A Basic DBS system

After including a post on the Calhamer Point scoring system, perhaps I don’t need to worry about posting about a basic Draw-Based Scoring system, as there’s no more basic a DBS system than the Calhamer Point.

However, I think the pure Calhamer Point system is too simplistic, no matter how it is used. It’s not a good tournament scoring system (but it wasn’t really designed to be) and, although it would work over a large number of games, as a ratings system it isn’t great, either, simply because not every player on a website or in any community has always played a large number of games.

So what I’m going to try to do here is explain how a DBS system could be used as a tournament scoring system and a ratings system. I’m going to use a very simple DBS system, and – although I haven’t called it this in the title of the post – I call this system the 360 DBS system. I’d like to say because it’s an all-round system (360o, get it?) but it’s because each game is worth 360 points.

What is the 360 DBS system?

  • Solo = 360 points; everyone else scores 0.
  • Draw = 360/n points where n is the number of players in the draw.
  • 7-way draw = 10 points each.

Why such a low score for a 7-way draw? Because, well, come on!

That’s the basic system. However, at this stage it is simply the Calhamer Point system but replacing the 1 point with 360 points. From that point of view, it has the same weaknesses as a system as the Calhamer Point system. So it needs adapting.

Tournament Scoring adaptations

In a tournament, due to the small number of games, the following adaptations should be made:

  • The total points the player has is divided by the number of rounds in the tournament (not the number of rounds the player has played): P/r
  • As a tie-breaker, the number of points won in head-to-head games the tied players competed in together is compared; the higher scorer placed above the lower scorers.
  • As a second tie-breaker, the number of solos places a player higher then others, then a comparison is made by draw size: players with more 2-way draws are placed higher, then 3-way draws, etc.
  • As a third tie-breaker, games where players lost are compared by comparing the number of games where players survived but weren’t involved in the draw (if games allowed surviving players to not be included in the draw – DINS games); the number of games players where a solo was earned by another player where the tie-breaker players survived. In other words, survival places a player above elimination.

Ratings system

In a ratings system, the following adaptations should be made:

  • Divide the total points the player has by the average number of games completed by all players in rated games.
  • Where a tie-breaker is required, players who have completed more games are placed above those who have played fewer, based on the idea that consistency is valued more than fewer games.

1. What is the 360 DBS system designed to do?

With the adaptations of the basic system, the 360 DBS system can be used as a tournament scoring system or a ratings system.

As with any DBS system, it is more sympathetic to the way Calhamer designed Diplomacy. Solo first, settle for the draw second and prevent someone else winning. It is debatable whether a 3-way draw is better than a 4-way draw, but that is common amongst DBS systems.

2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?

The adaptations for the tournament scoring system are specifically designed to avoid using SCS systems. The problem with using supply centre count as tie-breakers is that this isn’t the focus of the main adapted system. You don’t want confusion based on using two systems which encourage incompatible play. Dividing the total points won by the number of rounds levels the field for players who don’t play in each round of the tournament.

The adaptations for the ratings system are also aimed at preventing an incompatible system being used. Dividing the total points by the average number of games completed by every player that has played in rated games means that it again levels the field. It means that players who have played a small number of games and done well face the same divisor as players who have played a large number of games. The drive of the ratings system is consistency.

3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?

The prime objective, as in the game rules, is to solo. Players score the full points in the game if they do this and prevent anyone else from getting any points.

If a game is heading towards a draw, the best results are awarded to draws which feature the smallest number of players. This means that draw-whittling could be involved; it is again debatable whether this is an aspect of play that should be rewarded.

4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?

As far as the game result is concerned, yes. The game’s rules state that winning is the first objective. Second comes preventing someone else from winning and surviving to be part of the draw. The number of SCs a player earns in a draw is not taken into account at all and this is reflected in a DBS system.

Draw-whittling, as I mentioned above, is a problem. There’s nothing about this in the rules, however, although this is because the rules are for a stand alone game. When you introduce scoring, you’re creating a variant and, with this system, the variant encourages the practice.

5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?

DBS systems are more sympathetic to the rules of Diplomacy than SCS systems. That has got to be a good thing.

Draw-whittling is something I don’t like, personally. But I also acknowledge that this happens, for different reasons, under an SCS system. In the latter case, it tends to be because the grab for SCs leads to players being eliminated. However, under an SCS system, it is often more profitable to grab SCs from players who are closer to you in terms of the number of SCs or even who have more SCs than you. If you don’t like draw-whittling, DBS systems are not ones you will like.

When applied to a ratings system DBS can lead to cherry-picking, too. This is when players enter games with less experienced or weaker opponents deliberately. It gives better players a good chance to amass points that would be harder to come by in more competitive games.


Calhamer Point scoring system

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).


Tribute Scoring system

If you want a different type of scoring system, the Tribute Scoring system is a good option. It was designed to score a League series of games, rather than a tournament, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used in a tournament.

As a reminder, a League series is a series of games that is finite. It isn’t an on-going series, which is scored using a ratings system; a League is played over a prescribed period of time (a season, if you like).

The Tribute system was designed for the Windy City Weasels, a Diplomacy club based in Chicago, Illinois, USA (just in case there are other Chicagos out there and, when someone said “Chicago”, you didn’t think of the Chicago).

The Tribute Scoring system (and its sister Half-Tribute, which I’ll describe below) is a Hybrid system combining the DBS concept with SCS scoring – but one which scores are modified by players being ‘paid tribute’ by lesser placed players. I find it interesting and, if I were to use an SCS system for a tournament, this would be high on my list of options (as, in fact, all three SCS systems I discuss in this series would be).

What is the Tribute Scoring system?

You can find the Tribute system described here (with a useful interactive table to actually do the scoring for you!). However, I’ve described it below.

A Solo = 100 points. Nobody else scores anything.

In a draw, points are awarded as follows:

  • Players are initially awarded one point per SC held at the end of the game.
  • 66 points are initially awarded by sharing them between all players in the draw.
  • The player that ended on most SCs is paid 1 point in tribute for every SC they hold over 6 SCs. Every other player who scored points reduces there score by the number of points individually paid in Tribute.

The Half-Tribute Scoring system

As described here, in this version, instead of paying a point in tribute, only 1/2 a point is paid. This has an impact on how the game is played.

Here’s an example of a 4-way draw using the Tribute Scoring system:

PLAYERSCsDraw PointsTributeSCORE
A1416.5(14-6)x3 = 2454.5
B1016.5(6-14) = -818.5
C616.5(6-14) = -814.5
D416.5(6-14) = -812.5
Tribute Scoring eg1

In a game where multiple players share the highest number of SCs, the Tribute payments is split equally between them:

PLAYERSCsDraw PointsTributeSCORE
A1216.5[(12-6)x2]/2 = 634.5
B1216.5[(12-6)x2]/2 = 634.5
C616.5(6-12) = -616.5
D416.5(6-12) = -614.5
Tribute Scoring eg2

1. What is the Tribute system designed to do?

The system is designed as a League scoring system. In this, it takes into account a larger number of game than a tournament would, usually. It has a Draw-Based Scoring base, but combined with a Supply Centre Scoring system. It is, then, a hybrid.

Given that the majority of points is awarded based on DBS in a drawn game, it feels as if it is a DBS system principally. And, certainly, if you are part of the draw but survive on a small number of SCs, the points awarded for being in the draw are significant.

However, because it awards points based on the SC count at the end of the game, if you finish on a high number of SCs in a game where there are 4 or more players in the draw, this magnifies the SCS aspect of the system.

This means it is a complex system that might benefit you to keep players alive in the game, but might benefit you to get yourself eliminated from the game!

2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?

In a League format, it should be noted that this aspect of a scoring system becomes less important the more games are involved. This is because, the more games that are played, the more differentiation will happen based on game outcomes alone.

However, the Tribute system has a distinct advantage over a straight DBS system in this. Incorporating the SCS aspect means that greater differentiation will occur. And the addition of the tribute payment also increases differentiation.

In theory it’s difficult to say that it would be as good at differentiating as the Sum of Squares scoring system because DBS is involved, and because the differences between SC count in SoS are magnified. I guess you’d need to ask Windy City Weasels how good it is at this aspect!

3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?

OK – so this is complicated.

Obviously, as with all good SCS and Hybrid systems, the solo is all important. You score the best number of points possible and nobody else does.

If the game is heading for a draw, though, it gets complicated, for the reasons discussed in (1) above. The fewer the number of players involved in the draw, the higher the value of the DBS and SCS aspects. However, the fewer the players in the draw, the lower the value of the tribute simply because fewer players pay you!

It looks to me as if the ideal result, other than a solo, is for you to finish on 17 SCs with all players involved in the draw! This will score a very high 83 points for the winner – a very high score for a player in a drawn game.

This makes the system complicated on it’s own and it is difficult to judge what are the best options when the game is coming towards a draw. This could be peripheral, however, as the likelihood of this happening is highly improbable.

Do you play to reduce the number of players in the draw? This will increase the number of points you get for being involved in the draw, but will also reduce the amount of tribute you can be played. Playing to increase the number of SCs you hold if you’re leading in this respect will benefit you… but this will depend on which players you’re taking the SCs from!

There is an aspect I haven’t mentioned above because it is improbable that it would come into play: The Tribute payment cannot exceed the points awarded for drawing the game. In a 7-way draw, the draw value is 9.4 (66/7). This means that you cannot receive more than 9.4 points in Tribute from each player in a 7-way draw. With Half-Tribute, because the number of tribute points is halved, this aspect is removed.

Half-Tribute also reduces the advantage for finishing on most SCs. If Tribute has an emphasis on finishing on most SCs, Half-Tribute returns some of that emphasis on surviving.

One negative aspect of Tribute is that, in some cases, it may improve your chances in the tournament to get yourself eliminated from a game: Diplomicide. This will mean that you score nothing from the game but it will reduce the points the best placed player(s) score.

Whatever else you take into consideration, if you are tying on SCs with another player, it is better to try to grab an extra SC, preferably from that player! Otherwise, the Tribute score is shared, which could significantly reduce the points you score!

4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?

Frankly, no. As with any SCS system, the SC count really doesn’t fit in with Calhamer’s design for Diplomacy. The caveat – that tournament games (and if Tribute were used to score a tournament) use the now removed “Short Game” rule, as discussed in the Sum of Squares post – can be taken on board, but this is not really part of Calhamer’s design.

The DBS aspect is better placed in this respect. In fact, Tribute is greatly suited to DIAS games, where all survivors are included in a share of a draw. Tribute doesn’t take anything other than a DIAS draw into account, so it certainly wouldn’t be much use in a tournament to included DINS (non-DIAS) draws.

5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?

Well, it’s interesting; if this translates as good for you, then it’s a winner.

You might classify it as either complicated or confusing. As with other Hybrid scoring systems that have approximately equal weight for both the DBS and SCS aspects, you are never really sure which aspect you’re playing towards as the game heads for a draw. What are you playing for!?! For me, though, due to the shifting nature between a DBS focus and an SCS focus, this makes Tribute intriguing, rather than confusing.

One aspect I definitely don’t like is the possibility that Diplomicide could be a viable option. It isn’t great that getting yourself eliminated from a game is potentially better, in terms of overall League scoring, than surviving into the draw. When Calhamer’s idea is that, if you’re not going to win, preventing someone else from winning and your survival are the next best options, deliberately getting yourself eliminated is nonsensical.


Hurst Tournament Scoring system

This scoring system is one on its own! It’s a SCS system, and supply centres are the only thing considered. Controversially, it doesn’t consider solos at all and this is, for me, a problem. When I’ve considered using it I’ve modified it to recognise solos.

What is the HTS system?

Well, first, it’s a tournament scoring system as the name suggests. I’ve never seen it used in a tournament, though, and I’ve never seen it used anywhere else.

It does something very different from any other scoring system because it doesn’t deal with games as single entities but compares results in all games across the tournament.

Basically, it compares results by powers. If you’re playing Austria-Hungary in a game, your outcome from that game will be compared by all the other outcomes for Austria-Hungary across all games in the tournament.

  • The result of the game is solely how many SCs you ended on at the end of the game. If a game ends in a solo, every surviving power scores the number of SCs held at the end of the game. If the winner owned more than 18 SCs, the actual number they finished on is taken. If a player lost but survived, they score the number of SCs they held. If a player is eliminated, they score 0.
  • Find the total number of SCs held at the end of the game for each power in each game played. This total is found when games end and changes at the end of each game. It is across the whole tournament.
  • For each power, find the mean total of SCs held. This is found using the total above and divided by the number of games finished. This is the Power Score.
  • For each power an entrant has played, find the difference for the number of SCs they held at the end of the game and the mean total of SCs held by that power. If a player ended with 15 SCs for England in a game, the mean total for England is subtracted from 15. This is the Player Score for England.
  • Find the total score of each power score the player gains across the tournament. If there are four rounds, the player, the player’s scores for each power are totalled. This is the player’s Tournament Score.
  • Divide the total of a player’s scores by the number of rounds in the tournament. If a tournament is a four round tournament, the player’s tournament score is divided by four. This is the Tournament Points won by the player.

Here’s an example for a four round tournament for one player:

PowerSCsPower ScorePlayer Score
Italy53.1565 – 3.156 = 1.844
England97.3869 – 7.386 = 1.614
France169.3416 – 9.34 = 6.66
Germany07.8050 – 7.805 = -7.805
Tournament ScorePSItaly+PSEngland+PSFrance+PSGermany = 2.313
POINTSTS/4 = 0.578
HTS eg

The player, then, ended the tournament with a score of 0.578. This looks like a poor score but is probably a decent one.

If there is then a final game, taking the top seven players and giving them a game to play off, and this player played the same power in this game, it could be that:

  • The Final was seen as a one-off game, with a solo in the final winning the tournament and a draw sees points calculated for the player and the total is added to the Points.
  • In a draw, the Player’s score for the final is doubled, to put more emphasis on the final, but still divided by the extra round, making TS/5 instead of TS/4.
  • If a player plays a power in the final that they have played previously, this generates a second Player Score for the final.

The possible modifications for a final game are not taken into account for the HTS system because Hurst was designing a system for FTF tournaments, where a final game isn’t usually held. In fact, the HTS system doesn’t even feature a Top Board in the final round of the tournament, which is a staple of FTF tournaments.

1. What is the HTS system designed to do?

The assumption with the HTS system is either that games don’t end in a solo, or that it is only SC count that should be taken into consideration. This means that players are only playing to accumulate SCs.

It can only be used for a tournament. The design of the system would tend to level out the points over an on-going series of games. While there would be differences between Power Scores, the fact that the sheer number of games would even out the number of SCs held at the end of a game, and therefore even out Player Scores for each power, means that it wouldn’t be a successful ratings system. And that leaves aside the fact that solos count for nothing!

2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?

It is very effective in this regard simply because it counts SCs and it compares results over the whole tournament. How likely is it that a two players will play the same powers across a tournament and get the same number of SCs for each power?

3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?

Simply, to collect as many SCs as possible. You don’t need to worry about winning or drawing, you just need to own as many SCs as possible at the end of the game. This could lead to some very dynamic play… or it could lead to play being very cautious. After all, when you’ve reached a good number of SCs, then you could well decided to defend your holdings.

A lot would depend on whether or not the Power Scores were made public throughout the tournament. For instance, if you were playing France, and you reached a number of SCs higher than the Power Score (the average number of SCs held at the end of the game for every France) then you could probably afford to be cautious. You’d get a positive score at the end of the game (although you would also be raising France’s Power Score in doing that).

4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?

The simple answer here is absolutely not. The rules of Diplomacy don’t have the accumulation of SCs as an objective, other than reaching 18 and thereby winning. If the game ends in a draw, the number of SCs held has no impact on the game – all the survivors simply tie, equally.

Also, because it doesn’t matter what the outcome of the game is – whether it resulted in a win or a draw – it moves away from the rules of Diplomacy. This is probably why it has – to my knowledge – never been used: it is, perhaps, a step too far away from the objectives of the game.

This could be countered by taking solos into account. Perhaps, if a player soloed, they would score 18, 34 or the number of SCs they actually hold, with nobody else in the game scoring anything. 34 is, perhaps, too much – it would almost certainly mean that anyone else playing that power, unless they also soloed, would receive a substantially negative score. 18 SCs matches the victory criteria and is probably enough to produce an advantage, although is it big enough when someone else could score 17?

5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?

I don’t think it is, no. However, it is an intriguing one!

It isn’t a good system because it ignores solos. I accept that solos are in short demand in a tournament, but to ignore a win completely is ridiculous. Making the only criteria for success the number of SCs held at the end of the game regardless of outcome is a long way from Diplomacy.

What I do like about the system is that it compares results over the whole tournament. You’re not just playing against people in your game, you are playing against every other player who controls your power in every other game in the tournament.

Some people don’t like this aspect; they prefer to have each game be a single scoring event. I can understand that. However, what comparing results over the tournament the way HTS does reduces the differences between powers.

Let’s take Italy and France, for example. All the stats show that France has more victories than Italy. A lot of people recognise that this is because Italy is in a worse position than France on the board. Some say that the geographic and strategic differences are not so big that they have an impact on the results; it is more to do with how the powers are played – Italy needs to be played in certain ways.

Whatever the reason, Italy doesn’t compare well with France. If the luck of the draw sees you play Italy while another player controls France, the chances are that your results are going to be poorer for doing so. With the HTS system, you are being compared with Italian players only. This, is, potentially fairer.

I found this system intriguing enough that I used it as the basis for my own system, the Mean Comparison Scoring system, and this is in another post in this series.


Sum of Squares scoring

The Sum of Squares scoring system is one of the more sophisticated Supply Centre Scoring systems for Diplomacy tournaments.

Before I get into examining the SoS system itself, there are a couple of strange ideas to get rid of. The first is that SoS isn’t a Supply Centre Scoring system. I once came across someone on the Playdip forum who told me it wasn’t. As you’ll see below, it counts SCs. How isn’t this an SCS system ?

Second, it’s a tournament scoring system. It is designed to be used over a small number of games. It can be used for a larger series of games, I suppose, though there are distinct weaknesses in doing this. It certainly shouldn’t be used as a ratings system, to score an on-going series of games, as webDiplomacy uses it.

In fairness, I’m not sure why webDip went down this route, and I’m sure there were some good reasons. SoS was introduced to replace a basic SC count ratings system and could be argued to be an improvement on that. But, as SC counting is against the design of Diplomacy, and the objectives of Diplomacy, then as a ratings system it is a complete failure.

What is the SoS system?

You can see SoS explained here, but I’ll explain it myself. It isn’t, in concept, complicated, although it is complex enough to make playing to the system risky.

A Solo = 100 pts. Everyone else scores 0.

In a drawn game, the system works in the following way:

  • For each power, count the number of SCs held at the end of the game.
  • For each power, calculate the square of the number of SCs held. I’m sure you don’t need an example but, if a power holds 12 SCs when a draw is declared, this result is 12×12 = 144.
  • Find the sum of all the squares calculated above. This is the Game Score.
  • For each power, calculate the percentage of the SCs2 they hold. To do this you use the following formula: P = (SC2x100)/G, where P=points and G=the sum of SCs2 held by all powers in the draw (the Game Score).

Here’s an example of a game that ends in a 4-way draw:

GS = 348
SoS example 1

Here’s a second example, still a 4-way draw, but with the number of SCs changed:

GS = 330
SoS example 2

1. What is the SoS system designed to do?

The system is designed as a tournament scoring system. It provides a system that has a significant amount of differentiation between game results. It compares the number of SCs in a game held by each power and, as you can see in the examples above, it magnifies the difference between the SCs held in games. As such, despite both the games described above being 4-way draws, Player A in eg1 scores significantly more points than Player A in eg2. However, in eg2, other than Player A, every other player that scores points does better than those in eg1. This is because the Game Score on eg2 is smaller than that of eg1.

2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?

This is a good system because it is unlikely to require a secondary scoring system. The primary scoring system should provide enough differentiation between player scores that ties should be unlikely.

If a secondary system is needed, a simple SC count across all games would be enough. This is because the SoS system doesn’t just count SCs, and players on tied points may well have different totals of SCs held at the end of games. You could end each game on 10 SCs and have the same points total as a player who finished on 17 SCs in one game.

3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?

The first objective is to win the game. A game that ends in a solo scores 100 points and nobody else in the game scores anything. A score of 100, accompanied by middling scores in other games, will result in a good points total at the end of the tournament.

Players also play to accumulate SCs in the game. Because this is an SC count system, and given that a draw is likely in a tournament game, the more SCs you have at the end of the game is important.

However, because a draw can give the player that ended the game with most SCs a score that is better than 50 points, it isn’t just the number of SCs held at the end of the game. Also important is the difference between the SCs held between the players. In eg1 above, the 4-SC difference between Players A and B meant that A scored almost twice as many points as B. Also, when the difference between SCs is reduced, as in eg2 above, the difference in points won by Players A and B is dramatically reduced.

It’s important, then, when a game is moving towards a draw, not only to play towards increasing the number of SCs you hold, but to increase the SC gap between players. This means taking risks to grab SCs from targeted players, rather than just increasing or decreasing an SC count.

4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?

This is more complicated than it seems, due to the inclusion of the “Short Game” rule to the rules of Diplomacy in 1961, a rule that was in place until 2000:

Since gaining control of Europe takes a long time, it is generally advisable to set a time limit for the game. The player with the most pieces on the board at that time is the winner.

“Rules for Diplomacy” 1961.

Now, a tournament game can be played until the game ends. I’m reliably informed that in North America this is often the case in the early rounds of a tournament, with generally only the final round being ended at a set point. Everywhere else this is not usual. In Europe, games tend to have a Game End Date that makes the games quite short. In Australia, it seems, a Game End Date is generally used but is later in the game.

Why use GEDs? Well, games can go on for a long time. Face-to-face tournaments are often held over a weekend (or an extended weekend). This means there is a finite time in which to complete the tournament.

Online tournaments tend to use GEDs, somewhat counter-intuitively. You’d think that, because they’re remote tournaments, there isn’t the pressure to get games – and the tournament – ended in a timely fashion. However, in reality, nobody wants games to role on interminably. The tournament needs to end and it needs players to stay around long enough to end the tournament!

The use of GEDs, then, seems to allow for the Short Game rule. If your game is ended in an enforced draw in, say, 1910, then the game may not be resolved by that date. It even makes sense for some players to deliberately delay the ending of the game until that point.

The problem is that this rule doesn’t seem to have been part of Calhamer’s thinking at all. There is no indication that Calhamer ever endorsed the rule’s addition. In fact, in 1974, Calhamer wrote an article called “Objectives other than Winning” in which he ignores the Short Game rule completely. In fact, he states that the number of SCs held at the end of a drawn game is irrelevant.

The Short Game rule is notable by it’s absence in the first rules published for Diplomacy, and it has been absent since the 2000 edition of the rules. Given that the objectives for Diplomacy have always been to win the game or to accept a draw in which all players share in the draw equally, this suggests that this rule is an aberration. Was it introduced by the game publishers without reference to Calhamer? Who knows?

However, on the basis of this rule, a tournament could certainly be scored by using some form of SC count. As I say, complicated.

Personally, I don’t think any SCS system fits in with Calhamer’s design. I can understand SCS systems being applied to tournament games but still.

5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?

Based on the fact that SoS doesn’t fit in with Calhamer’s design, this raises doubts. The question becomes whether you want a tournament game to come as close as possible to Calhamer’s design or not.

Tournaments are already a variant of Diplomacy, on the basis that the games are part of a series of games (not a stand-alone game) and that they are scored. However, do we want tournaments to find the best players of Diplomacy, in a tournament setting, or do we want them to find the players who can collect SCs, with whatever modification of that goal the scoring produces? For me, it’s the former. A tournament champion should be someone who plays Diplomacy, rather than someone who can gather SCs in a game of Diplomacy.

If you enter a tournament, though, you are agreeing to play with the scoring system used. SoS certainly provides a good way to produce differences between players, something a Draw-Based Scoring system and other, less sophisticated systems, do. As such, if you want to focus on the primary scoring system as a way to find a winner, SoS certainly does that!

As a ratings system, it is a failure. Yes, it will do exactly the same thing as it does in a tournament but, in an on-going series of games, games should certainly be played as close to Calhamer’s design as possible. The SoS system pulls people away from this design. It is NOT a ratings system.


DC(C) Scoring system

I’ve already discussed this system in this blog. It’s one of my systems for scoring Diplomacy games for tournaments. Here, then, I’m going to stick to a brief(-ish, you know me) discussion of the system in line with what I’ve discussed elsewhere.

How does it work?

It is basically a DBS system, although it should really be classed as a hybrid system as it combines features of SCS also. A game is worth a maximum of 700 points (hence the name: Roman numerals for 700, albeit messed with to meet the needs of the system).

  • Solo = 700 points. Everybody else scores 0.
  • A draw = 600/n points. As you’ll know by now (if you’ve been reading my posts, n = the number of players in the draw). So a 3-way draw = 200 pts each.
  • A draw also involves bonus points using SoS. In a draw, the remaining 100 points is awarded by using the SoS system. This acts as a secondary scoring system without the need for a secondary scoring system.
  • A 7-way draw is only worth a share of 100 points. This is calculated by using SoS scoring only.

So, a 3-way draw would be calculated like this:

Everyone else0000
CD(C) Scoring example for a DIAS game.

1. What is the DC(C) system designed to do?

It is principally a tournament scoring system. It is mainly a DBS system, with the outcome of the game being the main feature, ie whether the game ended in a solo or a draw. It is also designed to break ties without requiring a secondary scoring system.

A solo does not score more than two 2-way draws in this system. However, this could change if the draw system being used was Draws Involve Nominated Survivors (DINS) where surviving players are ruled out of the draw. For example, lets look at a 3-way draw for a DINS game where one player was not included in the draw:

Everyone else0000
CD(C) Scoring example for a DINS game, 3-way draw.

Let’s also have a look at an example in a 2-way draw, with one player not involved in the draw:

Everyone else0000
CD(C) Scoring example for a DINS game, 2-way draw.

2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?

Because it utilises SoS as well as DBS scoring, the number of points awarded for a draw is not the only points awarded. The addition of SoS means that differentiation between draw results is taken into account. There is less need for a secondary scoring system, as SoS will produce differentiated results.

3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?

Principally, playing to solo, then playing to draw the game. The small amount of points awarded for SoS scoring, 1/7 of the total points in a game, means that grabbing SCs is a minor difference. There will be some hunt for SCs so the game isn’t as likely as a pure DBS system to see games played for a draw.

4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?

The main aspect of the system, DBS, is more consistent with the Calhamerian design for Diplomacy. Win – or prevent someone else from winning and survive into the draw. This is more so in a DIAS game, where all survivors are part of the draw.

In a DINS game, it is possible not to be included in the draw and still score points. This means that games might be finished more quickly when they’re heading for a draw. However, the significant loss of a share of 600 points means that the points actually earned for not being in the draw is comparatively small.

The use of SoS is not in line with Calhamerian Diplomacy; however, because it is minimised, it means that there is less of an impact. It is significantly better to score a solo than to get a 2-way draw (a result which is not likely in a tournament).

5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?

The first thing to say is that this is a Hybrid scoring system, combining two different systems; in this case the two systems are opposites of each other as far as style of play are concerned. I’m not a fan of Hybrid systems in general, simply because they seem to divide the objective of the system.

Here, though, the idea is to maximise one aspect, DBS, while minimising the other, SCS. This means that the lack of differentiation in a DBS system is balanced by the differentiation in the Sum of Squares score. I chose SoS because it produces a more varied result rather than simply converting SC count to a percentage of 34.

One possible weakness is that it doesn’t differentiate between a solo victory plus a loss versus two standard 2-way draws (by standard I mean 17-17 SC draws). However, I’ve come to believe that making a solo overly strong would mean that a player could get by just by soloing. One great result and more pointless ones shouldn’t, in my opinion, be better than consistently decent results.

It’s a system of my own design: of course I think it’s a good system. However, if it doesn’t suit you, then there are others.


What makes a successful system for scoring Diplomacy?

This post was inspired by a post on the Diplomacy Reddit. The post was entitled Binary Scoring System. As I was thinking about a comment on the system itself, I thought I may as well write a blog post about it. And then I realised it would make for a decent example on system for examining what a good system for scoring Diplomacy would be.

Let’s have a look at how to examine a system first. I think there, perhaps, five questions to use when looking at this:

  1. What is the system designed to do? In other words, in what context is the scoring system operating?
  2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players and results? Does it, within the context, meaningfully rank players?
  3. What are the objectives of the system? This is about considering what types of play the system seeks to reward. Does it affect the way games are played?
  4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of the Diplomacy? As the system will impact on how competitors play games, is the style of play consistent with the way the game was designed to be played?
  5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system? This is subjective in that it will reflect your idea about how Diplomacy should be played, but it is also objective in that it will reflect about whether it is successful in meeting its objectives.

Let’s have a look at each question in turn and use the Binary Scoring System as an example. There are better examples, and I’ll do further posts on this, but for now, remember, I’m responding to a specific post. First, though…

What is the Binary Scoring System?

Pretty simple, really. The systems scores 1 point for a win, 0 points for anything else. This is, simply, a Unusist system where only the solo is a meaningful result. There are distinct problems with this as far as playing Diplomacy is concerned, as we’ll see below, but if that is the goal of the system, then it’s effective.

The biggest example of this scoring system was the Diplomacy World Cup. I actually played in the ‘pool stages’ (qualifying) for this tournament in the second tournament and realised that the games were poor quality because of the scoring system. There is a current version of the tournament which is hosted on webDip but it isn’t the same tournament at all, in reality. That’s not a comment on the authenticity of the tournament, just a note.

1. What is the scoring system designed to do?

This is important. What kind of play is the system aiming to encourage? A system, such a Supply Centre Scoring system encourages players to amass SCs; a Draw-Based Scoring system encourages players to play for a win or a draw.

An SCS system is designed to reward SC count. This isn’t what Diplomacy is about. It’s use as a tournament scoring system is more understandable (see below) but not as a ratings system (something used for scoring a long series of games). SC count doesn’t matter in a regular, one-off game of Diplomacy and there’s no reason it should matter over a series of games.

A DBS system is designed to reward game results. A solo scores more than a 2-way draw, which scores more than a 3-way draw, etc. This is more in line with the way Calhamer designed the game, as can be seen by reading the rules, and in line with the scoring system Calhamer designed.

With the Binary Scoring system, the aim is to reward solos only. This is even more problematic. While it encourages playing to win, it ignores the draw, which is a secondary objective and, very often in a tournament, a decent (if not good) result.

2. Is the system effective in differentiating between players/results?

An SCS system will mean that there is more differentiation between results. Because games are scored on SC count, rather than on the outcome of the game, it means that scores in a 4-way draw, for instance, will vary. You can be part of a 4-way draw on 17 SCs or on 1! Obviously, the player who controlled 17 SCs at the end of the game will be clearly differentiated from the player holding on by the skin of their teeth!

A DBS system doesn’t achieve this: a 4-way draw is a 4-way draw – everyone scores the same result. This means that there will be a number of tied scores over a tournament, although this differentiation will grow over a longer series of games. DBS is better as a ratings system, then, rather than a tournament system. In a tournament, you’re likely to need to secondary scoring system to effectively differentiate.

The Binary System is even worse at differentiating. Although a solo is scored, nothing else is. This effectively promotes playing for a win but ignores that, certainly in a tournament, solos will be few and far between. The majority of players will end on 0 points. And, even when you solo, there is no way of differentiating between solos unless players solo more than once. For tournaments, this is ineffective; for a ratings system, it is less effective than a DBS system.

3. What are the objectives when playing to the system?

Under SCS systems, the objectives are to solo, then to draw. However, the objective in a draw is to amass Supply Centres and, as a lot of games (especially in a tournament) will be draws, this becomes the key objective. The idea is that it encourages more dynamic play, with players taking risks to increase their scoring potential.

With a DBS system, the objectives are to solo, then to draw. The objective is not to grab SCs but, if you can’t win, the overriding objective is to prevent another player from winning. It’s argued that DBS scoring therefore encourages negative play – just be in the draw. This is no more or less the case than under SCS. However, it will encourage less risk-taking because that risk – grabbing an SC or two more – might well see your survivability threatened.

The Binary Scoring system is only about winning. If you can’t win, there’s no reason to play for anything else. You may as well drop from the game. This is completely against the way the game was designed – if you can’t win, prevent someone else from winning. While this isn’t completely negated under the Binary Scoring system, as preventing a win is still preferable to losing because it prevents another player from scoring at all, it means you don’t have a chance to score – there’s nothing in it for you! It could encourage more cutthroat play, of course, in the pursuit of victory.

4. Are the objectives consistent with the design of Diplomacy?

Diplomacy has two objectives: win or draw. The solo is the primary objective but, if you can’t solo, you play to survive into the draw and to prevent someone else from winning. At the end of the game, the number of SCs you have only matters if you own 18 or more SCs, or if you’ve been eliminated. That’s it.

The SCS system is therefore not in line with the design of Diplomacy. It doesn’t matter how many SCs you have at the end of the game. A draw is a draw. That’s it.

There is a caveat to this. For a number of years, the rules suggested an alternative way to play, known as the Short Game rules. This had it that, before play started, the players should agree to end the game at a certain point. At this point, the player with the most SCs was declared the winner.

This is where SCS scoring comes into consideration. It is common with online tournaments especially for games to end at a certain point – the Game End Date. It would fit in with this approach to use an SCS system to score the game, in line with the Short Game rules. However, there is no indication anywhere that this was in Calhamer’s mind. This rule was in place when he wrote his article “Objectives other than Winning” and, here, he completely ignores the rule, stating that the draw is the only other objective in the rules.

DBS scoring is in line with Calhamer’s design. Game outcomes are a win, a draw or a loss. Nothing about SC scoring, as I’ve said. In fact, the Calhamer Point system is based on DBS: one point for a win, 1/n for a draw, where n is the number of players in the draw.

Perhaps the way the DBS system is utilised is not quite as Calhamerian as it could be. What can happen is that players agree to draw, rather than try to win. This may lead to draw-whittling, the removal of smaller powers to increase the number of points available in a draw. Playing for draw is not without its risks, of course.

The Binary Scoring system is consistent only as far as winning goes. Because a draw is worth nothing, it makes the draw a negative result. This certainly isn’t something Calhamer designed into the game. It’s a lesser result than a win, but it’s a better result than a defeat. A scoring system that doesn’t differentiate between a loss and a draw is far from Calhamer’s design.

5. Overall, is the system a ‘good’ system?

It’s impossible, really, to judge SCS and DBS systems in general with any accuracy. Each system within these categories should really be judged on it’s own merits. However, in general…

SCS systems allow for better differentiation between players in a tournament without requiring a secondary system. They might encourage more dynamic play, especially towards the end of a game, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they result in better or more exciting games. The main problem is that they involve a system of scoring that has no real place in Diplomacy.

DBS systems are best matched to a longer system of games because to effectively differentiate between players in a tournament or short series of games you will almost always require a secondary system of scoring. They produce more cautious play, in general, because taking risks reduces the chances of scoring. This, however, doesn’t mean that this play is less exciting. You are more likely to see players combine in longer-lasting alliances, and draw-whittling is common.

The Binary Scoring system is easy to define because it is a single system. Because it only rewards solos it means players have much less incentive to stay in the game if they’re struggling or to play to prevent a solo. Indeed, it can encourage players to throw games. It does not effectively differentiate between players and it’s hard to see that a secondary system wouldn’t be a better primary system! Because it is purely Unusist it is not part of the design for Diplomacy that Calhamer had in mind, even though it makes solos the only aim of the game.


How close should online Diplomacy be to the Face-to-Face game?

There’s an interesting momentum on Playdiplomacy at the moment for a tournament that takes tournaments back to, as they call it, the “original rules.

This got me thinking about the question above (I’m sure I don’t need to ask it again!) What are the original rules for tournaments or even online tournaments?

Webplay (playing Dip on a website) has many things in common with other types of Remote play when it comes to adapting the rules for Diplomacy. Deadline length, communication methods, how orders are submitted, etc all have to be different to adapt the game.

What the idea is for tournament play at Playdip, however, is about removing anonymity.

Anonymous tournaments

Traditionally on Playdip, and on a lot of sites, when you’re playing a tournament the games you play are anonymous. You don’t know who is in your game and you don’t know which power they are controlling. This isn’t the same for the final, of course: then you know who is in the game, although you don’t know the power they’re playing.

Actually, on Playdip, a lot of games tend to be anonymous. There are a number of reasons for this but the most important of these is that you can.

This was not always the case for a lot of members on the site. Originally, playing a variant of Dip (I’m going to discuss this in line with online play below) was restricted to Premium members. Premium members were those who paid a small (very small) fee which allowed them to play in any number of games (now with a limit of 100, which is still a huge number), access variants, play ‘Live’ games (games with deadlines in line with the published rules) and enter tournaments (the Tournaments section of the Forum was accessible only to Premium members). As anonymous games were a variant, only Premium members could play them.

This changed when the World Online Diplomacy Championship was hosted by Playdip. The games were anonymous, in line with what had been played before, and it was felt that asking players from other platforms to pay for the privilege of playing in the tournament was a bad thing. I agree. What happened after was that anonymous games remained a non-premium feature.

In general, players will often choose to play anonymous games to protect themselves from being targeted. If you’re one of the higher ranked players, for instance, other players in a game might choose to target you simply because you’re a threat. This discouraged some of the top players from playing – and I can understand why.

Everything online is a variant

I’ve said this before, but everything about the online game makes it a variant.:

  • The fact that you’re playing remotely means you’re playing a variant of Diplomacy in itself. This one is, I think, pretty self-evident.
  • The fact that you’re playing in a tournament makes it a variant. Diplomacy was designed for one-off games, not a series of games.
  • The fact that games are scored makes it a variant. There is nothing in the rules that suggest scoring a game, no matter what scoring system you use.
  • If a game is anonymous, then yes that means it varies from the design of the game, too. Given that Diplomacy was designed to be played face-to-face, when you know who you’re playing against, it can’t be anonymous, can it?

Now, not a lot of this matters, frankly, except to point out that, if you’re playing a tournament game online, you’ve already moved away from the original rules and design of Diplomacy. Whether the games are anonymous or not has no impact on this, other than to be another tier of variance.

For me, then, it isn’t about playing to the “original rules” – you’re not doing this anyway. It isn’t the rules that you’re moving away from at all, frankly, it’s the design. The rules of play remain the same; it’s how the game is being played.

Should tournaments be anonymous?

Frankly, I’m not concerned either way. I can see the arguments for and against.


One positive to games being anonymous is that it means there is less metagaming going on. When you’re playing a game that isn’t anonymous, because you know who you’re playing against, you change your approach. If you’re playing against someone who has done well in a tournament then it increases the probability that you’re going to target that player. It’s in your interests, in terms of where you finish in the tournament, to prevent someone who is already doing well from doing well in this game.

Of course, the fact that you’re playing a number of associated games means that there is already a degree of metagaming, however. You’re not just playing in one game; each player is playing a series of games that are linked by the fact that they are scored. Being able to target certain players means that there is just another level to this.

But this is a tournament, after all. There is an acceptable level of metagaming in this format of Dip. Certainly it’s no different to an FTF tournament where this is part of the play.

Why not be anonymous?

Frankly, it’s a matter of taste. As I’ve said before, tournaments online are traditionally anonymous simply because they can be. There’s more to it than that, of course, as I’ve mentioned above. But the option is there to make the games anonymous so why not do it?

Well, I think making them non-anonymous adds something different to the tournament. It does make them more in line with what an FTF tournament would be and it potentially makes them more interesting, with different strategy. There’s nothing definite in saying that the higher performing players in the tournament will be targeted – other players may well see working with them as a good way to progress their own chances in the game.

But there’s no real reason games should be anonymous. If you don’t like it, don’t enter. You’re not being prevented from playing, you’re making a choice. In the same way, of course, if you don’t prefer anonymity in a tournament, you have the choice not to participate. There are so many other features of a game that might affect your choice of playing in the tournament or not; this is merely another factor.

It isn’t about being closer to the design that’s important

I don’t think it’s about whether an online tournament is closer to the design of the game, or even to the way FTF tournaments are played, though. This confuses two very different aspects on the game.

An FTF tournament can’t be anonymous. Nothing about FTF play is anonymous. That’s the nature of the format.

Online tournaments are a different animal altogether. FTF and online play are not the same and, frankly, the same goes for FTF tournaments and online tournaments. If you’re looking for original rules for online tournaments, guess what? – you have to look at early online tournaments.

Online tournaments are traditionally anonymous, as I’ve said. Making a tournament not anonymous is moving away from this. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but it doesn’t follow to say that making games non-anonymous brings them closer to an original design that is for a type of play that is completely different.

Again, this doesn’t mean a tournament should be anonymous, of course. It’s about your personal preference, though, not a drive for authenticity, which is how the idea was being presented.

Other ideas mentioned

While I’m looking at this, I’ll add some comments on other ideas that have been mentioned for this tournament. These have not necessarily been adopted as part of the idea, but they’re in the thread so I’m going to stick my nose in further.

  1. Declarations of war and peace treaties. This is, frankly, ridiculous. This is not part of Diplomacy, in that there is absolutely nothing in the game about having official, contractual peace treaties and not attacking someone without a declaration of war. Silly. Even sillier was a post from the same person saying that making length of deadline as long as possible (to mimic time of communication in WWI) didn’t fit in with the game design. You either want to move away from the design or you don’t. (Actually, this member managed to ignore the fact that what was under discussion was a tournament, despite the fact that this is clearly what the discussion was about.
  2. Should tournament games be ranked? On Playdip there are four classes of games: Ranked, No Rank, Friends and Schools. Ranked games are scored using Playdip’s own, loosely Elo-based scoring system (which is a much better system than anything you’ll find elsewhere, btw). No Rank games are not scored, neither are Friends games or Schools games. Friends games allow metagaming; Schools games are designed for Dip to be used in a classroom setting (and are used for Mentor games). The problem with playing Ranked games for a tournament is that no tournament scoring system is compatible with Playdip’s system. A Draw-Based Scoring system doesn’t have as much of an impact on the site’s ratings as much, because these are based on DBS too. However, tournament games are different to one-off games on the site – the play is different, the preferred outcome may be different: playing to draw a tournament game is usually a decent result, whereas in a normal game, you’d definitely be playing to win (in theory, at least), for example.
  3. No communication in Retreats and Adjustment phases. This is a good one, IMO. There shouldn’t be any communication in these phases for any game, ideally. However, again, in online play it is often (though not always) allowed, certainly on sites. The reason for this is the time difference. In an FTF game, with everyone in one place, communication is immediate (or close to – you may need to wait until your ‘ally’ finishes talking to the player you’ve been attacking together!) In online play, you can’t guarantee that the person you’re corresponding with isn’t asleep, at work, eating, defecating, etc (don’t dwell too long on the last one – you’ll get haemorrhoids). Banning correspondence in online play is problematic. However, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be banned in a game or tournament – it might just need the players to agree to it. The problem could be that you might start communicating in a Diplomacy phase and the game ticks over to the Retreats phase while you’re writing. The record would show it had then been sent in a phase when communication was forbidden. Tricky.

Final thoughts

In my opinion it’s not about the rules for a tournament being close to FTF play or not. Remote Diplomacy isn’t FTF play. They don’t compare easily at all.

It isn’t really about being as close as possible to the design of the game, either. Certainly, the game was designed without anonymity in mind because the game was designed to be played FTF, not remotely, and certainly not online! Webplay is very different to FTF play.

From that point of view alone, the closest you can come to an “original” concept for tournaments online is what is common for tournaments online, which is that they are anonymous.

However, that doesn’t matter. When you enter a tournament, you agree to the tournament rules. We’re not taking about how the tournament is scored, which overtly affects how the tournament is played; we’re talking about whether you know who is in the game or not. This has an effect on how you might approach the game but it isn’t a defining principal on how to play the games.

I like the idea of a non-anonymous (or ‘Known Players’ as it became known in the discussion) tournament as a different kind of tournament. I’d even play in one (if I had the time). But it comes down to personal taste and personal choice, rather than being a more Calhamerian version of a tournament.

Notes on a Napkin

Yeah, so, I don’t have enough going on.

I’ve decided to look to publish a Dipzine. I’ve called it Notes on a Napkin and it will be published at the link with the title.

I’ve had a number of offers for articles, and I hope they all come through (because if they don’t I’m going to be light this issue).

I’m planning to run Diplomacy articles, as you’d expect. Discussion, strategy, series of articles, “From the Archives” articles, Diplomacy news stuff… the usual kind of thing for a traditional Dip zine.

Anything else… well, we’ll see. I’m thinking of running games through the zine, although these will be managed through The Diplomaticon Forum. Again, if there’s any interest.

Currently, the publishing site is set up but there are no articles there. I’ve written a couple of them, the second of which I decided to write because I’d discussed the archived article on the Playdip forum. Didn’t want to waste the opportunity!

England’s Opening Moves: Splits Openings and the Western Opening

I’m putting the Splits openings and the Western Opening in the same post because, although some will disagree, there is really only one version of the Western Opening that makes any kind of sense (and that’s pushing it!)

The Splits openings

These openings are strange. I wouldn’t say I’d never use them but there is a glaring issue with these openings. The Splits openings are for those players who really don’t know what they want from 1901 or for whom paranoia has won through.

I’ve named them after notable buildings in Edinburgh, York and Wales (and I had a lot of notable buildings in Wales to choose from so I went for a town in Wales with a renowned castle).

The Castle Opening

  • F Edi-NWG
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Edi

At least this opening does something right – two of the units are in touch with each other. With the northern fleet moving to the Norwegian Sea and the army moving to Edinburgh there’s only really one goal: convoy that army to Norway.

The weakness is in the southern fleet moving to the Channel. This means that England can take Norway using only one fleet – without support. England has to be very sure that Russia isn’t going to block a move to Norway. If they do, then England is stuffed.

Meanwhile, F Lon-ENG has to succeed. And if it does, it needs support to get anywhere. Maybe it has it; France may have agreed to allow the fleet into the Channel to support it into Belgium. If France wasn’t expecting this order, you’re doing yourself no favours by using the order.

The Minster Opening

  • F Edi-NWG
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Yor

This is an incredibly defensive set of orders. England is trying to take Norway with a single fleet, attempting to take Brest or Belgium, and using the army to defend the home SCs.

Why anyone would use this opening is strange. The only thing I can think of is that, being aware that the North Sea is going to be undefended, the army is deliberately staying at home and being used to cover Edinburgh and London. It can’t be to defend from France ordering F Bre-ENG because that is what the southern fleet is doing.

The Harlech Opening

  • F Edi-NWG
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Wal

This opening makes more sense than the Minster Opening in that it aims to get the army somewhere and isn’t about defence. As with any opening that starts with F Lon-ENG it relies on England being able to actually succeed with that order – if that fails, then A Lpl-Wal is pointless.

As with the Castle Opening you need to be sure that France is helping you – or Germany (I didn’t mention Germany above). If there’s an Anglo-German (Saxon) alliance then it’s very much about getting the army into Brest, possibly Belgium. Belgium will be able to help get Germany into Burgundy, but Brest will do some damage to France and force them to fight on two fronts.

Desperation openings?

The Splits openings smack of desperation. England is desperately trying to cover every possibility. If this is an attempt to defend the Channel, the Splits openings are all about bouncing with F Bre-ENG, especially the Castle Opening. Why? Why waste that move?

I’ve included the Minster Opening for the sake of completeness. There is a school of thought that England should deliberately keep that army at home for the purposes of defence. I get that. If you think that focusing on fleets is important in the Early Game (and I absolutely agree with that) I can understand that using the army for defence seems like a good thing.

There are two problems with this type of thinking, though. First, you don’t need to use a Splits opening for this. A Lpl-Yor with the intention to leave it at home could be the Jorvik Opening or the Ouse Opening. Both of these options are more flexible than the Minster Opening.

The second problem is that, even following a fleet-heavy build policy, it makes more sense to get that army into play. If you’re relying solely on fleets to expand the empire in the Early Game, tempo is going to be a problem. The purpose of the fleet-heavy build policy is that your fleets are aiming to dominate the northern seas. If you don’t have your army in play, being able to hold an SC and affect play, you’re relying on those two starting fleets to do this. There are circumstances where that army is needed for defence and leaving it at home is a necessity but really this should be accomplished by diplomacy.

Flexibility openings?

Another way of looking at the Splits openings, more positively, is that they are more flexible than the Northern or Southern openings (and much more flexible than the Western Opening discussed below!) Well, perhaps.

Neither opening is particularly threatening to Germany. In fact, Germany could see this as an opportunity: the North Sea is empty (see below)! All the Splits openings give England a chance at two SCs.

Well, frankly, all but the Western Opening give England a chance at two SCs, so I’m not sure that the Splits openings are more flexible than these. Additionally, the Castle Opening is anti-Russian and the Harlech Opening is anti-French: I’m pretty sure that this is the antithesis of flexibility.

The North Sea gambit

There is one huge problem with the Splits openings: the North Sea is left empty (if only for Spring 1901).

The North Sea is England’s one ‘must have’ space. It is incredibly important for offence and the key to England’s defence. A fleet in the North Sea borders two of England’s home SCs; it borders Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium; it also borders other important sea spaces: the Norwegian Sea, the Skagerrak, the Heligoland Bight and the English Channel. A fleet there can pressure Germany, Russia and France – if not immediately, then within a year. If another power’s fleet occupies the North Sea, then England’s security at home is severely compromised and the ability to get armies onto the continent is all but lost.

The Splits openings ignore the North Sea. Of course, either fleet could defend the North Sea in Fall 1901. In doing this, though, you pass up on getting one of the SCs you’re aiming to grab. And, where I Germany, presented with the Splits opening from England, I’d be very tempted to order F Den-NTH in F01. I’d be giving Sweden to Russia, of course, but why not? England’s left herself vulnerable. The Splits is a great way for Germany to build a German Ocean Triple alliance with France and Russia.

The Western Opening

  • F Edi-Cly
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Wal

I finished looking at the Splits openings by pointing out that the North Sea is left empty and how bad a decision that potentially could be. Now we’re looking at the Western Opening which fully opens up the North Sea. In fact, it turns England away from the east completely, which is why it’s the Western Opening.

This could be disastrous. As with the Splits openings, it provides Germany with a great advantage, for exactly the same reasons as discussed above, but exaggerates it. Not only is England giving the North Sea to Germany but giving up a defence of Edinburgh and London.

With the Western Opening, however, you’re likely to have a very solid feeling alliance with Germany. This opening is violently anti-French. The fleet in Clyde moves to the North Atlantic Ocean; the fleet in the Channel convoys the army to Belgium, with German support (because there’s no way France is going to support it!) You build a fleet in Liverpool and throw the fleets at the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. The idea is that you crush the French maritime defence and swamp them.

The pay-off for Germany is that they get a free run at Scandinavia. They support England against France but focus on Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and the majority of their units are moving against Russia. In return, they agree to create a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in the North Sea and the Low Countries (Belgium and Holland). Theoretically, by the time Germany can turn her attention towards England, England has defences in place.

Potentially, this is a good opening. The alliance with Germany is a good one for England. England gets to focus on fleets, Germany on armies. The two other northern powers – France and Russia – are dealt with quickly and, if the alliance works, Germany and England have the additional security of being safe from each other (initially).

The Mid-Atlantic Ocean

I’ve not mentioned the MAO in any of these discussions about openings just yet. Mostly this is because I’m going to cover it in the Continuation Openings post (those openings that take England’s opening moves beyond 1901). One of those is the Atlantic Bind where England focuses on pushing into the MAO instead of grabbing a second SC.

The Mid-Atlantic Ocean is another important space for England. When thinking about the Western Opening we’re thinking of using it offensively. England should be able to force entry to the MAO in Fall 1902 when there will be three fleets bordering it. The orders to achieve this are:


  • F Edi-Cly
  • F Lon-ENG
  • A Lpl-Wal

FALL 1901

  • F Cly-NAO
  • F ENG C Wal-Bel
  • A Wal-Bel


  • BUILD F Lpl


  • F NAO S Lpl-IRI
  • F Lpl-IRI
  • F ENG-Bre/MAO (expecting a bounce)

FALL 1902

  • F ENG-Bre or S NAO-MAO

Once in the MAO, England can now take Brest, and push another fleet into the Mid-Atlantic, aiming to build another fleet (or even an army) in Liverpool or London.

The problem with this, as opposed to the Atlantic Bind opening, is that it’s sloooooowwwww. It takes until 1903 to get a fifth SC and then it’s only Brest. From there, it’s difficult to press on. If you build an army in W03, it is F04 before it has a chance of replacing the fleet in Brest.

The army that was convoyed to Belgium in F01 isn’t mentioned above, of course, and it can have an affect. If it moves to Picardy in 1902, it has a chance of providing extra support for a fleet to get into Brest, which may bring the fifth SC closer. But the fact is that France is still likely to get two builds in 1901 and only the most stupid of French players wouldn’t build F Bre and A Par in W01. Picardy is defensible and so England would need to look at using the army to support Germany into Burgundy. This feels like a war of attrition against France rather than being a quick victory.

The German problem

And the Western Opening makes England extremely reliant on the Saxon alliance. Germany is being very nice to England if they decide not to take advantage of England throwing everything west. One of the issues is that, to take maximum advantage in Scandinavia, Germany probably needs to build a second fleet and challenge Russia in the Baltic Sea region. And, frankly, the quickest way for Germany to move from Sweden and Denmark to Norway is to access the North Sea. So much for that DMZ!

The question would then be, once Germany has occupation of the North Sea, why would they give it up? Potentially to press on into St Petersburg, I suppose. And what’s happening then? Germany is pushing east, swamping Russia in the north, and taking England’s role there. Once they’ve defeated Russia in the north, potentially holding Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Warsaw and Moscow, they’re on 9 SCs. Where do they go next?

Germany can probably hold their Russian gains with three armies in Moscow, Warsaw and Livonia. If they do this, they don’t need to have anything holding in Scandinavia. This makes it a race between England and Germany: who can defeat France or Russia first? Germany has six units to move west, and a springboard to gain the North Sea. If England has maximised their position against France, they’ve got Brest, Paris, Spain, Portugal and Belgium – 8 SCs. With three units left to hold the south in Spain, Portugal and MAO, that’s five units to push east and defend the North Sea. This is the time when England should be considering switching to an army-heavy build policy but they’re no good in the North Sea.


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