Starting positions

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Mencjusz
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Starting positions

#1 Post by Mencjusz » Sun Jan 26, 2020 8:09 pm

Hi all,

I will be running Diplomacy boardgame for university students. I was thinking of modifying initial rule regarding starting position of units through 'round 0' by allowing students to negotiate and decide where to place their units in classical map.

What is your experience with the game dynamics in such initial conditions?

Mike
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captainmeme
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Re: Starting positions

#2 Post by captainmeme » Mon Jan 27, 2020 2:10 am

Do you mean that they can place their units anywhere on the board, or choose which units to put in each of their normal home centres?

Assuming the latter, it works but it throws off the balance a little. Russia gets easy access to Norway by building Fleet StP (nc), which is horrendous for England (especially since England really gains nothing from changing their starting units). Turkey will almost always build Fleet Smyrna, which negates Turkey's main downside of having a slow start. It's kinda countered by Austria also getting stronger with the triple army build, but only if A and T fight - if they team up, they're pretty unstoppable with custom starts.

If you're introducing people to the game it could work, because they might miss overpowered starts, but ultimately I don't think it's worth throwing the balance off that much regardless.
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Claesar
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Re: Starting positions

#3 Post by Claesar » Mon Jan 27, 2020 8:08 am

If you're talking about the rulebook variant for fewer than 7 players in which you draft home centres, we recently tried it F2F and it worked surprisingly well! We didn't allow negotiations during the draft though, so I can't comment on that aspect.
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Mencjusz
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Re: Starting positions

#4 Post by Mencjusz » Mon Jan 27, 2020 1:58 pm

or choose which units to put in each of their normal home centres?
They would place units in original SCs.
Assuming the latter, it works but it throws off the balance a little.
well, as you mentioned, if every country places units based on optimization of obtaining SCs as fast as possibile, there is still some sort of power balance, isn't it?
If you're introducing people to the game it could work, because they might miss overpowered starts
To my knowledge, the game will be something totally new to them, hence, they might not be aware of overpowered starts. However, I do plan to run 2 training sessions + 3 graded games, so, in the grading sessions, they might be aware which initial setting will produce most optimal outcomes. But, all of them will know that, thus, they can negotiate in a way that will counter overpowered start. In other words, there will be some sort of power balance; at least in my mind.
If you're talking about the rulebook variant for fewer than 7 players
There will be 7 players.
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Swede03
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Re: Starting positions

#5 Post by Swede03 » Mon Jan 27, 2020 2:52 pm

What if it were Pick you Supply Center where each player picks which three(or four!) of the territories colored their color at the start they would like to be supply centers? Then there is a build phase and the game starts with units in the territories they picked to be supply centers instead of the usual starting locations?

RoganJosh
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Re: Starting positions

#6 Post by RoganJosh » Mon Jan 27, 2020 4:20 pm

What are the benefits of a custom start, in terms of game dynamics?
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Claesar
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Re: Starting positions

#7 Post by Claesar » Mon Jan 27, 2020 4:39 pm

Swede03 wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 2:52 pm
What if it were Pick you Supply Center where each player picks which three(or four!) of the territories colored their color at the start they would like to be supply centers? Then there is a build phase and the game starts with units in the territories they picked to be supply centers instead of the usual starting locations?
Yes, that's exactly the variant I described. It's fun!

Mencjusz
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Re: Starting positions

#8 Post by Mencjusz » Mon Jan 27, 2020 4:49 pm

RoganJosh wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 4:20 pm
What are the benefits of a custom start, in terms of game dynamics?
In my view, more possible outcomes, less predictable from the very beginning.

Mercy
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Re: Starting positions

#9 Post by Mercy » Mon Jan 27, 2020 7:03 pm

Paradoxically, giving players more options for their starting units can make the game more predictable. For example, in standard Diplomacy, you are not sure if Russia will try to move to Norway in the first year. If Russia can choose his own starting units, you can, however, be quite sure that he will move to Norway in the first turn.

Also, I agree with captainmeme with regards to game balance.
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mhsmith0
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Re: Starting positions

#10 Post by mhsmith0 » Mon Jan 27, 2020 7:16 pm

I think it unbalances things a good amount, mainly because the value of being able to make certain moves is lower or higher for certain powers, PLUS those options will benefit or detriment other powers differentially

England - probably builds F LVP to start with. LVP-NAO-MAO becomes normal, which hurts France, but also helps Russia because there's zero threat of an early English army in Scandinavia. But it's a really minor edge I'd think.

France - I don't know that France changes anything? Maybe F Mar-Spa, and then France has the option to bounce England's LVP navy in MAO in the fall? Minor direct edge.

Germany - I doubt Germany changes any starting builds.

Austria - I question whether Austria changes any starting builds. MAYBE Austria locks in an A/I alliance pregame by going all armies? But that also probably makes the game less itneresting b/c Austria has fewer options

Italy - F Rom is much more valuable than A Rom, unless Italy wants to blitz Austria off the bat. F Rom-TYS-Tun, then Italy can flex the Naples fleet (F Nap-ION-support Austria into Greece, or attempt to move into AEG or EMED)

Turkey - builds F Smy always. F Smy-AEG-Greece (supported by Bul). This hurts Italy and Austria and also DRASTICALLY helps Russia (because without A Smy-Arm as a threat, Russia can open north nearly risk free)

Russia - F STP NC >>>>>>>>> F STP SC. Cripples England, and comined with A Mos-STP, guarantees a Russian build. Also, the Octopus (War-Gal, Sev-BLA, STP-Nor, Mos-STP)
means that Rumania should be open for the fleet in the fall

I think TLDR, allowing you to build wahtever units you want heavily advantages Russia, heavily disadvantages England, and also locks in early game alliances much more than you'd really want to see.

R/T against A/I becomes almost inevitable
F/R gang up on England becomes almost inevitable
Germany gets short term gains via Sweden, but can get poached by France if he attacks Russia, or vice-versa, and no longer can count on England as a useful early game ally

You'd probably get a lot of games where it just boils down to A/I/G vs F/R/T, without much incentive to break up those alliance sets, and I think it'd be a more boring game as a cosnequence.
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Mencjusz
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Re: Starting positions

#11 Post by Mencjusz » Mon Jan 27, 2020 8:37 pm

but that is the point, there are many possibilities and you have elaborated one possible sequence of events.

I could imagine, for example, for Turkey to build 3 A and move North against Russia provided alliance with Austria, while Austria goes against Italy. Why not?

Swede03
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Re: Starting positions

#12 Post by Swede03 » Mon Jan 27, 2020 9:57 pm

What about the other possibility suggested? Where the home supply centers are moved around the country?

Claesar
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Re: Starting positions

#13 Post by Claesar » Tue Jan 28, 2020 6:57 am

Mencjusz wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 8:37 pm
...
I could imagine, for example, for Turkey to build 3 A and move North against Russia provided alliance with Austria, while Austria goes against Italy. Why not?
That is an excellent example of how the game would become less interesting. This Turn0 diplomacy would lock Turkey into one option for the rest of the game and therefore remove a lot of options.

I suggest you play the Classic variant some more to find out for yourself how many possibilities there are.

Mercy
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Re: Starting positions

#14 Post by Mercy » Tue Jan 28, 2020 9:11 am

Mencjusz wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 8:37 pm
I could imagine, for example, for Turkey to build 3 A and move North against Russia provided alliance with Austria, while Austria goes against Italy. Why not?
If Turkey was a bad player, he might do that, but not if he is a good player. Fleets are more beneficial for Turkey. In your example, it would be strictly better for Turkey to have a fleet in Ankara and move Ank - Bla, Smy - Arm, Con - Bul. If you are Turkey and you want to fight Russia, you need to fight for the Black Sea. Also, if Turkey and Austria are allied against Russia and Italy, Austria should build pure armies and Turkey should build a fleet in Smyrna and send it to the Aegean Sea, and then to Greece. From that position he could help Austria fight Italy and it's an extra build for him. Also, if Austria is a good player he will insist on Turkey building fleets. The more fleets Turkey has, the fewer armies he has, and the harder it will be for him to backstab Austria later on. If Turkey builds pure armies and succeeds in fighting Russia, the only viable next target will be Austria - it will not be possible for Turkey to attack anyone else.
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jay65536
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Re: Starting positions

#15 Post by jay65536 » Tue Jan 28, 2020 8:44 pm

Yeah, allowing people to choose their starting units is really unbalancing for some countries. And it is not just the ability to choose your units--it is the other countries' knowledge that you CHOSE those units.

Examples:
England: England actually gains no advantage and should keep the same units. A third fleet in Liverpool can't reach any centers, so antagonizing France while giving her a ton of warning doesn't seem good. England wants 2 fleets exactly, plus an army to convoy. England is majorly hurt by this format.

France: I have a hard time seeing how France gains by changing.

Germany: Same. Germany could build 2 fleets, I guess, if England was the target? But targeting Russia that way doesn't make sense.

Italy: Building F Rom is a sucker play. You help Austria more than you help yourself. But when Italy chooses not to do this, it now telegraphs an Austrian attack. So Italy is really screwed by this format.

Austria: 3 armies, all day every day. Austria is helped by this format. smith, I think you are really underestimating how powerful an army instead of a fleet in Trieste is. It changes everything!

Russia: The ability to build a different unit in StP is really good (and TERRIBLE for England), as is getting to see Turkey's builds before S01, but Austria having 3 armies basically cancels out the benefits.

Turkey: building F Smy is good for everything but attacking Russia. On the other hand, if allowed to negotiate, we could see A Ank and A Sev agreed on as the start of an R/T.

I think if you think it through, it comes back to the claim that allowing builds for starting units makes the game MORE predictable. Austria is powered up, Italy and England suffer, Russia and Turkey might be forced into an R/T since it's the only way to really use the new format without Russia being kneecapped by Austria. The game is quite well-balanced with the preexisting starting units!
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ziran
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Re: Starting positions

#16 Post by ziran » Tue Jan 28, 2020 10:44 pm

As others have pointed out, England is significantly hampered by F StP nc or even A StP. But England can still force Norway if Russia doesn't move Mos-StP. If England can convince Austria to arrange a bounce in Gal, Russia is less likely to hold Norway in the fall. If I were the Austrian player, chances are I would do it, as I don't want to see a no build England. But it depends on Italy. You could even arrange this before the builds, and possibly avoid Russia moving to Nor altogether, opting for a shot a Sweden instead.

No one else really gains anything from a turn 0 except Turkey. The ability to move to Aeg on the first turn is incredibly strong, and should only be passed up if you opt to force the Black Sea, which is also incredibly strong.

Austria has a short term advantage by having a three army start, but it's a long term disadvantage. You can not effectively stab Italy without fleets.

France could theoretically end the first year with a fleet in WMS or TYR, taking Por/Spa with armies. But I wouldn't do it unless I was part of western triple.

jay65536
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Re: Starting positions

#17 Post by jay65536 » Wed Jan 29, 2020 10:03 pm

There is a lot I could say in regards to how the opening theory of a Winter 1900 build would work (basically I think everyone who says it would have little impact is VERY wrong), but let me just focus on one of those, because I think you all are drastically underestimating how much just one thing would change the game dynamic. That is, what happens when (not if) Austria builds 3 armies?

All of a sudden, the Austrian opening theory EXPLODES. A fleet in Trieste is usually going to Albania to pick up Greece, unless it's bouncing in Venice. (Adriatic is even more rare.) Also, and more importantly, if the army in Budapest does anything except go to Serbia, you risk getting bounced out of Serbia by Turkey and your game getting summarily ruined.

But now think about what happens when Austria is allowed to open A Tri-Ser. The usually very risky move of A Bud-Rum is now on the table. So is A Bud S Vie-Gal, which you'd almost never see otherwise. Russia will all of a sudden have major problems getting any southern neutrals unless Austria expressly allows it. Also, if A/R are allied, Austria can put two units on Bulgaria in Fall 01 while Russia can still play to the Black Sea. The possibilities for Austria (and by extension for whichever of I/T Austria favors) are radically altered when Austria no longer needs Greece to have a realistic shot at 2 builds.

This is already a massive shift, and it's just based on the one move Tri-Ser. But there's more! Because Bud-Ser is still available, Austria can try other formerly unheard-of options. What about Tri-Tyr, Vie-Boh, giving Austria a crack at Munich while still picking up a build? Or just Vie-Boh in concert with Italy or Russia, still allowing the other two armies to roam the Balkans?

Furthermore, if Austria trusts Russia, she can virtually force Venice in this variant if Italy builds F Rom: A Tri S Vie-Tyr. I really disagree with ziran here: Austria CAN stab Italy without fleets, and even if you think it's difficult, I would counter that it is much less difficult for Austria to stab Italy after starting with 3 armies than it is for Italy to stab Austria after starting with 2 fleets.

Stopping Austria could be done, but it would take a concerted effort from powers who wouldn't have the luxury of taking their eye off the ball. Austria very clearly is favored in this variant; Russia and Turkey are not.
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mhsmith0
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Re: Starting positions

#18 Post by mhsmith0 » Thu Jan 30, 2020 12:03 am

Interesting theory wrt Austria but I'm not entirely sure I agree?

There's the ability to go 100% after Germany via Tri-Tyr and Vie-Boh... but only at the cost of being extrmely vulnerable to essentially all of Italy/Russia/Turkey

There's the ability to send Boh to Tyr, but standard Lepanto opening counters that via Rom-Alb, and F Rom-TYS and F Nap-Apu also counters it (TYS-Tun follows easily)... and a major commitment against Italy opens Austria up to R/T aggression as well.

I tentatively agree that Tri-Ser, Vie-Gal, and Bud-Rum is interesting, but that also opens Greece way up to Turkish aggression, as Smy-Aeg-Gre is still very powerful as a 1900 Turkish opening path.

I tentatively also think that a 3 army Austria is more or less forced to commit heavily to certain pro- or anti- openings relatively early, whereas plenty of other powers can take a more relaxed approach. Probably there's also some level of "Germany weighing in on preventing Austria from attacking Italy" in a similar manner to the inverse occurring on today's board (in particular: a dead/crippled Italy means France has a super free hand early on which is TERRIBLE for Germany - Germany opening to Tyrolia while Italy opens to Trieste easily bounces Austrian aggression, with nonzero but not enormous costs to Germany in terms of lost tempo)

So I guess TLDR I agree that 3 armies likely helps Austria compared to a forced fleet build, but I'm skeptical that it's a massive boost. Austria is still a threat to its three neighbors and still a tasty morsel if the other three align against it. Not sure that this meaningfully changes that status quo.

Russia is typically +1 or better, and can build an in Warsaw or Sev as an act of anti-Austrian intention; Turkey can send F Smy to Greece, and also has the option of supporting Ukr-Rum (along with F Sev doing same) which hammers an Austria who over-committed going east.

So... maybe you're right? But I tend to think Austria remains precarious, and +2 remains difficult. I could definitely be wrong though.

Ienpw_III
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Re: Starting positions

#19 Post by Ienpw_III » Thu Jan 30, 2020 2:48 am

Mencjusz wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 1:58 pm
However, I do plan to run 2 training sessions + 3 graded games
How on earth do you grade a Diplomacy game?

Mercy
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Re: Starting positions

#20 Post by Mercy » Thu Jan 30, 2020 5:04 am

For those interested: The Classic - With a custom start variant from vDiplomacy: https://vdiplomacy.net/variants.php?variantID=4
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