F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

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F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby lsfinn » 21 Jul 2020, 06:09

Dear All -

By way of background, my previous Diplomacy experience is all f2f (and from many years ago, but that's a different matter). I'm now engaged in my first non-f2f, postal-style (e.g., 48h between moves, platform-mediated secure communication) online game. In the course of play I've come to note how differences between f2f and this "postal-style" play can affect tactics, diplomacy, and - to a lesser extent - strategy.

For example:
* f2f play is generally fast, with not much time for thinking; postal-style play with several days between orders provides more time for in-depth analysis, tactical planning, and - at least in principle - diplomacy/negotiation.
* In f2f play you generally know who is talking to who. You may not know what is said or agreed to, but you can keep your eyes open (and even, sometimes, your ears). Likewise, in f2f play you have access to body language and various "tells", which can inform your own negotiating and decision making, and which you can use to your own advantage for the purpose of unsettling or deceiving an opponent. In on-line play knowing who is talking, or not talking, to who is much more difficult to determine. While you don't have visual tells, if you have enough communication with a power you have access to writing tics. While these cues are not necessarily as evocative as body language and visual tells, they do provide something. Mind-gaming, on the other hand, is next to impossible.
* In online play there are tactical plays that are just not possible in f2f play. For example, in postal-style play a power can appear to disappear. Are they really gone and automatic hold orders being processed? Or, are they playing possum? In f2f play a power that disappears is physically not present, which is kind of hard to be mistaken about.

This is just a short list of my immediate impressions.

Some things surprise me. For example, I recognize that powers in postal-style play are not devoting their full attention to any given game, and so will not be spending all day and night writing to other powers. Still, I would think that postal-style play would involve much more communication between powers than f2f play. My very limited experience is communication is very direct and telegraphic, without any "foreplay" or other trust-building efforts: e.g., a first communication might be along the lines of "Gimme Serbia and I promise to help you later with Vienna", "Want to kill France?"

For those of you who have significant experience in both worlds - f2f and postal-style play - what are the difference you have observed between the two styles of play? How do those difference affect how you approach tactics, negotiation, and strategy in each?

I'm looking forward to a lively discussion and learning from everyone's insights and experience.
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Re: F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby ruffdove » 22 Jul 2020, 23:58

I don't have significant experience in both worlds, but in my limited FtF experience I find that mis-orders and poorly thought out move combinations occur a LOT more often because players don't have days to think their moves over and consult the rulebook. Sometimes orders are written out (or revised) very hastily at the last minute and you see a lot more dumb mistakes than you do in online play. In my admittedly limited FtF experience, which featured a few players who were really neophytes, this had a significant impact on results.

Both FtF games I have played in ended in solos for an experienced player who had inexperienced players in key positions during their solo run. In one, Italy had a neophyte Austria (allowing him to grow fast early by first taking A under his wing and then stabbing her), and a neophyte France and England who (thanks in no small part to botched orders) allowed Italy to get over the stalemate line early and exploit that position (his final 18 included Liverpool). In the other game I soloed as France with neophytes playing England and Italy and an experienced German who did not handle pressure well and frequently scribbled out misorders.

Note: I realize I counted myself as "experienced" right there with only two FtF games. What I mean by experienced is someone who is very conversant with the rules. I probably had fewer FtF games played than the "neophytes" in my games, but I had a lot more on-line games played and I am sure I'd read more strategy articles and such.
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Re: F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby DirtyHarry » 11 Aug 2020, 00:40

OP - I think you'll experience much more "foreplay" :-) in games that are a bit higher level, for instance, games organized by the Classicist group. I highly recommend looking into the Classicists for high communication and high reliability games. Also, the PDL - PlayDip DIplomacy League is always looking for subs and new players and because the games are competitive and results kept for the league, I think you'll find a higher level of communication there also.

viewforum.php?f=118

viewforum.php?f=815

I hope you'll explore these groups, because nothing beats what follows good foreplay! :D
Last edited by DirtyHarry on 03 Nov 2020, 15:10, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby hsiale » 11 Aug 2020, 15:29

DirtyHarry wrote:I highly recommend looking into the Classicists for high communication and high reliability games.

Unfortunately the Classicists games recruitment forum is nearly dead currently. This year there have been three threads attempting to organize a game, and even with that small amount one of those didn't find enough players.
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Re: F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby jay65536 » 12 Aug 2020, 21:08

lsfinn wrote:For those of you who have significant experience in both worlds - f2f and postal-style play - what are the difference you have observed between the two styles of play? How do those difference affect how you approach tactics, negotiation, and strategy in each?


I have "significant" experience in both, I think. (Mainly my experience is in FtF, but I played the 2017 ODC on this site and a few other games.)

A lot of the difference in style of play comes down to the players, so not all of the differences can be attributed to the format. Nevertheless, here are some differences I've noticed about the two different "scenes":

-While misorders do happen more in FtF because you have to physically write your moves (and because of the time crunch), I think the overemphasis on the poor quality of play by new FtF players is misplaced. I am fully convinced (and have been for a long time) that the highest-quality play you can find anywhere in the world is in a game between top FtF players. The best FtF players are the best players. I'm sure the online community will find this very counter-intuitive, but in "serious" games, the tactics are better in FtF than online. I think it must be because you don't get to the point of being a veteran FtF player without serious dedication to the game, so much so that analyzing a board in mere minutes is just part of the game for you.

-In my experience playing and observing online games, people really use the shield of anonymity. Top players (in my observation) play with the expectation that their lies will not follow them from game to game, and that each game is a clean slate in terms of credibility. This is not at all true for FtF; the best players achieve their results with all the other players knowing who they're up against. Also, the best FtF players are honest with their opponents more often than the best online players (though with some notable exceptions, both are often honest).

-As a result of this, in my experience in FtF play, I have encountered far more situations where people place a high level of trust in their allies and use that trust to play unconventionally and aggressively. Top online players stick to "standard" plays more often--and my experience shows they are correct to do so, because in an anonymous environment you really have much less of an idea whether a non-standard approach will pay off. You can't "play the players" as much as you can in FtF.

-In FtF, you are not allowed to negotiate during retreats or builds. This matters more than you might think if you've never played this way.
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Re: F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby Malarky » 03 Nov 2020, 14:05

Yep there are a significant number of differences between FTF play and Webplay. They've probably been covered here. The practicalities of play mean that the two formats need to be played differently. Mis-orders can come up for all sorts of reasons in FTF play, from not allowing yourself time to write them out, through missing a unit from your list, to illegible handwriting. People do mis-order when playing online, of course. The sheer number of new players has an effect: F Lon-Bel in Spring 1901 again!?! And then there is losing track of time, especially with short deadlines; how anyone can play 12 hour deadlines I've no idea.

Andrew Goff, multiple World Champion, was discussing differences between FTF play and Webplay on the Diplomacy Games podcast. As a long-time FTF player and tournament director and organiser, he's probably worth listening to! He stressed that the biggest issue he's seen when remote players play FTF is getting their orders in. This surprises me as I'd think it would be the difference in negotiations: much more difficult to negotiate with everyone all the time in FTF play than it is in Webplay.

The immediacy of FTF play is also a difference. You're right in front of the person you're talking with; this can be imposing to some people, having the balls to tell someone no when they're looming over you can be intimidating. Learning that degree of assertiveness doesn't come naturally to everybody, especially when the assertiveness of some borders on aggression. In remote play, you're at a distance that means the level of pressure is much less. There's a deal of difference between someone writing an aggressive, perhaps abusive, message and someone shouting at you from a foot away (which should be something like a metre distance, at least, right now :shock: ).

Jay65536, as always, has some good talking points.
jay65536 wrote:In my experience playing and observing online games, people really use the shield of anonymity. Top players (in my observation) play with the expectation that their lies will not follow them from game to game, and that each game is a clean slate in terms of credibility. This is not at all true for FtF; the best players achieve their results with all the other players knowing who they're up against. Also, the best FtF players are honest with their opponents more often than the best online players (though with some notable exceptions, both are often honest).

Anonymity is a major thing in Webplay. Doug Kent, publisher of Diplomacy World, made it clear that he doesn't like this aspect of online Diplomacy, although this is more to do with the social side. As Jay says, in an FTF game you know who you're playing, in general: there are always new faces at tournaments that aren't known and players have to get a feel for. Unless you're Chris Martin - the "Newbie Whisperer", apparently - it will take time. Playing online, you're likely to not know the people you're up against, either because the game is anonymous or because you're playing someone you've just not come across before - the online format has a much bigger playerbase (as compared to people who play FTF tournaments).

I think the best FTF players are probably better at timing when they're dishonest, rather than being "more honest". And I think it depends who they're talking to. Honesty is, of course, important with an ally or potential ally. This is true in any format. And being careful with just how many times you lie to an enemy is also important.

jay65536 wrote:As a result of this [the degree of honesty and knowledge between regular FTF players], in my experience in FtF play, I have encountered far more situations where people place a high level of trust in their allies and use that trust to play unconventionally and aggressively. Top online players stick to "standard" plays more often--and my experience shows they are correct to do so, because in an anonymous environment you really have much less of an idea whether a non-standard approach will pay off. You can't "play the players" as much as you can in FtF.

Reading articles about Diplomacy this isn't what comes across: maxims are always being promoted. Whether it's to do with how to play each power, with how to act in certain areas of the board, or with which power you should be attacking, there is a certainty that some things are the way to play. What I think you can do when you can play freely is be more aggressive and rely on the fact that your ally isn't going to stab you recklessly. Online, as Jay says, because you're never sure how an 'ally' will act, you need to be more defensive, more cautious, at least in the early stages.

Some of this is from experience, I think. If you know that the person you're playing has experience in the game, you can trust that they're less likely to stab when they see a chance just because they see a chance. Melissa Call has some excellent advice on this: find an ally you can trust and stick with them. By the way, she's not talking about playing the Carebear way of taking an alliance through to the end of the game with the aim of drawing (or even playing for that abomination the 2-way draw); she's talking about forming an alliance and working together to make progress through the game.

Now, there's no reason why experienced Webplayers wouldn't act the same way when they're confident of their ally. I think the difference is that it tends to take a lot of time to become truly confident in that alliance. This should mean that you are constantly reinforcing the necessity for the alliance, although not in a way that becomes tiresome. Using the word 'trust' a lot, in a variety of contexts, is a good way of doing this, perhaps, as is regularly finding something positive to celebrate for each set of moves.

Comparing FTF Diplomacy with Webplay is like comparing Rugby Union and Rugby League. Very similar but you can't compare them directly; a significant number of players have switched from one code to the other only to find that the gulf between them is more significant than might be thought. They are, in fact, very different games in the way they're played.

FTF and remote Dip are as different as Rugby Union and Rugby League. They are very similar games, but the way they are played is very different. In fact, you can also say that FTF tournament play is very different from a casual game with mates. And when we focus on FTF play, we're usually looking at tournament play.

When you're playing a tournament, whether FTF or remotely, you play to that tournament. There are, of course, some things which remain the same, no matter what. But when you're in a tournament game you should be playing the game to get the best out of it with a tournament in mind. I keep referring to the interview with Melissa and Goffy, but that's because it focuses on what this discussion is about. They point out, both of them, that to do well in an FTF tournament you need to get moderate results. Two or three moderate results will get you to the Top Table. It becomes a different kettle of fish then, but playing the final round of an FTF tournament at the Top Table is a good tournament! Online tournaments tend not to have the same idea about a Top Table, instead using the initial rounds of the tournament as qualifying for a Final featuring the top seven players. In those initial rounds, then, you need to do well enough to get to the Final - finishing in the top seven. Again, though, consistently getting moderate results will probably get you there.

This focus on the best FTF players, therefore, means we are focussing on tournament play, which is affected by a number of practical factors, the main one being the scoring system. This means that Jay's point, below, is something I'd challenge:
jay65536 wrote:I am fully convinced (and have been for a long time) that the highest-quality play you can find anywhere in the world is in a game between top FtF players. The best FtF players are the best players. I'm sure the online community will find this very counter-intuitive, but in "serious" games, the tactics are better in FtF than online. I think it must be because you don't get to the point of being a veteran FtF player without serious dedication to the game, so much so that analyzing a board in mere minutes is just part of the game for you.

I'm not saying Jay's wrong in his opinion because he may well be right: his reasoning certainly explains why the top FTF players are the top - dedication and experience. But we've seen the best Rugby Union players flounder in Rugby League, and vice versa. I wouldn't be surprised to see the best online players flounder in an FTF game, and the best FTF players flounder at Webplay.

My reasoning is that good players play to their strengths and those strengths are based on the experience they've gained. If your experience is in Webplay, that's what you'll be best at; if it's in FTF tournament play, that's what you'll be best at. I'm not saying that you won't be good at other formats; my opinion is that being the best at one form of the game doesn't mean you'll be the best at another form of the game.

In fairness, this isn't necessarily what Jay's saying on it's own. He's saying that the highest quality of play is found in FTF games. I'd counter that by saying that the 'highest quality' depends on a couple of things: first, that - without an agreed and comprehensive set of objective criteria of what constitutes 'high quality' play - what anyone considers high quality is subjective. Second, high quality depends on the environment or format the play is in, and there are significant differences between the two formats we're discussing. It's one thing to be able to analyse a board in minutes and persuade someone that this is the way to go forward when that player isn't able to do the same thing. It's another thing to be able to do this and persuade someone that this is the way to go forward when that player isn't able to do the same thing but is able to effectively analyse the board over a longer period of time and has the time to do that.

For me, then, the most we can say is that the best FTF players are the best at playing the game in that format; the best online players are the best at playing the game in that format. Because the formats are significantly different, whether one has better play than the other depends on an opinion of what 'better' play is. In fairness, it wouldn't be a surprise that the best FTF players couldn't become a match - and better than - the best Webplayers, rather than the other way around. But I doubt we'll ever know for sure, if only because there's no realistic way to make a comparison, unless they were to appear at the top of the rankings for both.

One last thought: It will be interesting, should it become established, to see how what I'm calling 'Virtual FTF' (or VFTF) has an impact on our varied hobby. By this, I mean how tournaments are played online using technology such as Zoom or Skype. We've been forced into this in some ways due to Covid-19 but I think there are opportunities here. Let's face it, travelling to an FTF tournament or convention can be financially prohibitive for many people. If you can take part in that tournament virtually, being able to negotiate one-to-one and in group chats, and see the person you're negotiating with in real time, playing to FTF deadlines, this is a different format again. It's an interesting prospect.
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Re: F2f vs. on-line play: tactical issues

Postby DirtyHarry » 03 Nov 2020, 15:28

One last thought: It will be interesting, should it become established, to see how what I'm calling 'Virtual FTF' (or VFTF) has an impact on our varied hobby. By this, I mean how tournaments are played online using technology such as Zoom or Skype. We've been forced into this in some ways due to Covid-19 but I think there are opportunities here. Let's face it, travelling to an FTF tournament or convention can be financially prohibitive for many people. If you can take part in that tournament virtually, being able to negotiate one-to-one and in group chats, and see the person you're negotiating with in real time, playing to FTF deadlines, this is a different format again. It's an interesting prospect.


My understanding is the VFTF tournaments have been successful to the degree that tournament organizers are already planning to continue them even after COVID restrictions are lifted and FT2 tournaments become a normal thing again. Speaking for myself, it's much more practical to participate in a VTFT (I've done two this year, my first two Dip tournaments ever) then it is to travel for a tournament. And in my case the limiting factor is not a financial one, but I've got a wife and kids who are into sports, so cutting out the travel time as enormous practical benefits. I live in Maryland and even getting down to the WDC when it was in DC in 2018 seemed daunting because of our schedule. But I probably would have been much more likely to take advantage of a virtual option, even if just for a round or two.
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