Turkey Can Be Injurious To Your Health

by Richard Sharp

There’s a saying among Diplomacy players: “You haven’t died until you’ve played Turkey”. OK, I know, Austria’s more likely to get dismembered by l902, Italy is less likely to win, Russia puts more pressure on you because you feel you OUGHT to win, England’s a corner country too and it’s surrounded by water, France is difficult because you have to remember you can’t move an army from Spain to North Africa, and everyone knows that you have to be an expert to play Germany, so… So what ? Nothing, nothing at all, is as boring as Turkey. 

Look at the figures. An industrious worker by the name of Pete Calcraft produces a thing called “Diplomacy Quarterly” in which, from time to time, he gives a summary of the possible opening moves for each country and how often they have been played. The latest survey covers 1,000 completed postal games. The ideas tried (including lunacies) number: Austria 60; England 19; France 41; Germany 44; Italy 44; Russia 82; Turkey 13. 

So the combined ingenuity of 1,000 Turks has come up with just 13 possible openings, and most of’ those are accidents. 

The game seems to have, been designed to cause maximum inconvenience for Turkey. Consider. You have a fleet. Fleets belong in water. Russia also has a, fleet in your area, his fleet belongs in water too, and there is only one bit of water available. You can write to him all the disarming letters you like, the sad fact remains that he will move to the Black Sea 54.9% of the time (latest available figure), so your chances of sneaking in are not good. 

Of course, you do have a couple of armies too. One goes to Bulgaria, 999 times out of 1,000 (the other time it was misordered, and I’ve often wondered what the order was). The other one gets in the way. Depending on how you resolve this problem, you do at least have, a choice of strategies. You can be FOR Russia, or AGAINST. If the former, Russia will win and you will come second; that for Turkey, is a good result. If, the latter, Russia may still win but you will probably come seventh. So you ally with Russia. 

But, does HE know that? 

Let me tell you the sad history of my own efforts to play Turkey. Readers of a nervous disposition should turn to another page. 

To start with I was quite successful. I don’t mean I actually gained any centres as Turkey. No. In my first ten games I managed to avoid playing Turkey at all. Then nemesis struck and I drew the short straw three times in five games. 

The first, in the summer of 1973, was the best. I allied with Russia and he attacked me. Then he dropped out, to be replaced by an old friend who was no great shakes at the game. So then I attacked him, and for a time it even seemed as if I might win, but eventually the claustrophobic effects of the corner began to tell, and I trailed in second. 

My next outing was a pure farce. Having been lured into a “new zine for international Diplomacy” I found myself, confronting the 14-year-old whiz-kid of the British hobby as Austria, and his American alter-ego as Russia. Neither .of them ever answered any of my letters; they just got stuck in. Fortunately, their incompetence was sensational, and I managed to get them so annoyed (by means of a couple of forgeries) that they attacked each other… though without stopping their attack on me. Eventually an enraged Russia managed to destroy little Austria and won the game in l9l4, the year in which I achieved my long-sought-after sixth centre, to finish third. 

The last of the set. was the worst – imagine my feelings on finding the same Austria as in the previous game, this time with a Russia who would not make mistakes. I wrote to them, hopefully. Austria actually replied. He said “Thanks for the letter I’ve passed it on to Russia”. Russia wrote: “I think you’re in trouble, mate.” Then they dived in, Russia writing Austria’s orders as well as his own to ensure there was no mistake. There wasn’t, and I disappeared in 1904. 

I had one more go, in 1977, and I can’t remember anything about that one, except that I lasted until 1906 so clearly I’m improving. 

Since returning to the hobby, I’ve started five games – two Russias, two Germanys and an England. I’d like to play France again, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Austria, which I played in my first ever game. I’ll even have a shot at Italy. 

I know, I know there are people who actually win games playing Turkey. One day I must ask them how they do it.