by Alan Mennel

1898 is the most popular variant played in both the Dipsters and Diplomacy Direct Groups. So popular, in fact, that these two groups adopted 1898 as the game for their Variant Tournament this year.

I suppose that the intimidation factor that accompanies so many variants is missing in 1898, because this variant seems to be so much like standard Diplomacy on the surface. That is why I think that it is such a popular variant.

In reality, 1898 is much more dynamic than standard Diplomacy. From very early in the game, the players have considerably more flexibility in deciding which SCs to target, and more flexibility in building the types of units that will make up their forces.

The variant starts after 1898, with each power possessing one home supply center and one unit. Each country must capture its other home centers before it can build in them. The initial setup is:

Country Starting Unit
Austria Army Trieste
England Fleet Edinburgh
France Army Brest
Germany Army Kiel
Italy Army Naples
Russia Army StPetersburg
Turkey Army Smyrna

The victory conditions remain 18 centers.

1898 is different at the start of the game, of course. Although all powers have the advantage of building the exact types of units that they need to carry out their strategies from very early in the game, Austria and Russia seem to benefit most from this format over standard Diplomacy, since they are the best positioned for fast growth.

The doh! Factor:

In the first few game years, it becomes obvious that knowing how 1898 works gives a player a bit of an advantage.

If there is one cardinal rule in 1898, it is to own two (2) home supply centers at the end of the first year of play, and to own the rest of them by the end of the second year.

Players who are not fully acquainted with the 1898 variant may be tempted by those neutral centers that seldom present themselves in the standard game — but they should not take the bait. In the first year of play, Austria needs VIE or BUD, and must avoid VEN, RUM, and BUL at all costs; England needs LON (or LVP) and should avoid the temptation of NWY, DEN, HOL, or BEL in 1899. A similar argument may be made for the rest of the powers.

It actually hurts a player to be successful abroad if he does not have the home SCs to profit from his success. If a player is waiving a build in 1900 and building only one to get to three units when his closest neighbors are each building two to get to four units, that player already is in very, very serious trouble. And it is trouble that will grow geometrically as the game progresses.

I made this very error in my maiden effort as Austria in 1898. Wanting to harass my Turkish neighbor, in 1899 I tried for a gambit into BUL. In 1900 I waived one build. In 1901 the Sultan started to have his way with me and in 1904 I was waving auf Wiedersehen to the rest of the players.

Quite painfully I later dubbed this phenomenon as the doh! factor (does one home-center!). Without a doubt the doh! factor is the leading cause of early mortality in the 1898 variant.

I invite you to visit the Blood Sport Diplomacy site if you would like to study the 1898 Variant in real time and from the inside:

Blood Sport is the observation and discussion site for four of the games in the Dipsters Groupís current 1898 Variant Tournament. Players publish their strategies to the siteís message board in real time. As long as you are not a player in the tournament, you are welcome to join the discussion.

Alan Mennel

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.