I flew into DC the evening before the tournament with no idea of what to expect at a WDC event. I was both nervous and excited to meet people whose names I’d been hearing in passing since my interest in Diplomacy first began. That night I was alone in a new city for the first time. It was nearly midnight when the Uber dropped me off on the side of the road in a neighborhood where metal bars covered all the windows. I eventually found my AirBnB and made my way up to the third floor of a barren, but oddly comfortable, apartment building. I remember laying on my back and staring at the ceiling with a general feeling of contentedness. It felt like I was on an adventure; doing something I had wanted to do for a long time. I slept very well that night before my early start the next day.
I gathered with the other players before the morning board call on day one of the tournament eager to make a good first impression. Despite mine being a new face to the tournament scene, everybody was as friendly and welcoming as they could have been. I enjoyed engaging in as much small talk as I could, but before I knew it the first game had begun.
England – I can play England, I thought. Done it plenty in the past. Early negotiations with France and Germany seemed to go okay. Russia informed me that they were opening Mos – Stp. In light of this I chose my opening:
Lvp – Yor Lon – NTH Edi – NWG
Except I have never needed to write my orders out before. So far my Diplomacy experience has consisted of point and click online interfaces. I know the board and the acronyms like the back of my hand, but I did not know that there would be stress involved in writing out legible and accurate orders. In the process of scribbling I swapped Lvp and Edi in my head, making this my actual opening:
Lvp – NWG Lon – NTH Edi – Yor
And if this was not bad enough France sealed my fate with an opening into ENG, and Germany quickly made it clear that they would be capitalizing on this mistake as well. I resisted until 1906.
I did, however, learn some lessons from this game. And I did not make anymore mis-orders for the remainder of the tournament. Despite this, my next game ended in much the same way. It was my third game that was the more interesting of the bunch.
I found myself oddly excited to be playing Austria. I was resolved to the idea that my competitors were far more skilled than I, so I hoped to find a strong ally early on. Italy seemed like the logical choice. To show him my worth in the Spring 1901 I invited his army to move through Tri into Ser and help me in securing the Balkans against Turkey. Italy graciously agreed and indeed followed through with the planned maneuver. Of course, this play fooled fewer players on the board than it tipped off to our dastardly alliance. But I was happy enough to have a trustworthy ally and an easy center in Ser when it came time for the stab.
Unfortunately for me, the Italian statesmen were wise enough not to commit fully against the Turks. No clear Austrian advantage was to be had and there was an inkling of the appearance of a Western Triple brewing. At first I dismissed these claims as Turkish propaganda in the hopes for one more center, but it quickly became impossible to deny the threat as attempts to conceal it were all but dropped.
By now Russia was in dire straights; holding onto only Mos and Sev. Turkey and myself quickly came to terms with our new reality and let our previous conflicts slide away. Italy was in position to defend the Mediterranean. The following year was one of intense mobilization and repositioning to slow a German advance through Russia.
The year was 1906. Russia had all but collapsed, but the stalemate line was well established. The game was effectively over, but we remained under the constant bombardment of argument and negotiation from the Triple. Despite this, Turkey, Italy, and myself remained committed to hold the line. Draws were offered only to be vetoed again and again. It eventually got to the point where all my pieces were positioned as I intended, and I began to submit the same piece of paper with my support orders every turn.
It became something of a routine. Every turn something small would change on the western side of the board. So each of us would then be pulled into negotiations separately at first, and then altogether as the game went on. The change would be used to evidence good faith promises and claims they were planning to stab each other just so soon as we picked our sides. But we remained in the position of power and our response was very simple and always truthful. This turn we will hold the line.
Then something changed. A German center was suddenly lost to the English, and an army was positioned threateningly near a French center. We wondered if this was a ploy. Had the English player finally decided to follow through with a stab? To us he claimed so. But still he spent most of the next turn in long talks with Germany and France. Italy, Turkey, and myself assumed that this was a ploy to get us to weaken the line. But the next turn came, and though we did not move, neither Germany nor France tried to push against the stalemate. In fact, they began to reposition defensively against the English. This was beginning to look real.
And in fact it was. The English committed to their stab on both fronts, betting that our alliance would make a strong push from the east. However, some time ago we had decided that the best way to use our position would be to resist the temptation to trade risk for potential gains. We would make only sure moves. And to English dismay, that is what we did. Both France and Germany had pulled back some critical pieces to holding their parts of the line. Taking one step at a time we pushed forward. Making sure gains, but progress too slow to be of help to the English.
Recognizing the situation, Germany and France allied against England. They aimed to push him back as quickly as possible. But to do so they also had to assure their survival against our measured advance. They achieved this through careful negotiation and compromise. France and Germany provided us with a path of least resistance through their territory as they pushed with as much force as they could muster against the English.
The overall goal of the French-German alliance was to facilitate a stab within our Eastern Triple. However, by this point we had all come to the consensus that the best way to prevent this was to waive any build that was not completely necessary. Now it is worth mentioning that Italy, being the most charismatic of the alliance, had taken the de facto role of leader. Turkey and I were wary of him, but his strategies were sound and we were helpless to resist his charm. Naturally, the build waiving idea originated from him. So on the first turn after we had made the decision, we all had builds pending. We stood there around the table silently marking up our notes. I waived and submitted. But then I saw Italy writing. And then I saw Turkey writing. I looked at my pad in the center. My heart pounded as I wondered could I just grab it? No, I couldn’t. And I didn’t.
Order were revealed and sure enough I was surrounded by newly built Italian and Turkish armies in Ven and Con. My heart stopped. Right then and there I knew I was done for. The Germans had gotten what they wanted and I was no more than a year and half from elimination.
By all rights this should have been the end of the game for me. I talked to Italy and Turkey. Italy claimed to have built because he realized that there was a weakness in his defense against France in Pie. Turkey said that he only built because he saw Italy writing. Of course, I believed neither of them. They had not had much opportunity to talk without me present so far in the game, but they had some. It was not inconceivable that they had devised this horrible plan. But even in the case that they had and I was done for, with no armies within a move from Tri, there was not a lot I could do to resist. We submitted our orders for the season. I moved an army from Mun back to Tyr and another in Ven. But to my surprise Italy moved west. Our alliance was still strong.
Two turns later, when Italy moved his pieces even further away and opted not to build, I was presented with a unique opportunity of my own. Having left my armies in Vie and Tyr, I could have eliminated the Italian’s capacity to build within the year, and potentially taken the game as a solo. As I was considering this opportunity, Germany pointed it out to me independently. I decided against it because I was unsure if I could diplomatically handle Turkey after making such an aggressive move. In hindsight, this would have made for a very interesting game and as a rule I will make such a move given one in the future. After the game, Italy also took it upon himself to mention that the game would have gone very differently had our roles been reversed.
The game ended not long after this. Italy had navigated up the Atlantic and had pieces in England. France and Germany were both reduced to a single center, and with England eliminated each member of the eastern alliance was at eleven. We allowed the game to end there as part of a last minute negotiation. Most everybody was happy with the outcome and remained astonished at how enjoyable the game turned out to be despite the early stalemate.
And so my adventure came to an end. I enjoyed my experience in DC and will certainly be planning my next solo trip soon. This was my first ever WDC, and in fact, as a player in the online community it was my first ever experience playing face to face Diplomacy. And it was not a disappointment, but it is also no surprise that with two survivals and two eliminations I ended the tournament in 39th place. But I have not had my last tournament. I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to engage with the Diplomacy community. And in the meantime, I will practice to improve my game.