Pitt Crandlemire


Well...don't just lurk there in the corner. Come in, shut the door, stop the draft, pray for peace, pass the ammunition, repent, etc., etc., etc. We've got a lot to cover and there will be a quiz later. Best grade gets the negatives showing Manus and the Bandini twins with the Good Humor man.

What we have here is the grand opening of a little column devoted to in-depth but irreverent discussion of whatever aspect of The Game (Diplomacy, of course) that happens to strike my fancy. (And though my fancy has been struck quite a few times, it's still in working order, thank you...) At the suggestion of your beloved Editor (was that good enough, Manus?), we're going to devote this and most future issues to a piercing (modest, ain't I?) analysis of a single land province or water area on the standard Dip map.

We're going to take a look at the most common tactical and strategic uses of each province for openings, retreats, stalemate lines, and so on. Additionally, when I can get them (that was a subtle hint to you, Gentle Readers), we'll have actual war stories from our correspondents on the front describing real world best, worst, and weirdest use of the province. Since this is the first issue and I don't have the benefit of my Gentle Readers' feedback (that was yet another subtle hint, GRs), I've picked this issue's province all by myself (don't worry...my stunt double actually did all the dangerous parts). And the winner is...The Black Sea!

To Be Black Or Not To Be Black

When asked why the Black Sea is a critically important province, 98% of respondents said "Huh?" When we then narrowed our survey group to actual Diplomacy players, 95% responded, "It's the Russia-Turkey thing, stupid." (The other 5% still said, "Huh?" and we immediately asked them to be our ally in the next HoF game...)

As the majority knew, the Black Sea plays a pivotal role in the development of the RT relationship. Typically, Spring 1901 moves have Russia ordering F SEV-BLA with Turkey ordering F ANK-BLA. These orders serve the dual purpose of protecting each party's interests in the area while at the same time not giving away any hint of RT's real relationship. The bounce is just as likely to be due to a planned agreement between RT as it is to a failure to come to terms.

On the other hand, a successful Spring 1901 move into BLA by either Russia or Turkey is strongly indicative of either a firm, trusting alliance between the two or all-out war. The problem is, no one else can really tell which it is until Fall 1901. For example, Spring 1901,

Russia:  F SEV - BLA, A MOS - UKR, ...
Turkey:  F ANK - CON, A CON - BUL, A SMY - ARM
looks like the two may well be at each other's throats. However, Fall 1901,
Russia:  F BLA - CON, A UKR - RUM, ...
Turkey:  F CON - AEG, A BUL - GRE, A ARM - SEV

	       -- or --

Russia:  F BLA S A UKR - RUM, A UKR - RUM, ...
Turkey:  F CON - AEG, A BUL - GRE, A ARM - SMY
is just as likely and deadly to Austria. A wee bit of diplomacy on the part of Turkey can enlist the support of SER for BUL in Fall 1901 and then, the A BUL-GRE stab signals lights out for Austria. In both cases, the early indications of an RT free-for-all turn out to be anything but. In fact, the first option above (F BLA-CON, A ARM-SEV) goes a long way to solving the biggest stumbling block in a long term RT alliance. Namely, what to do about the Russian fleet in SEV.

The Black Sea plays a long term role in the success of an RT alliance for one simple reason: it's very difficult to establish a DMZ there. Turkey wants to build fleets and head west through the Mediterranean very early on. It's hard to feel comfortable doing that when you know that there's a Russian fleet sitting in your rear with nothing constructive to do except plan your downfall. The options are:

  1. Let it sit there and try not to worry about it
  2. Dislodge it and have Russia disband it rather than retreat it
  3. Let it out into the Med where it is no threat and it can do some good
Option 1 is chancy at best. Recently, in game togo on the EFF judge, Italy discovered this fact the hard way.

A solid RI alliance left Italy in sole possession of all the Turkish SC's. Unfortunately, Italy faced the hard choice of leaving the conquering units sitting in Turkey serving no other purpose than guarding against a Russian stab or moving them to the front where they could gain more SC's. Russia, of course, could justifiably (if somewhat disingenuously) claim that he could not do the same with his SEV fleet since he'd have to move through Italian held territories to do so.

Italy decided to trust Russia and left a single unit in the area to protect his Turkish holdings. Russia, of course, took the first opportunity to order F SEV-BLA (and then F BLA-CON). Worse yet, once Russia had engaged in the stab via BLA, he used the newly gained SC's to build another fleet in Sevastopol, which he could (and did) order to BLA and continue the cycle.

Option 2 is worth exploring but frequently difficult to pull off. Since Turkey starts with only one fleet, he must dislodge Russia's fleet on land. A dislodgement in BLA is not an option unless Turkey builds another fleet. A Russian ally who willingly allows Turkey to build another fleet and use both fleets to dislodge a Russian fleet in BLA deserves no mercy. Even dislodging the Russian fleet on land is problematic because it must be done into a Russian held SC (RUM or SEV) unless it's done in ARM. For reasons not clearly understood, allies often frown on attacks to dislodge and disband one of their units when this also results in the loss of an SC.... If the attack is done into into ARM, it requires that Turkey have 2 units located and attacking toward the far eastern edge of the board. This begs the question of just exactly what Austria and Italy are doing all this time.... The net result of all this is that Turkey and Russia can usually not agree on the proper time and place to dislodge and disband the Russian fleet until well into the game. Frequently, it ends up never happening at all and then we're back to option 1.

Option 3 is actually the most sound method of dealing with this problem because it resolves it immediately (as early as Fall 1901) and it allows both parties to get some offensive use out of the fleet. A Russian move into BLA in Spring 1901, followed by BLA-CON in the Fall, coupled with a Turkish move to ARM in the Spring and SEV in the fall is ideal. Of course, this set of orders requires a great deal of faith by both powers. Either could easily block the fall move of the other with no sacrifice to themselves. Caveat emptor.

Of Black-Hearted Knaves And Other Dastardly Deeds

Though this is our first issue, we've spared no expense to make sure that you receive the pithiest and wittiest analysis of the Black Sea. My theoretical musings above notwithstanding, I'm pleased to bring you some real life stories of the not-so-Rich and the not-so-Famous. Any similarities to real events or people is purely coincidental. Any errors, omissions, or inaccuracies are purely your own and you accept complete responsibility for spontaneous self-combustion while reading this. If you like the stories, I take full credit. If you don't, blame the bum...er...wonderful folks who passed them along to me. Without further ado, the Best, Worst and Weirdest uses of the Black Sea (edited to be suitable for viewing by all audiences by yours truly).
Our first story comes from Rick Desper (desper@math.rutgers.edu). This is arguably the worst use of Black Sea....

The Black Sea story I have has to do with the lasting nickname of Dave "Convoy" Williams. The player who was Turkey in this face-to-face game at Georgetown University was viewed as a Diplomacy God. Dave was, unfortunately, Russia.

It seems that Russia and Turkey were at war. Russia had a good position, including a fleet in the Black Sea. However (due to circumtances which have become lost in the legend) Russia wanted to sue for peace. Perhaps the other front was collapsing. In any case, Dave spoke with the Turk, who said something to the effect of "Sure we can have peace, but you'll have to remove that fleet in the Black Sea. Since you'll have to lose a supply center to do so, why not convoy one of my armies to Rumania?" Rumania was Russian-owned at that time.

For some reason (we think hypnosis must have been involved) "Convoy" ordered both

     Fleet Black Sea CONVOY Turkish Army Armenia -> Rumania
in the fall move and
     Remove F Black Sea 
in the adjustment phase.

Naturally, the Turk proceeded to render Russia to tiny pieces, winning the game, if my memory of the legend is correct.

Next we hear two gems from David Partridge (dharmas!dbp@uunet.uu.net)....

His first story is captioned "Who says you can't swap units?"

Having successfully eliminated Turkey, but now under pressure from a turncoat Italian, Russia found himself in the following position: A CON, F BLA, F EAS, A RUM, A SEV, while Italy had A SMY, A ANK, F AEG, F BUL/sc, F GRE, A SER, A BUD, F ION.

There were Russian armies available in the north, but the question was how to hold on until they could be brought south.

Russia pondered for a while and finally decided that Italy's best attack would be:

This seemed to rule out any method of saving CON. EAS could not cut the support of both AEG and SMY, so it would be a double attack. If BLA supported CON, then it would be 3 (ANK, SMY/AEG, BUL) to 2 and CON would be destroyed. If BLA attacks BUL, then it was 2 to 1. If RUM attacked BUL and BLA supported CON, CON could be saved, but RUM would be lost.

What to do? SEV S RUM, EAS - SMY, BLA C CON - ANK! The army was saved from almost certain destruction, centers are swapped, and Russia's tactical position was actually improved enough to hang on while armies came down from the north to shore up the lines. A nice save!

David's second story is entitled "The Russian Feint."

As Turkey, I enjoyed playing the following sequence of feints within a feint. Austria wanted an ally against Russia, so I agreed to attack with him in 1902, holding off in '01 because Russia had said he wanted to send forces north and I wanted to give him time to do so (or so I told Austria, that is). Austria agreed to play along and pretend to be friendly to Russia. Russia and I had already decided to form a solid R/T alliance, so we put into effect a plan to set up Austria for the fall. The first year went as Austria expected:

In Spring, 1901, everyone is friendly. Austria opened VIE-TRI, TRI-ALB, BUD-SER, Russia moved SEV-RUM, WAR-UKR, MOS-STP, STP-GOB, and I ordered CON-BUL, ANK-CON, SMY HOLD.

Then in the Fall, Austria ordered TRI HOLD, SER S ALB-GRE, ALB-GRE (no need to tip off Russia), the Russian moves were UKR S RUM, GOB-SWE, RUM HOLD, and STP-NWY (bounce) (by agreement with England, who supported himself in), and my orders were CON-BLA, SMY-ARM, BUL-RUM (bounce), followed by the expected "you scum" comments from Russia.

In Spring 1902, after Austria had built 2 armies, and Russia a pair of armies in Sevastopol and Moscow, and I a fleet at Constantinople, Austria promises peace to Russia, which Russia appears to believe, and the A/T attack on Russia goes off perfectly with Austria getting into both RUM and GAL.

Russia:   MOS-WAR, STP-MOS, UKR S RUM, SEV S RUM, RUM S SEV (destroyed)
Fall 1902: Now comes the crusher.
Austria:  GAL-UKR, RUM-SEV (bounce, destroyed), BUD S BUL-RUM, GRE HOLD, TRI HOLD
In Winter of 1902, things stood as follows: Austria held his home centers and Greece, Russia held Sweden and Rumania in addition to his home centers, and Turkey had ownership of the Turkish centers, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Both Russia and Turkey had a build, while Austria was forced to remove a unit.

Not only was Austria reduced to four centers but two of his units were hopelessly out of position, and it wasn't long before he was out of the game. In addition, Russia got to trade his southern fleet for an army -- always desirable when allied with Turkey -- thanks to its carefully planned destruction. I've seen the convoy from ARM used a number of times to change an apparent attack on Russia into a sudden assault on Austria.

And finally we hear from Ken Samuel (samuel@cis.udel.edu) about the happenings in the game named "1889" on the Washington judge.

Many people seem to think that the Black Sea is absolutely crucial for Russia and Turkey in the opening. They seem to have the idea that if one gets control of this territory early, the other's hopes for success in the game diminish too significantly for words. For this reason, in nopress games, it is rare to see a first move with no attempt on the Black Sea. But often you won't actually see A Smy-Arm or A Mos-Sev, which implies that the move to Bla was being used for defensive rather than offensive purposes. In games with press, Turkey and Russia will commonly agree to bounce in Bla on the first move, and sometimes on the second move too, for their mutual security. Everyone is scared to death of seeing an enemy fleet enter that territory.

In fact, though, it's not so big a deal. If Turkey gets into the Black Sea, he's still generally going to have to make some good guesses to capture Rumania and Sevastapol. (And if Austria allies with Russia, Turkey won't get anything.) And even if he does make it to SEV, he'll never go any further without significant help from the north. What I'm saying is that the worst case scenario here is that Russia will have to temporarily surrender two supply centers. I say temporarily, because once Turkey gets to Sevastapol, he's very likely to go to war with Austria, and then Russia has a good chance of reclaiming his centers.

If Russia gets into the Black Sea, he won't be able to go any further without significant help from both Austria and Italy. Turkey is a very hard nut to crack. You have to hit him from all three sides to make any progress at all. So Turkey doesn't have to worry about a Russian fleet in Bla, unless Austria and Italy are both hostile, in which case he's dead no matter what he does, so what's the big deal about Bla?

As an extreme example, there was a game where I was playing Russia, and I destroyed Turkey by actually inviting him into the Black Sea! Before the first move of the game, I told him I didn't mind him occupying BLA. If he wanted to, he could move there and stay for as long as he wanted. So he did.

The result was that this caused Turkey to trust me very much. Why not? As I kept telling him, there was nothing I could possibly do to him while he was sitting in the Black Sea. And this trust clearly influenced his moves.

When he caught wind of a rumor about an Italian Lepanto, he decided to build F SMY and order F SMY-AEG, A CON-SMY, since he was unconcerned about me.

Then, when the Lepanto did occur, Turkey moved significantly away from me in order to concentrate on the Italian threat, because he trusted me completely. His Fall 1902 moves were, if I remember right: F AEG-SMY, F BLA-CON, A SMY-SYR (!) And he even told me he was ordering this, so I ordered F RUM-BLA, A MOS-SEV, A SEV-ARM. Turkey was so incredibly weak to my attack that he crumbled quickly!

I realize this is an extreme example, but I think it shows just how much of an exaggeration most people's conception of the Black Sea really is.

So, there you have it! The definitive analysis of the Black Sea. (And, yes, I said definitive, not derivative...) Many thanks to Manus, Rick Desper, Vincent Mous, David Partidge, Mike Frigge, Ken Samuel, and David Marotta for suggestions, analysis, and neat stories.

Next time, the lucky province is Tyrolia. ("Aha!" I hear you say, "I have some ideas on TYR and I've seen some weird and wonderful uses of the little Volksprovince!") Good! Click on that little envelopw or on my e-mail address below, and send all ideas, analyses, anecdotes, etc. to me! See your name in print! Win friends and make money! Become the Dip expert on your block!

Oh, by the way, don't forget to send your comments, corrections, and whatever else you're moved to generate in response to this Black Sea column (as long as it ain't ticking) to The Diplomatic Pouch Letters column, "Pouch Deposits" (the first installment of which you can read by clicking right here). I get one bonus point for each letter my column generates. At a hundred points, I get to check out a dog-eared copy of the Gamer's Guide to Diplomacy from the Manus Hand Lending Library; at a thousand points, I get a free subscription to The Diplomatic Pouch; and at five thousand points, I get an all expenses paid trip to the UK Variant Bank! So, send in those letters or I'll have to get nasty.

Keep on Dipping.

Pitt Crandlemire
The Big Dipper

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