[The Zine] [W1998A]

White, Broadcast Press

by Tim Miller

Hello ladies and gentlemen. Today's article will be starting on a slightly different note than my previous ones. In fact, this opening paragraph will not be dealing with press, but lack thereof. I recently started playing my first game without press, and so without delving into specifics of the game (as it is ongoing) I would like to tell you my thoughts on no-press play. In three words: I hate it. Perhaps this is because my Turkey is about to be creamed between a humongous Russian and an overzealous Italian. Perhaps my hatred is due to the fact that I sent several signals in my opening moves that no one picked up on. Perhaps it is even because I misguessed on a couple critical moves. Even so, I have some legitimate gripes about no press. To me, Diplomacy will never truly be Diplomacy without real, written, communicative diplomacy (wow, I used diplomacy three times in one sentence, a new world record!). You can say all you want about communicating through your moves and so forth, but no-press will never replace a good old game of white, partial press. It is useful for honing tactical skills, but not much else.

There, now that I am finished ranting, let's move on to the topic for this issue, which, as I promised last time, would be white broadcast-only press. Now this is indeed an interesting and different type of press, so before we move into the nitty gritty, I will provide a simple introduction. White press means that the power sending the press is revealed, and broadcast only indicates that every power can read every bit of press sent, thus there is no private communication. This creates a myriad of problems that are not encountered in plain vanilla press settings. The most obvious one is that everyone knows your intentions, which means that if you wish to ally with someone, everyone else will know about it. I am happy to report that communicating with your moves does not really work in forming alliances in broadcast press, as most of the time people are concentrating on what you are saying in your broadcasts. Broadcast press also creates the problem of coordinating moves between powers, which are often necessary to set up stalemate lines or eliminate one-center powers. Of course this does not matter if the victim can do nothing about it, but how often does that happen? The final major problem caused by broadcast press is the ability for minor disputes to blow up into conflicts that would make the Great War look puny in comparison.

Lets take a look at these problems and some ways to get around them.

In broadcast-only press there is no secrecy of communications, and as a result a player must make his intentions known to everyone. The problem of this being, of course, that an alliance cannot be formed without the intended target knowing about it. In a plain, white-partial game, it is reasonably easy to set up secret alliances and keep them hidden until the time to attack has come. With only broadcasts allowed, this is impossible. I have seen several players try to use broadcast press the same way as partial press, and this has its advantages and disadvantages, for while communication is clear, the response of other players to it will not be. Nonetheless, there are ways to get around this and even use the non-secrecy to your advantage.

The first technique I would like to introduce on this topic I call the Head and Shoulders Method. The idea is to keep your head above the broadcast wars, whilst building up your shoulder muscles to be able to foil all early attacks against you, and to go on the offensive when the mid-game rolls around. Many Diplomacy players make the mistake of picking allies and targets in 1901, failing to leave their options open. In regular press play, this binds you unnecessarily, as I have shown in earlier articles. In broadcast press play, it leads to absolute disaster. If a player postures himself aggressively (e.g., by threatening another power), he indicates his desire for rapid growth. Most players do not like to see others grow so disproportionally, so they will move to block the bellicose power at all opportunities. Remember, you can not keep your expansionist plans secret. Thus, your job in broadcast press is to stay above the fray, and instead only broadcast truthful concise statements that clearly define a non-hostile course of action.

As France, for instance, you might say, "I am announcing my intentions to annex Spain and Portugal by any means at my discretion. Moreover, I would like to propose to Germany a DMZ in Burgundy and to England a DMZ in the English Channel."

This relatively simple message provides a down-to-business attitude, and makes all the powers realize that there will be no gain from taking random pot-shots at you. Furthermore, you should broadcast succinct messages to other powers in separate broadcasts. The other powers will be more welcome to working with you if you recognize their existence and send a nice greeting.

The shoulders part of the Head and Shoulders Method is just as simple. Having established a good reputation keeping your head out of the fray, it is time to grow while the other powers waste their time engaged in petty conflicts. The philosophy is to take whatever centers you can take without significant repercussions against your homeland. This includes all of your neutrals, plus whatever centers can be taken from nearby powers who are too wrapped up in petty wars to resist your aggression. For instance, using France as an example again, if Italy, Austria, and Turkey are stuck in a stalemated war in southeastern Europe, and your own back is secure (having eliminated or greatly weakened England) you must attack Italy. If Germany and Russia are also fighting, so much the better. This ideal situation rarely occurs, yet it is important to recognize powers who cannot fight back and to attack them, even if you can only spare a single unit.

If, however, the Head and Shoulders Method does not suit you, there is a riskier strategy. In the Incite strategy, you attempt to (surprise, surprise) incite one of your neighbors into a war with you. Flaming them in broadcasts and openly hostile moves will do this quite easily. Then, you move into phase two, in which you batten down the hatches, ride out the storm, and do not talk! Usually the power you incited will keep talking, though. After a turn or two, you move on to phase three, in which you play the poor innocent victim. Diplomacy players often have a short memory, and if you truly have been quiet during phase two of the incite plan it may be possible to convince one or more of the powers that you are the true victim, pointing repeatedly at the hostile broadcasts sent by your attacker. With luck you may be able to incite other players to attack your enemy. This strategy is very risky, but I do not doubt that it can be occasionally pulled off.

The second problem unique to broadcast only press is the problem of coordinating moves between allies. In regards to this, I cannot really offer much advice. What I can say is that, in broadcast press, tactical play is as important as it is in no-press. In many vanilla press alliances, one of the two (or more) powers is a superior tactician, who can lead the other powers along in tactical consideration, while everyone works together for strategic planning. In broadcast press, you must observe all the powers' moves, and pick the best tactician among them. You will want to ally with this player, not because he can give you tactical advice, but because you know he will not screw up. Tactical moves really should be shared in broadcast press play as little as possible, for that alerts the target and allows him to plan an adequate defense.

The final problem of broadcast-only press is the tendency of small conflicts to grow up into board-consuming wars. The reason for this is that broadcasting has a tendency to incite flame wars between powers. I have witnessed a simple dispute over bouncing Russia in Sweden become a huge war which separated most of the powers into armed camps. I have already described how one can use the Head and Shoulder or Incite methods to use this to one's advantage, so let us devote the final part of this article on what to do if you get caught up in a broadcast war.

The strategy I would use if I got involved in a broadcast war is to evaluate the importance of continuing in the war. This obviously depends on the military situation on the board. If you would not suffer significant losses by pulling your forces back to a less threatening position, I would go ahead and do so, complementing this action with a series of broadcasts asking for peace. Usually one or more powers will be receptive to this, and you can concentrate your forces on the one power you remain hostile towards, instead of facing a coalition of hostile powers. Sometimes, however, any pullback would be as much of a military disaster as trying to continue a futile war that is gaining you nothing. In these situations it is probably wisest to adopt a defensive standpoint along your most vulnerable fronts, and use the remainder of your troops for small attacks on one or two powers, if possible. You may also take the extreme step of not broadcasting at all for a couple turns, thereby dropping out of the broadcast wars, but putting yourself in jeopardy of other attacks. Of course, there are some situations where it is impossible to separate yourself from the broadcast wars, for broadcast press is less forgiving than partial press, and pitfalls are common.

There we go, that wasn't so bad, was it? Now it is time to look ahead toward my nex...What? You say I forgot something. That's impossible. Im writing this article and I did not forget a... Hold on? The letter column?! Oh, crud, you're right, I almost did forget. Well, due to the lateness of the last Pouch issue I think, in order to get this article in on time, that I'll just forward any correspondence to Manus Hand for inclusion in the Pouch Deposits section.

Anyway then, on to my next topic, which will be grey broadcast press. This next article will either appear in the winter adjustments issue or the Spring 1999 Movement issue depending on whether:

  1. the grey broadcast game I am moderating on USIN finishes in time, and
  2. I (being a high-school senior headlong into the process of writing college applications) have time to write the article.

Till then, best wishes and happy dipping to all.

Tim Miller

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[The Zine] [W1998A]