Challenging the Diplomacy rules?

I’m something of a fanatic when it comes to the rules of Diplomacy. I have a reverence for them that must be quite unhealthy – I consider the game one of the most perfect designer games, a wonderfully powerful and robust engine that does exactly what it purports to. Thus I’m very hesitant to give my blessings to even small deviations from the rules, unless they display the same sort of universal power we get with the Calhamer rules. (Ironic how I am still capable of participating in those detailed arguments about convoy paradoxes and such; those parts of the rules text are and have long been a mess, even if the rules as they are played around here are very clear and logical. As always, I try to play according to the Platonic ideal of the rules, not so much based on any particular edition of the text.)

I myself haven’t had any strong inclination towards changing the rules of Diplomacy with house rulings of any sort, and I usually just yawn at any variants that add things on top of the basic structure, making it more complex. So it’s quite surprising that for a while now I’ve been iddly wondering about one particular rules change that I can’t quite dismiss on the grounds of inferiority. Could I have figured out a rule that actually improves Diplomacy? I’ll need to test this one and find out!

My industrialization rule

My new rule is simple: instead of home centres, Powers now have “industrialized” centres that are marked with a suitable marker on the board. At the beginning of the game the home centres are all industrialized. A centre that changes hands always loses the industrialization; a player may industrialize a new centre by foregoing a possible build during the winter phase – the order is “B(uild) I(ndustrialization) [centre]”. When a power builds new units, the builds have to happen on empty industrialized centres.

The experienced Diplomacy player should immediately see what this rule is intended to cause:

  • Variants have difficulty with Powers that do not possess coastal home centres. This rule allows a country to add suitable new centres into their industrial base for a cost, removing the need for annoying ahistorical compromises with where you can build fleets. The map notation is also simplified in many cases, as it no longer is necessary to keep track of home centre status – just industrialization status.
  • The Calhamer map is notorious for the many stalemate lines it has. This rule changes the end-game by making it possible for all countries to build fleets at any coast, provided they can hold a centre on the coast and empty it for the winter season.
  • Powers dispossessed of their home centres or forced to fight a protracted war on top of them are hampered to such a degree that those powers really have no room for negotiation with their opposition. By allowing new industrialization new diplomatic opportunities also open up: a Power might recover from drastic losses by creating new home centres away from their original home, given time and resources.
  • Large variants suffer from a slow-down of play due to the increasing time it takes to get units from the home centres to the frontlines. Allowing the players to make their own industrialization decisions allows dynamical speed-up in large variant end-games while keeping small variants near unchanged. Meanwhile the new opportunities cannot be used for cumulative power stabs (the phenomenon where stab gains are leveraged into instant forces that are used against the same target next year) outside the home area because the newly industrialized center is at risk of being overrun by the opponent if it’s situated immediately on the frontlines.

Looking at uncertainties, on the other hand: I’m not entirely sure whether this rule would be beneficial in small-power midgame defense situations. It is already pretty difficult for a power to recover after being reduced to 1-3 centres; imagine how much more difficult it’d be if you’d also need to rebuild the industrial base after the war to get new units. Another issue with this is that industrialization could only be achieved by first creating a surplus of supply centres, which might be too difficult for the small, relocating government-in-exile. Might be that I’d need to have a rule for disbanding an unit on top of a centre to industrialize it – the unit sort of lays down its arms and joins the city, if you will.

This rule is so simple that it seems a very natural part of the rules set, aesthetically speaking. The only variation I could imagine in it would be in which centres would be applicable for industrialization – it could be beneficial to require the new industry to be built in an empty centre (like new units are), or perhaps to require that the centre has been in possession for the last year (to prevent an immediate industrialization after capture). This latter especially wouldn’t be a too onerous limitation, but might prevent misusing this new rule to create more efficient offensives. I’ll need to test the rule and see if this is a concern.

Is there some way in which this rule is worse than the default concept of “home centre”?

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4 Responses to “Challenging the Diplomacy rules?”

  1. Haipperi Says:

    Could be interesting rule and definetly worth trying, at least in large-map variants.

    More important than building new “home centers” for you would be now trying to destroy opponents “home centers”, as it really narrows down the building options, at least in standard Diplomacy.

    For example, if playing Turkey in standard game, you would do well destroying Sevastopol, even if you can not hold it for long. If Russia ever gets it back, he needs to industrialize it first, giving you an extra year without fear of Russian fleet in Balck Sea.

  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    That’s true! I also see this as a feature: Russia and Turkey could intentionally destroy the industrialization in Sevastopol (perhaps with just a spring move, if that’s deemed sufficient for destroying industrialization) to further hamper the Russian ability to deploy against Turkey. The same is true for other difficult spots, such as Venice and Trieste.

  3. Paul T. Says:

    Very interesting!

    I certainly like the idea, as it sounds like it adds a certain unpredictability to the game.

    My main concerns would be:

    1. As you mention, it might make life extremely difficult for a losing power. If being invaded in your home country also destroys your ability to build new units (by destroying your industrialized core SCs), that could increase the death spiral for a power that is attacked early on by an aggressive coalition.

    I wonder if there is an easy and elegant fix for this?

    2. Is it possible that a certain balance which exists in the Calhamer map might be upset by this variation? For example, consider that England’s (and Turkey’s) defensive strength is partially offset by her inability to get new units into the action very quickly.

    Might this variation give one nation a bit of an advantage over another, upsetting the balance that exists?

  4. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Death spirals are pretty common in Diplomacy as it is, even if I don’t often consider it a very optimal play for the neighbours to encourage such. It is true that this industrialization variant makes life somewhat difficult for a struggling Power that has lost a majority of its home SCs to spring back quickly.

    My hope is that the additional difficulties caused by lost industry would be at least in part compensated by the ability to reindustrialize flexibly in hard-to-reach locations. For example, it might be beneficial for an Italy that’s lost Venice if they could industrialize Tunis; this would potentially allow the Italian Power to continue fighting (or scrabbling, at least) even after losing the entire peninsula.

    Then there is the viewpoint that industry being fragile might mean that this variant would simply have to be played in a bit more conservative manner insofar as home SCs go; it’s going to be a somewhat bigger deal when you lose a home SC, so try to play in ways that don’t allow the opponent to take them. I’m not sure, but it might be the case that the game actually benefits from making raider units more powerful: as a raider can not only annoy the enemy and tie down an unit or two, but it can actually destroy industrialization, that might encourage a more vigorous tactical game all around.

    I’m not very worried about the balance of the Calhamer map, incidentally, as it’s not that superbly balanced in any case; the balance in Diplomacy comes from the enlightened self-interest of the players, who balance each other, so as long as the actual decisions made in play are rewarding, the balance takes care of itself. Italy and Austria being weak while France and the corner Powers are strong is not somehow a better situation than some other ranking might be, so even if a variant causes some shuffling in the relative strength of the Powers, we’re no worse off than we were before, really.

    Anyway, it might interest the reader that I haven’t gotten around to playtesting this variant rule yet. It suffers a bit from the fact that I seem to always be playing beginner games where variants are not very appropriate, and this variant is not even that interesting from a superficial viewpoint: mostly it’s going to play exactly like the game normally plays, which doesn’t encourage players seeking novelty to try it. Perhaps one day.


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