Subscribe to Computing Intelligence

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Solution to Puzzle 15: The Oblique Title Wars

After a long delay, here are the solutions to the latest puzzle.

Solutions were sent in by Scott, Ian*, and Robert. It should also be noted that Robert's solutions come in two varieties: those which Robert answered on his own first pass through, and then those solutions provided collectively by Robert and other members of the UNCG Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics.

1.) The Office of Modification
The Adjustment Bureau (Movie)
Solved by Scott and Robert.

2.) 510nm Illumination Device
Green Lantern (Comic book turned into a movie)
Solved by Scott and Robert + UNCG

3.) Crimson Literary Symbol
The Scarlet Letter (Book)
Solved by Ian and Robert + UNCG

4.) Consumes, Stalks & Exits
Eats, Shoots, & Leaves (Book)
Solved by Ian and Robert

5.) Verified Falsehoods
True Lies (Movie)
Solved by Scott, Ian, and Robert

6.) The Small Royal Son
The Little Prince (Book)
Solved by Scott, Ian, and Robert

7.) Occupant Wickedness
Resident Evil (Movie)
Robert + UNCG actually answered 'Bad Company' for this one

MASH or, as Scott pointed out, more correctly M*A*S*H (Television, although Scott also helpfully pointed out that the book and movie did not have the asterisks)
Solved by Scott and Robert + UNCG

9.) Searching for Kind Thoughts
Good Will Hunting (Movie)
This one was tricky, since goodwill is the synonym I used but is technically one word (and thus not the title of this film). Nevertheless, Robert+UNCG managed to get this one.

10.) Large Noise Conjecture
Big Bang Theory (Television)
Solved by Scott, Ian, and Robert + UNCG

11.) Contest of Feudal Seats of Power
Game of Thrones (Television)
Solved by Scott and Robert + UNCG

12.) The Windstorm
The Tempest (Shakespearean Play)
I was hoping people would realize there hadn't been any Shakespeare yet and guess this, but it was clearly too ambiguous a clue. Scott answered 'The Hurricane' (Movie) and Robert + UNCG answered 'Twister' (Movie).

* Ian used to be known around here as Cornucrapia, but he has recently embarked on an adventure teaching English in Korea, and has started a new blog to chronicle his experiences. It is well worth checking out.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interim Puzzle

I had a number of people tell me they would get back to me with more answers from this past puzzle, so I have decided to provide a brief extension before I post the answers. In the meantime, here is a very cool pictorial puzzle that one of Sarah's friends shared with her called Not to Scale. It is surprisingly fun and challenging.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Puzzle Number 15: The Oblique Title Wars

I realize it has been a long time since I posted my last puzzle. Since the Oblique Title puzzles have always seemed to be a favourite, I figured another installment made the most sense. As a reminder to those who haven't played before, the following is a set of movie, television show, book, or play titles which have been obscured through the use of synonyms. I make every effort to ensure that the titles I have selected are at least reasonably famous.

Feel free to look at earlier Oblique Title puzzles to get a better idea (for example, the first Oblique Title puzzle, or even the whole collection).

As usual, please refrain from leaving the answers in the comments, and instead send your answers to:

1.) The Office of Modification

2.) 510nm Illumination Device

3.) Crimson Literary Symbol

4.) Consumes, Stalks & Exits

5.) Verified Falsehoods

6.) The Small Royal Son

7.) Occupant Wickedness


9.) Searching for Kind Thoughts

10.) Large Noise Conjecture

11.) Contest of Feudal Seats of Power

12.) The Windstorm

No Diplomacy?

For those that actually found my analysis of the first couple turns of a Diplomacy game interesting, you must be wondering what happened to the rest. Well, there were a couple factors which disrupted my analysis of the remainder of the game:

1.) The game moved very quickly. With each phase on a 12 hour cycle, I quickly ended up behind on my analysis. Since I had therefore seen ahead several turns ahead from when I was analyzing, I felt my predictions were no longer particularly fair.

2.) A number of players ended up dropping out of the game, massively skewing its outcome. The first player to drop was Turkey in Fall 1903, but another player took over in Spring 1904 and gallantly played out an admittedly weak position. More unfortunately, in Fall 1905 Germany made a couple very clever retreats behind Russian lines, and the Russian player (despite his commanding lead and still quite viable position) simply stopped submitting orders in Spring 1906, ultimately auto-surrendering in Spring 1907. This completely upset the balance of the game, since it left a massive power vacuum in the east.

Despite this, the winner (Italy) played a very good game (and Germany, the second Turkey, and Austria-Hungary all lost with good grace), and the public press is fairly amusing as well. Therefore, if you are curious to see how the game progressed, I believe it is publicly viewable. One can click on the order history button in the top right and scroll through the turns to see how the game progressed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Exercise in Diplomacy: Spring 1902

The first two turns left Russia with a lot of forward momentum into the Balkans and Austria-Hungary, but with Turkey aimed at her underbelly. Despite Turkey’s strategic position, he did not utilize his secured build from the conquest of Bulgaria, making me think that Turkey’s player has possibly even dropped the game. Austria-Hungary and Italy were both held at three builds, although Austria-Hungary was in a distinctly worse position with his capital of Vienna under control by a Russian army. Germany, France, and England all managed to secure two builds, and what remains to be seen is who in the west will be the odd man out.

Spring 1902 Orders

Spring 1902
Norway MOVE Skagerrack -> resolved
Edinburgh MOVE North Sea -> Bounced
London HOLD -> resolved
Belgium SUPPORT Burgundy to Ruhr -> Dislodged by A Ruh - Bel
North Sea MOVE North Sea -> Illegal order replaced with Hold order

Dislodged Army in Belgium destroyed.

Britain faces a French back-stab, which she probably should have seen coming given the French fleet built in Brest. France clearly convinced Britain he would be making an attack on Ruhr, leaving Britain supporting a non-existent attack. In addition to the French stab, Britain somehow managed to foul up two of her own orders, disrupting her fleet movements. Despite her almost overwhelming force of fleets, leaving three of them just sitting in place puts Britain in a bad place. Now that France has thrown his lot in with Germany, Britain will most likely swing her fleet from Edinburgh around to Clyde to either cover Liverpool if France sends a fleet into the Irish Sea or North Atlantic, or to help mount a future attack on France.

Brest MOVE English Channel -> resolved
Paris MOVE Picardy -> resolved
Portugal MOVE Mid-Atlantic Ocean -> resolved
Spain MOVE Gascony -> resolved
Burgundy SUPPORT Ruhr to Belgium -> resolved

France was left in an excellent position at the end of the last year, with an Italy clearly occupied in the east and a war brewing between Germany and Britain, he virtually had the pick of his allies. Now that he is in possession of the English Channel, France faces a conundrum. Unless Germany can quickly take control of the North Sea (which is unlikely given that their hand has been tipped and Russia has two fleets bearing down on the Baltic Sea), France cannot hold the Channel without tying up both his fleets. However, any delay just gives Britain more time to get into defensive position and possibly even rally support in the south. I would recommend France either makes sure his fleets stay in position by supporting from the Mid Atlantic this turn and convoys an army into Wales (or London, if he thinks Britain will gamble and try to stop a move to Wales with her fleet), or France should gamble that Britain won’t force his fleet out of the Channel and send his fleet from the Mid Atlantic to the North Atlantic. Once in the Mid Atlantic, France can threaten Liverpool or move to the Norwegian Sea, where he can threaten both Edinburgh and Norway, forcing Britain’s fleets into a chasing game. Either outcome (a French army on British soil or a French fleet in the northern waters) will work wonders in disrupting Britain’s defense and counterattack. Without accomplishing either, however, Britain’s superior naval power (with Russian help) will be able to push France and Germany back and punish them. Even without Russian help, Britain can force France and Germany into a long and slow grind.

Munich MOVE Silesia -> resolved
Kiel SUPPORT Holland to hold -> resolved
Holland SUPPORT Ruhr to Belgium -> resolved
Ruhr MOVE Belgium -> resolved
Denmark HOLD -> resolved

Germany has managed to drive Britain into the sea and seize Belgium for the Kaiser, but his prospects remain far from certain. Britain’s bungled moves have saved Germany the fearful prospect of a British fleet in the Heligoland Bight, North Sea, and Skaagerak, but he still lacks possession of the North Sea. I find his lack of fleet use surprising, although his support of Holland from Kiel suggests that he did not yet fully trust his French ally. Even so, the order of Denmark to the North Sea would, more than likely, have served him well. If Britain had successfully exited the North Sea, such a move would prevent Edinburgh from moving in to take its place and leave Denmark still safely in place.

More confusing is Germany’s developing relationship with Russia, but that will be discussed in more detail when Russia’s moves are dealt with. Munich remains dangerously exposed, with a Russian, Italian, and French army all sitting around its perimeter.

Ionian Sea MOVE Greece -> resolved
Venice MOVE Trieste -> resolved
Tyrolia SUPPORT Trieste to Vienna -> resolved

Italy finally moved into his first neutral supply centre, but was forced to do it with his fleet. That means his fleet will have to stay in place next turn to gain control, and it will be at least another year before Italy takes possession of Tunisia. If he is not careful, France may manage to sneak a fleet around the Iberian horn (or build one in Marseilles) and steal Tunisia out from under him. Even more in Italy’s favour, however, is that he now has an army in Trieste. Combined with his an army in Tyrolia, Italy has the potential to break out of the peninsular shell that show many Italians find themselves stuck in. However, by working with the Austro-Hungarians, Italy has likely alienated his erstwhile Russian ally, and must continue to build his forces. Altogether, however, I think Italy had a good year.

Serbia MOVE Budapest -> Bounced
Albania SUPPORT Ionian Sea to Greece -> resolved
Trieste MOVE Vienna -> resolved

Austria-Hungary had an interesting turn. In many ways, he appeared to pick Italy as the lesser evil, sacrificing Trieste to the Italians in order to get Vienna back. If Greece and Trieste are truly enough to satisfy Italy, then Austria-Hungary may have actually bought himself some time, and even the prospect of a resurgence. As long as Trieste remains in the hands of the Italians, however, Austria-Hungary’s fleet will remain lonely and cut off from the prospect of naval support. With a possible alliance with Italy, however, the fleet becomes almost a hindrance, and Austria-Hungary may even try to coordinate its demise with Italy’s help. If not, Austria-Hungary may actually try a stab of his own, and oust Italy from Greece next turn given Turkey’s distraction with Russia. Regardless, Austria-Hungary remains in a troubled position, and the actions of a desperate player are hard to telegraph. I think the player deserves some credit for continuing to play the game. Too many players simply drop a game in the face of initial setbacks.

Black Sea SUPPORT Armenia to Sevastopol -> Supported unit has failed
Armenia MOVE Sevastopol -> Bounced
Bulgaria MOVE Rumania -> Bounced

Turkey had two attack patterns to choose from: although Bulgaria and Armenia are directed to attack Rumania and Sevastopol, respectively, Turkey must choose whether his fleet supports the attack on Rumania or Sevastopol. Russia has a counter to each move (if Turkey focuses on Rumania, Russia can cut support from the Black Sea with her fleet. If Turkey focuses on Sevastopol, Russia can do what she did: sit in Sevastopol and support from Moscow), but if she guesses incorrectly Turkey will take his target. It should be noted that Turkey did have one option that would have guaranteed him Rumania (at least without Austro-Hungarian intervention): attack Rumania with his fleet and support from Bulgaria. The main reason not to do this, however, would be that if Russia did attack the Black Sea from Sevastopol in the same turn, she would gain control of the Black Sea while Turkey would have a largely useless fleet sitting in Rumania. Turkey’s lack of a build last turn now becomes incredibly important; Russia was much more likely to be able to guess which of the two attacks Turkey would make because, without an army having been built in Constantinople, advancing out of Bulgaria leaves him incredibly exposed. Russia thus made the correct guess, and now Turkey has wasted his momentum. Without Austro-Hungarian help, Turkey cannot break Russia’s current position. Even more worrisome, an Austro-Hungarian and Italian alliance could potentially walk into Bulgaria (and could even do so unstoppably if Russia happens to cut Turkish support in the Black Sea or provides support from Rumania). Despite the presence of a Russian army in Galicia now (which could allow Russia to completely shut down Turkey’s attack without having to guess), the Galician army is likely to be busy dealing with Austria-Hungary and Turkey probably still has a shot next turn. His best tactic, I believe, would be to attack Rumania from the Black Sea and support from Bulgaria (while attacking Sevastopol from Armenia). Even if Russia takes the Black Sea, Turkey will now have two builds and will be able to completely encircle the Russian southern fleet, destroying it in the Spring. Russia will be unlikely to get the necessary builds to put a second fleet in Sevastopol (even though it will likely be vacant from a bounce between Armenia and Moscow) because she will have lost Rumania (and possibly Vienna).

Moscow SUPPORT Rumania to Sevastopol -> Supported unit has failed
Warsaw MOVE Galicia -> resolved
Sevastopol MOVE Black Sea -> Bounced
Rumania MOVE Sevastopol -> Bounced
Sweden HOLD -> resolved
Vienna MOVE Budapest -> Dislodged by A Tri - Vie
St. Petersburg (South Coast) MOVE Gulf of Bothnia -> resolved

Dislodged Army in Vienna retreats to Bohemia

The Great Russian Bear appears to have run into some slight trouble (most likely owing to the entirely reasonable fear of her swift growth in the first turn) but she still remains in a strong position. Although her army was forced out of Vienna, it was able to retreat to Bohemia. Since Budapest remains vacant, unless Italy and Austria-Hungary are fully allied now such that Italy supports Austria-Hungary in Vienna, she can force her way back in next turn. She successfully guessed the correct defense against Turkey, so she has managed to maintain her position in Rumania and Sevastopol.

Russia’s relationship with Germany has gotten quite complicated. The German army in Silesia threatens Warsaw, while the Russian army in Bohemia potentially threatens Munich. Likewise, Russia has the potential to force herself into the Baltic Sea, particularly since Germany’s fleets are sure to be tied up defending a British onslaught. Despite all of this, however, Russia’s fleet in Sweden held last turn (as did Germany’s fleet in Denmark) rather than try any sort of hostile movement against each other, which at least suggests the possibility of an understanding. Russia may be playing Britain and Germany against each other, promising aid (or at least mutual non-aggression in the case of Germany) to both of them. Given Britain’s poor bargaining position, I would not be surprised if Russia left Germany alone and waltzed into Norway. It is a gutsy move diplomatically to build a fleet on the anti-German coast of St. Petersburg to actually go after the British, but sometimes those are the most effective forms of subterfuge (as long as they don’t incite your pretend enemy to launch a preemptive attack). It is a tough call to make in the long run; the elimination of Britain greatly strengthens France and Germany, but of the three western powers Britain generally causes Russia the most headaches (at least in the early game), and Russia can always try appealing to French greed to carve Germany up once Britain is gone (depending on how enticing a target Italy appears to be). Unless the ground-work of a Franco-Russian alliance has already been started, though, Russia should not rely too heavily on the prospect of French help in the future. A Franco-German alliance without a British enemy beind them can remain incredibly strong, and Russia is already a powerful enough single entity that any other power should think twice before aiding her.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Start of the Week Quotations

It's a late quotation update today; I woke up sick and then had my desktop die in the morning, so the week got off to a rocky start.

"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favour." - Robert Frost, American poet, 1874-1963

"Bach almost persuades me to be a Christian." - Roger Fry, English art critic, 1866-1934

"The Soviet Union has indeed been our greatest menace, not so much because of what it has done, but because of the excuses it has provided us for our failures." - J. William Fulbright, American politician, 1905-95

"The salary of the chief executive of the large corporation is not a market reward for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself."
"Trickle-down theory - the less than elegant metaphor that if one feeds the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows."
- J. K. Galbraith, Canadian-American economist, 1908-2006

Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Exercise in Diplomacy: 1901

In the vein of my recent return to Diplomacy, I decided to use the option to follow a game of Diplomacy. I found a game which appears to have all players active (one of the unfortunate aspects of the public games appears to be a tendency for some players to join up but then forget about the game, leaving their units sitting without orders. This dramatically changes the dynamics of the game), and I have decided to try following the game. Each turn I will give commentary on the positions, and try to predict what will happen in the future. It is important to note that, while I can view the order history and state of the game, I cannot view the actual messages being transmitted by the players. I additionally do not know any of the players, which means that my predictions will be based solely on board position. Thus, I expect I will be wrong much of the time, but I find it an interesting exercise nonetheless. Hopefully you will, too, and even decide to debate my tactical analysis.

Although I will generally give commentary on only one turn at a time, I’ve decided to wait and combine the first year into a single post.

Spring 1901 Orders (click to enlarge)

Spring 1901
Edinburgh MOVE Norwegian Sea -> resolved
Liverpool MOVE Yorkshire -> resolved
London MOVE North Sea -> resolved

This is a fairly standard British opening. It is a good compromise between being nervous about the Russians (both fleets are available to ensure Norway is an British conquest in the first year) and the French (the army in Yorkshire is available to guard London if France betrays Britain and takes the Channel). The only major drawback is that the army in Yorkshire can only be convoyed by the North Sea, and thus if Britain decides to take a Scandinavian route of advancement she must abdicate any claim on Belgium. Given Russia’s focus on the south, however, I predict that Britain will take Norway with his Norwegian Sea fleet, leaving the North Sea fleet and Yorkshire army available to possibly take Belgium (depending on what France and Germany have to say about that).

Marseilles MOVE Spain -> resolved
Paris MOVE Burgundy -> resolved
Brest MOVE Mid-Atlantic Ocean -> resolved

This is also a fairly common French opening, as it is an excellent compromise between defense (capturing Burgundy or at least preventing a German army from holding it early), and the conquest of Iberia. A French army in Burgundy has the potential to upset Germany, but it can also be used to keep France in the decision for Belgium. Given that every player has a unit facing Belgium, it is very hard to guess what will happen there.

Munich MOVE Ruhr -> resolved
Berlin MOVE Kiel -> resolved
Kiel MOVE Denmark -> resolved

Germany also opened with what is probably the most popular German opening. His fleet in Denmark gives him leverage with Russia over the fate of Sweden, while he can either support himself into Holland to guarantee its acquisition (if he thinks Britain might risk standing him out of it), make a go for both Holland and Belgium, or turn one army around to protect Munich if he thinks France might make a stab for it.

Venice MOVE Tyrolia -> Bounced
Rome MOVE Venice -> Bounced
Naples MOVE Ionian Sea -> resolved

Italy opened aggressively against Austria-Hungary, but was preempted in his attack by an Austro-Hungarian attack on Tyrolia launched from Vienna. Thus, the entire Italian army train has been halted in its tracks. Italy’s fleet is still poised to either argue over Greece or, more likely, snag Tunisia.

Vienna MOVE Tyrolia -> Bounced
Trieste MOVE Albania -> resolved
Budapest MOVE Serbia -> resolved

Austria-Hungary successfully guessed and prevented Italy’s opening attack, but at the cost of preventing a Russian move to Galicia. While Austria-Hungary’s fleet is now in position to be supported into Greece by his army in Serbia, such a move would leave the Viennese army trying to simultaneously defend all three Austro-Hungarian home supply centres (assuming an actual attack by both Russia and Italy). It is very difficult to predict Austria-Hungary’s fate without some knowledge of the messages being passed around, but at this point it looks like he might be facing a dreaded Italo-Russian alliance seeking to carve up his country. He must entreat Turkey and possibly Germany for aid or risk facing an early exit. It might even be worthwhile to risk moving Serbia back to Budapest while covering Trieste from Vienna and make an unsupported attack on Greece with his fleet. Turkey is unlikely to go for Greece given his move to Armenia leaves no other units to cover Bulgaria, and Italy is more likely to go for the sure build of Tunisia rather than risk not getting a supply centre. The main risk with such an approach is missing out on Serbia if Russia doesn’t attack Budapest, but that may be preferable to the early loss of a home centre.

Constantinople MOVE Bulgaria -> resolved
Ankara MOVE Black Sea -> Bounced
Smyrna MOVE Armenia -> resolved

Turkey has opened up with the ‘Russian Attack’ by moving an army to Armenia, an opening which is about as unsubtle as they come. It is unsurprising that Russia has bounced his attack on the Black Sea, but that does limit his ability to do much from Armenia. Turkey should be breathing a sigh of relief, however, since Italy’s spoiled move train this turn prevents an early Lepanto opening, while Austria-Hungary looks to be heavily beleaguered. Turkey will most likely be able to dictate alliance terms to Austria-Hungary, gaining a desperate and grateful ally, or take advantage of the chaos caused by Italy and Russia to gobble up as much of the Balkans as possible, providing much faster Turkish gains than are usually possible.

Moscow MOVE Ukraine -> resolved
St. Petersburg (South Coast) MOVE Gulf of Bothnia -> resolved
Warsaw MOVE Galicia -> resolved
Sevastopol MOVE Black Sea -> Bounced

Russia is off to a fairly aggressive start in the south, though her aggression appears to have paid off with the occupation of Galicia. Russia will be hoping that the diplomatic pull of Austria-Hungary is not enough to convince Germany to stand her out of Sweden, and that her single unit northern opening is not enough to convince Britain to pursue gains in an Anglo-Russian war. In the south, it appears that Russia has an early enemy in Turkey, and her acquisition of Galicia is unlikely to make her any Austro-Hungarian friends. Still, with Italy looking to attack Austria-Hungary from the west, Russia’s best bet is likely to make as many acquisitions as quickly as she can and move to crush Austria-Hungary before he can rally a defense, and batter down Turkey before he can get too strong. The secret to cracking Turkey, though, will likely to come down to the Italian navy.

Fall 1901 Orders (Click to Enlarge)

Fall 1901
Norwegian Sea MOVE Norway -> resolved
Yorkshire MOVE Belgium -> resolved
North Sea CONVOY Yorkshire to Belgium -> resolved

Britain is sitting in a fairly comfortable position, with an expeditionary force supported onto the continent by French forces and Norway safely under British control. Whether this is developing into a full Anglo-French alliance remains to be seen, but Germany is likely to be at least a little nervous.

Spain HOLD -> resolved
Burgundy SUPPORT Yorkshire to Belgium -> resolved
Mid-Atlantic Ocean MOVE Portugal -> resolved

Whether to take Portugal with the fleet or the army is always a dilemma for France. I usually prefer to put the fleet on the south coast of Spain, as that gives the maximum number of future options for the fleet, but it does tend to make Italy nervous and put the army in Portugal well away from the action. Given the hintings of an Anglo-French alliance (particularly since France helped an English army into Belgium rather than just the fleet) but the lack of a French fleet pointed toward the Mediterranean, Germany should be nervous of his French neighbour. Still, if the plan was a quick exit for the Germans, France could easily have made a stab at the empty Munich.

Ruhr SUPPORT Kiel to Holland -> resolved
Kiel MOVE Holland -> resolved
Denmark HOLD -> resolved

Germany chose not to bounce the Russian fleet from Sweden, which suggests at least a decently amicable relationship between the German Empire and the Bear. At the same time, his choice to force Holland rather than try for both Holland and Belgium suggests a poor relationship with Britain. What is interesting, though, is that Germany’s moves suggest a wariness of Britain far beyond that which he feels for France, as he neither protected Munich from a possible French stab nor worried about the fate of Belgium (had the British gone after Holland, Belgium would have gone entirely uncontested to the French). Although France appears to be supporting Britain, Germany’s apparent trust could suggest that France is maintaining amicable relations with both, and could even be arranging a Franco-German alliance to attack a Britain over-extended in a war on Germany. Even though Britain’s army in Belgium gives Britain a toehold on the continent, without French support that army could fairly easily be destroyed.

Venice MOVE Tyrolia -> resolved
Rome MOVE Venice -> resolved
Ionian Sea MOVE Greece -> Bounced

Italy’s actions were interesting. The lack of attack on Trieste was a good guess, and not only provides Russia with Vienna but also puts Italy in a good position to control Trieste by the end of this coming year. However, the attack on Greece was surprising. This was bad for both Italy and Austria-Hungary; both countries are now stuck with only their starting units. Italy will have to work very hard to make sure he does not get left behind by his Russian and Turkish allies when it comes to the spoils of the ailing Dual Monarchy.

Vienna MOVE Trieste -> resolved
Albania MOVE Greece -> Bounced
Serbia SUPPORT Albania to Greece -> Supported unit has failed

Things are not looking good for the Dual Monarchy, with a Russian army controlling his capital and the Turks conspiring with the Italians to keep him out of Greece. Unless the war between Turkey and Russia quickly escalates, Austria-Hungary is looking at an early exit. He had a bad opening (through little fault of his own), and his defensive gambit was unfortunately the wrong choice of moves. Of course, my proposed moves also would have been disastrous, and even the ‘correct’ defense of leaving the Viennese army in place would not have changed the inevitable too greatly; Austria-Hungary is sitting in the worst possible position with an enemy on every side (the only thing that would be worse would be Germany piling on too).

Bulgaria SUPPORT Ionian Sea to Greece -> Supported unit has failed
Ankara MOVE Black Sea -> resolved
Armenia MOVE Sevastopol -> Bounced

Turkey’s moves are inscrutable to me. With his armies heading east around the Black Sea as well as into the Balkans, he is not poised to make gains in the Balkans nearly as quickly as the Russian forces. Therefore, his decision to support Italy into Greece is very surprising to me. The only reason I could think of for such a choice would be to try and curry Italian favour against Russia once Austria-Hungary falls, though I will be surprised if this pays off. Turkey is a much more natural target than Russia for a naval power like Italy, particularly if the Italian player is in control of Greece as well as the Ionian Sea. With the opportunity to either support Austria-Hungary (and thereby delay his demise) or move to prevent Russia’s conquest of Rumania, it seems like there were much better options for Turkey’s Bulgarian army. Still, we will see how things go in the future. Turkey now controls the Black Sea and Russia lacks the capacity to build another southern fleet, so he at least has secured a vital tactical position against Russia.

Ukraine MOVE Rumania -> resolved
Gulf of Bothnia MOVE Sweden -> resolved
Galicia MOVE Vienna -> resolved
Sevastopol SUPPORT Ukraine to Rumania -> Support cut by a arm - sev

Things went pretty well for Russia in the opening year. Poised to get three builds, Russia is emerging as a powerful eastern force. Probably the only unfortunate turn of events is Turkey’s occupancy of the Black Sea. I am fairly surprised that Russia did not use her fleet to block the Black Sea again. Even though that would risk Turkey not making a move for the Black Sea and then walking into Sevastopol, the army in Sevastopol would be entirely cut off and could be forced out with the subsequent Russian builds. Of course, such a tactic would be a gamble, since none of Russia’s secured builds were guaranteed, so Russia’s choice was perhaps safer even if it gives Turkey a decent position despite his smaller force.

Position in Spring 1902, following 1901 Builds

Builds 1901
BUILD fleet London -> resolved
BUILD fleet Edinburgh -> resolved

Britain has managed to leverage his builds into a truly impressive navy. Any future builds should most likely be armies, but a four fleet force puts Britain in a decently secure position. The lack of a fleet in Liverpool is at least a nod in the direction of Anglo-French relations, though Britain could still make a go at the English Channel.

BUILD army Paris -> resolved
BUILD fleet Brest -> resolved

Despite his overwhelming naval superiority, Britain should be at least a little wary of France’s builds. The fleet in Brest has few targets other than the English Channel that could not been more effectively targeted by armies, particularly since the Portuguese fleet has few other movement options other than back into the Mid-Atlantic Ocean (he could move his fleet to one of Spain’s coasts, but then it would have made more sense to simply put his fleet there in the first place).

BUILD army Munich -> resolved
BUILD fleet Kiel -> resolved

Germany’s build choices are probably the least surprising; he has tensions with the British which makes a fleet in Kiel a natural choice, and an army in Munich puts to rest the worry of a French stab from Burgundy.

BUILD army Warsaw -> resolved
BUILD army Moscow -> resolved
BUILD fleet St. Petersburg (South Coast) -> resolved

The only choice Russia had with his builds was what to put in St. Petersburg. The choice of a fleet in the south coast is quite surprising, and should be making Germany very nervous. With Austria-Hungary facing an early elimination and Russia in possession of a powerful army that needs to go somewhere, the potential of a pair of Russian fleets operating around the Baltic Sea can only be bad news for the German Empire.

No builds?

This was perhaps the most surprising development, with Turkey forgetting to build a new unit. If this means that the Turkish player has dropped out of the game, this is bad news for everyone except Russia. Italy and Austria-Hungary may both feel some relief, but the benefit to Russia stands to quickly outweigh their short-term benefits of a Turkish drop-out.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Anatomy of a Diplomacy Player

I wrote a while ago about the game of Diplomacy (part I, part II, and part III). I have recently been thinking more about the game since I was invited to play my first game ‘by post’ (in the modern sense by playing online). Much has been written about various strategies for the game, so I thought it would be well worth instead concentrating on the characteristics of the players themselves. An important thing to realize about Diplomacy is that not everyone will enjoy it, but for those that do, there isn’t really another game like it. Thus, what follows is an attempt to compile a list of aspects of Diplomacy which should be considered if one is thinking about trying the game.

Play is Methodical
A game of Diplomacy develops slowly; every turn takes about twenty to thirty minutes (when playing face-to-face) or several days to weeks (when playing by post). Most of the pleasure of the game results from methodical contemplation and careful planning. Likewise, there is no chance in Diplomacy aside from the choices of the other players, which makes tactical planning a fascinating mental exercise of projecting moves and counter-moves. If a player enjoys games like chess, then Diplomacy could be worth trying.

There is another aspect to the methodical nature of Diplomacy that is not reflected in Chess: the amount of writing involved. When playing face-to-face or in some methods of post play, all orders must be written (in a particular format, no less), and when playing by post most correspondence will be mostly written (I have heard of some players coordination moves by phone or by meeting up, but that is less common than electronic or, for old-school players, paper messages). I have tried to introduce the game to some friends who have flat-out balked at the amount of writing involved. In this sense roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons which require careful maintenance of a character sheet (or entire worlds if one is the DM) are a better example of the type of necessary disposition.

If you find this difficult
Although there really isn’t a way to make Diplomacy a faster paced game, there are options and variants which can reduce the burden of these aspects. If you find writing out orders according to a stringently enforced syntax to be frustrating, one can try playing with electronic engines (through the web such as with or on one’s computer using an engine like jDip) which allow more intuitive point-and-click interfaces for orders.

Additionally, a variant which might be of interest is one which is usually called ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’ or ‘No-press Diplomacy’ and disallows direct communication between players (although much can be communicated through orders, much like bidding in Bridge). The pace of a gunboat game tends to be faster than standard games due to the lack of a distinct Diplomacy phase, and therefore might be of more interest to those who finding composing messages and maintaining relationships burdensome.

Players Must Handle Losing
This is a difficult characteristic to find, particularly among methodical game players (who tend to like games, and therefore play a lot of games and get rather good at them). However, there is no getting around the fact that Diplomacy is difficult. There are seven people playing who generally would all like to win, and thus the game becomes a volatile mixture of competing interests. Even the best players will face stagnation or outright elimination in a large number of games they play.

Although there are other games that support a large number of players (for example, Settlers of Catan with its expansion can have six players), those games are able to mitigate the fact that only one of those players can win by having every player simultaneously advancing and accomplishing small goals in a steady progression toward victory. In Diplomacy, however, it is a very real possibility that one’s forces will be whittled down before one is eliminated from the game entirely.

If you find this difficult
I am going to combine this section with the response to the next section, as they are closely related.

Players Must Handle Being Stabbed
Closely related to being able to lose without getting too upset is the capacity to be stabbed in the back (obviously metaphorically). Everyone who plays games knows that losing happens, but what makes Diplomacy different is that almost all losses come at the hands of a coalition of other players, with one or more of those players professing friendship (or, at the very least, ambivalence) right up until the devastating moment of the strike. In a game like Settlers of Catan a trade boycott might be enacted against the strongest player, or a player might spitefully refuse to trade with a particular opponent, but players cannot connive to directly destroy one another.

Of course, I’m not saying that one must like getting stabbed, but it is important to recognize that it is not (or, at least, should not be) a personal vendetta that has led to one player promising one set of moves and instead making another. There are all sorts of moral codes and guidelines that various enthusiasts have developed over the years outlining when one should and should not go about putting the metaphorical knife in another player’s back, but I feel such an exercise is largely useless. The only point I think that everyone needs to be aware of at the outset of the game is that it is a game. When France promises to support England's convoy into Belgium with the French fleet sitting in the English Channel, but then instead sails into a now vacant London, England will obviously be miffed. The important thing is to make sure that any hurt or anger experienced is transient; if one finds oneself holding grudges well past the end of the game or against the other player as a person rather than as a Diplomacy player, then perhaps Diplomacy is not a game one should be playing. Not only will it be hard to have fun if you are always finding yourself nurturing ill-will toward other players, but spoiling friendships over a board game would be a terrible waste.

If you find this difficult
Richard Sharp makes the claim in his book The Game of Diplomacy that ‘good ally’ players (those who make alliances and doggedly stick with them through the entire game, come what may) are beginners much more often than experienced players (the other extreme is that new players try to be too diplomatically slippery and make a lot of very poor stabs). While I think he is unfairly hostile to the ‘good ally’ style of play (there is nothing inherently wrong with it, so long as the alliance itself is a spontaneous entity contained to the single game and not simply two players deciding to ally in every game regardless of what happens), I do not think he is wrong about the demographics of ‘good ally’ players. Richard Sharp does not make any attempt to address the reason for such a tendency, though, and I think that is something which is important to bring up. Handling being stabbed is a psychological skill, and it takes practice. Beginners are less likely to recognize the stab as a pragmatic maneuver on the part of their erstwhile allies, and are instead more likely to interpret it as a personal betrayal. This, in turn, also makes beginners less likely to execute stabs themselves, since they see it as a personal affront to another player whom they hold no actual ill will against.

Therefore, I think one manner of getting over a difficulty with the harsher diplomatic aspects of the game is to play a few more games, but treat the games as practice and consciously start the game with low expectations. A good way to do this is to play online with players you have never met. Take some risks and see what happens. See if you can predict when your allies will backstab you, as predicting a stab is the first step in preventing it. Keep in mind that these games are practice, and in that way keep yourself emotionally distant. Once this has been accomplished in a few practice games, you will realize that there is no great shame in losing or being stabbed in the back, and it should be easier to maintain that resilience in other games of Diplomacy.

Note: If you are going to read Richard Sharp's book that I have linked to, it is also a good idea to read this review. As the reviewer points out, Sharp writes well, but is exceedingly biased toward the central powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, to the point of advocating play styles that are not necessarily in the best interests of the players involved. It can easily come about that France and England (or France and Russia, England and Russia, or even France, England, and Russia if Germany is particularly unlucky) might find it in their best interest to attack Germany early and hard, despite Sharp's view that France and England must immediately be at each other's throats and it is foolhardy for Russia to do anything but yield gracefully to the German Empire.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ben Stein is a Monster

A while ago, I published a post titled Ben Stein is an Ass. What I didn't realize at the time is that he is also a misogynistic monster. In response to the recent rape accusations against the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ben Stein has written a horribly misguided and out-dated op-ed. It almost has to be read to be believed, but Stein trots out a long list of 'points' that run the gamut from old-school misogyny to just plain bizarre.

I don't know if I want Stein's words gracing the pages of my blog, so I think I'll just offer a quick summary of his points:

1.) Once a man reaches a certain age, if he hasn't yet been caught for a crime, he cannot possibly be now. It's like a statute of limitations, but for a man's age rather than the time since the crime.

2.) If no one with a particular subset of shared characteristics with the accused has ever been charged with a certain crime before, then the accused clearly should also not be charged with that crime, because that would make the accusation an anomaly, and what are the chances of that? That's about as likely as a bacterial flagellum evolving!

3.) Old fat men need a weapon to rape a woman. Other forms of physical or mental intimidation and coercion clearly don't exist.

4.) It's crazy to claim someone is a flight risk when he was arrested on a flight leaving the country if he happened to book the ticket months in advance.

5.) Rich, important men shouldn't have to be remanded if they graciously offer to put themselves up in more comfortable accommodations.

6.) How could we possibly take a maid's rape allegations seriously when Ben Stein has had maids in the past that have stolen some of his stuff?

7.) The media shouldn't rampantly speculate on ongoing high-profile cases. This is a point that surprisingly approaches legitimacy, but it should count extra because Ben Stein is friends with famous people.

8.) When rich people are accused of crimes, it's because poor people are jealous.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Midweek Quotations

I have neglected my blogging duties for too long. Since I am trapped at home today by the snow, I have no excuse not to pull out my book and select another instalment of quotations.

"You think you are dying for your country; you die for the industrialists." - Anatole France, French novelist, 1844-1924

"It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have been forged in controversies involving not very nice people." - Felix Frankfurter, American Judge, 1882-1965
Spoken in dissent to the ruling in United States v. Rabinowitz (1950)

"The Pentagon, that immense monument to modern man's subservience to the desk." - Lord Franks, British philosopher and administrator, 1905-92

"Technology... the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it." - Max Frisch, Swiss novelist and dramatist, 1911-91