Over recent months I've been amassing a list of contacts of people interested in playing face-to-face Diplomacy in Auckland, New Zealand, with a view to forming The Auckland Diplomacy Club. Things started reaching a critical mass in June, with enough interest to get our first game scheduled. This was in no small measure due to the help from a couple of people who I would like to thank.
Bob Blanchett is an Aussie Dipper who set up the OzDip mailing list and the private ANZAC judge AUME. The mailing list is for the discussion and organisation of the hobby 'Down Under' (Australia and New Zealand primarily). The list has been invaluable in providing me with a network of contacts, and some wise veterans of the hobby in Australia to bounce ideas off. Thanks to "the Mafia" for their input and polite tips. AUME is a private judge that runs games that are restricted to ANZAC players only. This so we don't have the problem of not being awake at the same time as all the players stateside or in Europe. If anyone is interested in the mailing list, email Bob, or me we'd be happy to get you involved. A big thank you to Bob for the effort he's put in to set up both the list and the judge.
The OzDip list is can be subscribed to by sending mail to email@example.com with the message body "subscribe ozdip-l".
Secondly, Brendan Whyte, the publisher of Damn the Consequences also furnished me with a list of contacts that I think will form the core of the Auckland Diplomacy Club. A great zine, Brendan, particularly the quizzes! Thanks for your help too.
Now -- with those important formalities out of the way -- a review of our first meeting. We met in the lower common room at the University of Auckland on Sunday, June 29 and set up in a corner that the Strategists and Tacticians Guild were not using. (I am in negotiations at the moment with the Auckland Chess Club to share their facilities for future meetings.) Present at this auspicious occasion were Bevan and Leon Quidding, Andrew Ward, Daniel Hurley and his friend Simon, myself, and a friend of mine, Brian Wolstenholme, who was playing his first game of Diplomacy.
After drawing for countries, we got going. Playing France, I got three builds: Spain, Portugal, and Munich! Oops! Tall Poppy Syndrome followed. Austria (Andrew) and Italy (Brian) seemed to have agreed to co-operate, while Turkey was playing cautiously in the early going. Bevan (as Germany) was pushing for a Sealion opening, but I was keen to keep Daniel the Englander on my side and attack Germany. Leon (Russia) opened with A MOS-STP, F STP(sc)-FIN!, A WAR-GAL (and he got it!) and F SEV H. He followed this with F FIN-SWE, A STP-FIN!!! Then he built A STP!!!! I can safely say I've never seen that before.
Later, in discussion on the OzDip mailing list, Ken Sproat aked why the initial move from St. Petersburg to Finland.
That question was on my mind too. I'd grown up with the attitude "Give me one good reason not to go to Gulf of Bothnia." In fact, my attitude to Russian Openings, until Leon played this, was "nine times out of ten you order F STP(sc)-GOB, and on the tenth occasion, you go to the Gulf of Bothnia instead." Having spoken to Leon about his opening briefly though, I've been converted to his line of thinking. Not as a staple approach to Russian openings, but as a valid option to consider. His reasoning (possibly somewhat modified by my views by now) was this:
Often people ask, "Why go to Finland or Livonia, when everything you can achieve from there you can just as well achieve from the Gulf of Bothnia, and more?" Interestingly, the reason is the very "and more!" bit that was central to the questioner's reasoning! As Russia, one of you're objectives in the first year is to try and swing it that Germany does not bounce you in Sweden. I approached Germany before the Spring 1901 moves and said this: "If I go to the Gulf, you then have to worry about me refusing the bounce in Sweden and going for the Baltic instead and encouraging England to move F NTH-DEN at the same time, right? Well, if I go to Finland instead of the Gulf in the Spring, you're relieved of that implied security threat. In return, how about you either agree not to bounce me out of Sweden or even not take Denmark until the Fall (if England opens south or west; this will relieve my own concern about the bounce)?"Not a lot developed over the next couple of years, as England and France pressed Germany to the point of elimination, and Russia grew alarmingly. Brian, the newcomer, was making steady progress as Italy, and by the lunch break had eight units, holding Italy, Tunis, Spain, Portugal and Marseilles. Needless to say, I wasn't prospering as France. Faced with attack from the Italians, I made peace with Germany. About this time Austria imploded and a strong R/T alliance emerged. I tried to get a Western Triple together to hold off the threat from the east. Italy kept growing, and made an alliance with Germany. Yep, I was toast! Germany and Italy both grew, and when we had to call a time draw, Italy had 11 units and was holding a stalemate line (just) against the Turk (seven SC's) and the Russian (who had grown to nine SC's). Germany was holding the Russian north of Switzerland, with the help of England and my sole surviving French unit in Berlin.
Now I'm not saying that's going to work every time, and that you're never going to get burnt by Germany saying, "Yes, yes! Go to Finland!" and then bouncing you in Sweden anyway. Few openings, if any, are guaranteed in Diplomacy and this is no exception. It relies on you judging Germany right. If you think the offer of one fewer threat is likely to tickle the Kaiser's fancy I reckon this is a good tack to try.
Certainly if you pull it off it garners a good degree of trust with Germany, who I say (as a disciple of Stephen Agar) is your number one target in the midgame; sow the seeds of trust early, and reap the benefits of a well timed scything stab at harvest time.
What would have happened if the game had been played out was anyone's guess. Alliances had been very fluid -- probably a result of seven relatively unacquainted players. Germany had gotten me back for taking Munich in 1901, and Italy had finally realised the importance of heading east. Leon (the Russian player) was looking quite good for further expansion in Scandinavia, but was sure to be fiercely opposed by his brother and his German forces. Sultan Simon had flourished after a slow start, and was eagerly pressing Italy from Greece, the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, and Trieste, the two of them swapping the Ionian Sea between their equally equipped navies. We all had a ball, and we left looking forward to our second meeting at the end of July.
Anyone in the Auckland area keen to join us in our fledgling club is most welcome. We intend to get together every four weeks, and I hoped to have enough faces for two boards at our July meeting. Please don't hesitate to e-mail me for more details.
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