Roma victor

Thursday, 3 June 2004 — 3:47pm | Board games

It appears I have won the first completed game of SU Webboard Diplomacy playing as Italy, with the domination of over half of Europe achieved by Fall 1908 – that is to say, a victory in sixteen moves. Italy, as Diplomacy players are generally aware, is popularly considered the least desirable country to play for a number of reasons: it cannot pick up more than one supply centre in the first year without seriously angering Austria or France, both of whom will become inevitable enemies; Venice’s adjacency to the Austrian home supply centre of Trieste makes the border the most volatile spot on the map in the opening phase, and often sets the stage for a early invasion of one by the other. Richard Sharp, in The Game of Diplomacy, writes in his chapter on the Boot: “In a high-standard game, I would put Italy’s chances of winning at zero, I’m afraid.”

The initial strategy was to ally with Austria, push out from the centre, invade France with England’s assistance and pull a sharp one-eighty eastward. The game turned out to be not quite that simple, due to the unexpected factor of Austria, Germany and Russia not consistently submitting orders. The French invasion – an uncommon opening strategy – was held back due to the uncertainty of Austria and the need to defend Venice, but still succeeded due to a feint that drew France (played by Ross) into a defensive position that forsook expansion into Iberia in Fall 1902, and the good fortune of a missed submission on his part.

With France out of the way, the three most active powers in the game, which also ended up being the last three standing – Italy, England, and Turkey – all benefited from the truancy of the competition. Without the central powers actively expanding, there was little in the way of checks and balances for the first few turns. England marched into Scandinavia and the Lowlands uncontested; Turkey, despite starting a turn late when Josh stepped in to replace a resigning participant, and was clearly in the lead by the end of 1904, but made the fatal mistake of missing a submission when he was entitled to three builds – a gaffe that, along with a failure one year later to practically knock me out of the game when he had the chance, may have compromised a Turkish victory.

Would an Italian victory have been possible in normative circumstances, where every player submitted orders on time every turn? Perhaps so, but it would hardly have come that easily. I got away with a lot of things in that game that, under balanced circumstances, would be next to impossible barring some extremely cunning negotiation tactics. A lot of bad moves on my part went unpunished: aside from leaving Naples wide open for Turkey that one turn, I conducted a risky double-cross against long-term ally England that was next to suicidal; thankfully, an Anglo-Turkish alliance never came into being.

Regardless, it does feel rewarding to pull something off so contrary to the statistical norm, handicaps and all. Right now there is an attempt to set up another Webboard game, this one on a Middle Eastern variant map. While I will not be participating in this round, I encourage you all to sign up. Diplomacy is a game that truly shines with maximal effort and participation.

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