by Allan B Calhamer
The long argument among the fans between what has been called the “Win Only” school and the “Strong Second” school, is really an argument over what the player’s objectives should be in cases in which he has little or no hope of winning, or in which he is playing to win but wishes to keep a second objective in reserve. The “Win Only” school believes that the secondary objective should be to draw the game; the “Strong Second” believes in rating performances other than wins and draws.
To begin with, Diplomacy may appear to be a cruel game, because it produces only one winner to six losers. Compare chess or checkers, in which three games might produce 3 winners and 3 losers. This relative scarcity of victories among the contestants may have stimulated the undergrowth of secondary objectives.
Nevertheless, it is not wholly clear why the draw is not an adequate secondary objective, inasmuch as the game is probably a draw with best play from the overwhelming majority of positions actually encountered. One of the difficulties may be that the draw is reputed to be inconclusive, because it is so reckoned in chess or checkers. However, a draw in Diplomacy may be more conclusive than victories among an equivalent number of chess players. If seven players play Diplomacy, and three draw, those three have scored above the four others. If six players play in three chess games, and all the games are wins, those three have scored above only three others, rather than four. Yet in the Diplomacy game, there is still the possibility of one player winning it all.
The draw, of course, is the only objective other than victory that is recognised by the Rulebook.
The assumption behind the 18 centre victory criterion is that, given 18 units to a disunited combination of only 16 units, the leader can in general eventually conquer the whole board. Thus, no country survives except his own. Critics have claimed that there are positions in which certain countries could survive by stalemate, or by regaining a combination of 17 or more units; consequently, the notion that a country gaining 18 units could sweep the board is not invariably correct. It is my opinion that this point is of negligible importance, because almost all of the games will not come out that way, and because the victory criterion must have some hard and fast definition, and because it takes a long time to acquire 18 units as it is. Indeed, I would prefer some standard such as 16 or 12 units, or the biggest power after the elapse of a predetermined amount of time (real or game); except for the fact that such low victory criteria are unusually subject to upset by threats to “throw” the game to one country or another.
Following the assumption that a power holding 18 units can sweep the board, it then appears that no power has survived the game unless he has achieved either a win or a draw. The reward for a draw, then, is the reward for survival in a dangerous world.
The notion that all players sharing in the draw share equally reflects in part the considerable and logical difference between survival and elimination; anyone who has survived into the draw might conceivably win if the game went on, but no one eliminated can do so.
Some people have objected that a player having 10 units is entitled to more credit than one having only one unit when a draw is agreed upon. One answer to this notion is that draws are agreed upon; consequently any player who objects to equal credit for the smaller powers can refuse to agree, for a few moves, while he proceeds to knock out the smaller powers, and more than one larger power can agree to so proceed before voting the draw. Now, if it is still impossible to get rid of those tiny powers, they must have something going for them within the game which is operating to ensure their survival: possibly a position in which it is very difficult to knock them out, or a friendly power holding them up, or a situation in which the would-be attackers cannot agree on which of them should get the territory; whatever the reason is, the tiny power has achieved survival within the game.
Giving equal credit to all those sharing in the draw also encourages the smallest power to fight for the draw, instead of giving up without a fight. If they give up without a fight, the larger powers may not get a draw either, since the leader may benefit from their collapse and win.
One of the bad features about scoring the draw equally for all participants is that some three or four players in a game might lose sight of the primary objective altogether, and play only to knock out the other players, after which they would probably have a draw, since none of them had manoeuvred to weaken the others. In this way, players might achieve above average results, at least until other players got onto them. However, they would not be likely to achieve high results, such as the highest places in a tournament, or for that matter, even a single victory. Thus, if the value of the draw were increased, there might be incentive to play for the draw from the start, which is anti-competitive; whereas if the value of the draw were reduced, there might be less incentive to unite to stop the leader, which would also be an anti-competitive result.
Some players have regarded “second place”, “third place”, and so forth as suitable objectives other than victory, sometimes regarding them as better than a draw. Some have regarded only “strong Second”, second place with, say, 10 units or more, as an appropriate object other than victory. Some have credited “survival” – but by this term they have meant survival until another player achieved victory, not indefinite survival through win or draw.
Although these objectives do not appear in the Rulebook, some ratings systems give credit for them, one GM gives small prizes for the first three places, and so forth. Any player once in the lead might as well offer his assistance toward the attainment of these objectives to the other players, since these objectives, unlike the draw, do not conflict with the leader’s effort to win. Indeed, a player who himself does not credit any of these objectives might as well offer his help toward the attainment of them to all the other players from the outset, provided they help him toward a win.
Some players have argued that giving credit for “strong second” is realistic. This result is hard to determine, for when a player has won, he has presumably gained control of Europe, something which one country has never done. The strong second, then, is the last or largest to fall to the conqueror. Whether this situation is a good one or not is hard to say. The Mongols used to give the worst treatment to those of their enemies that held out the longest.
In terms of achievement, it is easy to believe that a strong second with 10 units is preferable to being knocked out early, or to succumbing with the rest while holding just one unit. However, in the final battle to prevent the leader from winning, one would normally expect the second place player to be the leader of the opposition. Consequently, something must be detracted from his achievement because he must bear some of the responsibility for the failure in the final battle.
A recent postal game arrived at a point at which the supply centres were divided among the remaining players 17-11-6. Here the player in second place could have secured second place by giving one of his centres to the leader, ending the game 18-10-6; but this player plays only for a win or a draw. The third place player was willing to entertain second place as an objective other than victory; however, there was no way he could achieve it, because if he attacked the second place player, the leader would win at once. Consequently, the two weaker players joined to fight for the 3-way draw, playing several exciting moves, and eventually succeeding.
This final attempt to contain the leader is sometimes one of the most dramatic and exciting parts of the game. Co-operation must be created among players who have been fighting one
another, and who have set their hearts on other objectives; they must admit that goal they have pursued all game long, which are now within their grasp, have just lost their value, and may even be destructive. Frequently, they are out of position for the new encounter, and are better positioned to fight each other. They must form a line together, exposing their territories to each other. This is not the co-operation of merely being assigned to the same team. This co-operation is hard won over difficulties. This is Verdun.
Sometimes allies in this position take pot-shots at one another, trying to gain as much as they can without collapsing the alliance; sometimes they lack aggressiveness because they suspect each other. Almost always they come around to the grand alliance too late. History has seen aplenty of these things.
The opportunities for this final high battle, this Armageddon, this human drama, are, of course, dribbled away if a “strong second” player is within reach of second. He is the knocked-out bottom of the jug that might have contained the leader.
Reprinted from the 1974 IDA Diplomacy handbook. Allan is, of course, the inventor of Diplomacy.