AAR: Mentors Game

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Re: AAR: Mentors Game

Postby drnomeansyes » 06 Nov 2015, 22:42

Woooo, I'm late to this party. I hate to interrupt what looks to be a really well put-together string of posts from RP, so I'll keep this brief and let him finish before posting my own. I had a great time with the game, and want to thank all of the mentors and mentee watchers for being a part of this. Couple of brief points about the game in general:

-I'm absolutely lucky to have been included in this draw. All things equal, in any other game I should not have made it to the eventual draw, but as I'll explain later things could and should have turned out significantly differently if it weren't for some unfortunate RL stuff that happened pre-my-stab. In any case, I stagnated in the north and that ultimately led to my demise as the filling in an F/R sandwich. I think EFR could have actually worked, but we had a couple of issues that made things tougher than they needed to be.

-I'm a huge fan of long-deadline games, because I like having time to fully consider offers, tactics, and the like while engaging in significant conversation with most of the board. That said, it really didn't end up working well with my school schedule. I had exams every two weeks at longest and every week most of the time, and this meant that a significant portion of each phase I wasn't able to do those things. This got worse as the game progressed because at the beginning I had a burst of Dip-related energy from not having been in a real game in a while. I should have been a bit more transparent with everyone about that as I'm sure it got annoying to them - apologies for that.

-I'm looking forward to explaining some reasoning to y'all, especially AtH and wyse. I promise, there are good reasons (from my perspective, anyways) for doing what I did. In short:

@AtH: I meshed with RP's communication style more than yours in the beginning, but that wasn't enough to put me in his camp by itself. When you consistently backed down from any pressure from me to attack Russia (until we tripled up in 1902) as is common in E/G alliances and very doable even while attacking France, that made me feel less safe siding with you.

@wyse: It all comes back to me screwing up in 1903. At that point I couldn't attack Russia without help from you, and you couldn't attack because of size. Once you had size, you were hesitant, and I had a shot to remove Russian units from my front via diplomatic means and took that shot. It meant dithering about, but I was already doing that, and it was better than bashing my head against a purple wall, I figured.
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Re: AAR: Mentors Game

Postby Radical Pumpkin » 08 Nov 2015, 07:25

SPRING 1907

Image

This turn is more tactical than diplomatic, so I'll be brief.

Things with YL are simple now. He seems to have settled in as a French Jannissary. He doesn’t really communicate, but he seems willing to take marching orders from me. Still, I do worry that he’ll flip back to Wyse if I push him too hard, so I don’t suggest anything too slanted toward my interests and tell him our moves are ultimately his call if he has a strong preference.

I continue to talk with Wyse, but I feel I've made my bed with EFR, and now we have to focus on cracking the Turkish defenses as best we can. Certainly if I try to get back in Wyse’s good graces, he’ll trust me less (with good reason!). I do briefly consider making a bold move, either switching targets or taking on two targets at once, but on balance that path doesn't seem very promising. My Plan A now is to run with EFR long enough to crack Wyse, then switch to EFI. If I can pull that off, I think I have a good solo shot or (maybe, if drno is amenable) a shot at a 2-way. However, I recognize that Wyse may be able to set up a stalemate line if the tactical game goes well for him.

WHS's stance at the beginning of the turn is that the focus should be on maximizing Russian builds. I don't really want to replace a Turkish behemoth with a Russian one, and I'm hoping to ditch WHS when I can, so I'm not enthusiastic. I argue (legitimately, I think) that we should focus on ensuring that no one disbands. We have a large anti-Turkish coalition going, and holding it together will require that no one feels too disgruntled. I'm therefore on board with avoiding Russian disbands in 1907, but not with getting Russian builds at the expense of English, French or Italian disbands. By the end of the turn, WHS has agreed to this basic framework.

Late in the turn, drno and I also agree that he will capture Mun. He's due a build, and Bel is the option that's been in the air in EFR talks. Having him take Mun instead does a few things:

  • It moves English units closer to Wyse. The Turkish defenses are strong, so I'm thinking we may need to delay attacking WHS for some time. During that period, drno needs something productive to do, so getting some English units southward is helpful.
  • It gives a pretense of conflict between the two of us (since the story for the rest of the board is that he takes Mun without my consent). We've been doing the odd thing like this all game in order to mask the tightness of the EF alliance. I believe it's worked well, perhaps because it fits well with the narrative arc started in Fall 1901. I hope that this bit of deception may benefit me down the road when it comes time to swing EFR into EFI.
  • I'm not planning to stab drno this upcoming Fall, but if I do, I can take Mun back more easily than I can take Bel back. Having him in Mun makes it easier for him to stab me (because now he could take Mun and Bel from me), but it also makes it easier for me to stab him. I'm feeling comfortable enough that this tradeoff is a net plus for me.

The order resolution is a disappointment. The anti-Turkish alliance had two big guesses to make, and we guessed wrong on both counts. Around Italy, we attack Rome rather than the Ionian; and we gamble that A Tri won’t be supported in place. Wyse is now awfully close to an independent stalemate line, which will have a significant influence on my last big play….

FALL 1907

Image

This season is dominated by one fundamental choice. Door number 1: continue with my EFR alliance, hoping to make some good guesses and stop Wyse before he has a stalemate line. (And then keep the EFR together long enough to ensure that Wyse’s defenses stay broken.) This is my best route to a solo, although the odds aren’t looking great. Door number 2: abandon the EFR as a lost cause and whittle down the draw. Ideally, whittle it all the way down to a 2-way. If I make this choice, my heart would like to do EFT rather than FRT, but I know it’s not the smart play. FRT is much safer in preventing a Turkish solo, and it can also give me a shot at a FT 2-way with some semblance of equality, since someone else is around to keep Wyse occupied. So Door number 2 means stabbing my trustworthy, flexible, game-long ally.

For most of the turn, I’m inclined toward continuing the EFR. As I said, I believe it’s my best shot at a solo (and arguably my best shot at a 2-way, even), and that’s usually what dominates my decision-making. Plus I don’t really want to be mean to drno (even Dip players have a heart!). In the end, though, I decide on Door number 2 for a few reasons:

  • It’s going to be hard to keep everyone happy in EFR(I). If Wyse expands—even if he fails to get to a stalemate line—someone in EFRI is going to have to take disbands. I’d rather it not be me, but right now drno is sitting in Mun while WHS is covets Ber. If I push another player to take a disband, they may get disgruntled and defect to Wyse. I think I can hold the Grand Alliance together, but I’m not certain.
  • The game is starting to drag on. People are getting tired, and the game is getting hard to accommodate within real life for me too. Stabbing will shorten and simplify the game.
  • I like games to tell an interesting narrative. Within limits, I’m willing to make moves just because they create potential for a good story, independently of how well I come out. The FT idea tickles me. I especially like that I might be able to get WHS on board with stabbing drno, then have the draw whittling blow up in his face as FRT reduces to FT. (I do think about the possibility that it’s me who will get whittled out, but my read on the RT relationship is that that won’t happen.) I’m aware that Wyse may not go for the FT, but I’d like to present him the option.
  • YL says he’s quitting. This is really the piece that pushes me over the edge. YL has settled into his role as a passive French Janissary, but who knows what a replacement would do. At a minimum, a replacement is likely to be at least somewhat more independent, even if they stay in the anti-Turkish alliance.

Although I’m about to hand Wyse a big gift, I do one more thing to stress the FT relationship. Wyse has been asking me all turn for exactly what I’m about to do, offering support to Vienna in exchange. I’ve been telling him (honestly) that I’m considering it. However, I’m worried that if I tell Wyse of my intentions, it might blow up in my face as he recruits drno or YL to his side; if they cover against the stab this turn and then work with Wyse, the odds of a Turkish solo suddenly become non-trivial. So despite my plan, I decline Wyse’s offer. I hope he notices that I recruited Russian support to Vienna instead, which benefits Turkey (relative to accepting Wyse’s support, it ties up one Russian unit and frees a Turkish one).

YL is out, and drno can safely be eliminated without fear of a Turkish solo. Now all that remains to be seen is whether I can get my FT….

SPRING 1908

This season is a disappointment, albeit not a surprise.

Wyse isn’t very interested in FT. This is consistent with his stated aversion to draw whittling, but I thought I’d detected some active interest in the 2-way in our earlier conversations. Either I misread him or he’s changed his mind. The bottom line is that he’s not willing to bend at all to make me comfortable enough to attack WHS. He’s very focused on the fact that I’m over the main stalemate line in Tunis, whereas I think his center count more than compensates. (He needs Tun well before we’re at 17-17, but there’s still time. If I try to hold onto Tun, his recourse is to work with WHS against me. Despite their poor relationship, I think they’re quite capable of burying the hatchet.) At any rate, I conclude that he’s entirely focused on maximizing the sliver of a solo chance he has remaining and doesn’t care one whit about a 2-way vs a 3- or 4-way. The 2-way likely won’t work out if I have to drag him there, and trying will take a lot of time and energy.

Still, drno could easily have been whittled out of the draw with next to no risk of a Turkish solo. In a sense, that would have been the “rational” play. But everyone is tired of this game, including me. In addition, a 3-way isn’t a more “interesting” ending than a 4-way to me, so the motivation to whittle out my loyal ally is weak. (My rough evaluation of draws is that 2-ways are interesting results if they weren’t a carebear plan from game start; 3-way and 4-way draws are both very normal and pretty boring; and 5-way or more draws are generally gross and indicate a lack of imagination about how to shake things up.) So sure, let drno have his spot at the final table. I’m the final player to agree to the draw.

I'll have a few more comments about the game as a whole, but that was the view from Paris over 7 1/2 game years.
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Re: AAR: Mentors Game

Postby Radical Pumpkin » 09 Nov 2015, 07:15

COMMENTS ON THE GAME AS A WHOLE

This wasn't an exciting result, but in a way I feel it's the right one. I feel the participants in the draw basically all played a good game, while those who fell along the way didn't, to varying degrees.

While playing this game, I found myself musing that (good) Diplomacy players can be divided into those who see it as a game of relationships and those who see it as a game of deals. A relationship-focused player thinks more in terms of building general trust and goodwill, without focusing on the specific purposes to which those investments will be put. It's a personalized style of play, where partners may come to trust each other despite (because of?) acting quite untrustworthy with outsiders. A deal-oriented player focuses on making discrete exchanges, with a more-or-less explicit quid pro quo. It tends to be more impersonal, the idea being to develop a general reputation for fair-dealing with all potential partners. Both strategies can work; I would conjecture that the relationship style is stronger at its best but can't always be applied, depending on how you click with the other players on the board.

My perception--which could be mistaken--was that drno was a relationship-builder whereas WHS and Wyse were deal-makers. (They may both hate me saying it, but I think there is a certain similarity to WHS and Wyse's styles....) I wanted to tell the story of how strong relationship play beats out strong deal-making play. There were moments when it looked like I might succeed in attaining that goal, but ultimately I ended up switching to a more deal-making mode myself. That parallels my failure to shape my mode of communication with the other players into a looser, more adventurous place. When I'm playing my best, I think it's because I have stronger relationships with the other players than they have with each others; here, the only strong relationship I developed was with drno. A draw seems like a fitting reward for my imperfect play.

I also found myself musing about whether there's another divide among diplomacy players, between those who are at their best in equal relationships and those who are at their best in unequal ones. (In principle, skill at being a junior partner is different from skill at being the senior partner, but my conjecture is that they tend to go together.) I'm definitely better with equal relationships. I feel one of my skills is keeping those stable, everyone happy with their progress (and ideally a smidgeon more progress for me, naturally). I'm tempermentally ill-suited to exploiting weaker powers or to accepting a bit role, at least until I'm reduced to such an extent that I've given up on any prospect of winning. I noticed that WHS and Wyse both derived some of their success from their ability to vassalize smaller powers, although I also think their games may have suffered from their perceived devaluation of equality within alliances. I don't know if this equal vs. unequal axis correlates with the relationship vs deal-making axis I mentioned above. I think it did on this board.

I'll wrap up with some thoughts about the players.

drno (England): I was surprised in how little I touched on drno in writing up my AAR. Throughout the game, drno was my most important relationship by a significant margin and the only player that I really formed plans with, in the sense of batting ideas around. I suppose our relationship was uncomplicated, and so there was not much to say. We tend to think about the game very similarly, I think, so working together was easy. In my view, the big flaw in drno’s game was that his early engagement level decayed over time, and as a result he left too much of the decision-making in my hands and in WHS’s. He probably could have been a somewhat harder bargainer, although there’s a fine line between advocating stridently for your interests and coming across as a greedy, unappealing ally.

Aaron the Hun (Germany): In 1901, I felt like Aaron crossed that line, i.e., he came across to me as overly demanding and hence not someone I wanted to tie myself to. Once he was small and navally-oriented, I kept looking for opportunities to make use of him, but it just never happened. I did feel like he’d be much easier to work with as a Janissary or junior partner than as an equal alliance member.

Guns of Brixton (Austria): Put little into the game and, IMO, never really had a shot at a good result. My communication with him was next to non-existent all game. I don’t believe we coordinated a single move.

Young Lochinvar (Italy): I have a terrible time reading YL. From my perspective, it all sounded pretty much the same whether he was planning pro- or anti-French moves. I had no advance warning that he was becoming my Janissary; nothing in his messages indicated a break with his past patterns to me. Being hard to read could be an advantage, but I think it was a detriment to his game here. It meant that I could never trust him (even when he wanted to be my puppet!) despite really wanting to form a stronger FI relationship for much of the game.

WHSeward (Russia): WHS looms as the dominant figure in my AAR. He was pretty important to my play, but my AAR may exaggerate his role a little. Still, my attitude toward WHS was strongly shaped by the fact that he was playing my “natural” cross-board partner. He was occasionally difficult in negotiations with me, but on balance I thought I should benefit from his posture because it would impact other players more adversely. As an aside, I admired his ability to rally small powers to his banner even though it didn’t seem like he contorted himself to help them out. Overall, a player with a fairly different view of the game, and playing with him was an instructive experience.

Wyse (Turkey): I think Wyse and I both suffered from failing to develop a stronger relationship sooner. On my end, my feeling from quite early on was that he was happy to make use of me as opportunities arose but not too interested in broad coordination with me. Wyse also tends to think about the game from a very different perspective, even moreso than WHS, and I think that made it harder for us to negotiate productively. I kind of wrote off Wyse as someone who could be my “main” partner for much of the game, and that was a mistake. I eventually got enamored of the idea of two opposites working together, but if that was possible, it needed more groundwork laid earlier in the game.

Thanks to all the players. This was an exhausting game, but most of the time it was fun, and it was instructive to play with some people who approach things differently than I do.
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Re: AAR: Mentors Game

Postby WHSeward » 09 Nov 2015, 07:45

Image
On 19 July, 1995, the motion picture Clueless was released, the teen pic to define a generation.
On 19 July, 2015, a joint message between Austria, Italy, and Russia inaugurated our AIRhead alliance.

Auspicious? Oh, but that it had been. We three knuckleheads were not on our way to cult status, but instead, we would fall from our own missteps, not the least of which was our inability to execute our set-piece opening.

Not a really a great game, this one. Some of our players were mostly MIA, and unfortunately they are playing the central powers which are the least forgiving. Losing the center of the board meant we ended up with a pretty boring E-F v R-T structure, and no serious solo chances. I felt like I spent a lot of effort thrashing about trying to break that structure up, but to no avail.

And this game was exhausting. So much chatter, here are some statistics on the messages I received
Code: Select all
Pwr   all  per
           turn
A      70   5.8    
E     170  12.1    
F     207  14.8    
G      81   6.8 *
I      80   5.7    
T     184  13.1    
total 792  56.6
* excludes turn after elimination

For my part, I sent 808 messages over 14 turns, so that is 114 messages back and forth on average each turn. (I exclude the truncated S08 from these figures.) Early in the game I wrote some quick/not-carefully-worded notes that blew up, which was a reminder (as if I really needed one) that communiques needed to be "crafted" and not just fired off. In addition to the volume of messages, many turns had down-to-the-wire brinksmanship negotiations and last minute orders. I really had trouble keeping up at points, especially as real life got quite a bit busier for me than I expected when the game started. I took frequent days off the game, and still I am really drained.

Rather than add another magnum opus of an AAR to this thread, I will write a longer-than-my-usual executive summary-style of an AAR, and I will engage with the other AARs in a later post. (I think that is appropriate that Turkey and France, board leaders on the east and west side of the board respectively, develop the more detailed AARs.)

Russia’s Keys to the Game

1) Pre-game thoughts. Russia in my view is the weakest of the 4 edge powers when played on a board with experience players. Russia benefits from having the shortest path to 18SCs, and with a weaker field, that can often be parlayed into a win. But with a strong board, many, many times you see a big Russia taken down to zero in the mid-game due to the geography of the board providing minimal defense and splitting the Bear’s force between two fronts. Still, I generally enjoy playing Russia because you are really in the mix with every power from the get go. Russia plays almost like it is the 4th central power.

2) Opening, 1901-02. AIRheads untie. Spring 1901 was terrible. In retrospect, this was foreshadowing for how the game was going to unfold. I had trouble making connections with anyone in the east. Wyse (Turkey) and I wasted most of the opening phase getting sideways on esoteric matters and barely discussed tactics or strategic concepts at all. There would be no big R-T out of the gate. YL (Italy) and I probably connected the best together, and we slowly built some rapport. Eventually I elicited from him his strategic preferences as Italy, and when I floated the possibility of an AIR triple alliance where we fired west over the MSL early, he expressed interest at the possibilities. Austria was fairly disengaged for most of the first turn, GoB pleading focused attention on his concurrent PDET game. I had no choice but to be patient.

In the meantime, in the west I tried to cut a deal with drno (England) where we would both open south, and leave Scandinavia relatively demilitarized. Unfortunately, the negotiation was a flop which drags out without a deal to the end of the season. Oh well, I was probably opening south anyway. I think it is OK at the time. drno and I had a good dialogue going, and even if we didn't strike a deal this turn, I think we have a foundation for future cooperation.

RP (France) wants me to open north. I am normally happy to do that as Russia, but given the uncertainty in the east and my effort to cut a deal with drno, I am in no position to promise RP anything. Nonetheless, I enjoyed RPs communication style and I hoped for a good relationship down the line as F & R can be great allies.

As the two week+ first turn started to wind down, GoB reappeared with two days to go. We had a lot of diplomatic work to get done and not a lot of time left. Given the pressure, I broke one my own rules - I sent to YL and GoB the AIRhead article and suggested we follow it. I am usually loath to do that because, 1) most strategy articles are not adequately flexible for the diplomatic framework you might actually find in a game, and 2) it is very dangerous if your competitors read the same article! It turned out, that our board was more or less a fit within the strategic assumptions of the article (and Edi, better than most strategy writers, allows for the possibility of a wide range of board dynamics) so I rolled the dice and went with it. It turns out we will go off-script more than enough to keep the AIR undercover before our big reveal in S02.

That is a big issue with triple alliances; you do not want to engender an opposing triple or worse, an opposing quadruple. This leads to a boring game at best as 6 powers lock up, or a losing game if the triple finds itself outnumbered. So we set about trying to bury our triple in some subterfuge of communication, and certainly the S01 orders don't look like an AIR triple.

I am particularly gratified that GoB lets me march into Gal in S01. It took quite some heart on his part, but I absolutely intend to reward him for helping us get off to a fast start. (My loyalty to GoB is going to bring me plenty of heartache in this game.) Unfortunately, F01 sees our first AIRhead moment and it is mine: I misorder and do not capture Rum! At the 11th hour GoB finally decides (after much indecision) he has to support Turkey to Rum, so I have to switch up my orders on my phone, and I botch it with an extra click. The change was going to cost me the Bla no matter what, but I needed to build A War to have a 4th army to march on Germany.

Fortunately, I am playing Russia, and if any power can take a tempo hit, it is mine. Germany opening to Hol was a blessing, as zero-building would have been a disaster and if I am sitting in Gal, a lot of Germans these days will keep Russia out of Swe. The E-G strike on France looks promising for our AIR. I would have preferred F-G v E, but our triple can live with either.

Still, I am pretty nervous in S02 whether Austria is going to stick with me or just stab and form A-T. I kept up a brave front with my fellow AIRheads and proposed we carry forth and rescue France. Wyse made clear he was attacking me no matter what, so I had no choice but to hold my breath and hope as the adjudication approached...

The AIR held!... except... our grand entrance at this Diplomacy party goes something like this:
Image

Ah shoot, France doesn't need rescuing any longer. (I won't reproduce what happened in S02 in the west since RP posted it here.) And now the AIR is really in a mess and collapses. The raison d'être for our triple has taken a big hit; we don't want to be hammering a weak Germany, we want to be crossing the MSL with the blessing of a western power. In F02, A-R try for Mun, but Italy stabs Austria while EFG coordinate to stab me in Scandinavia (so much for my detente with England.)

That is a pretty miserable first two years. Russia is on the bottom half of the board, I'd say 5th place. Got to go to work and turn things around.

More to come...
"As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practice or neglect to practice the primary duties of justice and humanity." WHS

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