Are you ready to match wits with the Borgias and the Medicis? Eager to direct the military might of a recently unified Spain, or the surging Ottoman Empire? And do you want to do it all using your regular Diplomacy set?
If so, then Earle Ratcliffe and Michael Cuffaro's Renaissance variant is for you.
As implied by its name, the Renaissance variant is set in Europe during the period of the Renaissance (surprise!). The major countries of the time were not those of the early twentieth century, and the Great Powers in this variant are significantly different from those we're used to. Even so, it's a simple variant that uses the same rules and victory conditions as regular Diplomacy, with one simple change to the map and an alternative configuration of Great Powers. You can play it easily using a standard Diplomacy set, and it's even supported on the DPjudge.
The physical topography of the map is also similar. The only difference is that Switzerland, which is impassable in the standard game, is instead a neutral supply center. On the DPjudge, some of the supply centers are renamed to for historical accuracy's sake — for example, StPetersburg is called Novgorod, since the city of St Petersburg actually would not exist for another few centuries after 1454. However, in orders the DPjudge accepts either these new names or the regular ones. The DPjudge description provides a quick overview of these name changes.
Aside from Switzerland and these cosmetic alterations, there's no change to the standard board's land and sea provinces or supply centers. The real change in Renaissance is found in the Great Powers:
As you can see, there are still seven countries to play. However, they're pretty different from the standard game! They begin as follows (in the second column, home supply centers are underlined):
|Country||Home Territories||Starting Units|
|England||CHE, YOR, WAL,
|A CHE, F LON, F BRE|
|France||PIC, BRU, PAR,
BUR, AQU, MAR
|F BRU, A PAR, A MAR|
|RHE, BER, MUN,
SIL, BOH, TYR,
VIE, GEN, TUS
|F BER, A MUN, A VIE|
|Ottoman Turkey||SOF, CON, ANK,
SMY, ARM, SYR
|F SOF/ec, A CON,
F ANK, A SMY
|Poland-Lithuania||NOV, LVN, PRU, WAR,
GAL, UKR, SEV
|A NOV, A WAR, F SEV|
|Spain||LIS, MAD, NAP, APU||A LIS, F MAD/sc, F NAP|
|Venice||VEN, TRI, ALB, ATH||A VEN, A TRI, F ATH|
|(neutrals)||NWY, SWE, DEN, NET,
HAN, SWI, HUN, MOL,
SER, MUS, SCO, PAP, TUN
At first glance, these may seem like minor adjustments. However, they do result in a game that's substantially different from standard Diplomacy. Consider all these subtle but significant changes:
Changing Switzerland into a playable space makes a huge difference all on its own. Not only does Switzerland act as a fulcrum for the main stalemate line; it's also an important part of many other stalemate positions. While making it playable doesn't destroy those lines completely, it does mean that you need more units to hold them. This means it's much harder to secure a stalemate line at the eleventh hour.
Of course, the fact that Switzerland is itself a supply center means that a strict 17/17 split is no longer possible! At least one side of a stalemate must be an alliance, since the number of supply centers required for victory is still eighteen. A two-way draw under DIAS conditions is no longer an option; the smallest draw must have at least three partners.
To top it all off, the spread-out nature of the player countries in Renaissance means that several of them start off with home centers on either side of the main divide. In standard Diplomacy, only Russia actually has home centers on both sides of the stalemate line. In Renaissance, this feature is enjoyed by Poland-Lithuania, the Holy Roman Empire, and Spain. Furthermore, the two countries furthest from the stalemate line — England and Ottoman Turkey — begin with home centers closer to it than do the equivalent powers in regular Diplomacy.
Together, these factors mean that a genuine stalemate is more difficult to achieve on the Renaissance map. Each power has a greater chance of establishing and maintaining a strong presence across the main stalemate line; even if it doesn't, defenders will have a harder time securing that same line from their side.
In Renaissance, several factors make the division between sea power and land power more balanced for each country. You're likely to see a lot more dark blue armies and red fleets a lot earlier than you would expect in the regular game!
In standard Diplomacy, no fewer than six home supply centers are completely landlocked: Paris, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, and Moscow are all able to build only armies. In this variant, Moscow and Budapest are no longer home supply centers; but the bi-coastal areas of Madrid (SPA) and Sofia (BUL) are.
Every power in the variant has at least two coastal home supply centers, with the sole exception of the Holy Roman Empire, which has two landlocked home SCs and a single port — much like Austria in the standard game. But where Austria's port of Trieste is right next to a foreign home SC (Italy's Venice), the Empire's port in Berlin is two moves away from the nearest foreign unit in Warsaw. This means that even the Emperor can build fleets without too much trouble.
It's worth noting that England, which is an island in regular Diplomacy, does have a single home SC on the continent in BRE. This is not good history — it would be more accurate to put the third English home center in Belgium — but the variant designers decided to put it in Brest instead. Perhaps they wanted to give France a shot at grabbing the Netherlands, or to create possible friction between England and Spain, or to change at least one French home SC. In any case, the continental home SC lets England build armies directly in Europe without having to convoy them over from the Home Islands.
Finally, the supply centers are organized in a way that minimizes internal coordination, while maximizing friction with neighbors.
What do I mean? Well, consider the way the home supply centers are placed within each country in regular Diplomacy. Austria, Germany, and Turkey each have three home SCs that border on each other. This lets them transfer units between fronts quickly, and makes them stronger defensively because a unit in one home SC can support another, thus defending both. Italy and Russia have configurations where each home center is connected to at least one other. The most dispersed countries in regular Diplomacy are France and England, which each have one supply center (LON or MAR) isolated from the other two by empty land provinces.
In Renaissance, only Ottoman Turkey has contiguous SCs. Every other country has at least one isolated home SC. The Holy Roman Empire's Vienna is separated from its Berlin/Munich pair, while Venice's center in Athens is separate from Venice/Trieste. Spain's center in Naples is divided from Madrid/Lisbon by not one, but two sea spaces. The other three countries have no connected home centers at all. These empty spaces between home SCs makes their defense more difficult.
On the other hand, there's less space between the home supply centers of different countries. In regular Diplomacy, only Italy and Austria have the problem of having a home SC immediately next to another power's home SC: but in the Renaissance variant, every country except Poland-Lithuania has one or even two such borders! French home centers touch those of England and Spain; Venice's touch those of the HRE and Ottoman Turkey. This means that direct conflict between countries is likely to erupt sooner rather than later.
The placement of neutral centers also encourages conflict. In standard Diplomacy, it's entirely possible for the seven Great Powers to expand peacefully for the first year, each picking up the neutral centers that have come to be considered their 'natural' gains for 1901. In Renaissance, the situation is quite different. There are far fewer 'natural' first-year gains; most of the open neutrals can be contested by two or more countries, and others cannot be taken without potentially exposing a home center to attack.
As noted in the Variant Bank description of Renaissance, the creators took few liberties with history in the interest of making Renaissance a more playable variant. Of course, this is also true of standard Diplomacy — though maybe not quite to the same degree! If you're interested, the Variant Bank description includes some background information on each of the countries represented, including the historical inaccuracies in the map.
Some of the new countries have been dramatically transformed. Others look familiar and occupy the same general area of the board as their standard Diplomacy counterparts. Some general observations about each country appear below.
England enjoys many of the same advantages in this variant that it does in standard Diplomacy. It's still (mostly) an island, and continues to enjoy a corner position. However, there are some added bonuses, too! The third English home center is on the Continent, which gives the King the option of building armies there directly (though the King of France may not like that very much). Poland's northernmost unit is now an army, removing one potentially hostile fleet from the equation at game start. And the neutral supply center in Scotland is there for the taking.
It isn't all roses, however. Scotland may be guaranteed, but it's also the only neutral England is likely to claim without fighting someone else. Scandinavia is no longer the province of England; that northern Polish army can go to Norway on the very first move, shutting England out completely. The French fleet in Brussels can threaten the vital North Sea as well as the Channel, while the French army in Paris threatens Brest without being threated by the English fleet there in return.
Perhaps most significant of all, the existence of Spain means that England has a new neighbor who can be a valuable ally against France, or a terrible threat to England. That's quite a change!
France in Renaissance is not the powerhouse we know from the standard game. The neutrals in SPA and POR are now part of a foreign country, making France a central power surrounded by others. NET is the only neutral France can take easily; SWI and HAN may be contested by the Holy Roman Empire, and with two other neighbors to worry about the French King may not want to push too hard for them. France borders directly on the home centers of Spain (MAR borders on Madrid) and England (PAR borders on Brest), a headache all around!
Still, France does have potential. It continues to have home centers on both north and south coasts (BRU and MAR respectively), and open Switzerland represents an entirely new route for possible French expansion. In games on the DPjudge, the country has sometimes done very well — including one solo to date. It seems to be a bit like Austria in standard Diplomacy; if it can survive the early years and grow, it can prosper.
The Holy Roman Empire (or HRE, for short) seems to be another high-win, high-loss country, much like its Diplomacy counterpart, Gemany — and perhaps for many of the same reasons. It's a central power with many different routes to expand or be invaded through. The HRE has perhaps the greatest potential access to neutrals, being adjacent to the Balkans, Switzerland, and the five northern neutrals in Scandinavia and Hannover/Netherlands. It also has home centers on either side of the main stalemate line, and touches a foreign home center only in Venetian-held Trieste.
The relative isolation of Vienna from the HRE's other two centers can be a problem, especially since Venice and Ottoman Turkey are stronger in the area. Similarly, Switzerland being passable is a double-edged sword: it lets the HRE launch a westward or southward offensive more easily, but in can also suffer invasion from those directions more easily as well.
Overall, the HRE has plenty of options and faces plenty of dangers, making it a particularly enjoyable country to play.
You thought Turkey in regular Diplomacy was strong? You ain't seen nothin' yet!
Ottoman Turkey is, like its standard counterpart, a corner power, with all the defensive strength that implies. It starts with not three, but four units, including fleets on both coasts. These are equally matched by the Polish fleet in SEV and the Venetian fleet in ATH, but only if those two countries coordinate (and also only if they guess right!).
The main frustration that Sultans seem to encounter is in early expansion. Ottoman Turkey starts with no easy neutral gains; the placement of the Sofia fleet on the east coast means that it can only move to Moldavia or the Black Sea, and F SEV can counter either of these actions. And of course no army can march through SOF to SER or GRE until that fleet has moved first. This means that the Sultan's early game can be frustrating if he finds himself boxed in.
But if the genie manages to get out of that bottle, watch out! Ottoman Turkey enjoys all the advantages of regular Turkey, plus an extra home SC in a forward position, plus a more scattered opposition, plus an extra SC in Switzerland. In this variant it is a very strong country — perhaps the strongest of all!
Poland-Lithuania is very similar to Russia; the two main differences being that Moscow is now the neutral SC of Muscovy, and F STP/sc is instead an army in Novgorod. These are significant changes, but the real differences lie less in the configuration of Poland, and more in the changes to Poland's neighbors.
In the north, Norway and Sweden are far more accessible thanks to that northern army and England's lack of a F EDI. The HRE is also not likely to order F BER-BAL and bounce a Polish move to SWE in fall, so the Polish leader stands a good chance of locking up both NWY and SWE early in the game. Given that Poland is the only country in Renaissance that doesn't border on somebody else's home supply center, it seems that Poland has a very good chance of keeping peace with everyone for at least the first year.
Poland does have to deal with a strong neighbor in Ottoman Turkey; and the HRE too can be troublesome if the Emperor decides to expand northward or eastward. However, with an edge position and early growth, it seems to me that a competent Pole should be able to meet these challenges if they arise. To my surprise, the results so far show otherwise: Poland-Lithuania's best result to date has been a single 4-way draw, and the country has yet to win a solo.
The new country of Spain is perhaps the most intriguing addition. It has a corner position, but the third Spanish home SC in Naples is separated from Madrid by two sea spaces — nowhere else on the map is there a comparable distance between home SCs! This isolation can be a real problem; without Naples, Spanish expansion can be slowed considerably.
At game start, Spain has a decent chance of picking up Tunis and/or the Papal States if Venice doesn't go all-out to oppose it. After that, any growth has to come from a neighbor, and there's one obvious choice that may seem the most appealing one. France unfortunately blocks Spain's main landward route for expansion, making peaceful coexistence difficult. Not impossible, of course; but difficult. If France is the Austria of Renaissance, then Spain is Turkey.
Overall, Spain is strong defensively, but can have trouble growing. The distances it must cover in order to take eighteen centers are greater than for any other country but Ottoman Turkey.
Another intriguing addition that gives the variant its unique feel!
Like the HRE and France, Venice is a central power. It shares direct borders with Ottoman Turkey and the HRE, and may also clash early with Spain over the Papal States and Tunis. Although this surfeit of neighbors may prove dangerous, it does come with some opportunities. The Doge has access both to the Italian centers, and to the Balkan goldmine. Although Venice was historically a maritime power, in Renaissance it starts with two armies and only one fleet; and in the long term, expansion by land or by sea is equally feasible for the Serene Republic.
To date Venice has not soloed on the DPjudge. Other than that, its performance has been comparable to that of France or the HRE: a few draws, a few survivals, and many eliminations!
The variant offers lots of interesting changes and exciting new possibilities. But is it balanced?
From my comments on each of the countries, you can probably tell that I think some of them face greater challenges than others. When I first saw the variant, I thought Ottoman Turkey and Poland-Lithuania were clearly the strongest; the HRE, England, and Spain were probably in the middle of the pack, with England and Spain enjoying defensive strength and the HRE rapid expansion; and poor France and Venice were worst off. However, a closer analysis and a quick look at the DPjudge results so far indicate that my initial reaction may not have been entirely accurate…
As you may have noticed in my other article this issue, I believe it's a worthwhile exercise to count the closest eighteen centers for each power. I think that this provides a good idea of the options available to a country, and also reflects something of its natural strength.
I don't claim credit for this idea myself: it originally comes from Paul Windsor's article Geography is Destiny. In the "Swiftest Route to Victory" table at the beginning of the article, for each Great Power in standard Diplomacy Paul lists the centers closest to the country's home centers, counts the number of moves (or 'tempi') required to get to them, and compares the totals required to reach eighteen. Smaller numbers mean fewer moves, and thus faster victory. According to Paul's analysis, these numbers range from a high of 44 for England and Turkey, to a low of 29 for Russia.
What do we get if we do the same on the Renaissance map?
|Power||Centers Reachable In...||Total Moves|
|1 Move||2 Moves||3 Moves||4 Moves|
|England||Sco, Par||Mar, Mad, Lis, Bru, Nwy, Den, Net||Tun, Swi, Mun, Swe, Han, Nov||N/A||34
||Mad, Swi, Net
||Lon, Mun, Ven, Lis, Han, Sco, Nwy, Den
||(4 of 9) Che, Pap, Nap, Tun, Tri, Ber, Swe, Nov, Vie
|Han, Swi, Hun, Tri
||Mar, Par, Net, Bru, Den, Swe, War, Mol, Ven, Ser
||(1 of 9) Mad, Bre, Nwy, Nov, Mus, Sev, Pap, Bul, Ath
|Ath, Ser, Mol
||Sev, Hun, Tri
||Tun, Nap, Ven, Mus, Vie, War
||(2 of 6) Pap, Nov, Mar, Ber, Mun, Swi
||Swe, Ber, Mun, Vie, Hun, Ser, Bul, Ank, Con
||(4 of 9) Smy, Ath, Tri, Han, Den, Sco, Lon, Net, Bru
||Tun, Ven, Swi, Ath, Par, Bre
||(7 of 9) Lpl, Lon, Bru, Mun, Tri, Bul, Con, Smy, Ser
||Ser, Pap, Vie, Hun, Sof
||Swi, Mun, Mol, Con, Smy, Nap, Tun, Mar
||(2 of 6) Mad, Ber, Han, War, Sev, Ank
Note that Ottoman Turkey begins the game with four supply centers, and thus must only gain fourteen. All other powers start with three, and must grow by fifteen.
Here, the range is only from a low of 27 (Venice and HRE) to a high of 35 (Spain and Ottoman Turkey) — a difference of only 8, as compared to standard Diplomacy's fifteen. So as far as the swiftest route to victory is concerned, the Renaissance variant should be more balanced than the regular game!
These results also imply that Renaissance games should be faster than the standard game. However, this hasn't been the case so far. Results on the DPjudge to date have shown that most games end after roughly eleven game years (around 1465, the equivalent of 1912 in standard Diplomacy). The fastest games have ended in 1461 (comparable to 1908 — fast, but no faster than a short standard game), while the longest game lasted until 1471 (the equivalent of 1918).
As long as we're talking about DPjudge results — what about them? How have the countries performed so far?
The results in the table below represent seventeen games that have been played on the DPjudge:
Another game, renaissance_blind, ended in a solo for the HRE in 1461 with France, Spain, and Poland-Lithuania surviving. However, for this analysis, games with variant rules were not included.
Seventeen games is obviously far too small a sample size to be statistically significant, so I don't want to extrapolate too much from these numbers. And of course the final results of course don't always tell the full story: some of the draws shown could easily have ended in solos instead. Still, there are a few points worth looking at:
Going by these results, not all of my original predictions were accurate. I was right to think that Ottoman Turkey was strong, but I was totally off the mark about Poland-Lithuania. I also seem to have underestimated both England and France.
However, there has to be a lot more data before we can come to any real conclusions about the variant. Which means people have to play a lot more games. Which leads me to…
At first glance Renaissance seems very similar to the standard game; however, it actually plays very differently while still offering the kind of flexibility and variation that makes the regular game so much fun. The fact that it can be played so easily with a standard Diplomacy set only adds to its appeal.
So if you're looking for a variant that offers a different experience, that's convenient to play at home or on the DPjudge, and familiar enough that you don't have to memorize a new map from scratch, I encourage you to give Renaissance a shot!
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