Legendary Tactics

After reviewing the first entry in Chris Martin’s Diplomacy Academy from his YouTube channel, I thought it would be nice to also look at other YouTube Dip channels. One of my favourites – content-wise – is Legendary Tactics.

Legendary Tactics isn’t a Dip channel, as such, as it features a range of board games. However, there is some good Dip content here. I especially like the “How to Win as …” series which has interviews with renowned Dip players about about playing each power.

For this post, however, I’m going to start by looking at their “Beginner’s Guide” video.

Let’s start with something a little contentious. Within the first few seconds of the video starting the narrator states that: “This year [2020] Diplomacy has come to life as it has migrated from predominantly face-to-face platforms to virtual ones.”

Now, Legendary Tactics state that their speciality is “digital tabletop gaming“. I’m not sure, then, why they have decided to omit the years where Diplomacy grew with the introduction of internet sites – Webplay. And they must have deliberately omitted this because they’re focusing on the emergence of Virtual Face-to-Face (VFTF) play.

And, if I’m being pedantic, I’m not sure FTF play is a “platform” as such.

Anyway, this is me being a little nitpicky. Let’s move on.

Tip 1: Know the Rules. I like the fact that they say “sit down with the rule book”. Not enough Webplayers do that, frankly. They also advise people to use a sandbox, mentioning Backstabbr’s sandbox feature, which is excellent. Learn what you can and can’t do.

Tip 2: Common Mistakes. They begin with the support rule, which is possibly the most complex of the rules. Yes, I know, convoys can be difficult, too, but I’d say that only the chain convoy is complicated.

Then they look at negotiations and explain that agreements are non-binding. Again, when you come across new players, they’re often horrified by being stabbed. Having said that, so are some experienced players, Carebears, who think that stabbing shouldn’t exist. Oh, well.

Tip 3: Press is Vital. Yes! So right! Again, it isn’t just novices who miss this fact – I’ve played in a tournament final where my neighbour just couldn’t be bothered to write to me. There’s a word for that, and it rhymes with bidiocy.

Tip 4: Keep it in the game. In other words, don’t let the game becomes personal… and don’t make the game personal. Two different things, there: if a player stabs you, by all means be furious in the game but don’t carry on after the game. It’s only a game! Secondly, don’t use your relationships outside the game affect your relationship in the game. If you’re telling another player that you should ally because your mates, apart from probably being cheating on most sites, the implication is that if they don’t ally with you, you’re over. Fidiocy.

Tip 5: Four Phases. If it were me, that would have been tip four, just because that’s kinda pleasing.

I’m not sure I agree with the analysis of the phases of the game, here. Phase 1 is in 1901 and they call it the “Posturing Phase”. This, they say, is when players communicate who they are, how they want to play, and when they decide who is going to be a good match as an ally. This is all true but I’d defy anyone to achieve this completely in 1901.

Most people would say the game has three or four phases: the Early Game (LT’s second phase), which is about surviving; the Mid-game (LT’s third phase) which is about establishing a close alliance and not upsetting too many other players, and the End Game (LT’s … well, you get the idea), when you decide if you can win or draw. A lot of people might split the Mid-game into an early and late Mid-game.

I don’t see that 1901 can or should be split from the Early Game phase. Personally, although you’ll reach some decisions in 1901, you probably won’t reach the decision that you’ll carry through to the End Game. I’d say this is something that is pretty complete when you move into the Mid-game, but is likely to keep developing even then.

Tip 6: Alliances. This is about recognising what’s happening in an alliance. Your ally will be using you… well, true, and you should be using your ally, too. An alliance isn’t just about using the other player to achieve your aims, although LT are right to point out that this is an aspect of good play. It’s also about making sure you have common interests and using the alliance to make your common goals achievable. It’s common interests that keep an alliance going; it’s a shame they don’t mention that here.

Tip 7: Too Much Trust. Essentially, expect the stab and discourage it. They’re looking here at having defences in place, a unit in reserve. If you go all-out with the campaign you and your ally are fighting, it may give your ally the chance to attack you. Good advice, this, and easy to forget as your success carries you along.

Tip 8: Stabbing. A great bit of advice very early on, here: “The best players in this game rarely lie and infrequently stab.” Diplomacy isn’t a game for future Arkham inmates. Another one: “Proving trustworthy will get you into [the] End Game more often.” Diplomacy is a game about building and maintaining strong alliances… until you can afford to shed them. And another: “Someone who seems like your enemy at the start of the game may be your ally at the end: don’t burn those bridges.”

This section is gold.

Finally: “When the time comes [to stab your loyal ally] remember: that’s part of the game.”

Pure gold.

Tip 9: Growth. LT states that the aim of the game boils down to growth, and they’re right. You’re not going to reach 18 SCs without it! But your ally/allies need to grow alongside you. If they don’t then they’re going to see you as more of a threat than the players you’ve been working against together. Talk to people; find out what other players’ needs are, and work with them to achieve this if you can.

Tip 10: Offence v Defence. Growth is all very well but there are times when you need to consolidate what you’ve won. A good player will recognise when to expand and when to wait. You will need to be able to defend your empire.

In general, I would say that it’s best to be continually growing but doing it slowly. This way, you’re expanding steadily and able to defend yourself. I don’t think it’s likely that you’ll grow every single year, but that’s the goal. If you need to hold back a bit, that’s fine, too. You may even drop back occasionally! That might be useful if you can point out to another player that you’re not really the threat they thought you were. Everything can be used.

LT then falls back on an old favourite of many Dip players: The time to attack is in a Fall turn. You can see why: if you can grab an SC here, your opponent can’t take it back.

This is true, as far as it goes. I would say that, if the opportunity’s there in a Spring turn to take an SC, and if that isn’t going to compromise your position, there’s no harm in taking it. Never turn down a good opportunity… just don’t be an opportunist for the sake of it.

Tip 11: Intuition. One big warning, here: If a player is saying one thing and then doing another, you should be wary, at the very least. If you feel something isn’t right, look at why you feel that way.

It’s not always easy to trust what you intuitively feel about something in Diplomacy, but sometimes that’s because you really don’t want to believe yourself. Surely, they’re not going to stab now!?! Well, ask why you feel that a stab is possible. Don’t blindly follow the warning, but don’t ignore it, either. Itches are meant to be scratched (unless it’s chickenpox).

Tip 12: Plan Ahead. Wait… Hang on… Someone else is encouraging planning??? Oh, yes!

Look ahead. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to prevent? Use this to control what you’re doing.

Lots of players would say they don’t plan. I’d bet they do but they don’t see it as planning because they do it automatically. If they feel they don’t trust someone, they’ll think about what they need to do to defend against that player and where they’ll need to move their units. If they’re looking at launching a stab against an ally, how are they going to make that stab a success and what will they want to achieve on the board to launch the stab?

That’s planning, my friend. Yes you do do it.

Tip 13: Never Give Up. This is something that a lot of players need to learn and, once again, not just novices. If you’re stabbed and your chances of winning the game evaporate, DON’T QUIT!!! This is the time when you can have fun, try new things, take risks…

In short, use this chance to learn more about the game, what’s possible and what can be achieved when you can play freely.

Last night (in relation to when I’m writing this post) I watched Switzerland v France in the Euro 2020 championships (delayed by a year due to Covid-19). Switzerland took the lead, surprisingly, and were controlling the game until half-time. In the second half, France unshackled themselves and went for it – and took a 3-1 lead as a result. Then, Switzerland decided that they had nothing to lose and went for it in turn, while France went back into trying to manage the game. In the end, the game ended 3-3 and Switzerland won the penalty shoot-out.

Of course, in Diplomacy, you’re probably not going to turn round a losing position in this way… but you could well survive and earn a draw! But the point I’m trying to make is that, when this happens to you, if you allow yourself to be more experimental because there’s nothing left to lose, you get something from the experience.

All in all, this is an excellent video. It’s good, general advice, the sort that can’t be achieved when discussing moves, strategy, etc. Why? Because these things are based on what works for the player giving the advice or because it worked in a certain situation. This type of advice can’t be said to work every time for every one.

However, tips that are as generalised as these are brilliant. You won’t find many people disagreeing with them… although they might disagree with some aspect of them. This is about the approach to the game in general.

LT called it a “Beginners Guide” and it is certainly great advice for novices. I believe, though, that – no matter how much experience you have – there are always going to be things to learn about this great game… and it’s always good to remember the basic advice that a newbie needs to know.

Published by Mal Arky

I'm a Diplomacy nut... if you haven't guessed. I write about the game Diplomacy, mainly as played online on websites, such as Playdiplomacy, webDiplomacy and Backstabbr. I write books on Diplomacy, too. First one to be published soon!

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