We would, alas, never get the time to explore all our options. Before long Fitchett rushed back into the room, declaring that our time was nearly up. The Game Master had informed him that he and the game's players would be returning to their seats before the clock struck again, because he had a schedule to keep. Some of the players had already gotten up from their chairs, eager to continue.
My spirits low, I was ready to admit defeat. Holmes, however, simply continued to pull from his pipe. After a brief pause spent in thought, he began to chuckle. After a short time, his chuckle grew into a full-throated laugh. For a moment I thought that my friend had left his senses.
'Holmes!' I exclaimed, 'Why do you laugh so? These men's livelihood are in jeopardy if we fail. Which we are bound to do, since we did not fulfil all the conditions. There is still a gap in our chain, and even though it is a single space I see no way to fill this gap without letting at least one other power survive.'
Remaining fast in his seat, eventually Holmes reined in his laughter then said, 'Fitchett, my good man: the doctor and I are most grateful for the assistance that you and Mr Crenshaw have provided during our efforts this afternoon. You may now safely wean the gentlemen in the dining room from the teat of complimentary cocktails. They may return to this hall at their chosen time, for here they will find their game-board awaiting them, ready for the two survivors to continue play, their pieces properly positioned.'
When Fitchett had once again left the room, Holmes looked at me and, as I was still trembling, he spoke to me softly.
'You see, my dear Watson, we may have assumed too much. We were informed that each piece neighbors exactly two other pieces. With that we have naturally sought to construct a single, continuous chain. But did we not perhaps jump to a false conclusion there? What if, indeed, there are two such loops, each in itself unbroken, each independent of the other, at least one space apart where they are closest to each other?'
With that, Holmes rose and walked again to the table. Admiring the board, he again started rearranging the pieces, and quite soon a broad smile came to my face.
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'It is perfect, isn't it?' I said admiringly. 'Every unit has found in its own spot in either chain, as far away from home as possible, with neighbors of different colors all around. Is there even one that could trade places with another one?'
'There is,' said Holmes. 'Take for example the Austrian and Italian fleets. Either could have moved to the Eastern Med if the other covered the Ionian. As we have discussed before, to mask this fact let us remove the units of the eliminated powers as per the club house rules.'
Chains (stripped), After Fall 1902
'Should we not leave the room now?' I urged my friend. 'The game has been restored to its original position. Our presence here is no longer warranted.'
Holmes sat pensively for a moment before he replied. 'No, Watson. It is better that we stay here. I cannot convince myself that this solution isn't in a way too perfect. Where are the two units of the same power in succession? Even Kiel and Berlin are now different. Did they play suboptimally or was there some other detail that has escaped our or Crenshaw's attention? Let us stay around to find out, and take the blame if need be, before Fitchett does.'
The first person to enter the room was the Game Master, with Fitchett opening the door for him. He must have been as surprised to see us as we were to see him, for we both immediately recognized him as Sir Newt Isacsson, professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University and current chair of the Royal Society, the esteemed institute that assembled the most brilliant scientific minds of the British Empire. His square, beardless face, surrounded by a crest of long curly hair, remained undisturbed as he took us in.
'Mr Holmes, Dr Watson, what a surprise to find you in this room. What brings you here?'
'Prof. Isacsson, please excuse this little inconvenience. It had come to my attention that a most fascinating game was in progress with only two powers surviving after a mere two years. I could not help but to invite myself and Dr Watson and satisfy my curiosity in the most direct way.'
'I'm honored that you would be so interested in my little experiment. For a moment there though I thought I was in the wrong room. What happened to the pieces of the eliminated powers?' he asked, looking straight at Fitchett.
The room attendant answered without hesitation. 'As per our Club rules, they were taken off the board while the gentlemen were taking their break.'
'Ah, yes, so unfortunate. I should have informed you. We are intending to play on with all players keeping their units.'
Fitchett and I looked puzzled, but Holmes immediately understood. 'Guerrilla rules. Eliminated players do not need to disband their units, but they have no control over them for the time being. They hold in place and will retreat if attacked, even if the attack is under strength, but not if there's a stand-off. That means that they can easily be pushed around, simply by moving a unit into their space. Note though that they are allowed to retreat in the direction of the attacker, reflecting the guerrilla's ability to disappear into the terrain and re-appear behind one's back. If they retreat such that they have a unit in a centre by the end of a Fall turn, they are revived and must disband any excess units as per standard rules.'
'Holmes, but where…', I started.
'My brother Mycroft happens to also be a member himself of the Royal Society. He had mentioned that such a variant was being discussed among members to simulate the typical conflicts that our Empire currently faces. Do you also play with Insurgency rules?'
'Yes, we do. If after the Spring turn any home centre is open, in Summer the guerrilla player may choose to disband all of his units and build new ones in any open home centre, irrespective of the number of units he had before. A home centre into which he had just retreated one of his own units, is still considered open and thus that unit may be disbanded and replaced by another unit of different type or on another coast. The home centres, reoccupied as they are by these Summertime builds, however, do not yet change hands. In Fall the player may order his own units, but if they all end up outside his own home centres or any other centres, his units immediately drop from his control again and hold in place per the Guerrilla rule that you so eloquently summarized.'
'I had no idea, Sir,' Fitchett lamented. 'You can be assured that we will update our Club rules to avoid such a future embarassment. Mr Holmes, you have studied the board. Perhaps you could help to restore the missing pieces?'
Prof. Isacsson waived away the offer, stating: 'No, it was my mistake for not informing you. I will ask my students to do it. Hopefully they are sober enough to recall the position.'
And with that, he left the room on his way back to the dining room, accompanied by an effusively apologetic Fitchett.
Some time passed, but then finally the door opened and in came a disheveled young man with baggy eyes and a lipless smile, as if fighting back some bitter memories. He immediately took the chair that he was offered, and accepted the glass of water that I held out. He took a sip, but the taste must not have pleased him much. Still, it revived his senses sufficiently to address us.
'The Professor needs to excuse himself for the moment,' Fitchett said. 'His students are, alas, in no proper condition to continue the game. He is now lecturing them on proper societal behavior. He has however sent his most vigorous student to assist in reconstituting the board to its proper position.'
'Thank you, Mr Fitchett. The name is Franklin Bungeyman, physics student. I'm playing France. Let me see…'
With some obvious effort he directed his gaze to the board. His eyes became wider as he studied the pieces on the board.
'Mssrs, what happened to the board? Did it get a shaking? I will admit that I do not remember now the position of every single unit, but I am most positive that there had to be a French army in Spain. Yet on this board it has walked over to Belgium.'
I was completely taken aback. The game was up. We would have to admit our failure. Holmes, however, played it diplomatically.
'A shaking, yes. Tell me, how many armies did you build in 1901?'
'And how many armies did Russia build?'
'Then you will acknowledge that of the surviving powers all the correct units are on the board, though perhaps not in the proper places.'
'Correct, Sir. The board was shaken up, am I mistaken? Perhaps during the removal of the units of the eliminated powers? Such a shame, really. I was eager to come back and admire once more the single loop that the units drew on the map. But that is only possible if all units are placed back into their proper positions.'
Holmes whistled. 'A single loop, you said? Are you quite sure?'
'It was the one topic that all players could agree on. But the board in its current state is too confusing. Mr Fitchett, can you please call for Charlie Windall, our Russian player?'
'I'm afraid I will need to escort you in a return to the dining room, Mr Bungeyman Sir. The Professor was quite explicit that only one student could assist at a time.' Holmes and I exchanged a knowing glance; the Professor may have been concerned about two players conversing about the game off the clock, but I believed his main motivation for this restriction had more to do with a concern over the behaviour of inebriated youth when unsupervised. 'If you would be so kind to stand up…'
To assist him from his seated position Fitchett had to support the young man by the elbow and prevent him from tilting over. He did it most professionally, accustomed as he was through years of service. As they left the room, we were alone again with a board that we knew yet so little about.
'A French army in Spain? Holmes, at this rate it is going to take hours before the board gets reconstructed. Should we not just go over to the dining room and apologize to the Professor for having ruined his experiment?'
'No, Watson, that would not do. Has it not dawned on you yet that the Professor is posing us a challenge? You could say that we are now part of the experiment. Regardless, I have my reputation to defend. It is not a time to call off the hunt.'
Even in the face of adversity Holmes kept his calm and good cheer. It is what makes him such a formidable opponent and terrific friend. He had already begun to remove some Diplomacy pieces from the box and put them down on the board.
'We have encountered an army in Spain before. Allow me to refresh your memory by reconstructing that board.'
'Oh yes, I remember now. This is the map on which you said it was impossible to avoid building a fleet in Sevastopol.'
Holmes held up his hand to correct me. 'I had been interrupted at the time by the news Fitchett brought to us. There is a way, actually, to get a Turkish army into the centre of the board without going through Sevastopol. The army in Constantinople can move along the western shores of the Black Sea. This means that Turkey shall capture a centre in the first year which Russia must re-capture the next year. However, this could actually be a blessing, as it gives us an extra centre and thus an extra unit to close the loop.'
Holmes got it wrong for once, but he is not giving up and neither should you. With the new tips given try to create a closed loop as best as you can.
...and when you are ready to continue,
Holmes clearly had some idea of the effects of this change to the rest of the board, as he progressed rapidly through variations. Eventually, though, he had to settle for a chain that still had a single space gap in it, as we could hear foot steps approaching our door.
'It is of little consequence. We remove the units of the eliminated powers as before and the next student will not be aware that the current loop has a gap. I am quite certain that we are getting closer to the proper position for the pieces. Let us hear what he has to say.'
Trained (stripped), After Fall 1902
Charlie Windall was in no better condition than his predecessor, but he categorically refused the chair offered to him. He was a student of the natural sciences, although his father would have liked him to be a médecin. Being a contrarian appeared to come naturally to the young fellow, a fact that did not go unnoticed by my friend Holmes.
'Young man,' Holmes addressed him, making some effort to draw the student's attention from his life story to the Diplomacy board. 'As you can see, the board now contains only those units owned by the two surviving powers. I'm sure you and I can agree that the units are all placed correctly.'
Giving the table only a side-glance or two while continuing to regale me with unwanted tales of his father's strictness, the player eventually answered, 'On the contrary, Sir, from what I see here, only a fair few of the pieces are in such a state! In some senses, however, I would grant that they are close to where they ought to be with some exceptions. Take this Russian army in Edinburgh, for example. I distinctly remember that none of my armies had convoyed to the British Isles, but that I did have one that convoyed to the Italian peninsula.'
The young fellow reached out, trying to pick up the army in Edinburgh, but his legs gave out and he collapsed to the floor. 'Mr Windall!' I cried. 'Mr Fitchett, some quicksalt, if you would!'
Holmes stepped over to assist as Fitchett and I righted the inebriated young man. 'Fitchett, Watson, support this poor lad back to the dining room. And bring me the Austrian player.'
We did as Holmes had ordered. The Austrian player, a fellow called Egbert Alstein, a student of mathematics and physics, proved more lucid than his companions, but Holmes had only one question for him: 'Eastern Mediterannean or Aegean Sea?'
'Thank you, that will be it. You may call the Professor. Tell him that I'm ready to bring the board to its proper state.'
Holmes has all the information he needed. And you? Do you know the solution? Here is your final chance to prove yourself worthy of the Royal Society.
...and when you are ready to continue,
Prof. Newt Isacsson grinned when he saw the board in the same state as it had been for the Russian and Austrian players. 'It is different than first, but it is still not what I had expected.'
Holmes begged him to sit down. He then proceeded to move the French and Russian pieces around until they were in the following position.
Chained (stripped), After Fall 1902
'Impressive,' Prof. Isacsson said approvingly. 'But what about the other units?'
'Wait and see.'
One for one the fleets and armies of the eliminated powers appeared on the board until they formed an uninterrupted chain, 27 spaces in length.
'Bravo, Mr Holmes. But how did you arrive at the current board from the previous position?'
'For that I need to thank that good boy Charlie Windall, the Russian player. How is he by the way?'
'He is fast asleep and will no doubt wake up tomorrow with a heavy head and hardly a memory of the night before. But pray go on.'
'Oh, good. A convoy to Italy instead of a convoy to Britain meant two things. First, that the French fleet needed to take an English centre, leaving a gap that could only be filled by a German fleet. Next, that Russia already needed an army in Turkey in the first year in order to be able to convoy it to Italy in the second year. Since Russia was doubling in size fleet Sevastopol necessarily also needed to capture a centre, the logical target being Ankara, allowing Turkey to move up to Rumania.
'At the same time this meant that only one centre in Germany could be captured in the first year, Munich, as army Warsaw is needed to capture an Austrian centre. Since these two powers have their home centres tightly clustered together, each home centre bordering both other home centres, it is imperative that at least one gets captured in the first year.
'But even with the chain now moving through Armenia and Kiel instead of Constantinople and Baltic Sea, its total length is still 27, implying that one more centre should be added to the chain, captured in the first year by one of the eliminated powers and overtaken in the second year by one of the surviving powers. That centre could only be Serbia.
'After that it was a question of acquiring enough fleets to fill all the sea spaces. One extra Italian and one extra German fleet was sufficient, provided that they could be built. This required for both powers to capture a centre and lose one army through dislodgement and retreat off-the-board.
'All that was left to do was to move all units as far as possible from their starting space. Only the Austrian fleet had a choice as to which sea to move to, a choice which the Austrian player was so kind to reveal.'
Holmes relaxed now, while Prof. Isacsson looked at him as if he considered to make him a peer.
'Thank you, Mr Holmes. You have saved my evening. I'm afraid my further plans will need to be postponed, given the state my pupils are in.'
'Oh, but do tell what test you had prepared for them.'
'A test indeed. I was going to let them play on for another year, starting from the current position. Using the Guerrilla and Insurgency rules as explained before, the challenge is to find the longest possible chain loop obtainable after the Winter 1903 builds. There are three extra conditions. One, France and Russia continue their non-aggression pact, meaning neither will take a centre of one another. Two, insurgent powers do not attack or support an attack on any guerrilla unit. And three, only armies can be built in the final season. I have given it as an assignment to them. We will come back to the Club next week. I hope you will do us the honor of your company.'
'Dr Watson and I will be glad to attend. One week, you say? Well, let us see who is going to be the brightest kid.'
The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face told me that he didn't consider himself too old for the challenge. For me, however, it was time to go home and get a well-deserved rest. Without the prospect of a headache or an upset stomach. Ah, the youth!
The next challenge. Using the Guerrilla and Insurgency rules, create the longest chain possible in a single year starting from the current position.
Not satisfied yet? The Professor has prepared a couple more assignments:
Send your solutions to the Pouch for proper grading. The more original and/or complete your solution is, the higher the grade.
Find any other combination of two powers that can eliminate all other five powers in just two years. As in the first chain revealed, Chain16, try to avoid capturing any neutral center. The remaining units do not need to form a chain.
Find the length of the longest single open chain on the standard Diplomacy board. As with all chains, every space in the chain can border no more than two other spaces in the same chain. Create a map to display the chain, using the units of the power of your choice (fleets on water, armies on land). A simple list of units in the order of the chain is also sufficient.