Retrofit is a map variant of the classic Diplomacy game, which has been designed to make the game more balanced for all nations while still playing as closely as possible to the original game.
As amazing as the base Diplomacy game is, it is not ideal when it comes to game balance:
Detailed information on this imbalance can be found in the following articles:
While many great variants have been created in order to fix this imbalance in the game (Fleet Rome, Milan, 1900, etc.), all of those variants still suffer from other balancing issues of their own. Retrofit attempts to consolidate the best ideas from all these aforementioned variants, and compile them into a single map with minimal changes made to the base Diplomacy game.
My Goal: Create a balanced version of the classic Diplomacy game, which plays true to the original.
How I achieved it: Strengthen Italy and Austria just enough in order to weaken France and Russia, without affecting the overall feel of the game.
Italy: Making Italy stronger using the 1900/Milan map was a primary objective. Doing so would not only make Italy stronger, but also help reduce France’s power. Italy was made stronger primarily by increasing its Diplomatic leverage over its neighbors, and secondarily by increasing the number of viable expansion strategies available to it. Therefore Italy’s strength was increased intangibly instead of directly, and this increased strength will manifest in later stages of the game. This was achieved by making it easier for Italy to attack France at the start of the game while making it slightly more difficult to invade Austria. These are the major effects that the changes will have:
Austria Making Austria more powerful was also a priority and this was largely achieved because of the changes made to Italy. Because Italy now has an increased chance of expanding westward, Austria will have increased freedom to fully push eastward and this freedom increases Austria’s power in the game. Overview of the changes and effects:
France France has been significantly weakened as a result of the map changes made to Italy. This is because of how Italy can expand westward more easily, compounded with Italy’s increased ability to coordinate joint attacks against the French. A tempered France is desirable for the purposes of this variant, given that France is by far the strongest power in the classic game. In order to avoid under-powering the French too much however, the French heartland has been made much more defensible by connecting Paris to Marseilles. Overview of changes and effects:
Turkey: Since Austria became significantly stronger in this map, it was important to ensure that Turkey was given measures to be able to cope with the increased threat. This objective was obtained with the addition of Macedonia as Turkey would have more attacking options against Austria and a reduced naval threat from the south as well. However, Macedonia also makes Turkey more vulnerable when being attack by land. Overview:
Russia: While Russia’s power has not been directly altered, it will now face tougher competition in the Balkans as a result of a stronger Austria and arguably a more aggressive Turkey. Overview:
Germany: Germany will benefit from the changes made in Retrofit. The combination of a weaker France and increased possibility of cooperation with Italy, helps give Germany a desirable increase in strength (since they perform below average in the base game). Most interestingly, it opens up a possibility of a French-German peace, providing Germany the option to attack Russia at the beginning of the game. Overview:
England: England will also benefit from the changes made in Retrofit. While on the one hand they will have an easier time dealing with a more preoccupied France, they will also be faced with the threat of a slightly stronger Germany. England will be faced with the decision to either go after the weaker power in the north or move against the stronger one. Overview:
With Retrofit, I hope to have created the standard variant which finally allows every nation to start out with sufficiently similar odds of winning the game.
This would be extremely useful in tournament settings or when players are playing for money, because no one would have to cross their fingers anymore, hoping to get France on the random draw and avoid getting Italy. This would also make the game more balanced for beginners who do not know how to effectively wield the Diplomatic pen for tricky nations like Italy and Austria.
This project was developed with the help and feedback of Josh Burton and Mario Huys, both of whom have mentored and guided me on the variant from start to finish. This variant would not exist without their help, advice, and direct contribution to almost every major aspect of this variant. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to Adam Silverman and Alex Hartl for their amazing contributions and suggestions that has helped shape how this variant turned out. I am extremely thankful of D Murphy for his awe-inspiring work in the artistic design of the Retrofit map which has made the map playable and printable. I also want to thank /u/CaptainMeme and /u/EconDetective (prominent members of the Reddit Diplomacy hobby) for their crucial suggestions and insights which has had a huge impact on how this variant turned out. Finally, I would also like to thank Baron Von (B. M.) Powell, as he provided the ideas and suggestions that helped get me started on this variant. Retrofit was completely inspired by Baron’s work on the 1900 variant and all the insightful articles he has written about it over the years. They are all respected members of the Diplomacy hobby, who are brilliant minds of the game. Many of them have also created successful variants of their own. I am grateful to every one of them for their hand in the creation of Retrofit.
Question: Isn’t Italy now weaker, not stronger?
Answer: While the argument can be made that Italy has been made weaker, by removing its direct access to Trieste, I still hold that Retrofit helps increase Italy’s power intangibly by a significant amount. I think the original map of Italy is one of the most criticized part of the base game map, because the Italian player had such limited options. I believe that's the reason why almost every single prominent 'classic style' variants (Fleet Rome, Milan, 1900) featured map changes or unit changes to Italy in order to address that issue. Italy’s weakness has been a major issue in Diplomacy and that is precisely the reason why there are so many variants out there for the sole purpose of strengthening Italy.
Retrofit’s map of Italy is very similar to 1900 and Milan’s map of Italy. 2015 Diplomacy World Champion, Toby Harris, said this about the Milan map variant: "(I) hope to see this as the standard map at f-5-f Dipcon!" He goes on to say "It opens up strategy and Diplomacy for all Great Powers and starts the game in a more balanced fashion for all seven players."
Like Milan, my version does not directly increase Italy's power (perhaps even hurts it even), but what it does do is give Italy more Diplomatic leverage and makes Italy more fun to play with. And that intangibly / indirectly makes Italy more powerful. This is because Italy's hand in alliance is perhaps the most crucial alliance in this whole game due to its central position. That is because:
Italy will be approached by almost every power in their surrounding regions for their cooperation. And holding this much diplomatic power carries a lot of weight. I believe Italy has been indirectly strengthened by the changes.
Question: Diplomacy is already balanced because of the ability to negotiate, or the general strategy to not let any one nation grow too large. So what’s the point of creating this variant?
Answer: The game of Diplomacy inherently balances itself out because of the factor of negotiation (diplomacy!). Moreover, advanced to expert players quickly strategize (or can be convinced), for example, that France is a bigger threat than Italy at the moment. This allows for powers such as Italy and Austria to still compete adequately against the more successful powers when being played by an expert player. However, the average Diplomacy player is not an expert of the game and therefore cannot usually overcome the disadvantages associated with nations such as Italy and Austria. I am creating this variant to help the average player specifically and I hope this variant would make the game more enjoyable for experts as well.
Question: Experts win tournaments all the time with Italy / Austria. So is there really a problem in balancing?
Answer: A true standard of balance can be attributed to a game where if 7 new players of equal skill level (with no prior knowledge of the game) sat down to play a game, then all 7 of them would have an equal chance of winning the game. As it stands, does Classic Diplomacy give all 7 players an equal chance at winning the game? The answer is absolutely not.
The statistics on this issue is clear-cut, Italy and Austria struggle at this game more than any other nation by a significant margin. It is abundantly clear that beginner to intermediate level players (who make up the bulk of the player base) struggle to find success when using those two nations. So clearly, these two nations are at a disadvantage from an objective game design point of view.
Yes, experts at Tournaments win a lot of games using Italy and Austria, but upon further consideration, their success is mostly attributable to the fact that Italy and Austria are often underestimated in tournament settings compared to nations like France or Russia. The experts bring their years of knowledge and experience to the game, and this external factor helps make the playing field more equal. While I understand that many people are happy with the game as it stands, I imagine many others want to play a game of Diplomacy with their friends, knowing that they have an equal chance at winning the game as the rest of them. While Retrofit does not provide an equal chance of winning to every nation by any means, it simply attempts to make the chances of winning comparatively more equal compared to the classic game.
Question: Is there a vector / blank map of Retrofit?
Answer: Yes, right here.