How I Lost The War : Count Vlad Remembers

by Bob Olsen

INTERVIEWER: You were playing Austria for the first time in this game. When did you first realise you were a 15th-century vampire? What were your plans going in? 

VLAD: I realised I was Count Vlad when I first noticed that the players were allowed to write press releases for the game. Being an expert on matters Transylvanian, I immediately assumed my true, more-or-less-superhero identity. I was too young and innocent to have plans. I was just starting out in the hobby and figured I’d be wiped out by hotshot Dip experts in my first 20 games or so, so I just planned to thrash around and hope for the best. Things worked out a little better than I’d figured – the French and Italian players were also novices, and the Turkish and English players had only a couple of games under their belts. The Russian and Germans were old hands, but oddly enough, both dropped from the game and from the hobby. I guess this was their (chuckle) swan song. 

INTERVIEWER: So how did the game begin? 

VLAD: Russia wrote terrific letters; I decided to ally with him. After all, the Gamers Guide to Diplomacy says the Austrian-Turkish alliance is unworkable so what choice was there? Meanwhile, France and Germany allied against England, and Italy promised to help me against Turkey. Italy lost the game for himself in Fall 1901. He moved F(ION)-AEG instead of F(ION)-Tun for a build. In fact, he never did get to 4 centres, though he did gain the undying enmity of the Sultan if that was any consolation. Little did he know that France and I were also secretly allied, and the elimination of Italy was already being planned. 

INTERVIEWER: Things moved fast in this game. 

VLAD: Ach, yes. In 1902 England got France to stab Germany. Right about that time, the German warned me that Russia had called him up and, quote “preached anti-Austrian philosophy” to him. But I didn’t believe it; the Russian wrote such nice letters. How can you distrust a man who, when he is at 6 centres and you are at 5, still calls himself “the junior partner” in the alliance? However, just in case, I did take the precaution of starting to talk to the Turk again. I pretended to be interested in his suggestion of a triple alliance and about that time happened to find an endgame statement in another zine where a player chided our Russian for paranoid play; I sent a copy of this to the Sultan. Which was lucky for me, because right after this the Russian missed two turns in a row, and dropped from the game. The standby Russian wouldn’t communicate to anyone – not uncommon since a standby often has little commitment to the game. I immediately attacked Russia in the south. Meanwhile, France and I attacked the feeble Italian and wiped him out. At that point, or thereabouts, England stabbed France (who was already growing dangerously large) and allied with Germany. E/G went after France and the uncommunicative Russian. 

INTERVIEWER: Must have been devastating. 

VLAD: Well, no, because I was in communication with both France and England, and passed England’s plans on to the Frog. 

INTERVIEWER: Then Russian #2 dropped out? 

VLAD: Right, and another standby took over. I was in Rumania at the time, but in the interest of keeping my options open, I wrote to the new Russian and proposed an anti-Turkish alliance. It would have been a good deal for both of us. Unfortunately, Russian #3 forwarded my letter to the Turk, who immediately informed me that he did not take kindly to this sort of activity. At this point I was up the creek. Russia’s action, cast him permanently as my enemy. It meant that I felt there was no way I could ever ally with him, or even bother to write him. It is impossible to write an honest letter to somebody who may send it on to a third party. Turkey was mad at me and distrusted me, and insinuated that an R/T alliance was in the offing. On the other hand, I was at 8 centres and bigger than either of them, so rather than wait to be attacked, I struck first…and achieved “The Miracle of the Balkans.” I somehow wound up in Bulgaria; the ostensible R/T alliance hadn’t bothered to co-ordinate moves. Turkey wrote me a surprised-sounding letter about how come I stole Bulgaria when we were allies? Which was something of a surprise to me. All of which would have been fine, but it so happened that at that time Germany, who had always been friendly before (and who more importantly had been occupied in the west), decided I was too big. He moved into Bohemia and Tyrolia with the intention of joining the attack on me. Fortunately, that very season, England and France got together again and stabbed Germany, so he had to pull back. 

INTERVIEWER: I think I’m getting dizzy. 

VLAD: So was the German, who NMR’d out of the game right after that, and dropped out of the hobby. I later heard that the reason was that he got stabbed in another game by somebody who was “just a girl.” My advice to beginning male players is, if you have a sensitive male ego, don’t get in a game with female players. There aren’t a lot of women playing Dip, but the ones who play really know how to play. But I digress. 

INTERVIEWER: So Germany is on the ropes, Russia and Turkey are allied, France and England are allied, and…  

VLAD: Austria is at 9 centres, but only 8 units on the board – no home centres open for a build that Winter. This proved to be my undoing. With one more army I could have held the line against Russia and Turkey. France, on the other side, was my only real ally at this point. About that time Germany got wiped out and England immediately informed me that he was going to stab France. I told France, who parried the English thrust and drove him back. He also started moving into the Med. 

INTERVIEWER: Coming to help? 

VLAD: No, he didn’t even pretend – just told me that he was going to crush me like an insect and I was as good as out. Since France was at about 10 centres, it was strop-the-leader time. I tried to get a fake change-of-address for the GM sent to the French player through a third party (unfortunately he never bothered to mail it) hoping that the French orders would go astray and he’d miss a turn. I also got on the phone and kissed and made up with Turkey and pledged fealty to what remained of England. We quickly proceeded to wipe out Russia while England defended against the vicious French hordes. Unfortunately, my centres were a lot closer to Turkey than any of France’s were, so he proceeded to stab me as soon as the French thrust into the Mediterranean stalled. Austria started losing centres all over the place, and the game was essentially over. My last centre was taken the last season of the game, which was voted a French-Turkish draw. 

INTERVIEWER: How did the losers lose the game? How did the winners win? 

VLAD: Italy lost the game in Fall 1901 by going for a meaningless position rather than a build. Germany and Russia were dropped positions which might have done better; the original Russian was clearly a superior player who probably could have figured in the outcome. The German tried to intervene in the east before he had the situation in his own area under control. England and Austria both failed for about the same reason; we failed to find a stable alliance. Also, neither of us managed to eliminate another power in our own region of the board until too late. The musical stabs in the west were a sight to behold, though, I must say. Turkey gained a share of the draw by playing fairly conservatively, never giving up, negotiating all the time, and making the right move when the chances came along. France succeeded by being on the stronger side of the short-lived western alliances, absolutely excellent diplomacy, and by lulling Austria into policing the east while he had his way in the west. 

INTERVIEWER: By the way, who were the players? 

VLAD: The Russian, German and Italian players have gone on to other pursuits. England was played by Eric Ozog, former publisher of the zine Diplomacy by Moonlight (now also married to Cathy Ozog, pubber of Cathy’s Ramblings). Turkey was played by Ronald Brown of Canada, former publisher of the zine Snafu! France was played by Mike Mazzer, former publisher of the non-subzine Strange Doings. I was Bob Olsen, and I haven’t done a blasted thing before or since. 

INTERVIEWER: You did learn from the game, though. 

VLAD: True. I learned that you can’t trust a silver-tongued devil; that a stable alliance is better than a quick temporary gain; and that when a Dip game is played right, as this one was, it’s almost nerve-wracking in its excitement – I got stomped but I had a ball. Finally, I learned that when you are about to get wiped out, your best strategy is to ride off to Valhalla in a golden chariot drawn by swans. In fact, the swans have had to come for me so many times in other games that I get frequent-flyer rates. 

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, Count Vlad. 

VLAD: Ach! Any time, my lidtle apfelschtrudel!