The Odd Theory

by Edi Birsan

How many tines have you heard the old myth that “Naturally, in any well-played game, Diplomacy is a seven-way draw”? The assumptions here are two-fold:

1 Everyone on the board knows the tactical and strategic side of the game inside out and,

2. Each player is of the win-only school of thought in which one must either try for a win or stop all others from winning.

In your average game, neither of the above two assumptions holds true and certainly the numerous winners-only games and top-board games have been lacking in draws and the case can be put forth that one of the two assumptions did not apply there either.

But let us suppose on some distant planet, there are seven players who fit the two critical needs for a “well-played gene of Diplomacy” and the fools having nothing more to credit to their existence actually sit down one Sunday afternoon and have a go at it over the board. If that game ends in anything less than a three-way draw, they have violated the basic assumptions that allowed them to be chosen for the game! In other words, a “well-played” game between seven top-notch win-only players is a three-way tie at least, and possibly a two-way tie, and definitely NOT a seven-way tie as myth would hold up to light.

The solution to the seven-way draw problem is the “odd theory” touched on in the IDA’s handbook article on strategic balance Starting at the beginning with seven players, the board is continually divided into two distinct warring camps along the lines of an odd breakdowns

A. Round one: 5 countries against 2, leaves 5 for

B. Round two: 3 countries against 2, leaves 3 for

C. Round three: 2 countries against 1 or draw on strategic grounds,

After round one, the elimination of two countries should leave the remaining five powers with about 6-7 centres each with the powers with the most borders having the additional one piece advantage. There is no hope for the out-manoeuvred and clearly overpowered two countries faced with a five power attacking block. Trying to suicide against one power would most likely not work as each of the five powers stands to gain a shot at a bid for mid-game dominance with a 3 on 2 situation and thus would not risk blowing open the five power alliance by greed.

In the second round, the game gets really tense as the division of the board into a group of three and a group of two gives the smallest edge to the three-power alliance and will slowly grind down the duo until there are but the three left, Once again, it would be foolish for any of the three to risk accepting the temptation of suicide on one of his allies for he would be severely hurt by the loss of diplomatic chance with the remaining power to gain leverage in the endgame situation or Round 3.

When the board cones down to the last three powers of around 11-11-12 units, there is a distinct choice here for the game’s future, All three can agree to a three-way draw on the grounds that for any one of them to initiate an attack on another would hand the gene to the third power who comes into the war last. Thus, the game is a strategic and diplomatic stalemate rather than the more conventional tactical stalemates we are accustomed to.

Then again, there could be an agreement between two of the players to divide up the territory of the third and race for a win over the dying body of the third power. The counter move to this is dumping your units on the lap of one of the attackers and thus swinging the game to a chosen member of your attackers, if you happen to be the victim. Or, two players can begin a slow and integrated advance on the third power in such a way as to gradually reduce his units and to prevent a suicide by the intermixing of unite on the front. Carefully done, this could be arranged to yield in a small percentage of cases a 17-17 draw.

So for those of you who see yourselves locked into the same old large number of draws in face-to-face or through-the-mail genes, you might try employing the odd theory early in the game to bring about a trend away from the seven and six way draw fest that plagues many FtF games. With players being eliminated more often, maybe the temptation to play for survival in a puppet or strong second case may take hold in your group and lead you down to further new roads of victories and close defeats, but most of all, a change of pace in play.

Reprinted from Diplomacy World No.1 (Jan 1974)