How To Solo
I asked a lot of soloists for their views. This is what I’ve
compiled for you. Some of it flies in the face of “common wisdom”.
There are many guidelines, but for each of them there are (invariably)
exceptions. Accept these as guidelines rather than law.
This has been discussed in many worthy articles. In a nutshell:
- Keep talking to all players.
- Stay friendly, unless you are certain there is more to be gained with a chainsaw.
Then re-think before going there.
- Be prepared to make up a story to further your cause.
"France told me you were going to do that." This is a great alliance breaker.
- Try to engage each player on more than just the game
level. Get in the head of each person, find out what makes them tick. Get them
to like you, find common ground.
- Realise that the other players will probably be trying
to get into your head. Send mail which serves your purpose, not theirs.
- Apologise when you offend. This is my first
myth-breaker. There's a lot to be gained by admitting fault. Often fun to back
up with, "Russia told me I should stab you, it was wrong and stupid but he kept
talking about SCs and game balance, and I let him talk me into it. It won't
happen again. "Especially when Russia said nothing. You've put the blame on someone else.
- Never let another person's interests be more important
to you than your own. Good diplomats will try to get you to see things their
way. Ensure that you have better reasons (even if you have to fabricate them) for
them to do things your way. Otherwise, "just say no". Don't be seduced.
- Don't lie too much. Your credibility is more important
than your honesty. Be credible – appear honest. Don't be honest. A soloist
cannot afford morality. The Machiavellian approach is correct in this game. Be
honest as much as possible, and, where you feel a lie will do the job best,
ensure that the lie is unlikely to be unveiled for what it is. You must be
believable. The amount of lying you can get away with is directly proportional
to your ability to talk your way out of it (which is proportional to the
gullibility of your opponents).
- Be competent and observant.
Seems simple, right? An error in writing orders, or sending a
message to the wrong player can be fatal. Check and double-check. If you blow
your orders, you might find your previously friendly neighbours sharpening
their knives. Examine every set of orders to determine what you think each
player intended – and what each player was expecting from his neighbours. See
if that balances with what they said to you beforehand. Work out who is telling
you the truth (but don't trust them implicitly).
- Know the difference between Lepanto and Sealion. Know the opening moves
of each country and why a player would choose which option. Read the articles
at the Pouch. Players will often want to try anything new which has been
written up of late. Know that your opponents will probably be wanting to solo
more, after reading this article.
- Know when to stab and when not to stab. I usually try to determine:
- Is my neighbour vulnerable?
- Do I need my neighbour as an ally, and, if so, for how much longer?
- Is my neighbour likely to grow uncomfortably large if I don't stab now?
- How will stabbing my neighbour affect the game balance?
- How many of my neighbour's SCs am I likely to get from the stab,
assuming other countries may join the feeding frenzy?
- Is my neighbour likely to stab me, and should I strike pre-emptively?
- How likely is my neighbour to develop a vendetta with me and come after me with everything he's got?
(This will greatly advantage countries other than mine.)
At the start of the game, vulnerability is a more important
factor. Later, my decision is based on the big picture – considering
relationships, the effect of negotiations, unit positions and the geography of
- There's a time when growing is bad and it is when it opens the door to another player's solo.
– Romain Jacques
- Spread dissension among your opponents.
This isn't a must. Sometimes they'll do this by themselves, but even so you should always
help it along. You want to be a good friend and confidante to each of them.
But, in doing this, you must be very careful to ensure it doesn't come back to
bite you. (You don't want to be too obviously stirring the pot.) Encourage wars
and frequent stabs among your opponents, hoping that they will be so untrusting
of each other they cannot bring themselves to work together against your solo.
(Make sure that you are the one doing the solo bid when you get the other players
to this point.)
- Keep thinking freely, flexibly, imaginatively.
If you don't, you'll be bored, and boring.
Crack a joke. Think outside the square. Work out a variety of ways to win.
Re-evaluate. Consider what would happen if you told another player about what
your neighbour is up to. Always wonder if you can unsettle the current alliance
structure. Be wary of pushing the same line every year. If the fish didn't take
the bait the first or second time, try using different bait.
- Be able to, mentally, become each of the other players at every point.
– Dan Shoham
- Get a flunky. This is so useful. I'm defining a flunky as a person who will do your
bidding against the best interests of their nation. How do you develop this?
- Start up a strong alliance which generally works to
your advantage because you can talk the ally into doing what usually works best
for you. Use this player to get what you want. If they won't help you actually
get a solo, stab them and take the extra SCs you need.
- Wait for (or encourage) a vendetta between two other
players, and then take advantage of whichever player bares his back to you.
- Wait for the vendetta, and then attack elsewhere,
knowing that these two countries will not both join a stop-the-leader alliance
- To keep a flunky who idolises you, just keep feeding him the
occasional SC, and tell him how he's going to come second when you solo, and
what a great learning experience it is for him to be playing with you. Some
people actually buy this.
- Victims make great flunkies. They've already given up on
winning. Help them achieve their goal – usually the destruction of some other
- Flunkies not only get in the way of stop-the-leader
alliances, they also feed you SCs and info. I love finding out who's writing
the anti-me messages, and asking them politely to stop. This is very
frustrating for them to know that there's another player who is undermining
them. They often give in and stay fragmented – and you can eat them up that
- Know thyself. Understand where you're coming from, what you want from a game, how you
respond to various people and countries – all your biases and behavioural
faults, particularly with inter-personal communications. What are your buttons?
- Know your enemies and know yourself and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.
– Sun Tzu, "The Art of War"
- Understand the psychological factors which support your solo bid. There are many more than
I originally thought.
- Idolatry - people look up to and admire a successful player
- Fear - little guys don't like to take on big guys
- Strength of arms - conquer an enemy mercilessly
- Nobility - appearing helpful to others ("appearing")
- Disunity - you only have to get one player back on your side to break the stop-the-leader alliance
- Suspicion - always encourage suspicion of other players
- Illusion - the flunky wants to believe that you're helping him to a happy ending for him
– lead him on. Also, your neighbour doesn't want to believe you're preparing for
a war with him. This is my favourite stab opportunity.
- Idiocy - I've not seen much of this, but if you find one of these
precious people, use them for whatever they're worth.
- Greed - ah, such a favourite! "Yes, if you stick with me I'll ensure you get St Petersburg!"
And then there's "We can get a 2 way if you'll only trust me a little."
There's got to be more. But it's probably enough to convince
you that a solo is not out of reach.
- "Illogical, irrational, but hell, we're human.
People are not as logical or rational as we might like to believe." – Matt McLeod
- Only accept a draw if you can't possibly win.
I'm one move away from a solo as I write this. A few moves ago I was in what appeared
to be a thoroughly stalemated 3 way. I promised a 2 way to each player, they
laughed at me. I said I'd give either player SCs if they'd stab the other. They
ignored me. I was France, facing Russia and Italy. My best option seemed to be
in getting Italy to break the alliance. I pulled my units back, allowing him to
take Marseilles. Then I wrote to Russia, laughing with pleasure, stating how
Italy had rejoined me, that he had agreed to stab Russia for Mar, Spa and Por.
Russia declared war on Italy. Italy finally agreed to try for a two way. A few
years down the track, I stab him and tomorrow I'll get my solo. It's
unstoppable. I got Marseilles back today – the 18th SC I needed for
a French solo. I'm pretty proud of that. I broke the alliance.
- Know where the stalemate lines are. This is for your
own benefit, but also you can use them as bargaining chips in your negotiations
if you have to, so that another player can feel confident that you are not
going to solo, so that the draw gets whittled down, so that you can achieve
your solo. Eg "Yes, I'll let you have that SC so you can stalemate that border
so that we can both work on eliminating this other player."
- Know where your 18 SCs are coming from. It's as simple as that. Well, let me give
you an example of how to use this knowledge well. Let's assume you're France, and
you know you are going to have naval superiority in the North soon. You should
consider making a quick grab for Tunis while Italy is occupied elsewhere; then
use your naval superiority to force your way up to StP. You can have an
unstoppable solo when you've only just reached 14 SCs. That's funny, because
when the stop-the-leader alliance forms, it can't stop you. Watch your
opponents tear their hair out. If you know which SCs will most readily give you
a solo, it can be very much to your advantage to go for the hard-to-get SCs
first. As Russia, I once moved through Berlin in the Spring, allowing Germany
to keep it in the Fall – it was more important to have my army in Kiel, next to
Holland, and a fresh build in Warsaw could go and pick up Berlin later at my
- Be solo-centric. Dan Shoham championed this. He got a
solo 50% of the games he played. Impressed? I am! He wrote:
You must have a CONVICTION that solos are the only logical outcome of a game to be able to get them on a
regular basis. This is in contrast to the attitude of not-be-eliminated-at-any-cost
(eg take the safe three way instead of fighting on). This conviction
is what allows you to take the risks needed to win, and to be able to give other players their
due chance at victory in return for their support in reducing the game down.
- Recognise the flow of the game, and inspire it. A good player senses the flow and
goes with it. A great player decides what flow would be most suitable to their
overall strategic needs and makes that flow happen.
– Dan Shoham
- Watch for drop-outs. Losing a player from a game can
give you a great opportunity to get some quick growth, as they may trust you
where another player wouldn't. Also, they don't have a big emotional
investment, which lessens the opportunity for a vendetta, and heightens the
possibility of an uninspiring defence.
- Watch for players holding and supporting. They have
lost the initiative entirely, and if you couldn't break their defence before,
chances are they'll write the same orders again. Work out how to break the line
on that basis.
Be prepared to take a risk against good players.
Conrad Minshall was the first player to win a Hall of Fame game – hall95. His
win made him the highest ranked active player. In his notes preparatory to that
game, he observed:
Unusual & risky approaches
will be needed to win. Intend to maintain a high degree of chaos
(unpredictability) and avoid simplifying the game. Keep all players in!
No strategic sacred cows - for instance the guideline of having only one enemy
at a time is out the window from the start.
Pursue multiple 3 way & 2 way strategies from the start. Maintain
options at least until safe from a blitz. Think I can create a 2 way
endgame and outwit my partner to nab a solo.
Maintaining many options is a theme. Thus many strategies, always looking
for a potential path to a win.
- Be the most popular player in the game. More easily
said than done. Make sure that your negotiating is considerate, polite,
friendly, well constructed and to the point, insightful, encouraging and
sympathetic. When other players feel really good about you, they'll open up so
you can stab 'em.
Further, they'll be far less inclined to stab you. I've seen players accept 4
way draws rather than attempt solos or 3 ways, simply because they won't stab
their vulnerable allies. Let this work to your advantage.
45% of all games on the Judges end in
solos. In games with experienced players, that goes down to about 39%. Some
countries are definitely more likely to provide you with solos than others.
Here are the stats from 2317 games:
If experienced soloists spent more time playing Italy, its
stats would improve – right? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that
the solo is made by the player, not the country. Sure, it's easier when you're
France or Russia, but that only goes to ensure that great players keep putting
IA at the bottom of their preference lists. So long as Italy can claim 10% of
all solos, it's demonstrating that an Italian solo is a very real possibility.
In fact, I'm half inclined to start asking for Italy, just to see if I can do
it! (Well, maybe not this year.)
Eh? This article IS the conclusion! The
original article was 18 typed pages long! And the research took months.
I hope you feel more equipped to not settle for more draws.
There are times when a draw is a good idea – when you have two SCs, and each of
your two remaining opponents have 16 SCs.
But there' s a lot more fun in turning a fairly even three way into a solo than accepting a
draw. My last six game results have been solos.
Go ye and do likewise.
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