Art of the Knife XIII (Mentor Game) AAR

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Art of the Knife XIII (Mentor Game) AAR

Postby Blackrune » 23 Jul 2017, 15:34

An ultimately fairly straightforward game from my perspective. The central triple alliance got off to a strong start and made it all the way to a three-way draw.

ENGLAND: funnyguy8000
ITALY: Blackrune (3way DRAW)
GERMANY: Mr. J. (3way DRAW)
AUSTRIA: Astrophobe (3way DRAW)
TURKEY: terrellk
RUSSIA: HanofSaren


To sum this up from my point of view... I was open to anything in the first year, and this being my first time playing Italy, did some serious reading up.
I heard it's the weakest power to play, but I quite enjoyed that the risk of being attacked right away seemed very tiny, which made me able to consider more aggressive openings than other powers might have been able to afford.
Anyway, it seemed that a lot depends on Austria with Italy. Most reading material suggested to either screw them over right away or fully ally with them.
The choice was made rather obvious for me here: I would need to know what Russia and Turkey were up to if i wanted to move against Austria. Russia never replied to my greeting the first year. (I feel like talking to Italy right away is actually pretty important to Russia no matter who they move against in the east, so I wasn't sure what to think of them not even attempting it)
Meanwhile, Austria got to the point fairly quickly with an alliance proposal. I also got an interesting offer from France to work together, but that seemed too risky in comparison. Still, I almost regret not taking it since I ended up really liking the french player.

Anyway, despite being absolutely on-board with the alliance, I kept trying to make sure the other two wouldn't outgrow me badly. I was more concerned about Austria there simply because I found it less likely Germany would ever be in a position to backstab me. (which is why I was willing to allow Germany to temporarily get Marseilles but not really willing to let Austria speed through the Ionian Sea)
None of those schemes really got the results I expected though. For starters, I thought Austria would have a tougher time in the east with me leaving them more or less alone there completely, but with Russia being put in a very weak position right away and being dead-set on taking out Turkey, that just ended up still working out decently for Austria.

Also, it was pretty apparent that moving my fleet to Ionian Sea was generally considered the best first move. Still, I wanted to try and sacrifice flexibility for speed. (since I also heard that once France got some time to set up properly, those defenses are way harder to crack from the south.) I also often find that the best way to learn why something is the best move is to go against it and see what you regret. In this case I regretted having little influence over the east quite a bit, so I definitely see where it's coming from.

Another thing I tried was making sure England and Germany wouldn't get along. Well, I didn't really need to do much here, but I did paint England in a bad light to Germany and suggested to bounce Belgium until they actually helped against France. This also didn't have the result I expected, as England surprisingly chose to give up on Belgium and ignore the west to go after Russia.

With everyone fighting each other rather than my allies, I figured the three-way was inevitable. There were some turns where I thought a change in course could put me in a good spot, but all of them seemed too uncertain and unlikely to improve the final result. (one particular turn comes to mind after I had obtained my share of France. I was thinking about letting France live and support a Turkish fleet into the Aegean Sea to destroy the second Austrian fleet and have full control of the med. Still, this seemed too risky and would have still been a tough fight even if it worked.)
I am curious what our expert Professor Pumpkin has to say about whether I missed opportunities from a tactical standpoint though.

The rest was fairly straightforward so I don't have much to add to it for the moment.
One thing I'll note is the reason I moved against Austria in the final turn was because Germany proposed to go for a two-way draw. Now, I was kind of pleased they suggested this since one of the thoughts I had at the very beginning was that with us two going west we'd be better buddies by the end and more likely to work together against the third.
Still, they didn't really commit to it in that turn and it looked like neither of us were all that serious about it, so I figured I'd accept the draw to test whether they really wanted it, and now here we are.
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Re: Art of the Knife XIII (Mentor Game) AAR

Postby terrellk » 24 Jul 2017, 06:45

Man, how do I follow that up? A very good analysis, straightaway. I'll try to follow suit as best I can.

This was my first ever game of Diplomacy. As introductions go, I felt like it was a good one. Based on what I have seen and read, this one was a bit on the standard side which was good from the perspective of a guy who - quite honestly - didn't know what the hell he was doing.

I'll start by giving my broad thoughts on each of the other players. In alphabetical order so as not to play favorites.

Austria: I really freaking liked this guy. Like, seriously, he was quite talkative with me and we got along pretty well except for the part where he absolutely crushed me. I could tell right away he was going to be a good player, and he played me right out of the gate like a fiddle. By the time I realized what was happening and started raising the alarm to anyone and everyone about the Austrian threat it didn't matter because I was dead meat. I really never even thought about the possibility of a triple alliance in the middle of the board being the end goal, so I guess my pleas to Italy and Germany were unheard. Alas. If someone had to kill me, I'm glad it was him.

England: My other friend in the game, England was my partner against Russia (more on that later). I think the deck was pretty well stacked against us from the start, unfortunately, with England facing down Italian and German forces and myself being bogged down by Austrians and Russians. I was hopeful that together we'd be able to weaken Russia sufficiently to shore up one of my fronts but we just never seemed to get our offensives going at the same time. England was a champ, though, and the only true ally I had in the game.

France: France and I had a few good message threads back and forth, but we were so far apart and always under siege that we never really had the chance to work together closely. I was sad to see him leave the game first, but on the other hand I was selfishly relieved that I outlasted someone.

Germany: Germany was never particularly helpful, but that is understandable seeing how things shook out. I definitely don't hold that against him since he was able to work his way into the final draw. His time was spent attacking France and England, so I never really had to involve myself too much with him except to beg for assistance. He seemed and still does seem like a capable player.

Italy: Another one of the Big Three Winners. He seemed concerned about Austria, which I now understand was concern about reaching the final three with enough power to be a part of the draw. Looking back, I think I have the most to learn from his playing. Surviving as Italy cannot be easy, let alone making it to the draw. He should probably be expecting bombardment from my outbox to his inbox for advice.

Russia: I think probably my least favorite part of the game was dealing with Russia. I'm sure you're a nice guy in real life, but your messages came off as super abrasive and generally untrustworthy. Your first message really put me off to working with you when you apologized for "destructive behavior," and at the end of the game when we could have maybe prolonged our lives your response of "die quietly" was not well received on my end. Obviously. You also had a way of rubbing other players the wrong way. I think England only went so hard after you because of something you said to him. Otherwise you might have lasted to the end, given how well you played strategically. I may have lashed out a bit at you during the game and for that I'm sorry. The result of our bad relationship was that I decided to help Austria remove you from the game on my own way out.

I don't really have much to add as far as my actual gameplay is concerned. I obviously peaked in 1903 when I was able to hold Sevastopol plus my cores. I took it back in 1904 but by that point it was really too late for me to hold much of anything. I tried to get a little cute after that with delaying strategies, but giving up Constantinople (not that I'd had much choice in the end) was probably the worst move I made.

That's really all I have for now. But thanks to Pumpkin for showing us the ropes of the game and to everyone for playing. Looking forward to seeing you all again!
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Re: Art of the Knife XIII (Mentor Game) AAR

Postby Radical Pumpkin » 26 Jul 2017, 06:57

My from perspective, this was a pretty successful mentor game. For one thing, we had an engaged set of players with few NMRs and no surrenders, which is great to see. In addition, the game followed one of the common "scripts": A triple alliance made some early gains, partly because the rest of the board failed to unify quickly against it. The alliance members soon controlled the majority of the units on the board and were relatively equal in size, so the question became whether the alliance would fall apart. It did not, and so an early 3-way draw was the result. If you're happy with this result, great--and if you can establish trust with a couple of other players in future games, you can probably replicate it. This kind of 3-way draw flows naturally from the structure of Diplomacy. If you were not one of the surviving powers, the takeaway lessons are that a) you need to work your diplomacy more in 1901 to get into a dominant alliance!, and b) should that fail, you need to mobilize quickly to stop a triple alliance, preferably the moment you see what's happening. If you were one of the surviving powers and you hoped to solo, the takeaway lesson is that you need to derail the game from its 3-way track early on. In a tight triple alliance, that can mean betraying both of your allies, at least indirectly, which is a challenge to pull off, so you also need to be thinking even earlier (possibly in 1901!) about establishing a position from which you can do it. An important component is typically to keep players on the board and to maintain relationships with the powers outside the triple alliance.

Some thoughts about the game from each power's perspective below. Note that I haven't read the in-game messages, so there may be important angles that I'm missing. I also have more to say about some of the powers than others; no disrespect intended, I just think there's more I can contribute by analyzing certain powers' strategic decisions.

ENGLAND (funnyguy8000): Your critical mistake was your fight with Russia, really two errors in sequence. The first was making Russia your initial target without securing German assistance. It's true that you had Turkey on board, but a) Turkey was getting pressure from Austria, and b) England and Turkey can't cooperate directly against Russia. You had the resources to win the north from Russia without German assistance, but not quickly. Better, in my view, to get some assistance from Germany in exchange for assistance against France, to just pile onto France, or (if you felt the Italy-German alliance would turn on you once France was down) to help defend France. The second mistake was no changing course once Germany attacked you. Had you been able to convert Russia from foe to ally, you could have put extra pressure on Germany and just maybe defended successfully. Even if you couldn't actively work with Russia, it wasn't worth tying up your armies defending St Petersburg when your home centers were under threat. The lesson: when another power is threatening your survival, make what peace you can with others you have been fighting.

The prolonged England-Russia war was probably the second most significant event in shaping the game (after the Central Triple Alliance).

FRANCE (TI2): Well, it's hard to survive in this game when multiple other powers gang up on you. Your problem was just that you didn't have allies. England and Russia would have been natural allies for you if you had been able to broker a peace between them!

I noticed that in Spring 1904 you supported an Italian army into German-occupied Marseille. If that was an attempt to break apart the Italy-Germany alliance and to puppet for Italy, that's excellent--it's exactly the way you need to be thinking when your back is against the wall! Your problem was that Italy didn't have much ability to follow through against Germany, just because of their relative positions on the board, and so Italy was unlikely to be enticed by such a plan. You needed pressure on the Italy-Germany alliance from elsewhere to buy you some time until the situation around you changed.

GERMANY (Mr. J.): You had a crushing position early on, achieving 7 centers by the end of 1902. Often that kind of quick start can lead to a backlash, with an alliance forming against you, but you managed to prevent that completely (Italy actively helped you to 7 centers while remaining at 4, and England & Russia fought each other instead of facing the bigger threat). So well done on alliance management!

However, after 1902 you kind of... fizzled. If you wanted a 3-way draw, then you played things fine, but you had the position to be looking for a solo. That probably would have meant making life more difficult for one of your Central Triple allies. It's hard to lay out a specific path without knowing the details of the diplomacy, but one promising route might have been to work with England against Russia in the short term (while still cooperating with Italy in France). That would have slowed Austria by attacking his ally against Turkey, and strengthening England would have been OK as long as you felt Italy was a close ally. (It would help in this plan if Italy were responsible for taking centers like Brest while you made gains in Russia, so that England might consider continuing to work with you and attack Italy once Russia was dead!)

One other comment. Once you made the decision to attack England, I think you needed to follow through. After taking the North Sea in 1903, you spent 1904 focused on France. There wasn't much point in picking a fight with England if you were going to continue emphasizing the French theater; something like a convoy to Wales in Spring 1904 was in order, in my view, allowing Italy to do the heavy lifting against France.

ITALY (Blackrune): You are right that Italy has a huge benefit in its relative safety from early attacks. Its flexibility in the early game also means that more than any other power, it can drive the flow of the game. That's why many experienced players rate it as their favorite country to play (albeit probably still not their best).

I like that you were keeping an eye on your allies' growth and threat potential even while you worked with them. I also agree with you that you had less to fear from Germany than from Austria. I believe that Germany and Italy are possibly the most underappreciated alliance pair on the board, since they are close enough to cooperate, but Switzerland really gets in the way when one of them decides to attack the other. Still, I would have been hesitant to accept the 7-4 center count disparity that you accepted in 1902. My concern would have been that Germany left me in the dust while I stagnated, not that Germany would stab me. That didn't happen in our game, though, so your trust was well-placed. And I suspect your willingness to trust Germany that much helped to cement your relationship for the rest of the game.

If my read of the board is accurate and France was willing to be your vassal in 1904, then that was an interesting decision point for you. Normally, I think having France in that kind of relationship is excellent for Italy, allowing it to keep the West in flux while shifting resources toward the East. In this game, however, I'm not sure you were in a good diplomatic position to take advantage. Your natural target in the East would be Austria, and you would be alienating Germany by keeping a vassalized France around. Breaking with both partners in a triple alliance is tough, and I'm not sure you could have profitably pulled it off in 1904. Your problem was that Austria had too many free units sitting around for you to make any headway there, and your own home defenses were thin.

Similarly, looking at later years, I don't see any good tactical opportunities to break out of the Central Triple and shoot for a solo. If you wanted to solo, I think your recourse was diplomatic. Provided you believed you had a better bond with Austria than Russia did, a stronger Russia would have helped you, since it would have been a check on both Germany and Austria without restricting you. And the first step was brokering a peace between England and Russia--with the side benefit of a stronger England acting as a second check on Germany.

AUSTRIA (Astrophobe): You had an excellent position at the end of 1903, marred only by the annoying Turkish fleet in the Black Sea tying down your armies. (It was especially annoying because Russia had no southern fleet, so the Turkish fleet was likely to stick around as long as Turkey did.) You seemed to capture Rumania in 1903 without trashing your relationship with Russia, so well done on that front.

But like Germany before you, you lost your momentum and stumbled your way into the 3-way draw. However, I think you may have had the best solo potential, although it would not have been easy. Your basic path to a solo, in my view, was to abandon the Central Triple while England and France were still viable powers--notice that those two powers would have a hard time ever fighting you directly, so keeping them strong was in your interest! Spring 1904 looks like one decent stab point to me. You could have ordered armies to Trieste and Tyrolia while nabbing the Ionian in the Spring, then taking Venice and either Tunis or Naples in the Fall! Suddenly Italy can't both defend its homeland and defend its French possessions.

But I also think you might have made progress on the diplomatic front. One route would have been to... broker peace between England and Russia! That would have hampered Germany while allowing continued progress against Turkey as you shifted toward Italy. Another possible avenue for you was to work with Turkey, and based on terrellk's AAR, that sounds like it would have been a good idea. It's huge when your primary enemy says, "I really freaking liked this guy". It looks like you could have turned Turkey into a vassal or junior ally, maybe even giving you the space to attack Italy prior to 1904.

Of course, the master diplomat might try to follow both paths at once: broker peace between England and Russia, turn them both against Germany, then broker peace between Russia and Turkey to use Turkey against Italy! That's a fine tightrope to walk with lots of risk, but if you trust that you have better relationships with the other powers than they have with each other, you want to keep as many small powers around as possible, even if you have to contort your position to do so.

RUSSIA (HanofSaren): Your game went off the rails in Spring 1901, when you left yourself very open in the south and lost Sevastopol as a result. You never really recovered from that. You also suffered from England's attack against you. It's hard to say whether there was anything you could have done to prevent that, but it would have been worth trying some creative offers, e.g., allowing England to keep St Petersburg temporarily, or offering support into Denmark in exchange for getting your home center back.

If you had a chance later on, it was in getting Italy to swing back East. With Austria so powerful, that might have required making peace with Turkey (i.e., suggesting an Italy-Russia-Turkey triple against Austria). As a bonus, that would have helped England hold out longer against Germany. With some luck, you might have been able to squeeze your way into the final draw by cutting down Austria and building Italy up into a clear board leader.

TURKEY (terrellk): You had a good first year, but the combination of your 2-army build in 1901 and your diplomatic isolation doomed you to a slow decline. (The 2-army build hurt you, in my view, because it made invading you from the sea too inviting.) Based on your AAR, I think your best bet was to seek an alliance with Austria, understanding that he would be the larger power. As a mentioned above, Austria had something to gain, since working with you would have helped to keep the West unresolved. The decision was ultimately out of your hands, of course, but with experience you'll learn to see what other powers have to gain by working with you, and you'll be able to lay out the case for a receptive mind to digest.
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