If you want a way to score Diplomacy, what better place to go than the man himself, the Great and Good ABC, Allan Calhamer, the game’s creator. After all, any system Calhamer produced would be sympathetic to the his design for the game. So this is why I’m going to examine perhaps the simplest of scoring systems, the Calhamer Point system.
What is the Calhamer Point system?
Each game is worth 1 point.
- Solo = 1 point. Everyone else scores 0.
- Draw = 1/n points, where n is the number of players in the draw.
And that’s it. Simple. No complex calculations. You know exactly what you’re aiming to do.
1. What is the Calhamer Point system designed to do?
The Calhamer Point system is designed as a ratings system rather than a scoring system. Can you imagine having to differentiate between players using this system over four rounds of Diplomacy? So many of them would be tied on points!
However, over a longer series of games, the results would tend to vary more. Whereas in four games a number of players would be likely to get the same results – a lot of 4-way draws, potentially – in a ratings system where even the number of games played will vary, results will vary further.
2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?
As indicated above, not in a tournament. Too few games.
It could well suffer in a ratings system, too. It would rely on a lot of games being played before there were enough results to efficiently differentiate between players. It might need to be modified by dividing the points scored by games played to achieve a bigger difference. In other words, rather than total points, average points per game might need to be used.
However, averaging by game favours those players with fewer games, slightly, especially if they’ve had decent results. A player might play their first game, solo, and leave it at that, forever on 1 point and top of the rankings. Not a true reflection.
A different modification would be to divide the total points scored by the average number of games a single player has completed, rather than the number of games that player has played.
3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?
Firstly, to solo, as the rules say. If you solo, you’re preventing anyone else from scoring and taking maximum points.
If you can’t solo, you play to draw. However, the fewer the people involved in the draw, the better. This can lead to draw-whittling, seeking to eliminate smaller powers to maximise the number of points from a game. This can mean that players will aim to find an alliance and stick with it.
Of course, towards the end of the game, if the chance to solo comes along, then it has to be a good option. However, with the fact that this might lead to everyone else allying against you, and that they’ll do better if they draw without you, it could well mean that attempting to solo is an even riskier business than usual.
4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?
Absolutely as far as game result being reflected in the points scored is concerned. SCs held in a draw don’t matter: in a draw, whether you hold 1 SC or 17, you score the same points.
The fact that it does encourage draw-whittling is a problem. In the rules of the game, the idea of the draw is that the game isn’t going to finish in a solo, either through lack of time to complete the game or because it simply isn’t going to happen. At this point the game should be declared a draw. There’s nothing there about playing on to get rid of those smaller powers that can be eliminated.
Perhaps more than an SCS system, this system – and any DBS system – encourages the manipulation of results.
5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?
Overall, because it is very sympathetic towards the objectives of Diplomacy, it has to be considered a good system. On its own, it’s perhaps too simplistic. The modifications discussed above might be needed to make it more authentic as far as reflecting a more accurate ranking of players.
I’m cautious about the use of draw-whittling because I’m not sure that should be something that happens simply to produce a better result. However, this is something that is likely to happen in an SCS system, too, although for different reasons. In an SCS system it is more likely to be that simply grabbing SCs will lead to something similar.
One aspect of this system is the act of cherry-picking games. If you’re a decent player, you could well enter games with less experienced or skilled players and inflate your results. That’s an unfortunate by-product of simple DBS systems in an ongoing series of games. Forget about the quality of opposition; look at the results I’m getting.
I think I’d look to change the 1 point to 1000, too. It wouldn’t change the nature of the system but it might make the numbers look more impressive (and remove the need for pesky decimals in the system).
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