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Frank of France
The fall of the last Bastille

Friday 06 January 2005, by Frank Johansen


French NDC Top Board
Left to right: Lei Saarleinen (T), Chrisophe Couturier (E), Frank Johansen (F), Philippe Clavaud (R),
                    Arnaud Daina (I), Patrik Carlsson (G) and William Attia (A) at the top board.

I would like to start with a few words of thanks to Yann Clouet. The main reason for me coming to Paris was to return the visits of William and Yann. This has been my greatest reward from playing tournament Diplomacy - developing new friendships with people of the most diverse backgrounds and nationalities. My only request to the French Hobby is to take better care of Yann, he is a unique organizer - so don't let him burn out! I'm sure you have many capable players who can take over the running of events in France. Let him concentrate on what he is best at, marketing and strategic leadership of the European Hobby, and what he enjoys the most - it used to be playing tournaments, now I'm not so sure anymore :-) At least give him a chance to participate in the next French NDC...

The visit to Paris was absolutely not planned. I bought my ticket two days in advance. Just a week before, I was offered a new job and found I had some time in-between assignments and the prospects of earning well enough to finance it. I'm writing this from Tajikistan, where I've become a pseudo-semi-diplomat in “real life” as well. I'm working for the OSCE and I actually "enjoy privileges and immunities provided by the Vienna Convention of 1961 on Diplomatic Relations", but only in Tajikistan :-)

I arrived to Paris to enjoy a few last days of "civilization", very relaxed and with no particular ambition or hopes of winning. Having heard about other players’ experiences from French tournaments, going all the way back to the 1995 WDC, I expected to run into some language problems and was mentally prepared that this could have an impact on the games. To my pleasant surprise, this fear turned out to be completely unfounded. In my four games, I came across only one player who professed to speak English poorly, but he was a small Italy to my large England and we had little interaction. I hope other foreigners take note of this and also pay a visit to the cradle of C-diplo.

I hope Arnaud Boirel will find the time to put up the "Détail des parties". My memory is not the best, but I'll try to remember some of the highlights from the qualifying games. I might edit this EOG at a later stage if I can see the game-by-game results. At least it would help me remember names worth mentioning.

‘GabrielParis’ is actually very accurate in describing me as a "diesel engine, slow to start". I'm the first to admit that I don't have a very good "calculator" when it comes to gaming. Or with other words, my CPU is a little slow, more like a 486 than a P4. I think my diplomatic instincts are generally fine, but since I play relatively few tournaments, I have to warm-up or fine-tune the tactics and strategic feeling if there have been a few months since the last game or tournament. This is actually the main reason (besides the "name recognition") why I've never won a game in our local Oslo-league. Every game is a single game so there is no time for warm-up.

My first game:

My first game ended in a shared 1st place, 8 - 8 in SCs. I could have won the game since there was a 100% solution to get to 9 SCs, but I miscalculated. I was France and had quite a good relationship with England (nice guy, name escapes me), although we had fought a little. So right before fall 1907 he tells me that his fleet ENG is supporting the German fleet in BEL. My gut feeling tells me he is telling the truth, but I have only one minute to change my orders. I had F MAO - BRE to cover the open home centre and A RUH – BEL, with support from PIC to take the 9th SC. A simple change of F Mao - Eng would have given me that extra SC, but for some reason my CPU then decides that A RUH should go for the 50 - 50% gamble over HOL or KIE since it now knows that Belgium is supported. My CPU flips the coin and bounces with a German unit in HOL, while KIE remains open. Well, well, knowing my own processing power, I was not too disappointed.

My second game:

The next game was really interesting. I was England and I sensed that Germany (DLD) and France (De Talleyrand) had something going on. Russia (Pierre) also warned me to the same effect. De Talleyrand and I had agreed that neither of us would go to the channel. I see that G/F are talking right before the deadline and I make a wide circle through the tournament hall. Casually passing behind them, I see that ‘De Talleyrand’ is writing his orders towards the wall and one order happens to be F BRE - MAN!! To create some confusion, I pull him aside at the last moment and ask if we not better bounce in the channel? I tell him that ‘DLD’ told me he is going to the channel and, based on this information, I feel safer bouncing. Right after the S1901M adjudication I pull ‘De Talleyrand’ aside again and continue to blame ‘DLD’ for constructing the E/F-conflict. (DLD just looked more devious.) Of course, the planned "Sea Lion" was already dead and ‘De Talleyrand’ admitted ‘DLD’ is his team captain in an 18centres.com e-mail tournament. We agreed that he should not let himself be "abused" by his team captain and I told him his reputation in the hobby will be all the better for it if he eliminates ‘DLD’. >From then till 1906 I had a solid E/F-alliance. My greatest diplomatic manipulation in the whole tournament!

Towards the end of this game, I again miscalculate due to poor time management. I have little time and I could have taken KIE with supports from DEN and HEL, but write F NTH S F BAL - KIE instead of the required F NTH - HOL to break support. This would have given me 11 to Kipite's 12. As it turned out I could have taken the 12th also, but that was really a guessing game. I had A GAS and A BRE (BRE was already mine) while France/’De Talleyrand’ had A PAR and A SPA. I saw that I had a 50/50 chance to take PAR with either:

1. A BRE - PAR with support from GAS (hoping for A PAR - GAS with support from SPA)
2. A GAS - PAR with support from BRE (if defence was A SPA – GAS to break support)

I decide to go for the first option, but unfortunately my CPU decides that in this case, it doesn’t hurt to try A GAS - MAR, which was open, but would likely be covered by French F GoL and/or Italian A PIE. As it turns out, De Talleyrand had not realized there was a guess over Paris!! He thought I could take it a 100% and ordered A Spa – Mar with support from F GoL, covering SPA from POR. If I had just supported myself to Paris, both combination would have worked and I would have shared 1st with Kipite, 12-12. Of course, assuming I hadn't misordered over Kiel, which really was a 100% solution.

As a final comment on the second game, I also have to mention that I made significant strategic mistakes. I put too much pressure on the very friendly Belgian player, Pierre, who was in Russia. I put an army in STP and this lost me his goodwill towards the end of the game and distracted him from defending his last SCs against Turkey (‘Kipite’). Just as bad was my stab of ‘De Talleyrand’ in 1906 which made him abandon the Mediterranean to the benefit of Turkey. Both contributing factors to my 2nd place, but Kipite's victory was fully deserved, of course.

After this game, I was rather irritated with myself. I even told Patrik that as a diplomacy player I was a "could have been". That to win tournaments you have to be good in all aspects of the game, but that my tactics were too poor for such a large tournament. As you might understand, I'm still baffled at being voted "best tactician".

Last chance at qualifying:

The third game

Still the combined result was not too bad, and I hoped a 10+ win in the last round could be enough. I drew Russia with Arnaud B. (I had no idea he is a previous French champion) in Germany and John Jamieson in England. Arnaud immediately came under pressure from an E/F alliance. France being played by the very talented and pleasant Persian-American, Farhad Mahmoudi. Luckily, I managed to keep the goodwill of Arnaud B. to the very last move of the game. And miraculously, John's also - despite having taken NWY from him and generally working an R/G against the E/F the whole game. I think the reason for this, was that we both kept our humour while fighting each other, having a few good laughs in the process.

I was the larger power for most of the game, but again it seemed that the victory would slip out of my hands because of poor tactics. Farhad slipped an Army through Munich and Silesia to Warsaw. After this, however, I played very well tactically and managed to retake War. Before fall 1907, Farhad stood with his French Army in UKR, with MOS, SEV and RUM open. He also had an army in Silesia. I made all the right guesses, kept Warsaw, and took Munich with the support of Arnaud B., while bouncing with France in Rumania, risking Moscow in the process. Instantly, I knew I had made it to the top table with my 12 centres.

The top board:

This would turn out to be my third win on an FtF top board in four attempts. I think one reason for these favourable statistics, is that I usually feel everything is accomplished by qualifying for the top board. I feel there is nothing to loose and everything to win, and as a result I've usually been completely relaxed. The only top board I didn't win was during the 2004 Norwegian Championship, where I was "defending" the title. I think that ambition ruined my usual calm and satisfaction at being on the top board, and I played worse as a result.

Here I had come to a large and prestigious tournament, with no expectations whatsoever, and was just happy for the honour of playing with such distinguished players. Again, my CPU shut down while Cyrille Sevin explained the intricate power selection system so I misunderstood a little when placing my marker as nr. 3. This pushed me all the way up to the first position and I had already lost any conceivable tie-breaker, before the game had started. Well, well, I got to pick first and could just as well choose France; a strong tournament power with excellent defensive qualities.

Although I didn't know him, I was happy to see Christophe Couturier in England, especially since Patrik Carlsson picked Germany. I definitely consider Patrik one of the very good friends I've found through Diplomacy, but these hobby friendships exist only between the games. While playing, it is always fierce competition. Patrik and I discussed it the day after, and we agreed the game would have had a completely different dynamic if Arnaud Daina had picked England instead of Italy. There are still a lot of articles about the game that claim that there is no luck in Diplomacy. Well, that certainly is not true of FtF-tournaments. Maybe luck is not the right word for it, but I've always felt that it is so much coincidence that influences your games through a whole tournament. Everyone has favourite or less favoured powers and you need to draw them in the right order through a tournament. The placing of the different personalities around the board can make for very different "dynamics". I.e. if you don’t like Austria and end up with the wrong kind of neighbours, you might not get the result needed in a crucial round. In this game, I felt it worked to my advantage.

Maybe one disadvantage for Swedish players is that they are known for a certain style. They are known to be excellent tacticians, pragmatic, borderline cynics and fond of stabbing. I've come to think of Patrik as quite traditional in this respect and a typical representative of his race. Thus - readable. However, truth be told, all the players who know each other well are "readable". Experienced tournament players have the additional advantage of better "intelligence", and this reduces the above mentioned luck factor.

My gut feeling was that Christophe is more of an alliance player than what Patrik is, and I based my opening strategy on this. Without a word being said, Patrik sensed this and realized early on that he would be facing an F/E-alliance.

I had not played with Arnaud Daina before, but we had chatted a bit between the games. He definitely seemed a bit more devious and dangerous than what Christophe’s calm exterior indicated. I also assumed him to be more ambitious and aggressive because of his younger age. (I realize now that I'm typing, that some of these observations probably benefit from hindsight. This is always a challenge when writing EOGs so please bear with me and remember that EOGs are usually very subjective anyway. At this point, it's difficult to say how conscious or subconscious these thoughts were at the time. And for some strange reason, winners seems to be more motivated to write EOGs :-) So please also excuse what may come across as bragging...)

And rightly so, Arnaud marched straight into Trieste and put all his diplomatic eggs in one basket. This brings us to the topic of Austro-Hungary and William Attia. His remarkable recovery has already been commented elsewhere on the 18centres.com forum. Let me just say that if we had not been bound by a quantitative scoring system, but should have voted for the most impressive play - William would have been the French Champion. Moreover, had the game ended in 1906 when 4 players were tied at 7 SCs, he would have won even according to the tournament rules. I've played a few games with him by now, and he is definitely one of the most accomplished tacticians in the hobby.

Back to Arnaud: I really admire his diplomatic style. He is "cool" and difficult to read. I regret that I had to help eliminate him towards the end, but it was for the common good - errhmm, for my own benefit. I supported Lei Saarleinen into the last Italian SC to shore up Lei's defences vis-à-vis Philippe, who was the early leader of the game with Russia.

Until sometime in 1905 or even 1906, I thought Philippe the likely winner of the game. However, a large Russia is very often deceptive and this also turned out to be the fate of Philippe. I've played with him at ManorCon in 2002 and in Denver 2003. And I've really developed both respect and a liking for him. He has this little, but very humorous smile. His style is calm and rational, yet jovial. Early in the game, we agreed to be brave and try to sandwich E/G between us. However, neither of us really followed up on this idealistic and utopian plan. Of course, we both wanted the other to be the first to stab our respective allies in the E/F vs. R/G constellation which had developed in the north-west.

As two duellists, we both kept our cool for a long time, but Philippe "blinked" first by building F STP (SC). I think this was in winter 1905. This gave me my big break in the game. (Together with the fact that I faced relatively little pressure from the South. The one time Arnaud decided to apply some pressure on me he was promptly stabbed by William, and immediately withdrew.) Patrik had to ease up the pressure on the western front to face the new threat from the east. I used the opportunity, not to pursue Patrik, but to stab my English ally Christophe. I had been quite pleased with our alliance and we had cooperated closely. In the E/F vs. R/G war, he naturally lost his 4th SC - NWY. I was displeased when he disbanded F LON and kept F BAR as this lost us the North Sea and the hope of retaking BEL from Germany in the short term. At the time, I thought he should have given up his claim on NWY to encourage Russia/Philippe to join us against Germany/Patrik. However, it worked out very positively for me. On the one hand, I felt I now had a psychological justification for stabbing him (very important for those of us, who are still not completely cynical). On the other hand, he was tactically out of position vis-à-vis a potential French stab.

As soon as I saw Philippe's "build F STP (SC), I promised Patrik free hands to deal with Russia and promptly followed-up with A PIC - WAL convoyed by F ENG. My next break in the game came when I was able to convince Christophe that this was probably a mistake and that I'd better convoy A WAL - BEL in the fall, now that Patrik had his guard down. Thus, I marched unopposed into both LVP and LON in the fall of 1906. My patience had paid off and I could finally change the long row of 5-5-5-5 on the SC-chart to a 7.

If there is one thing that may justify that I got the "best tactician" award, it is that No. 2 for the same price committed a decisive tactical mistake in 1907. Early in the game, I had made a tactical mistake which lost Burgundy to Germany. I concentrated all forces on reclaiming it while covering Mar/Par. Belgium was lost in the process, but this was not so important in the long term. Since then, the "western front" had been locked-up between Patrik and me. For several turns in a row, I had defended passively by just supporting Burgundy from Picardy. In spring 1907, I had the same orders written down, but change them just before the deadline, suddenly remembering that one should always try something active rather than just passive defence. It was literally in the last minute.

Patrik, as a central power, was now under pressure from several sides and tried to shift his forces around. NTH was open and he tried F HOL - NTH, A RUH - HOL, A BEL – RUH against my F ENG - NTH, A BUR - BEL, A PIC S A BUR - BEL. Thus we bounce in the North Sea and the Army in Belgium was destroyed with no chance of recapture. That was the 8th SC needed for victory.

I feel for Patrik, because he is usually an excellent tactician. He had played very well earlier in the tournament (only wins and shared wins) and qualified as number 3. We spent Monday morning in the Louvre and dissected all the possible moves in 1907 on the Northern front. We were truly amazed at how complex the tactical situation was and how it could have tipped either way. How the change of one move in the west, would have influenced the east, and vice versa.

To be on the safe side, I snuck into Naples (belonging to Turkey/Lei) the very last fall. Lei certainly didn't deserve this, but having the worst possible tie-breaker, I just couldn't resist the temptation. Lei had defended heroically against a big Russia the whole game. In 1905 he wanted me to support him into the two remaining Italian SCs. A combination of pity with Arnaud, not wanting to eliminate him unnecessarily, and uncertainty about the effect it would have, I supported Lei into the last remaining Italian HC, but let Arnaud survive one more year in Tunis. In hindsight, this was probably correct as Lei could have challenged me for the victory with builds in 1905. By giving him one Italian SC in 1905, the next in 1906, I was safeguarded from a Turkish challenge at the end. However, I readily admit to not being conscious of this at the time, but the post-game analysis showed that Lei could easily have been in the running for the top spot as well. There was no Turkish Delight. As opposed to me, he was keenly aware of the situation.

Honestly, I didn't realise I could win this game before in 1906, when four of us were tied at 7 SCs. Previously, Philippe had been up in 10 SCs. And I only started believing in it after S1907M, when I retook Belgium from Germany/Patrik as my 8th SC. Then I was also reasonably certain I had Lei's goodwill in the Mediterranean and that I could secure the win by taking one off him. This is my only regret in the game, as it turned out not to be necessary. If I had had a better CPU, I would probably have been able to see this.

That's also the reason why I can't comment in any detail about what was happening on the Eastern side of the board. As it developed, my CPU only had capacity to follow the SC-chart. At first it seemed like everyone were out to kill William, but then R and/or T must have given him life-support. William got his first build in 1903!! Later, A/T were containing Russia while simultaneously killing Italy/Arnaud with me. This provided A/T with the forces necessary to reverse some of the Russian progress. I think this was the development in broad terms. Someone, please correct me if I'm wrong.

Final Position on Top Board
Final position on the top board - 1908.

It's not that often I get to experience it, but it is a feeling of great satisfaction to win a tournament. I take special pride in this win since it is the French Championship, the "last Bastille" amongst the national titles, and such a sizable tournament with 124 participants. As I'm one of the hobby persons, organizing the Norwegian NDC and travelling from time to time, it is also very satisfactory to note that the European hobby has overcome the childhood decease of nationalism and that the great majority of players do not take nationality into consideration when playing. My hat of to Yann for having contributed strongly to this development by his tireless travelling and disinterested service in building a truly international hobby!

The award ceremony

Please excuse my long, rambling EOG, and any bragging I may have committed in the process.

Accept, my dear subjects, the assurances of my highest consideration for your distinguished hobby, as well as my warm personal regards,

Frank of France

PS: And before I forget, it was sweet to revenge the loss of the Norwegian title to William in 2002. What damage to French prestige! Your first chance at continuing the vendetta will be at the Norwegian NDC 24 - 26 June, 2005. If you don't send some serious assassins to Oslo, we’ll let it be known that you're not real men and bereft of all honour. If it's up to me, this blood feud will continue for years to come... ;-)

PPS: Link to final tournament standings (external).

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