by Fred C. Davis and Don Miller
Stephen Agar: This article is reprinted from Diplomania No.22 from January 1969 – before the first game of postal Diplomacy had even been started in the UK! I’m reprinting it because I found it interesting and because it gives an insight into how Fred Davis came to devlop the classic variant Abstraction. “DM” = Don Miller, the editor of Diplomania and first ever variant guru.
((DM: The following suggestions were culled from several letters received from Fred Davis. We hope we have located them all, and that the presentation will be acceptable to the author. This article is particularly timely, in view of the recent announcement by Games Research, Inc. (through Brobdingnag) that they were considering revision of the Diplomacy rules. A map, on which the suggested changes appear, will be found on the next page.))
I have only recently become a devotee of Diplomacy. Being both somewhat of an expert on geography and one of those nuts who likes to tinker with games to establish some house rule “improvements”, I was immediately struck by some of the ludicrous geographical situations on the official Diplomacy board. The internal provincial boundaries are things of horror to a purist, and this thing about “North Coast” and “South Coast” in Spain and St. Petersburg causes an awful lot of trouble. (Bulgaria is so small it doesn’t matter.) Also, the first two things I noticed about the board are the way Russia, which occupies almost half of the land playing-area, consists of only seven provinces, and the other 48-odd provinces occupy the other half of the land area; and that Sicily, which is an integral part of Italy, plays no part in the game.
I recognize intellectually that the designer’s original idea was to keep each Combatant Power restricted to six internal provinces, to keep them equal in strength; and that the more provinces which exist, the more difficult it is to destroy an enemy army, since there are more places left to which said army can retreat. Considering the length of the game, I presume that he selected six provinces as the optimum number consistent with a compromise between reality and speeding up the game.
A. Map Changes Not Affecting Play of Game.
Beginning with the standard Diplomacy board, there are first of all five corrections which could be made which would not have any effect on the present game, but which would improve the map. These are:
1. Draw a heavy imperial boundary line through the Ural Mts. and swinging west to the Caspian Sea, marking the eastern boundary of Russia. This would end the ludicrous situation of the provinces of Moscow and St. Petersburg extending eastward to infinity. The two new areas created, which I have named “Siberia” and “Kazakhstan”, can be marked “Off Limits”, to indicate that a retreat to these areas is the equivalent of “Off the Board”. Russia looks far better from an aesthetic viewpoint with this eastern boundary delineated.
2. Complete the boundaries for the province of “Armenia”. The 1959 Calhamer maps indicate that “Armenia” extends all the way to the Caspian Sea, but the 1961 Games Research Board map correctly shows an Imperial boundary between Armenia and an unidentified area which, of course, is Iran (or Persia, if you prefer 1900 nomenclature). This is a discrepancy which could cause difficulty in the event of fighting between Turkey and Russia. On my board, I have extended the Armenia-Iran boundary down between the “P” ‘and the “b” in “Diplomacy”, and then have extended the Armenia-Syria boundary eastward to meet this line. I have entered the word “Iran” in the unnamed space, and used the same term, “Off Limits”, as I used for Siberia and Kzakhstan, to indicate a retreat to here was “Off the Board”. (If the author intended this space to be playable, so that Turkey could put a 2-on-l against Russia, please correct me, but I have assumed from the fact that the space was unnamed that it was not intended to be part of the game.)
3. Correct the error in the boundary of “The Ruhr” to show the northern boundary going north-by-northwest to the bulge of Holland, instead of virtually straight west beyond the mid-point. As drawn on the board, all the northern portion. of the Ruhr north of the Ruhr River itself has been amputated- from the province. This will have no effect on the game, but corrects the worst geographical error.
4. The province “Clyde” on the official-board doesn’t even include the River Clyde. The southern boundary of this province should be lowered to just above the letter “L” in “Liverpool”, and extending west to end in the sea just below the peninsula, which should be part of Clyde. I’d also like to suggest changing the name of the province to “Highlands”.
5. The name of the. province shown on the map as “Tunis” should be corrected to “Tunisia”. “Tunis” is the name of the chief city, but since this is an independent province in Diplomacy, it should be given the; name of the country, even though it is a Supply Center.
((DM: Although he didn’t mention it above, -we note that Mr Davis also changed the name of “Livonia” to “Courland” – We would also like to suggest here the changing of the boundary between Picardy and Belgium. – As drawn on the Diplomacy map, Belgium takes in Calais and Boulogne. We feel that the southern boundary of Belgium should be redrawn so that it meets the coast north of the line currently dividing the English Channel from the North Sea. The English Channel/North Sea line -could then be relocated a bit so it meets the mainland coast about 1/8 of an inch from the Belgium/Holland border. In addition, we suggest that the name of the province. “Ukraina” be changed to “Ukraine”. And, although it is a very minor change, we suggest the Russo-Finnish border be moved slightly eastward near St. Petersburg so it includes the westernmost part of Lake Ladoga (the large lake just-north of the supply center.))
((DM: Perhaps we should add another suggestion – why ‘is “Ankara” called “Ankara”? There was no city by that name during the First World War (we believe it was named that when it was adopted by Turkey as its capital city, in 1923 — but we’re not positive of this). Before- its name: was changed to “Ankara”, it was known as “Angora”. If it must be named for an inland city, we suggest that name. However, why not name it for-a coastal city? – If this is done, “Sinope” would be most appropriate. We would suggest all supply: centers in which fleets are initially raised be named for coastal-rather than inland cities.))
B. Diplomacy Map Changes Which Would Affect the Game
In this section, I’m showing my ideas for adding one province to each of the five Great Powers, two new provinces for Turkey, and three new provinces for Russia, and certain other improvements in the map. I decided that it would not be proper to increase the number of provinces in Russia and Italy, unless each of the other combatants also had an increase, in order to keep their strengths equal. I also found a need for three additional bodies of water on the map.
Add three provinces. This results in Russia consisting of 10 provinces and having four units and supply centers, instead of the present seven provinces and four supply centers. In the present game, all the Combatant Powers but Russia and Turkey have twice as many provinces as supply centers. In my revision, all were to have one more than twice as many provinces as they have supply centers, but, because of the solution at which I finally arrived to solve the two-coast -problem for Russia, – I had to settle for two more than twice as many provinces as supply centers for Russia. I feel this is not too many – but even if none of the other changes I am suggesting were made, I would still be in favor of Russia having eight provinces (and Turkey six), so as to have twice as many provinces as supply centers, like the other Great Powers.
a. Divide “Moscow” in half, with eastern 2/5 to be called the province of “Volga”.
b. Divide “Sevastopol”, with the eastern 2/5 to be called “Caucasus”. (See map.) If only an 8th province were to be added, this is the one I would add, as “Caucasus” provides someplace for an -Army in either, Moscow or Sevastopol to retreat to. It is ridiculous to consider a country as large as Russia to be wiped out if Moscow falls, when a country like Italy is divided into postage-stamp provinces. “Caucasus” also eliminates the absurdity of “Sevastopol” being simultaneously attacked from points as far apart as Rumania and Armenia.
c. Divide “St. Petersburg”, with eastern 3/4 to be called “Archangel” (see map). Russia would start at present with a Fleet in St. Petersburg, – but would have the option of building future fleets in “Archangel” after the first turn instead of in St. Petersburg, for launching- into the Barents Sea. (Note that armies may never be built in Archangel.)
Add the province “Swabia” in the S.W. corner. This area also includes the famous Alsace-Lorraine and the almost impenetrable Black Forest.
a. Add province “Transylvania” between Budapest, Galicia, and Rumania.
b. Split the province of Trieste into two provinces, to be called “Croatia” and “Bosnia”, with the A-H Fleet/supply center being moved south from Trieste to Bosnia. This should keep the Italian and A-H units from crashing into one another on the first move. This can follow standard boundaries ((DM: But calling the southern half “Bosnia”, and maintaining a center there, does not follow the pattern of naming provinces in Combatant Powers which contain supply centers after cities – -rather than giving them actual province names. Perhaps it would be better to call Bosnia something like- “Ragusa”? or “Spalato”, preferably the former. Or, if we don’t care whether it is named after a city-on the sea coast, but merely want to name it after a large or famous city therein, how about Sarajevo? We should note here that, with Trieste split, Austria-Hungary will have eight provinces, or two more than twice as many provinces as supply centers. This suggestion was one of the ones which appeared in a letter following receipt -of the original- proposals, and we failed to notice it when we typed the portion at the beginning of section II. We apologize for this, and hope it didn’t confuse the reader too much.))
As mentioned earlier in this article, “Sicily” now comes into its own as a separate province. Since there is now a new way to invade Italy, a la 1943, I have added a new body of water, called the “Malta Sea”, cut out of the western reaches of the lonian Sea, and running south to the coast of Libya, in order to provide for additional naval operations. Note that armies can move from Sicily to Naples and vice-versa without the-need for a convoy The Straits of Messina are only two miles wide, and a lot-of Axis troops got across without naval assistance in-1943. Some of them even swam across.
Add a new province, carved out of Burgundy, in the center of the country. According to. the geography book, this ought to be called “Lyonais”. However, this could cause confusion with the “Gulf of Lyon”. I would therefore offer a second choice of “Midi” for nomenclature, this being the French word for “middle”. ((DM: But this could then cause confusion with “Mid-Atlantic ocean” How about “Auvergne”, as the Auvergne Mtns pass through this area?))
Add province “Devonshire” (abbr. “Devon.”) in S.W. England, carved out of the vastly over-expanded “Wales” shown on the map. (Being part Welsh myself, I should feel elated at how “our” Empire has expanded to gobble up half of England.) [SA: In the following issue of Diplomania William Linden pointed out that Cornwall was a far better name.]
This nation, of course, is the most peculiar one on the board, consisting of only five provinces instead of six, and two of these being cut off with no definite eastern or southern boundaries. Syria appears to serve no purpose except to provide a place for retreating to. I presume that Syria ends at the edge of the map. However, Turkey doesn’t really need more provinces, since all the .Balkan “goodies” are so close that Bulgaria and Greece get swiftly gobbled up. Anyway, just to keep things in line, I’ve added a ‘sixth province, called “Adana”, carved out of eastern Smyrna. This makes it more difficult for a Russian attack via the back door or a naval landing to wipe out Turkey with one blow. ((DM: Mr. Davis also suggests adding a seventh province, Palestine, in the section below entitled “Southern Mediterranean Coastline?))
End the coastal dilemma by dividing this area into “Spain” (the supply center) and “Northern Spain” (the old “North Coast — not a supply center). Spain in 1900 was also somewhat more important than places like Serbia and Bulgaria, and probably ought to have consisted of two provinces anyway, from the beginning. ((DM: Having all neutrals single provinces with country names was rather nice (except that Spain never acted like a single province). Wouldn’t it be just as well in splitting Spain, to name the two halves “Northern Spain” and “Southern Spain”? This would be less confusing than having two parts of a country called. “Spain” in its entirety, with one of the provinces of that country also called “Spain”.))
I’ve -carved the province “Lapland” out of northern Norway, the area north of Bodo (just south of Narvik). ((DM: The Norway/Lapland boundary being just about 2/3 up the country, in case you don’t know where Bodo or Narvik are.)) This is to prevent the silly situation of a unit landing in southern Norway being able to attack St. Petersburg ((DM: with revisions, now Archangel)) on the next. move, or vice-versa. ((DM: Again, why not call the two halves “Northern Norway” and “Southern Norway”, to -avoid the confusion of a province- name and a country name being the same. Or, perhaps we could name the southern portion which, after all, does contain a supply center, “Christiana” – as “Oslo” was then called (and, if we-did this, the southern portion of Spain could be called “Madrid”). But I still prefer “N” and “S” to actually assigning the provinces separate names.))
“Ireland” has been added as a playable area, and is also made a Supply Center. In order to provide more naval manoeuvring room around Ireland, a new body of water called. “The Hebrides” has been added, so that three seas will touch Ireland. The Hebrides is mainly carved out, of. the North Atlantic Ocean between Ireland and Iceland, but also includes the triangular area bounded by the Faeroes, the Shetlands, and the northern tip of Scotland, which is currently part of the Norwegian Sea. – – The western boundary of The Hebrides leaves Ireland at the cape called Erris Head and runs almost due north.
11. Southern Mediterranean Coastline
It is geographically ridiculous to have all of “North Africa” as a .single area, especially when real political boundaries did exist. I’ve divided North Africa into. “Morocco”, having both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coastline, and “Algeria”. “Morocco”‘ also serves the useful function of being a place for a fleet from the Mid-Atlantic to move to if the Western Mediterranean is occupied. I had originally thought of adding a body of water called “Gulf of Cadiz” near the Straits of Gibraltar, but decided that “Morocco” would serve the same purpose. ((DM: On his map he appears to have included a supply center in Morocco, so we’re including it on the map we have drawn. Fred, did, you intend to show a supply center in Morocco?))
Also “Libya”, “Egypt” and “Palestine” have been added to complete the entire Mediterranean Coastline. “Egypt” is a supply center. “Palestine” is part of the Turkish Empire, but is not a supply center. “Libya” is independent, and is not a supply center. I have drawn in “Arabia” east of Palestine and the south-west of Syria, marked “Off Limits”, to complete the southern portion of the map.
12. Bodies of Water
I’ve already mentioned the “Malta Sea” between the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian. The game board map is wrong, anyway, in showing the Ionian Sea as extending beyond the southeast tip of Sicily. properly speaking, the south coast of Sicily borders on the central portion of the Mediterranean Sea. And I’ve also mentioned The Hebrides, carved out of the eastern part of the North Atlantic Ocean, south of Iceland. the other new body of water is the Bay of Biscay, extending from Northern Spain to Brest, and as far west as the mid-point of the Irish Sea. If we’re going to be exact about including items like Heligoland Bight and the Skagerrak, we must be realistic and include this very important area. This also serves a secondary purpose in allowing an additional manoeuvring area next to the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.
((DM: Before ending this article, we might as well mention another suggested change we have heard made concerning the map. This is to add a province carved out of the southern part of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, with the dividing line running from the SW tip of Portugal due west to the edge of the map: this new province would be called “South Atlantic Ocean”.))