White, Partial Press

(Part 2)

by Tim Miller

Well, I see by the writing on the wall that it’s time for me to write my third installment to my series on press and that I need to buy myself some drywall cleaner to get the darn writing off! For those who are newcomers to my little series or those who have somehow forgotten the contents of my other two articles, here’s a brief synopsis. In my introductory article, I described press as the most overlooked feature of Diplomacy and provided some basic rationale behind this. In my next article, I expanded on this philosophy and provided some of the common mistakes newbies make when approaching press as a concept. As a promised at the end of my last article, I am going to devote this installment to some more advanced techniques in the use of W-P- press. As a sidenote for non-judge players, W-P- is the press identification marker the judge gives to white/partial press games in its listing. White press means that the sender of the press is revealed and partial indicated that it can be sent to individuals without being read by all players. With that aside, on to the show.

The first press technique I want to describe is one enumerated by Paul Windsor, Esq. in his article, "Lawyer/Diplomat," published in the Fall 1997 Retreat issue of this illustrious ‘Zine. I would advise everyone to read it, as it provides an interesting perspective on press as well as other Diplomacy matters. The point that Mr. Windsor makes that I would like to repeat is to always be the first to communicate. In my first article, I said that a player must communicate with every other power on the board to achieve the most success, and now I am saying that the player should also communicate early in the turn before being contacted by the other party. This sets the initiative and allows you to get a firm grip on the future diplomatic discourse. Obviously France and Turkey need not exchange messages more than once in the early years if there is no mutual cooperation at hand, but if the message is exchanged early in the turn it will indicate that each power takes the communication seriously enough to make it a high (but not necessarily top) priority. This helps foster a trusting relationship as both powers feel that the other is interested in their well being, which can come in handy in a pinch if one should need support from the other at a point in the mid-game.

Also, communicate early, but put substance in the message. To truly drive the discourse, you need to be the one coming up with the brilliant revalations, and the first spring 1901 letter need not be different. From my observations, many players start off games by writing an informal, “hello, let’s talk some” letter to even the countries most important to their later progress. This style does have certain advantages, namely it sets the tone for a later round of cordial, non-threatening discourse between the powers. However, it is my belief that a Diplomacy player must seize every advantage wherever possible, and thus this type of opening press is inadequate. Even the first letter between to adjacent powers should therefore include concrete proposals, even if they are as simple as proposing a DMZ, but not necessarily an alliance. In fact I find it helpful not to propose an alliance with the first letter, but instead sound out the other power with proposals such as the aforementioned DMZ suggestion. Often I find that my proposals are met with counterproposals and in this way a rapport can be built up, which can lead to a fruitful alliance...till one of us decides to stab (more on the stab in press later).

Putting substance in early communication with non-adjacent powers is much more difficult, and I don’t think I myself have mastered it yet. Nonetheless, I can offer a few hints, that may or may not strike gold when applied. The first hint is not to become too involved at the beginning. It is good that you show interest and offer exchanges of information, but it is unwise to try to affect alliance structures in other theaters unless absolutely necessary for survival. I find that once you have acquired a solid ally and have become a 5-7 center power you can much more easily and effectively delve into the diplomacy of other theaters. My next hint is that a player shouldspend a little more time (but not much) conversing with powers who influence powers adjacent to himself. For instance, Turkey should talk with Germany a little more than with France. The reason being to figure out German attitudes towards Russia (talking with England also helps some here). If Turkey has a choice between Russian and Austrian allies, as he often does, information about a bounce in Sweden can often be the deciding factor.

As I have repeatedly stated throughout this little series, it is advantageous to talk as much as possible. Nonetheless, there is the occasional rare time when a good player should keep his mouth shut (temporarily). This situation does not occur often, but it is important to realize when it does happen. The primary place not to talk is in a no-press game (smile). A time in a press game when communication is to your disadvantage is when you want to keep a power guessing at your intentions. An illustration is a French player who, after the spring 1901 moves is undecided about an alliance with England or Germany, but would prefer to ally with the Britisher, and has through some means gotten an army into Burgundy. Under most circumstances, I would advise against directly stating to England that you plan to move to Munich and hoping he will ally with you on this. The reason for this is twofold: First, it makes you the protagonist in the whole scenario, and this is one scenario you do not want to be the protagonist of! Although I previously urged players to take initiative in press, leading a 1901 attack on another power is too rash a use of this advice. Unless your survival depends on it, wait until the players have shown there hands after the fall movement and builds are revealed. The second reason my France would not tell England that a move to Munich is that the Englishmen could go to Germany with the information and thus gain you a hostile enemy in Berlin, who has England’s support. This is not good.

This example brings up an important press technique: know when to evade the issue. The best way is to seize the conversation and steer it away from any topic you feel you would rather not discuss with the other power. However, often a topic will come up that you do not want to discuss. There are several reasons not to want to discuss a topic. You do not want to lie to a friendly power, but you also do not want to give away the fact you are about to stab another power. Thus, if the friendly power asks you anything that, in order to give a truthful answer, would require you to give away important plans, it is best to skirt the issue. Redirect the conversation with a line such as “Your query brings up an interesting issue, which I have not fully thought out. I will get back to you on it.” Then start talking about something else and most powers will forget their original query. Remember, take control of the conversation in any way possible. Do not try to have a “regular” diplomatic correspondence in which you and the other power share equally, steer the conversation towards areas that are beneficial to you and hide any of your ulterior plots and schemes.

The third press topic I will cover in this article is press and the stab. This is a continuation of my second point, skirting the issue and being purposefully uncommunicative on it. When a stab is forthcoming, you obviously do not want to let this on to the victim, so the above advice must take on a few twists in this situation. Furthermore, when you stab, you are making a new enemy. If the player in your crosshairs is very strong, you will most likely want to concentrate most of your strength against him. “Surgical” one center stabs, unless they give you a win or are performed against a very weak power often gain nothing more than a new enemy. Thus, before stabbing, or just after the stab, you will want to bury the hatchet against unfriendly powers who you may have been previously attacking, and invite nearby powers to assist you in dismantling the intended victim. Case in point, in one of my games I played Austria and along with Turkey decided to attack our Russian brethren. When the time came to stab Turkey I enlisted Russia, who regarded his downfall largely as Turkey’s fault, to help me. Using emotions definitely helped here and can help you. Convince powers that they have a grudge against your target (legitimate or not) and often they are willing to lend you support.

The other press matter relating to the stab is how to talk to your victim in the moves right before you drop the ax. I usually find it is best to continue the relationship as normal (duh), but to go ahead and propose new ideas beyond the time of the expected stab. Again, this proposals should be specific, for if you roll around a lot of vague proposals with little support or explanation your target will probably become wise that you are not going to do what you say you are going to. This is particularly important when the intended stab victim is an ally whom you have worked with closely. If you have been the dominant power in the press in the alliance (following my above advice) you should try to avoid changing this because you know your upcoming stab will end the alliance. In fact, you should talk up a storm so that your ally does not notice you slip out the knife. An effective way to do this is try to go for a joint attack on a position that requires you to move several units near your allies holdings, leaving him a bit (but not too much, else he will wisen up) exposed. If your ally goes along with you enough , you can even decide to scrap the stab because your future cooperation will be more valuable.

Well now that I’ve rambled on a bit let’s open up the good ol' mailbag and see what letters my readers have been sending. Note these do not include letters received after the S1998R issue of the ‘Pouch, so they are only the letters in response to my introductory article. Those who sent me letters after the spring retreat issue will see theirs published in the next issue.

Our first letter is a request from Paul Evans, who writes:

Hi - Just a quick note regarding your article in the Diplomatic Pouch. A topic I'd like to see discussed is the forwarding of text in press. I've heard some players complain that it shouldn't be done, as in a face-to-face game you don't go around with tape recorders etc. I imagine there's a parallel with postal Diplomacy, where you could xerox mail from one player (or forgeries thereof) and send it along to another player. Anyway it might be interesting to air some views on this in future articles. Thanks for your time and keep up the good work!
Thanks, Paul. Okay, this is a subject that occasionally discussed on rec.games.diplomacy, the Dip newsgroup. I do not play postal, so I do not know whether it is common practice for letters to be photocopied, but I doubt it is. I also feel that, yes, it can be done effectively, but not very often. I try not to do it very much for one simple reason, it hurts your credibility. If a player unnecessarily forwards a piece of press to me, then that means that the player is not terribly tight-lipped, and he could very well forward some of my press that could be damaging. Even if the player and I are closely allied I do not like to see press forwarded directly (paraphrasing is fine; that is, "England said such-and-so...."). However, forwarded press shows that the player doing the forwarding cannot be trusted with discretion. It is a power’s responsibility to keep some conversation (even with a bitter enemy) secret so as to build a trustworthy relationship with other powers.

However, there are times when forwarding press is okay; basically when you have no other option. An example of this would be when Italy, Russia, and Turkey all gang up on Austria. If the Archduke can somehow get a western power to send him a message saying that a western triple will be forming to counter the ensuing juggernaut, then he should forward this to Russia or Turkey (probably both) to try and get one of them to break from the alliance. Another strategy for Austria is to simply warn Italy of the danger of the juggernaut, and try to get him to break away and fight Russia/Turkey. Forwarding press in this instance is preferable to paraphrasing as it creates more of a stir among hostile powers and is more likely to get attention. However, in most other I find paraphrasing press to work just as well.

Our second (and final) letter comes from Gwynn Judd, who writes:

I am a complete newbie but I thought you might be interested in an occasion where a piece of press from the person playing Russia in a recent game to me playing England helped me decide to stab him. Anyway this is the situation:

Russia: F Bal
England: F Kie, F Nor, F Nwg, F Nth
France: A Ruh
Austria: A Mun

Anyway, Russia and I were not enemies at this point and he sent a message to me politely requesting that I move the fleet from the Norwegian sea to somewhere less sensitive, and by the way would I be interested in a bounce in Sweden? Before I could respond he sent another message to me saying that he had changed his mind about the bounce in Sweden and in order to stave off the French threat he would support the Fleet in Kiel. Little did he know that France had sent a message to me saying that in order to stave off the Russian threat he would also support the Fleet in Kiel. That sounded fair enough to me so I managed to take Sweden from Norway (unsupported) while France and Russia simultaneously supported the fleet in Kiel to hold and I could have taken St Petersburg the next year if I hadn't been so stupid (but thats what beginners' games are all about).

I guess the moral of this story is that you can't be too careful about what you say, even if its just a "Oh no, I've changed my mind" message.

Gwynn: Thanks for the letter. This is indeed an interesting scenario as Russia “said too much” to you. Still, you can’t blame him for trying to meet his objectives (smaller English presence in northern seas) through his press. You reaped the advantage of having two neighbors asking you for support in their fight (always a fun situation!). You managed to put two and two together in press terms and figure out the best tactical play from that.

Well, that’s all the time I have for now. I thank you for your time and ask you to send me some more letters about press. Letters received after the spring retreats issue shall appear in my article in the fall retreat issue. Speaking of which, it’s time to pick my next topic. As I have spent two articles dwelling on white, partial press, I think I’ll switch gears for next article and talk about white, broadcast only press.

Until then best wishes and happy dipping,

Tim Miller

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