I would certainly be interested in the response. What I mean is that although of course I see Diplomacy as a game and the map as something like a complicated chessboard, I still relate emotionally to most of the provinces. And we are probably also more obsessed with history, which maybe (although I am not sure) affects our gaming. For example, in face-to-face games I have often seen the Entente emerging as early as 1901.
Maybe some of our readers have a thought about this?
All this nonsense about "Fear Factor".
Now we have a abstract system which provides incorrect results modified to provide results consistent with "accepted wisdom".
What have we learnt? Only one thing lies more than Diplomacy players, and they're statistics. When someone actually considers the implications of other people defending centres and implements that into the system then you might begin to come to useful conclusions, but I personally doubt it - by the time you reach anything approaching reality the maths will be so complex that you'd need to be doing a doctoral thesis on it to justify the numbercrunching.
*sigh* Like a horde of unwashed barbarians they descend upon my favorite game, spreading confusion and misdirection with their touch. Admirable qualities for a Diplomat, granted, but not in this context. The horde I refer to is that of the statisticians, those academics that attempt to reduce Diplomacy to an exercise in combinations, probabilities, and percentages.
For years, I've been force-fed international relations theories drawn from some of the most complex and sophisticated statistical analyses the social sciences have ever seen. And despite all the best efforts of the mathematical geniuses that devise them, these theories often turn out to be remarkably poor predictors of international relations. Why? Because international relations is rife with unpredictable variables, and Diplomacy only slightly less so.
The practice of studying statistics of past Diplomacy games, while useful to a small degree, is a threat to sound strategy and tactics everywhere. There are three major reasons why this is so:
A - There is no single best route to victory for any country
in the game.
B - Just like in real life, you can't assume that other players will make the most rational move (if such a thing as "the most rational move" in Diplomacy could be predicted anyway)
C - There is an element of luck to Diplomacy, certain times when simply outguessing your opponent's next move will result in an advantage.
Knowing that Germany builds a fleet at the end of 1901 approximately X% of the time is no more useful (probably less) than knowing that your opponent burned his toast this morning, and is now in an antagonistic mood. Because statistics aren't going to tell you if that burned toast has influenced their behaviour. In fact, beyond the opening moves, unless you have some useful data about your particular opponent, statistics will be fairly worthless, because they don't account for the most distinctive element of this game, the negotiations and flexibility of alliances that make each round of Diplomacy unique.
The best advice I have heard in Diplomacy is to keep talking to everyone, all the time. It's all good intel, even if every single one of them lies to you in reply. Far better to study the patterns in their own behaviour than to study trends in movement by all players of that country. In Diplomacy, you're not playing against Germany, England, or Russia. You're playing against the Peter, Paul, or Mary behind them. So until you can gather some useful statistics about those people, there's not much purpose in bothering with statistics at all.
I have already encountered the inability to order a syntactically correct but infeasible order, desired for giving a neighbor a hint, but the Judge wouldn't allow the order to stand, which was frustrating.
All of which is to say I agree with you that Judges ought to check syntax, and resolve, but not check feasibility.
Simon Szykman's response:
Thanks for the feedback. Since you read the article, you know that I share the same opinion. Even though the article on Communication in No-Press Diplomacy is not a recent one, I still get mail about it periodically. Since they're usually short messages, I generally don't include them in new Pouch Deposits, but for record, people almost always feel the same way you do.
Thanks for the message!
Totally agree with your post about grudges, and have some more to add. Too often people focus their efforts on revenge, supposing that they will find satisfaction. Often grudge play merely facilitates the players own destruction, because their efforts become focused towards this one task, making them predictable, and predictability in Diplomacy is a terrible weakness.
Simon Szykman's response: I agree completely.
I think the most common type of grudge play, is when the victim believes the stab to be a foolish one, (otherwise they would have expected it and been prepared) and seeks to clarify this for the stabber, by attempting to bring about the outcome they had prophesized to be a result of the stab in question. In a sense, they seek an admittal that the stab was foolish, and to reassur themselves that their judgement was good. If victim and traitor die in exactly the way warned by the victim, the victim can avoid taking responsibility for the outcome, and instead place the blame on the stabbee.
Simon Szykman's response: Yes... as if to say "If you hadn't stabbed me, this would not have happened to you, or to me."
Although I believe this to often be what motivates the victim into grudge play, I have yet to hear of a case where grudge play achieved it's objectives of an admittal of error, and reassurance of the victim's competence.
Simon Szykman's response: Ah, but this is where human psychology comes in. People often feel better when they can point to a situation and and tell them that it is their fault. You could argue that they would like that person to admit that they were wrong, but even if the other person admits nothing, human nature is such that the accuser still feels better being able to assign the blame to somebody else.
If satisfaction came only from the admission of fault by the other person, then people who get into a grudge style of play would eventually drop that style when it failed to get them the satisfaction (admission) they wanted. But in reality, some satisfaction comes just from pointing the finger elsewhere, even without an admission of fault. So even though it is true, as you say, that grudge play does not result in an admission of error, that fact does not always dissuade people from playing that way.
In my last email game, I took over Austria in a mercy position. EG were just finishing up F, and had just stabbed R, interrupting IR invasion of A. I held Trieste, Vienna and Serbia, if I recall correctly. Pointing out the EG threat, IRA formed an alliance, and Russia withdrew from Budapest. Arguing that we should crush Turkey, in order to focus on EG with a secure rear, I was soon set to take Greece, and sent an army from Trieste toward Warsaw to help defend Russia. I was the victim of what I considered a silly stab, as Italy took the opportunity to invade Trieste. Russia collapsed as I withdrew to defend homeland, but I never ceased to send polite press to Italy attempting reconciliation, nor did I have any intention of betraying Italy, as without a fleet of my own, I was dependent on the Italian fleet to hold the English out of the Mediterranean. However, all my press was ignored by Italy, and I turned to Germany, aiding in the destruction of Russia (while secretly! ! giving Turkey information to make the task difficult), while turning the loss of my homelands into a slow erosion. When EG became large enough that the possibility of anyone else achieving a victory was impossible, and Italy was too busy defending against England to have any prospect of making gains in the Balkans, a new alliance was formed between ITA, an alliance possible only because I do not think would have been possible had I adopted grudge play against Italy. I sent press to EG describing a stalemate line that ITA could set up at will, and additional press showing our mutual willingness to establish such a stalemate line. The game ended in a 5 way draw, of which I was the only 1 SC member. Furthermore, in the EOG, Italy stated that he believed he had made a mistake in stabbing Austria, and had been motivated by simple jealousy of the fact that Austria was about to reach 5 SCs, (1 more than Italy) only a few years after being half the size of Italy with only 2.
For me, this was an immensely satisfying game, despite what I considered to be a stupid stab eliminating any hope of a solo. I do not think that grudge play could ever lead to the same sense of satisfaction at games end.
Simon Szykman's response: Interesting story. And part of it brings up another point that I had not made before, which is that your style of play affects other peoples' perceptions of you, and should a game ever reach the point where a realignment of alliances is necessary, I think people will be more willing to work if you have played "rationally" as opposed to playing in a way that shows you are only committed to revenge for the past. If I see somebody playing grudge-style in a game, I see that as a liability and as a result, I am less likely to work with that person if circumstances are such that I feel I have a choice.
I enjoyed your article, but feel the need to make a few points.
Firstly, you seem to be intimating that not holding grudges is the "natural" or "best" way to play Diplomacy. I'm not sure I agree completely.
Simon Szykman's response: That paraphrasing leaves out part of the point I was making. I never said that players should never want to have revenge for being stabbed. What I did say was that players should not let a grudge cause them to act in a way other than what is in their best interests.
The very fact that players vary dramatically in their reactions to stabs goes a long way towards explaining the enjoyment and freshness I get from each game. Not knowing quite how my ally will react when I pinch one of his vacant SC's is something I always await with trepidation. If I knew in advance he'd take the "correct" approach and say "Darn it. Now what am I going to do? Oh well, it's just a game, fancy supporting me into Munich?" would take some of the fun out of it. Diplomacy should be a fast, ever-changing game, never played the same way twice.
Simon Szykman's response: My tongue-in-cheek answer is that just because *you* enjoy not knowing what somebody will do when you stab them, that doesn't mean that they are playing well by having an irrational reaction. It doesn't sound like you are commenting on my definition of logical play, it sounds like you are saying that part of what you enjoy is not knowing whether or not somebody's response to your stab will be rational... which is fine.
More seriously, I would not say that not holding grudges will make people completely predictable. Even if you know somebody will not have an irrational reaction, it doesn't mean that you know what they will do, since there are potentially many alternatives that are reasonable ones.
Secondly, I'm not sure that in the long run, the "Non-Grudge" approach is even possible for humans. Imagine if my game-long ally stabs me for one measly SC and at the same time helps my game-long enemy (who just happens to be a really annoying character - you know the sort) to three of my SC's. Then my former ally stops talking and the really annoying guy starts crowing. If I don't get a little miffed about that, then I'm really not putting enough into the game.
Simon Szykman's response: There's nothing wrong with getting miffed, or having an even stronger reaction than that. But if one's reaction is to do things that are counter to his or her long-term interests just because one is angry, then I would argue that that person is not playing their best.
As to whether non-grudge play is possible for humans, that's an entirely different question. I have no doubt that some people are incapable of it. In real life, the desire for revenge can be a strong motivator because it can be hard for the rational part of one's mind to dominate over reactions that are driven by strong emotions. But Diplomacy is, after all, just a game. The desire for revenge can be as much of a motivator as an initial gut reaction, but since everyone is, after all, playing because they want to win, they may be able to suppress those gut reactions when they become aware that something may be driving them in a direction that is counter to their best interests. My hope was that an article about grudges would give some people awareness of the issue, and something to think about when deciding how to react next time they get stabbed.
Yes it's just a game, but if it doesn't make you react emotionally as well as intellectually, then why play? I say get mad and enjoy it. Play the situation as well as you can, obviously, don't commit suicide, but I believe revenge is a valid motive for a particular strategy, especially when other players recognize that is what you are doing, it gives them confidence that you mean what you say.
Simon Szykman's response: Okay, I'll grant you that one. I certainly would not want somebody to impose a change in style on themselves that killed the fun of the game. It is perfectly reasonable for letting yourself get into the spirit of the game (anger and all) to be part of the fun of the game.
Finally, In a long-term sense (whether in one game or over many games) getting a reputation as a "Non-Grudger" either as a player or as a country can lead to repeat stabbings.
Simon Szykman's response: On this I disagree. When you play, if you are in a position to consider stabbing somebody, how much do you know about the reputation of how your prospective target reacts to getting stabbed? Unless you play in a small group, not too much.
Secondly, to whatever extent reputation does matter, I think that reputation as a good or bad player matters more when people are weighing an opportunity to stab an ally. My thesis is that getting away from a grudge-driven style of play can help improve somebody's gameplay. In other words, I think that the reputation of the quality of a player's gameplay will matter more than their reputation related to revenge and grudges.
Lastly, I think that a reputation as a grudger can be equally bad. I can think of one person in particular whom I have run into at conventions who I would not want to ally with because I don't think he plays in a rational way, and I find that a dangerous trait to have in an ally. My opinion is due in part, though not entirely, to how I've seen him play after being stabbed.
If I play in a tournament and accept all stabbings with equanamity, I believe I'm more likely to get stabbed again in the second round than say a player who went down and took his stabber with him. Yes that's meta-gaming, but it can work within one game as well. If you are stabbed in a game, it is often best to ensure you punish the stabber if at all possible, even at the expense of your "best" tactical interests to make it less likely you'll be stabbed again. Get a reputation as someone who fights back, and you'll be left alone in favour of those who say "Oh well, it's just a game, now what is my best prospect from this position." Dip players are like wolves, they'll pick on the weakest and leave the fighters alone.
Simon Szykman's response: Several of my previous comments apply again here. First, a reputation as a quality player will usually take precedence over reputation as stab victim (either a grudge-holding fighter or a non-grudge holder). I've been at tournaments, and after the first round you tend to hear about who won or had good finishes in round 1. People don't usually bother discussing whether stab victims held grudges or not. And to whatever extend people do establish a reputation in how they react, as I also said above, being bent on revenge regardless of cost can also have the adverse effect of giving you a reputation as a loose cannon, and that can be a bad thing when it comes to people being willing to ally with you in the future.
Lastly, both of your previous statements seem to be implying that I am advocating that when people get stabbed, they just take it lying down without fighting back. This is not at all true. In some cases, fighting back is most certainly in your best interest. My point is that putting the goal of revenge above everything else can result in doing things that are not in one's best interest, or not doing things that are in one's best interest.
Personally I feel it's more in the spirit of the game (and more fun) to go down fighting for a hopeless yet noble cause (ie revenge :-)) than to hang around on one SC for years hoping to squeeze into a dull 5-way draw because you're sat on yet another stalemate line (Hurrah! half a HOF point!)
Simon Szykman's response: I do not mean to say that I never go down fighting... it's happened plenty of times. There are times when I don't feel that I have any better alternative, and in those cases, I fight to the death. But the issue is that I consider whether it is in my best interest to do so before doing so. Some players don't. Some players fight out of spite, bent on revenge, and refuse to consider any alternatives that require a mending of the rift with an ex-ally regardless of circumstance. I am not saying you are that type of player, but that's the kind of player my article was aimed at.Besides who knows where you're deathseeking charge may lead you? You just might get lucky and grab a few of your new enemy's pick up a new ally to help you defeat your stabber and get you back on your feet. Someone who figures he can make good use of your beserker tendencies.
As an iside, my personal style is that I don't care about ranking points. My goal pushing for that draw, when I do so, is not for the points but to not lose.
Simon Szykman's response: You can always come up with "what if" scenarios. What you describe is not beyond the realm of possibility, but it surely is not the likely outcome of retaliatory, revenge-driven "beserker tendencies".
In terms of country, it's arguable that any Italian who stabs an Austrian early on, or any Austrian who stabs a German early on needs to be taught a lesson. Central Power squabbles early on are generally mutually-destructive for both combatants. If I was playing a stabbee in this situation, and knowing I'm going down anyway I'd hit Italy/Austria with everything I had rather than try to fend off the other surrounding wolves. In most cases, if I do it well enough, I've as much chance of surviving than staying put and it shows the rest of the board what I'm capable of if angered. People take more notice of you if you hit rather than hold.
Simon Szykman's response: Once again, I am really not addressing situations where you know you are going down anyway. When I am convinced I am going down for sure, I do whatever I can to hurt somebody who stabbed me and to make sure that they don't profit (or better yet suffer) for it. The issue is whether a desire for revenge causes somebody to disregard better alternatives. If there are no better alternatives, then revenge is as good a motivation as any for how to order your units.
I do agree there's a time for dropping grudges, gritting your teeth and smiling at Mr Stab. But there's plenty of other times where the "sensible" option is leaping naked into the thronging melee swinging a large piece of lead pipe and hollering the Carmina Burana at the top of your lungs.
Simon Szykman's response: Okay, we finally agree on the same point! There are definitely times for both reactions. I think that there are some people (again, not necessarily referring to you) who could benefit from considering dropping the grudge more often than they do.
Thanks very much for the thought-provoking reply!
P.S to all, Love the Zine, keep up the good work.
I've been playing diplomacy with the same group of friends for several years by telehone (a variant not mentioned on your website, but very plesent, although expensive). We we were wondering about a certain adjustment to the map, and if somebody got any experience with it.
We thought about extendending the map to the south, joining the north coast of Africa to the board. Gibraltar would be passable for an army (which could walk from Spa-NAf-Tun and from Tun to Lybia to Egypt (SC) to Syr. It disturbes the balances a little bit, gives Italy more offensive power, makes Turkey a little bit more vunarable an threatens France dominance in Spain and Portugal. Anybody ever tried it? Any good or bad experiencs?
I found your approach interesting. I have one question/comment. On choosing the amount of pts a player's rating can change (you use the 5-15% range based on tournament size), I was curious if you considered a more complex approach. Such as, weighing the average rating of all players in the tournament with/without taking into account the standard deviation, etc...
I currenlty have a rating system for the Sail Ho! variant which, unlike your system, is based on individual games. Nevertheless, the system weighs each game based on the ratings (i.e. abilities) of the players in the game. Thus, winning a game among players who are rated much better than you increases your rating more than winning a game among players much weaker than you. I wonder if you could adapt this approach based on the abilities (i.e. ratings) of the actual players in the tournament?
Matt Shields' response: I'm interested in this, and eventually I plan to start doing this, however, I'm betting that it won't effect the ratings as much as you think it will. Tournaments usually are pretty balanced in terms of the numbers of good/average/poor (or new) players, but clearly such a change wouldn't hurt anything.
Lastly, I wonder if the Sail Ho! Tournament would qualify for the Tournament Ratings system.
Matt Shields' response: Well, not right now, because this rating system is only intended for Face to Face Diplomacy events. I'm not including any email in there. Having played alot of FTF and Email both (and enjoying both) I believe that they are very different games, and I think rating the two together is comparing apples and oranges.
I'm also rating only tournaments and not individual games (although I do intend to eventually develop a database of games, I probably won't rate them). The reason for this is that because each tournament is scored differently, it rewards different kinds of play. When you rate Diplomacy games, you are imposing one scoring system on all games, even though they might have been played under a different one. The North American Diplomacy Federation's Rating system gets away with this because it only looks at North American games, and ours all fairly similar. But many European games are played VERY differently, and again you just can't compare the two.
I read your article on the new western triple alliance. Currenty I play in the flatslice game on USIN as Germany. I want to try this opening and proposed it to England and France.
I have however my doubts about the opening, especially since it opens up Germanany completely for an coordinated Austrian -Italian attack. Munich is left without any defense. If Italy moves to Tyr and Austria moves for what ever reason to Boh. Munich is lost.
Do you have any new brilliant ideas about this problem, appart from doing the needed diploming stuff. And when diploming how should I approach each of those countries?
Simon Szykman's response: To be honest, I personally wouldn't worry about that. A 1901 coordinated attack on Germany by Italy and Austria is a very uncommon opening strategy for Italy and Austria.
I have only had a chance to try this opening once, as France. In this situation, everything went fine until Germany got hung up trying to get past Moscow. German momentum stalled, Germany lost Moscow, and England stabbed him. If Germany had managed to get past Moscow to gain his next supply center, he would have had a better defensive position and would not have been as open to getting stabbed.
While the opening does keep E/F/G safe from one another in the first year or two, this game revealed a more subtle weakness of the opening... that after the first couple of years Germany's position is hard to defend against a potential stab, while England is least likely to be stabbed. I'd say that the opening puts Germany at a disadvantage if Germany can't get past Moscow.
Thanks for the message!
I read your article on the Western Alliance with great interest. I've just won my first e-mail game as England and started another one as Germany on Dip2000: "Good as Gold", gamesmastered by Mark Stretch. I've got the other two to agree to the strategy - they seem quite taken with it, actually. Richard Orme, playing England, says he's seen it clean up the board several times. One point he makes, and that I can bear out from my last game: Turkey is one key (not necessarily the key) to anyone from the Western Alliance winning the game, as I suppose England is to anyone from the eastern half of the board.
Simon Szykman's response: The short response is: I agree. Since my original article was written before I'd had a chance to try out the opening, I can elaborate in a longer response with a bit more of an analysis.
In the one game where I did get a chance to try out the Western Triple (as France), Germany got stopped at Warsaw, could not push past it, and then got knocked out. This happened because Italy, Austria, Russia and Turkey spotted the Western Triple, and quickly allied so that they could cooperate in responding to the threat. In some sense, I would say that all four of these other powers (AIRT) are important to the success of the Western Triple.
Among the four, I would say that Turkey and Austria are the two most critical ones, because they are the ones who most affect the progress of the Triple in the center of the map in the years beyond the opening itself. Actually, Russia is equally important to slowing or stopping the Triple, but since Russia is being attacked from the West and from the North, there is no question that Russia will do whatever possible to stop the Triple. In other words, Russia's role is important, but there's really no question about how Russia will respond, whereas the actions of Austria and Turkey are less certain. Italy is not irrelevant either, but the main difference is that if the Eastern powers ally, more coordination is needed to slow down the Triple in the middle of the board.
From the perspective of importance, I think Turkey and Austria are equally important. But if you view Turkey and Austria as being keys to an Eastern Alliance stopping the Triple, then you can also view breaking the Eastern Alliance as a key to success of the Western Triple. If you look at the problem as being one in which the Western Triple wants to prevent or break an Eastern Alliance, then I think that Turkey probably is the key, because I think it is more likely that a Western power will be able to convince Turkey to defect from the Eastern Alliance than any other power. (This may well have been what Richard Orme meant when he said that Turkey was the key.) Austria and Italy stand to be overrun if they drop their guard, whereas Turkey may stand to gain if either Italy or Austria get overrun, since a weaker neighbor who is under attack is a good opportunity for growth for Turkey.
One slight worry is the article by Goff on the needless bust-ups between Russia and Germany, in which he disparages this alliance as "just E/F in big trousers". Not that that'll stop me - I'm trusting to my diplomatic skills to keep my head up!
Simon Szykman's response: Your message originally came to me a while ago... how did things go with the opening?Anselm Kersten's response: I'm afraid I've got bad news as far as this alliance goes. It fell apart, due to the much-vaunted Richard Orme going his own way and trying to take me out. He obviously preferred opportunism over long-term strategy, and he's paying for it now, although I've been squashed into being a good boy (ie. puppet) of a very firm Russian-Austrian alliance against England. Pity - I was really looking forward to exploring the ramifications of this strategy, but it'll have to wait till another game. Meanwhile, I'll keep your message on file for when that happens.Simon Szykman's response: Too bad things didn't work out. I agree that what England does is his choice, but given that a stab by England also led to the Triple falling apart in the game I played in, I think this points to a weakness in the opening. With England not having much of a front with the Eastern powers, and England's allies not having a well-defended rear, I think it's leaves a bit too much of an opportunity for an English stab. While I still think the the opening itself is a powerful one in principle, I think it needs a bit of rework to make a stab less easy for England.
I hadn't done enough thinking about the other side of the board before I embarked on this alliance at the beginning of the game, which is why your thoughts are so helpful.
Interestingly, no-one seems to have cottoned on to this alliance in the three or so seasons that it ran, despite the fact that all of our units were quite obviously running away from each other. They did suspect, but I think we managed to put them off the scent by astute diplomacy, although I'm not even going to try to find this out until it's time for end-game statements!Simon Szykman's response: I think astute diplomacy is important. In the case of my game, somebody else had read my article and spotted it right away. That'll teach me to publish an idea before trying it!