Game Year Fixed vs. Time Fixed vs. Open
A Fixed Game Year tournament ends in a certain game year. The common choices for ending dates are 1907, 1909, and 1911.
This structure is most common in European tournaments. French tournaments have experimented heavily with the shortest of the deadlines (typically 1907). The Swedes have held tournaments with various dates but they, too, are orienting toward the shorter deadlines. When this structure is used at all in the U.S., American tournaments have the longest deadlines, using 1909 and 1911 endings. Why everyone picks an odd year is unknown.
The effect of a fixed deadline on the game is that in the last two years, players become much more ruthless than they would if the game had an unknown endpoint. In a short game, keep your tournament standing in mind and guard yourself against potential suicide stabs in the final years.
The shorter the fixed deadline, the more common it is for conflicts to start in 1901. For example, in a game with a 1907 fixed deadline, the following opening moves are commonly seen:
England: F London to English Channel
France: A Paris to Burgundy
Germany: F Kiel to Holland
Russia: A Warsaw to Galicia
Austria: A Vienna to Galicia
Italy: A Venice to Trieste
Turkey: A Smyrna to Armenia
Short games also see many more agreed standoffs in Spring '01. The three areas of critical standoffs are:
Russia and Turkey in the Black Sea
England and France in the English Channel
Russia and Austria in Galicia
Germany and France are less likely to agree to a standoff in Burgundy because the French can force the issue by using Army Marseilles as support. Further, the Germans gain no momentum by having Army Munich bouncing around. They are more flexible with an army in Ruhr and the knowledge that the French double-crossed them by going to Burgundy after agreeing not to.
Shorter games also bring out greater risk-taking by both very-experienced players and newer players, while players of average experience tend to be cautious. This is seen most readily when Germany must decide whether to cover Munich in Fall '01 against armies in either Burgundy or Tyrolia, or the French/English decisions when a hostile force is in the Channel.
The theory is that time-limited play rewards boldness, and offensive moves are bolder than defensive moves. In a longer game, you (and your opponents) have opportunities to plan a sequence of devious, offensive moves, making defensive thinking important. In a shorter game, attacks are likely to be more direct. Defense can be used as a diplomatic tool in short games, however, by showing someone that breaking through your position will take three game years and yield only one or two centers while the rest of the board is growing rapidly.
Shorter games see greater changes in alliances as players become focused on the smallest power difference between each other. For this reason, in short games those players who operate outside of the tournament's reward system (players who are pursuing their own, personal goals rather than a trophy) become critical partners for the tournament-focused player; they are less likely than a "competitor" to turn on you because of a power differential.
Supply Center Ranking vs. Draws
All tournament systems hold the win as the pinnacle of achievement. Where they diverge is on what comes next.
Tournament systems come down to a simple divide: do they reward supply centers or do they reward participation in a draw? Two extremes of this spectrum are represented by the following:
Consider a game that ends (regardless of how) with supply centers split 13-12-6-3, and three players eliminated. A scoring system based on supply center ownership would rank those players 1-2-3-4 and award points accordingly. The fourth-place finisher with three centers would probably get very few points. A system based on Win/Draw, however, would rule that because no one controlled 18 centers, all four players participated in a four-way draw and reward each player with equal standing. In the first system, the player with three centers scores barely better than a player that was eliminated. In the second system, the player with three centers scores as well as the player with 13 centers. That's a huge difference.
Overall, European tournaments tend to favor ranking by supply center ownership while American systems favor the Draw methods. Some tournaments try to mix the two systems but for the most part, the two approaches remain separate. When you enter a tournament, know which system is being used! You might find it helpful to analyze what your score would be in the following four situations, to understand the bias of the system and help you decide whether it's in your interest to shift from one relationship to another.
At the end of the game:
||6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 centers
||8, 8, 10 centers
||12, 15 centers
||18, 4, 3, 2 centers
Knowing how the tournament scores and your standing will help you decide whether to eliminate weak players to reduce numbers in the game or keep them around to elevate your relative ranking.
Picking Your Rounds
Tournaments have multiple rounds. Most allow you to skip one or two rounds or to drop your lowest score in a single round. Many tournaments also have a round devoted to "Team Play," which may also double as a round scored for the tournament. When you play in a team round, your results are linked with your teammates in other games. These games thus make your score subject to forces outside your game. You will often see, during team games, players from the other games coming over to share their results with their teammates. Standard etiquette concerning not poking your nose into other games tends to get relaxed during team rounds.
Sometimes, when a team does very well on one table, players may bring that news along with advice to target that team on other tables in order to bring down that team's standing. While this might seem like a viable technique, experienced players tend to dismiss it, and in some circles it is considered rude.
On the other hand, it's common for a teammate who did poorly to drift to another table and share the tale of his or her woe. This sometimes brings a sense of futility -- you may feel that all your hard effort to place well on this table is wasted because of your teammates' poor showings on other tables. As soon as that idea rears its head, other players will pipe up with a chorus of "this game means nothing to you but it means a lot to me and my team, so why not help me?" However annoying you might find that, look for ways to turn it to your advantage (this is Diplomacy, remember?). The moment someone asks for your help, they've created an opportunity for discussion and negotiation. This is another way in which tournament play is very different from other games.
Team Rounds also tend to attract the most competitive players. Many novices will avoid a team round because they do not have a team or because they perceive the team round as something for experienced players only. This is not the case. Pick-up teams often do well, and a novice can raise his standing if he's lucky enough to get paired with skillful teammates.
You will, however, see a higher degree of competition and more experienced players in the team round games. If you have done well in prior rounds and your chief goal is to perform well in individual rounds, then it may be best to avoid the Team Round, since you have little (in fact, you should have no) control over the effect of other games on your standing.
Another question in tournament play is which rounds to skip (assuming the tournament allows skipping). The most obvious choices are the first or second rounds. By skipping the first round, you may develop a better idea about who is ahead and how well you must place to catch up. Alternatively, if you do very well in the first round, you can skip the second round to see who the competition is and then plan your approach based on the margins. All this depends on being able to find out the results of everyone else's games.
The Flow of the Tournament
Some experienced players believe that tournaments have a certain flow or mass psychology. If you pick up on it in an early round, you can apply it in later rounds to your advantage. This idea dwells on the fringes of "mystic tournament forces" that may or may not be valid and certainly can't be proven. We're going to discuss it because it is a fun aspect to consider and some people really believe in it.
The flows occur in two areas: play on the game board and play around the game.
Play On the Game Board:
It is held that sometimes tournaments "have it in" for one country or another. You might hear, for example, that Russia is taking a beating in every game, or that one particular offensive opening is being used extensively against a country. (At DipCon 9 in North America, there was a seminar before the tournament about the Lepanto opening, which is based around an attack on Turkey. During the three-round tournament with a total of 57 games, the best performance by Turkey was a seven-center survival. In 23 games [40%], Turkey was eliminated. Killing Turkey by any means was obviously in the Flow of that tournament).
When you convince yourself that there is a flow at work in game play, the next step is deciding your position on it -- do you support it, direct it, react to it, or fight it? Your answer probably depends on which country you're playing at the moment. Just remember that you may be creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by your actions. If you are convinced that the mass of other players have been influenced by the latest fad in openings, then make your moves accordingly.
Play Around the Game Board:
The most common mass psychology aspect of the tournament mob is its approach to very experienced players. In some tournaments there seems to be a mentality of ganging up against experienced players. Experience can be an attraction to other experienced players who always fear a silly stab. This makes it seem as if the experienced players are working together to dominate the standings when in fact they're just trying to avoid being betrayed by feckless allies. At the same time, a player with a reputation is an attractive target to the paranoid novice or average player who fears the tactical ability of a star player. Getting a sense of this allows you to emphasize or minimize your skill, or play upon others' paranoia, as best fits the situation and your position.
Individually, there is a long-standing tradition of dumping on the prior year's winner. This is outside what we are discussing here and almost a tradition that most champions take as a badge of honor.
Scouting for Game Results
Tournaments are by nature a comparison of your results with everyone else. Knowing where you stand can affect the style and play of the game you are in. This is also a key question of game morality and ethics: how much should you allow your play to be affected by the results of the prior round or by the results seen in games around you.
Most very experienced players will tell you that they play each game on its own and hope for the best. Most experienced players will also admit that in reality, the spread of information does affect tournament play, even while they deny that they themselves are affected. Less experienced players generally recognize that tournament information can affect play but most are unclear how they can personally capitalize on the information and are even less certain about the fairness of beating on someone just because the player did well in the prior round.
Some tournaments post the results of one round as soon as it is finished so players can see all the country score and who the leaders are. Other tournaments take the opposite approach, going to great lengths to conceal the results of games from anyone who didn't compete in those games. In those cases, spreading information about game results is considered rude, or even cheating. This reached a height in the United States where for several years the actual scoring system was not even shared beforehand and players were given only the most general information during the tournament. Players were advised to play as best they could and the system would be revealed when all games were finished. This method has fallen out of favor for fairly obvious reasons.
Currently, it is common for players to know which players or countries scored an outright win in the prior round as well as who had two-way draws with high supply center counts. It is also common for players to discuss openly their goals for the tournament, what they hope to achieve in the standings, and how that relates to their actual, current standings. The closer the game is to the final round, the more this comes into play. It is not unusual, for example, for a deal to be cut on the top board giving one player 1st place overall and another 2nd, and for this negotiation to be based on overall tournament position and not actual game board position.
The ethics of all this and the social value of the situation are left for you to decide. You will do well, however, to be aware of this difference between regular play and tournament play.
Next month: Opening moves -- the best and most common openings for each of the seven positions. Can you hold your breath that long?
Don't miss any of Edi Birsan's series on tournament Diplomacy.
Part 1: What Makes Tournament Play Different
Part 2: Tournament Systems and Scouting for Results
Part 3: Tried and True Opening Moves
Part 4: Grand Strategy and Small Mistakes
Edi Birsan is considered the first Diplomacy world champion for his win in 1971BC, the first championship invitational game. He has won numerous championship games since then in North America and worldwide and is universally considered one of the game's top players. More importantly, he has striven tirelessly for over three decades to promote Diplomacy play in all its forms, at all levels, all around the world.