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Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 01:14
by VGhost
Something I've been thinking about a lot since attending Tempest XIX, my first live event, last month, is how to structure my opening play. First, I've attempted to define how I actually think about the game most of the time, and I came to a few conclusions. This describes my play as I think I play it, not some ideal I might say I want to achieve.

1) I look to establish a solid position: I take board- and metagame-assigned neutrals for my power, and any others I can bargain for, while letting the game develop around me.
2) As phase 1 is ending, I start paying more attention to how the rest of the board has developed. Here I'm generally trying to find one neighboring ally and one guy on the other side of the board to (at least) stay in contact with. I attempt to maximize my own position in coordination with the local ally: I'll assist him but try to keep an edge on him either positionally or in center count or both.
3) If I see a weakness open up, I will grab for a solo: if no weakness, I attempt to figure out point of maximum growth for myself and end the game in a draw there. In fact I'm usually not sure enough about the weakness, even if I see it, to even make the attempt.

Under this scheme, I tend to say that I like the opening best. I generally think of it as a "scramble for centers", with the actual game almost beginning again after the neutrals shake out. I have very little trouble personally in mentally resetting after the early game, but here's the snag I've found. If I go all-out, as if the game ended in 1903 or 1904, by that time I've played my cards, including the dishonest ones, and probably nobody likes me much. And a lot of people don't "reset". I may have provoked the wrong people and be gone or losing; or if I'm still alive, while I may be necessary to somebody's plans I'm not going to get much bigger - unless I've lucked into the right ally.

As for that "right ally", at the moment, I feel that my best games happen when there's a strong initiator on the board whom I can respond to, either as an ally or a foil. I'm naturally reactive rather than proactive: give me a plan or an enemy and I'll help and strengthen it or find allies to defeat it. Left alone, I stare at the board and say, "Uh..."

This is true in chess too, which I've been playing far longer. My most comfortable openings are either exchange variations (e.g. of the Ruy Lopez) which allow me to blow past the early game, or slow defensive ones where I can rely on position and wait to counter-initiate. I like a moderate-size problem: give me a few variables to work with and I'm good, but throw too much information at me and I flail. Get me focused on one part of the chess board, and I'll give up a stupid mate from a threat on the other side.

I'd like to stop saying, "Uh...". But I'm not quite sure where to start. As I count it, I'm always going to have at least two significant and one adjunct neighbor that might concern me. Let's say I'm England: France and Germany are my most immediate concerns, while Russia's going to affect my game as well. Italy, Austria, and Turkey play a role in how my neighbors have to respond, so I can't ignore them, but in Spring 1901 they're not controlling factors for my game. I have options, at least these three:

1) Ally with one major neighbor against the other. Okay: how do I convince them I'm the correct ally, assuming the other guy's not totally incompetent? (Or even if he is, in some cases - it's much easier to play with an ally you can write orders for...)
2) Arrange a triple. Okay: how do I go about ensuring the alliance is set, and then setting tempo/objectives for the alliance?
3) I find out I'm the odd one out. Okay: how do I go about breaking it up? (1v3, I've learned, I'm probably doomed, but if it's just 1v2 there's leverage somewhere, right?)

I don't feel like I have a good idea how to approach any of these questions. To summarize the issue in one question:

What are strategic ideas and communication techniques I need, especially in the opening, to ensure (a) I'm choosing the correct ally in a given game and (b) to ensure I maintain initiative, as much as possible, in that alliance?

On a related but important note, what about the rest of the board? Especially I'm thinking about the guy I'm not treating as an ally. Openly announcing an attack seems like a bad idea. Polite nothings seem... suspicious. Openly lying seems like a bad idea unless I'm sure they'll be gone early, because if a guy survives with a grudge, revenge - well, you know the rest. So, a secondary question, again focusing on the opening since I feel like that's the weak part of my game:

How should I relate to a power I know I'm targeting?

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 02:25
by ccloughley
What do you mean? You ain't targeting them. That was just an unfortunate coincidence/misorder/miscommunication/bounce/you get the idea.

What I'm saying is that if you don't believe your own lies, your opponent isn't going to either. If you've ever pulled off a Bohemian crusher sort of thing you'll know that you'll have to tell both Austria and Germany that you're trying to kill the other one; the best part is that it gets more believable until the hammer comes down.

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 08:57
by Nanook
I approach the game much more simply. Who do I get along with and is going to be easy to work with is my overriding concern. If I can get along with them, then I can work out centers and positioning from there.

That person might be my neighbor, might be someone across the board from me. Wherever they are on the board, I value having a good relationship more than I do positioning or tactics, because I know that with a good relationship I can adjust the tactics and positioning as needed. In your example, I might choose to work with Germany over France because Germany is willing to talk about Belgium whereas France I have to constantly haggle with.

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 13:58
by el Swine
nanooktheeskimo wrote:I approach the game much more simply. Who do I get along with and is going to be easy to work with is my overriding concern. If I can get along with them, then I can work out centers and positioning from there.

That person might be my neighbor, might be someone across the board from me. Wherever they are on the board, I value having a good relationship more than I do positioning or tactics, because I know that with a good relationship I can adjust the tactics and positioning as needed. In your example, I might choose to work with Germany over France because Germany is willing to talk about Belgium whereas France I have to constantly haggle with.


This.

It's more about style of play, personality type, experience, voice tone, body language. This is the assessment I make. I will go with an A/T if I'm Austria and I click with the Turkish player and the Italian and Russian are "all wrong".

Subterfuge and stabbing being a big part of the game, the ability to read others is paramount.

Oh and 01 is when the war begins. Strike fast and early. An enemy centre captured in 01 beats a neutral centre... if you can get it... it's rare.

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 21:09
by Radical Pumpkin
A few thoughts, not especially organized:
  • The first step in finding the right ally is figuring out what you're looking for. I'm not clear on whether you prefer to have as many "strong initiators" on the board as possible or exactly one, but I think you want to figure out the player type you'd like to have present in the mid-game and ally with them in the early game. That shouldn't be too hard if you want strong initiators around: you can probe your neighbors for ideas about working together, then go with the one who has the boldest plan.
  • Maintaining initiative or power within an alliance is a tricky, multifaceted thing... but I find it helps to adopt the attitude of "it never hurts to ask." You'd prefer your ally did X because that would help you keep up with them? Ask. You want to make a move that your ally might find uncomfortable? Ask. I like to ask even when I think the chances of a "yes" are slim, because every once in a while you get a pleasant surprise. The key with this approach is to ask in a way that isn't off-putting. I always try to frame my requests so that a "no" answer is easy, acknowledging all the legitimate reasons why my ally might not want to agree. I haven't found that kind of request gets people upset, although your mileage may vary. Put in enough asks, and you'll get some yeses!
  • As for talking to imminent enemies... I think it's useful to keep your plans flexible even in your own mind. That helps you seem more authentic to a player you're about to betray, yes, but you also never know when you'll need to change plans. It's definitely happened to me before that I'm talking with both A and B and planning to work with A... probably... and then A stabs me, or new information comes along that makes me think A will be a poor ally. Well, it turns out the plan with B was the "real" plan all along, I guess! Similarly, it could be that in the process of thinking through the plans with B seriously, I realize that working with B is going to leave me in a much better position. In a nutshell, my advice would be to keep an open mind as long as you can. You might decide to change your initial plan, you'll come across as more convincing, and you'll seem like you engaged seriously with your eventual enemies when the facade does finally come crashing down (which might improve their opinion of you as the game continues).

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 22:02
by Machiara
Radical Pumpkin wrote:As for talking to imminent enemies... I think it's useful to keep your plans flexible even in your own mind. That helps you seem more authentic to a player you're about to betray, yes, but you also never know when you'll need to change plans. It's definitely happened to me before that I'm talking with both A and B and planning to work with A... probably... and then A stabs me, or new information comes along that makes me think A will be a poor ally. Well, it turns out the plan with B was the "real" plan all along, I guess! Similarly, it could be that in the process of thinking through the plans with B seriously, I realize that working with B is going to leave me in a much better position. In a nutshell, my advice would be to keep an open mind as long as you can. You might decide to change your initial plan, you'll come across as more convincing, and you'll seem like you engaged seriously with your eventual enemies when the facade does finally come crashing down (which might improve their opinion of you as the game continues).


THIS. This right here. Fantastic advice. I mean, for a pumpkin. :)

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2017, 23:50
by DQ
GhostEcho wrote: <snip> This is true in chess too, which I've been playing far longer. <snip> How should I relate to a power I know I'm targeting?


I love, love, love love this question. This is absolutely something I'm going to address, probably over multiple episodes and at great length, in the video series I've started. But the first thing that struck me was your comment about chess, so I'm going to respond to that.

I think your assessment of the early/mid phase of the game is solid, and you've pretty clearly identified a problem with your approach (Too reactive). Nanook and Pumpkin have each identified key elements of the negotiations/relationships phase, and I agree with what they said. I've observed that a lot of good tacticians (who are often good chess/go players) see the game through the lens of the pieces on the board, and that is both a strength and a weakness. These players tend to be better tactically, with a good ability to survive into draws, but very rarely make the jump to getting solos (I speak here of F2F play, which is what I know, so YMMV). What these players are slower to master is the part of the game that takes place away from the board, the persuasion bits.

In Chess, you mention that you can be distracted by too much information - and that's a real problem in Diplomacy as well! If you watch the videos from WDC in Chicago, you'll see that every player is talking to every other power almost every turn. And these aren't hollow conversations, either - they are trying to get information, plant seeds of ideas, and create an impression. Whereas you prefer simpler problems, or well-defined scenarios, the game is ultimately much messier, and in F2F especially you don't have time to sort out all the nuances.

So how do you, for want of an analogy, increase your bandwidth for information? I'd say you have to start by being willing to write some sub-par orders. Be prepared to sacrifice your main strength (at first! You're not going to lose those skills) in order to devote energy elsewhere. Decide what your orders are in the first 30 seconds before you stand up from the table, and negotiate HARD for X-1 minutes to make those orders work, then use the last sixty seconds to adjust your plans according to what you've learned.

That's one way to improve the "Not reactive" skill set - you decide what you want to accomplish and you set out to make it happen. Even when you are talking to your "not-allies" - you should be trying to get a sense of how they are going to defend, what they care about in the moment, what most concerns them besides the fight you are currently having with them, what they might do if the hostilities were to end, that sort of thing. Pay attention to everything from word choice to body language if you can! That doesn't mean you can't use someone else as a foil - I'm very often the foil for the board I'm on ("Whatever else you do, don't let DQ out of the box") which just means I get to play the counter card of "I know everyone else is probably telling you not to work with me ..." :D

For example: Spring 1901: "I'm going to get into the Black Sea as Russia" - what do you need to do to make that happen? who do you need to talk to besides Turkey, and what do you need THEM to say to get Turkey on board with that? (Turkey should never, ever be on board with that) Does that resonate as a possible solution?

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 24 Nov 2017, 01:10
by VGhost
Thanks for the advice. Wanted to reply to a couple specifically:

Radical Pumpkin wrote:The first step in finding the right ally is figuring out what you're looking for. I'm not clear on whether you prefer to have as many "strong initiators" on the board as possible or exactly one, but I think you want to figure out the player type you'd like to have present in the mid-game and ally with them in the early game. That shouldn't be too hard if you want strong initiators around: you can probe your neighbors for ideas about working together, then go with the one who has the boldest plan.


Easiest for me to work with is two - one ally, one I decide to play as a "threat" to the other players. But of course, if I'm going to try to be more proactive, that calculus might change...

Radical Pumpkin wrote:You'd prefer your ally did X because that would help you keep up with them? Ask. You want to make a move that your ally might find uncomfortable? Ask. I like to ask even when I think the chances of a "yes" are slim, because every once in a while you get a pleasant surprise. The key with this approach is to ask in a way that isn't off-putting. I always try to frame my requests so that a "no" answer is easy, acknowledging all the legitimate reasons why my ally might not want to agree. I haven't found that kind of request gets people upset, although your mileage may vary. Put in enough asks, and you'll get some yeses!


Hmm. This is something I've done okay with over the internet, but found a lot harder face-to-face - I know what I want, and I can usually think of reasons pro or con and possibly something that would benefit the other guy more directly than what I want him to do. And then I don't want to ask, because I'm not confident I can keep that from showing. Practice, I guess...

DQ wrote:...For example: Spring 1901: "I'm going to get into the Black Sea as Russia" - what do you need to do to make that happen? who do you need to talk to besides Turkey, and what do you need THEM to say to get Turkey on board with that? (Turkey should never, ever be on board with that) Does that resonate as a possible solution?


Funny - this reminded me a lot like the advice I got from buffalo after my first board at Tempest. He said (I'm paraphrasing) that I was too focused on possibilities and trying to survive, and needed to just make a plan and do it, and remember sometimes it just wasn't going to work out. Which is an attitude thing, I think: if I'm initiating, then everybody knows (paranoia says) what I want to do and can specifically stop it. Only I'm finding if nobody know specifically what I want to do, then they can't help, either.

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 28 Nov 2017, 04:46
by buddhabelly
I really like this thread.

I am relatively new to Diplomacy and play mostly online. I am a very good chess player and that relates well in Diplomacy with tactics. However, I am poor in persuasion and I am not sure how to improve because I do not know what I am doing wrong. I am one of the most talkative in game but I rarely rally other powers to my side.

How does an Austria convince an Italy to do a Key Lepanto and not get stabbed? How does England tell France not to move to English Channel? How do you convince another player that a move is the best move? How do you get better at being persuasive on paper?

Re: Finding the Right Friend

PostPosted: 28 Nov 2017, 18:13
by DQ
buddhabelly wrote:I really like this thread.

I am relatively new to Diplomacy and play mostly online. I am a very good chess player and that relates well in Diplomacy with tactics. However, I am poor in persuasion and I am not sure how to improve because I do not know what I am doing wrong. I am one of the most talkative in game but I rarely rally other powers to my side.

How does an Austria convince an Italy to do a Key Lepanto and not get stabbed? How does England tell France not to move to English Channel? How do you convince another player that a move is the best move? How do you get better at being persuasive on paper?


This is, as they say, the $64K question. I'll say first that it isn't easy, but I have some tips - by being talkative, you are already doing one main thing right.

1. Begin by considering what the other player _probably_ wants - and recognize that this will change over the course of the game. Why does France want to go to the channel? Why is he willing to give Germany such a huge advantage? Does he want Belgium, because if so, you can help him with that. Etc.

2. Think about how you are being perceived - being too eager and (possibly, no judgment here) naive can work against you. Establishing a competent persona is one of your goals in opening negotiations.

3. Don't be afraid to have hard conversations. Your questions are mostly about the early game, but for example, having the conversation where your ally learns you'll devote the rest of your game to making sure he dies next if he stabs you (in the politest and most effective manner possible) is a good one to practice as it will continually come up. It can be as simple as "You know if you run in on me here, I'll ignore R/T and throw everything at you for the rest of the game? I don't want to do that obviously but I've learned its the only way to deal with an Italian who stabs during a Key Lepanto." Or "I see you've violated our DMZ - thank you for giving me my next target. I'm always willing to talk when or if you want to explain/apologize."

Those will help - oh, and the most important thing. You know how in Chess you study lines of play, and have a sense of what kinds of things are going to happen as the game develops? That works in Diplomacy too. The key is listening - in chess you only have to listen to the moves on the board - in Dip you have to do that and also parse what the players are (and are not) telling you.

Shameless Self Promotion I've put some videos up on Youtube which are aiming to improve play - you can find them under "DanceScholar" and Diplomacy Academy.