Crystal Ball Diplomacy

By Joe Carl

Have you ever been playing a game of Diplomacy and known exactly what the next board setup is going to be? The moves every player will submit are obvious. The alliances have been drawn and the long-term outcome is pretty clear. In fact, you know that outcome so well that you use this power of foresight trying to convince others to change their ways to avert doom.

Well now there is a variant that will really test your prognosticative abilities. It is called Crystal Ball, and -- while usually played on the standard map -- it can be played on any map you wish to use. I'll give you an example of play first so you get the idea; later I'll give you the specifics.

One note before we get started: Crystal Ball Diplomacy has its own Website, called Crystal Ball Central, where all Internet Crystal Ball games are run. At that site, you can watch all the ongoing action or join a game.

A Case Study

Turkey negotiates normally with everyone before the Spring 1901 moves. He talks with Russia and they agree to bounce in the Black Sea, to make Austria think the two of them were going to war or just being cautious.

The players each write the Spring 1901 orders for their units, put these orders in an envelope for safekeeping, and the envelopes -- with the orders still sealed inside -- are set aside. It now is time to negotiate and determine the moves for Fall 1901. Is there a French fleet in the English Channel? An Austrian army in Galicia? The players don't know, because the Spring 1901 moves have not yet been read. But the players must write their orders for Fall 1901 and hope that their units are where they want them to be, and that their enemies' units are not where the enemy hopes they are!

Turkey continues negotiating with Russia as if they're working together, but in fact he's lying through his teeth. Knowing that Russia will follow through with the plan they had worked out for 1901, Turkey decided to double-cross Russia by not bouncing Russia from the Black Sea. Instead, the Turk plans to do a back end-run into Sevastopol by way of Armenia. Yes, Russia's fleet will be in the Black Sea unbounced, but Turkey assumes that Russia (having expected the promised bounce) will be including in his Fall 1901 orders a command to be issued to a fleet in Sevastopol -- not to a fleet in the Black Sea. The fleet in the Black Sea will therefore be unordered in the Fall, and Turkey will walk into Sevastopol from Armenia. Russia won't know what hit him!

Negotiations conclude and it's time for the players to write their Fall 1901 orders, and seal them in an envelope. When everyone has done so, it is time to open the seals on the Spring 1901 orders, and see what really happened. The unsealed orders are resolved normally.

The players scan the board and see that Turkey moved his army from Smyrna to Armenia, and moved his fleet to Constantinople. Russia's fleet did indeed enter the Black Sea uncontested. Turkey grins at Russia and Russia looks angry. Everyone can tell that Russia expected to see his move to the Black Sea bounce and that Russia's sealed orders for Fall 1901 include one for a fleet sitting in Sevastopol, not in the Black Sea! Sevastopol is wide open for the army in Armenia to take and Russia's fleet is just going to sit there in the Black Sea without an order!

Negotiations begin again; this time for Spring 1902. Turkey is hoping that Austria honored the 1901 plan to let him have Greece, so the Turk is expecting three builds. Russia knows he's been betrayed and doesn't even talk to Turkey -- but he is talking to Italy a lot; what does that mean?

After negotiations, it's time for the players to write their Spring 1902 orders based on what they see on the board now, what they know their own Fall orders to be, and whatever intelligence they have gathered concerning what the other players' sealed Fall orders are. The players write their Spring 1902 orders, remembering to include orders for those builds they believe they are about to get. And of course, they re-adjust their plans based on any treachery such as that visited on Russia by Turkey. The orders are submitted, labeled, and set aside. Then the Fall 1901 orders are pulled out and read.

     Turkey: Army Armenia to Sevastopol.
Turkey grins.

     Russia: Fleet Sevastopol Supports Army Ukraine to Rumania
          (no unit present)

Turkey grins wider.

     Austria: Fleet Albania to Greece (bounce)
Turkey's first piece of bad news. Austria crossed him up and bounced him out of Greece. The order for an army in Greece, which the Turk has already sealed into an envelope, is now useless.

     Russia: Fleet Black Sea proxied to Italy
Now Russia grins. Turkey looks to Italy, and Italy smiles. Uh oh.

     Italy: Army Venice Holds
     Italy: Fleet Naples Convoy Army Apulia to Tunis
     Italy: Army Apulia through the Ionian Sea to Tunis
     Italy: Russian Fleet Black Sea to Sevastopol

Yep, Italy ordered Russia's unit for him and Turkey and Russia bounce in Sevastopol. Turkey was counting on getting at least two builds and hoping for three. Instead, with Austria's treachery, Turkey only got one build. Worse yet, his units aren't where he expected them to be, so his Spring 1902 orders are a mess. Is Russia now going to move that fleet to Ankara or Constantinople? Where should Turkey build his one new unit? And, when the envelopes are opened, what will that unit be doing?

Could you do better?

And Now For Something Completely Different

Unconventional early stabs can be fatal in Crystal Ball Diplomacy, and there are many of them to consider! Normal moves that doom a pair of countries to mediocrity because the result is so easy to visualize and counter will succeed in a Crystal Ball game.

Germany can move to Prussia and walk into a vacated Warsaw, or he can go to Prussia and Silesia and support himself in, while bouncing Russia in Sweden. Austria can move his unit up to Tyrolia and support himself into Venice. Italy can move Venice to Piedmont and walk into Marseilles. France can step out into the English Channel and walk into London. Or England can go to the English Channel and walk into Brest. He might even convoy an army into Brest! If the attacked party honors a DMZ, a stabber can make it all the way through the neutral zone to the prize.

Openings that have been long abandoned because of their obvious flaws might be reconsidered now that the foe can't respond as quickly. Changing direction in Crystal Ball is like turning an aircraft carrier around; it takes a lot of time. If you can't predict what is going to happen, then you've got problems! But even if you have problems, don't fear being eliminated completely, you've got a role throughout the whole game. As we'll discuss (and as we've seen above), your proxies can be very valuable to someone, and with skill you can make a comeback. Another reason not to fear elimination is that anyone that gets momentum going should get a lot of attention quickly. If the other powers don't act against him soon, then the leader will gain momentum and run away with the game. So others will have to react fast and in a coordinated fashion or they lose too.

The Mechanics

The variant rules are of course kept here at The Pouch, and you can find them linked from Crystal Ball Central. Basically, the game mechanics boil down to the following. For each movement phase, you have a list of orders and the orders in this list are considered from top to bottom. You can list as many orders as you like but only a certain number of them will actually be considered. The number of orders that will be considered is equal to the number of SC's owned by the largest power in the game. So in Spring 1901, everyone has four orders to use. And everyone will have four orders for Fall 1901. If someone lists five orders in his list, then the fifth one is ignored (even if it's a valid order).

You will learn fast to never order a unit to hold. Units hold by default if no order is issued to them, and it would be foolish to waste one of your precious orders on such a command.

Besides ordering your own units, you can use one or more of your available orders to order someone else's units -- but of course that unit won't obey your order unless that other power issued you a proxy for that unit. Proxy orders are not counted with the other orders in your list -- they are counted separately. The number of proxy orders each player can meaningfully include in his list is equal to the number of SC's owned by the smallest power still living.

Thus, in Spring 1901 and Fall 1901, everyone can issue up to three proxy orders to give control of their units to other powers, but only four non-proxy orders will be considered in each player's list. So if you are Russia and you wish to take advantage of a proxy that another power has offered to you in 1901 -- allowing you to order one of that other power's units -- you will have to use one of your four non-proxy orders to do so. Since you have four of your own units to be ordered, you will either have to allow one of your own units to hold by virtue of being left unordered, or issue a proxy for it to another power and hope he serves you well with it.

From this you can see that it makes little sense for proxies to be offered to the largest power on the board. That power has no extra orders in his list if he wishes to order all of his units. However, a smaller power -- especially one that knows where all of his units are -- is an invaluable aid to an ally, as he can order units proxied to him in case certain earlier moves bounced or if any unit had to retreat to a new position.

One thing that is different about the proxies in a Crystal Ball game and those in a normal Internet judge game is that you cannot forward a proxy you receive to someone else. Let me say that again: if you have played with proxies in other games, you might have known that if France proxies his units to Germany, Germany can in turn proxy them to England. This is not true in Crystal Ball; any unit that gets a second proxy to it, just holds.

A Sage Among Seers

I've played in a couple of the Crystal Ball variant games and am impressed with the amount of thought and good Diplomacy skills that are needed to survive. In addition to that, the little guys play very important roles in the game. Because the number of SC's owned by the largest power on the board determines how many orders in each player's list will be "considered," the job is harder for the leader, like Russia in the above example. Since the leader only has one order per unit, if his units aren't where he expects them to be then he's in trouble! The smaller powers have extra orders to cover contingencies, though.

As we saw above, however, proxies can help out. Because each power may issue as many proxy orders as the number of SC's owned by the smallest power still alive, this provides some incentive to keep the single SC powers around since this will limit the number of proxy orders available for the leader to offer his ally. On the other hand, it also encourages the leader to keep powers around that aren't so small, but to eliminate the very small ones. Or to build them back up if they are being loyal (always a hard call to make) so that his puppet can order more of his units by proxy; those that his normal allotment can't handle.

I've played on both sides of the fence now -- as a leader that went on to get a solo in the game "seer" and as a small power getting beat up and providing the proxies for someone else trying to get the solo in the game forecast. Thankfully, I got a draw out of that one. I think I've seen it from both sides now and can offer some advice to anyone else that would try it out.

The Opening

The opening strategy depends greatly upon whether you are playing a press game or a no press game. I'll discuss the options in a press game first. There are two ways to start out. One is pure treachery and the other is to try and build alliances and stick to them.

There are many moves of a treacherous nature that would absolutely fail in a standard game. For instance, Germany could agree to a bounce with Russia in Silesia. Russia agrees and expects the bounce, but instead Germany moves to Prussia. Germany will walk into Warsaw, and worse yet the Russian army in Silesia might just sit there unordered! If Russia doesn't mind leaving Warsaw (if it did bounce) unordered in the Fall, though, he might be wise to include in his Fall orders an order for Silesia to move to either Warsaw, Munich, or Berlin -- just in case.

A stab has a one-season grace period in which the victim can't react at all if he was truly surprised by the move. This means if you stab when someone isn't expecting it, you can get some great momentum going before your victim can even react.

Another opening stab that might be a great idea to try (as Italy) is to DMZ Piedmont with France. If France honors it, and he almost certainly would, you could run an army from Venice right into Marseilles. Or maybe even try France moving to the English Channel, in violation of a DMZ you set up with England, capturing London immediately. I'm sure you can think of many such creative moves that would work in this variant that wouldn't work in standard.

You might think that such early treachery necessitates moves to prevent these early stabs. You start getting into perpetual bounces to maintain yourself against stabs. Whoever blinks first -- whoever stops ordering to the DMZ -- is suddenly on the defensive forever. A classic "prisoner's dilemma," right? Not quite. Because you can plan to let your opponent actually enter the DMZ unexpectedly. After all, you may have reason to believe that he has no order waiting for the unit once it is in the DMZ area. In a no-press game, you get to see everything he has been ordering in addition to the bounce move. In a press game, you don't have access to his order lists, but you can see how many of his units, if any, he leaves holding, and make an educated guess as to whether he has used any of his extra orders to continue an assault through the neutral zone. If you believe you are safe allowing an opponent into a neutral zone, you can have a contingency plan to cover the danger spot and outflank him. For example, as France you and England could arrange a perpetual bounce in the English Channel. Once you establish this bounce, you can move from Brest to MAO, and let England have the English Channel.

If England is sufficiently surprised at actually making it into the Channel, he may not have an order for ENG-Bre in his next list -- thinking it would just have been a waste of one of his precious few orders. You might feel confident enough about this to bank on his fleet being unordered once it reaches the Channel, and this will allow you to move your fleet from the MAO to the Irish Sea. You can then build another fleet in Brest, but meanwhile Liverpool is wide open. Ordinarily you would have lost Brest, but not if England isn't expecting you to stop bouncing his move into the English Channel. Even if you are unsure that England will leave a Channel fleet unordered, you may have an army in Paris all set to bounce him out of Brest anyway.

For another example, again as France, you could agree to bounce Italy in Piedmont. You could tell Austria you won't bounce Italy on a certain Fall move, and Austria could walk right into Venice at that time. You could even do it in the Spring and let Austria take Venice then walks right into Rome as well.

I'm sure you can think of many others. But with each bounce or DMZ, there is an alternate trick that could be played to cover it. Bounces may be in order for the opening, but don't do it too long or others will come knocking at your doors. You need allies, or you won't survive long.

Bounces introduce uncertainty into your next set of orders. Every time you issue a move order that could be bounced, the set of orders for the next phase would have to include two orders for that unit if you wanted to make sure to order it. As we've seen, with the limit on orders in your list, you cannot cover too many of these contingencies. You can minimize the number of contingencies you must take into account somewhat through intelligence gathering, but still, a premium must be put on making moves you are sure will succeed. Also, it is important to have allies you are sure will not bounce you or that can help you with proxies in case an enemy bounces you.

The Tigger Effect (as in T I Double Guh ER)

Conversely, each time you bounce (or not bounce) another player unexpectedly, you make his life increasingly difficult, and his next set of orders is likely going to be inadequate to meet his new situation.

Nothing bars you from building an alliance with one player while you stab someone else, but your trustworthiness is severely questioned depending on how ruthless you were in your stab. Trust is a great commodity in Crystal Ball, more so than in other variants. You can use standard openings and start sharing your locked-in orders with your allies so that you can coordinate better. You can proxy units to a trusted ally that has room for some extra orders in his list in order to implement contingency plans. You have a lot more orders to anticipate unexpected developments.

Let's re-explore the first example we discussed, in which Turkey allowed Russia into the Black Sea in 1901, planning to run his army to the vacated Sevastopol. As we saw, Russia expected this treachery, and talked to Italy, working out an alliance to share proxies. Russia really wanted this alliance because in the first game-year he only has four orders. And so does everyone else, meaning that everyone but Russia has a spare order to use! Russia cannot afford any mistakes. However, everyone has three proxies they can issue. Russia hopes, of course, that Turkey will bounce him in the Black Sea so that he can then support his army into Rumania using his fleet in the fall. But in case Turkey doesn't do that, Russia issued Italy a proxy order for a fleet in the Black Sea so that Italy could order the fleet back to Sevastopol to thwart Turkey.

So you see that if you can find an ally that you can work with, you have more orders to use. Russia, instead of only having four orders in 1901, has seven (if he has trusted friends) to cover for mistakes. On the first turn, since everyone else has only one extra order (unless they've got units they are planning to leave unordered -- which is not necessarily the most likely 1901 occurrence), Russia would need to find three separate powers to be able to employ all three proxies. Either that, or let one of his own units go unordered so that he can be sure to cover his potential problems. His other option is to convince one power that covering an extra Russian contingency is more important than ordering one of that power's own units.

In the example, Russia chose to ask Italy for his help for a couple of reasons. First, of course, is that an Italian ally for Russia is a good thing to have if Turkey is crossing him. But second, and perhaps more importantly, Russia determined that Italy was the most likely power in 1901 to have an extra order that he could use to help. Italy's position is such that he can issue sensible Spring 1901 orders without introducing any uncertainty about where his units will be in the Fall. With Venice holding, Naples to the Ionian, and Rome to Apulia, Italy not only is set up for a Lepanto, but he is sure of where all his units will be in Fall. By playing Spring 1901 in this way, Italy is guaranteed to have an extra order to offer Russia for use as a hedge against Turkish treachery. Other powers, like France (who must worry about bounces in Burgundy and the English Channel and even Piedmont) and England (also concerned about the Channel) are not as attractive to Russia as a proxy ally in 1901, since they will have to cover their own possible miscalculations. By contrast, Italy is a very attractive ally, since if he wishes to simply hold in Venice in Fall, he can even leave Venice unordered, freeing another spot in his list, and in this way he can issue orders for two units proxied to him. Perhaps he helps Russia twice, or perhaps he uses the second proxy he has available to order F LON-ENG for England while England (hoping he made it into the Channel in Spring) orders F ENG-Bre.

A player that starts stabbing and does not maintain his momentum is in for some big trouble against an alliance that is working together. If you get even one unit in an unexpected location, your great big plans could start to fall apart. You had better be able to recover from bad orders quickly or you will become the victim of your own attack.

England, France, Italy, and Turkey are the main powers that can usually get away with early treachery and recover if they don't completely succeed. The reason for this is because they have a limited range of mistakes they'll encounter and can anticipate them and correct quickly. Germany, Austria, and Russia have a lot of room to get spread out and blow it quickly and never recover.

Italy, as discussed above, is able to have a fair degree of certainty about his units' positions through the first year. Even if he stabs another power right off the bat, his uncertainties are fairly limited and his units are left in relatively defensible positions while he reorganizes his plans to accommodate their unexpected whereabouts. Italy's possible stabs would be to try and take Trieste either by force or by ruse. He can try to take Munich by sneaking in, or he can try to capture Marseilles by trying to sneak in. If he fails, he's lost at least one possible ally and he will probably have one dedicated enemy on his hands. But most likely, he isn't too bad off; he's just got no friends in his immediate neighborhood.

France can try to sneak into Venice, and might even arrange with Austria to participate in a supported attack on Venice. He can try to sneak into London or Munich by agreeing to DMZ's in the English Channel and Burgundy respectively. If the DMZ's are honored and France cheats, he might get in. If he fails, he probably won't be in too bad a shape. Unless, of course, he's the victim of treachery as well.

England can try to sneak an army or fleet into Brest by not honoring a DMZ in the English Channel, but his amount of treachery is pretty limited in the openings. Which also means he's pretty safe -- the Channel is all he needs to worry about. Does this mean that Lon-ENG is virtually a must in CBD, followed in Fall, of course, by Lon-ENG and ENG-Bre? Not necessarily. Just as in standard Diplomacy, a channel opening by England forces such an opening by France, and the two powers are tied up in fruitless efforts while their neighbors grow. Also, if England is thought to be forced to the Channel in Spring 1901, this invites Mos-StP, because England only has one opening that guarantees him a build, and Lon-ENG isn't it. So just like in the standard game, diplomatic skills take on paramount importance.

France has more worries than England does, so it is in his interest to deter England from opening to the Channel. Not only must he worry about a sneak attack on Brest, but the German can walk into Paris, and the Italian into Marseilles. France almost certainly will not have spare orders to offer another power in 1901.

On the other hand, Turkey is relatively secure. He need worry only about the Black Sea and Armenia, and he can use either or both of these routes to sneak into Sevastopol, depending on negotiations with Russia. Again, he's pretty tightly clustered, so he won't be too out of position if he fails, but he'll have an angry Russia on his hands.

As much as I've talked about possible opening stabs, it is my opinion that the early stabbers most often turn into victims. If you can't take your opponent out with your stab, then you have become a predictable target for others. Everyone else knows you are at war with someone. And if these other players have no enemies, guess who is a sitting duck with his back exposed and with a turning radius of an aircraft carrier. Alliances seem to do better than early stabbers.

Thank goodness it's a press game and you can talk to your neighbors and determine what is going on to some degree. But what if it's no press?

The Sounds of Silence

As mentioned above, in a game with press, a player's order list is not revealed to the other players. With the order lists kept secret, an intended victim might never know how you planned to stab him if the first move of your stab doesn't work out -- he'll never see all your orders to units that do not exist.

In a no-press game, though, the orders lists provide a way to communicate. Just write your order list to include your allies' units as if they were proxied to you, and include orders you would like to see him issue in future turns. The adjudication program marks your orders as "ignored" or "no unit" or "no Proxy" but will still reveal them to everyone else. By doing this, you not only advertise your wishes but you may find other powers start to issue proxies to you to take advantage of the orders you are repeating.

In a No-Press game, you no longer know how people will be opening and you don't know what surprises your fellow players have in store for you. Almost certainly you can count on the safer countries to try to stab and get good growth early on and get the momentum for a solo attempt. It will be practically impossible to stop an early leader without press. Coordination is a nightmare, so using the orders list is a must! But you have to remember that you are giving orders to your allies as clues on what to do next. So when you write your orders in Spring 1901 your allies won't see them until Fall 1901, when they must write his orders for Spring of 1902! That's a full year just to get a message of coordination across!

So the trick to communicate is to proxy your units to your allies and let them decide what to do with them. Hopefully you have a competent ally, and hopefully he hasn't decided to use them against you.

So what is a power to do in the opening in a no-press game? I would expect some crazy stabs to be tried and I would try to counter as many of them as possible. You might just see someone go for the lucky opening and try to grab everything. The problem with this type of opening is that the player who tries it will often have no clue where his units will end up and he won't be able to predict his future order lists with any accuracy. Sustaining the lead will prove to be a problem for such a power. These openings really only result in petty wars that doom both participants.

After all, you can't eliminate anyone else on the board all by yourself, and that means you'll have a survivor to harass you. If you are embroiled with the victim of your stab, everyone else sees this and will come to scavenge off of you while you are pre-occupied. My recommendation is to try and establish allies and work with them. Early greed is a death-knell for most.

So if you are England in a no-press game, you almost have to go to the English Channel in Spring 1901, Austria almost has to cover Trieste and Galicia, France has to cover Piedmont, Burgundy and the English Channel, Germany has to cover Burgundy, and Russia has to cover the Black Sea and Galicia. In Fall 1901 Russia almost has to cover Sevastopol in one way or another.

All in all, the no-press game is a wild and crazy ride. You can communicate more than you can in non-Crystal Ball no-press, but can you communicate in a timely enough fashion?


One tactic to maintain sensible orders is to perform redundant moves. When you don't know if you are going to capture something in the Spring but you want to keep it in the Fall if you are successful, then it's a good idea to have another unit move right in behind the first. You then set up a beleaguered garrison so that you can keep the unexpected gain. Nothing is worse than to support a unit into an SC in the spring, watch it succeed, and have an order for the fall to support the no-longer-there unit into the location that it already occupies, while the opponent supports himself back into the SC, pushing you out! Had you been able to support your hold you would have kept it instead.

For example, you are Turkey and you are trying to capture Serbia with your armies in Greece and Bulgaria. In the Spring, you have Greece support Bulgaria's move to Serbia. Austria can support Serbia, but did he? Will you capture Serbia or will you bounce? If you capture it, then you want your army in Greece to support Serbia Holding, not support Bulgaria to Serbia. But if you could order another of your armies into Bulgaria while making the attempt on Serbia, then you wouldn't have to worry about it. You could use Greece to repeat the support for Bulgaria to Serbia and just leave Serbia (if you succeeded in entering it in Spring) unordered. This way, if you captured Serbia in Spring, your Fall time attack will bounce any equally supported attack that is made by an Austrian attempting to retake the center.

The trick is coordination. Are your units where you expected them to be? Do you have orders in for all your units? If you don't have enough orders to cover all your units for one reason or another, there is always the proxy.

The Power of the Proxy

If you can get an ally you trust early on in the game that is willing to share proxies, then you are in great shape to succeed. Having an ally that will order your units when they end up in unexpected locations is a blessing! This is a great tool to use no matter what size you are.

If you are in an alliance and you are tightly clustered going in for the kill, you may not always know who will be where but you do know that someone in your alliance will be in the right spot. One power could proxy their unit in that spot to the other and the other could put the order in. Then it doesn't matter whose unit is there, the order gets processed properly and the move will succeed

For example, England and France are working together to capture Kiel. England has an army in Ruhr and a fleet in Holland, while France has armies in Paris and Belgium. In the set of sealed orders, England is using his Holland fleet to support Ruhr to Kiel and France is sending Paris to Burgundy and ordering his Belgium army to Ruhr behind England. But they cannot be sure that Ruhr to Kiel will succeed (Munich could be supporting Kiel). Now, when planning their next move, England and France both believe that something is going to be in Ruhr but they don't know if it will be an English unit or a French unit. So France, who now orders Bur-Mun to cut support in case the first try didn't succeed, proxies Ruhr to England (in case it did succeed) and England orders Ruhr to Kiel, again with Holland support. Now it doesn't matter whether it is a French unit or an English unit in Ruhr. It will go to Kiel properly. If it's an English unit in Ruhr, this will mean the first attempt failed, but that Par-Bur succeeded, and therefore Munich's support is cut for the second attempt, helping England into Kiel on the second try. If instead it's a French unit in Ruhr, this means that the first attempt succeeded (Munich may have bounced Par-Bur rather than support Kiel). And because England and France planned ahead with their Ruhr proxy, Kiel is kept for the English even if Germany attacks it with support using his retreated unit, by virtue of a beleaguered garrison created by the Anglo-French attack on Kiel.

If you have been the victim of a stab, you still have the power of the proxy to help someone else get revenge for you. This is almost as satisfying! In the game forecast I was playing Turkey. Russia and I started out as allies but we fell apart and he got the better end of me. So I offered my services to France, to whom I really hadn't talked much. But he was the closest power that could make a run for the solo, and the only reasonable power that could keep me alive. I relied on the power of the proxy and became a valuable ally to him, ordering some of his units around as he made a run for the solo. It also stopped him from eliminating me next and destroying his proxies. France got all the way to sixteen SC's. By then, Russia and I had reason to work together again and I was making a comeback. I betrayed a set of French proxies and the solo was averted, and France was pushed back so that either Russia or I could make a run for the solo next. I felt that Russia could get it before I could and felt a draw was more in my interest. Russia, though, felt the same way about me, and the game ended as a draw. But I was pretty little at one point and made a comeback by virtue of the proxy.

If you have proxies on your side, then you can accommodate more orders and units being in unexpected places. Quite often you could know you are going to be dislodged but not know the where your dislodged unit will end up. You'd love to be able to order your unit if you knew where it would be! Proxies work great to cover this problem.

I'm assuming that you're the leader here too. After all, if you are the smaller guy getting beat up, then you have plenty of orders to use to cover all contingencies. The proxy is more important to the leader to maintain momentum. And it's important to the little guy as a bargaining tool.

Getting to the Win

It is my opinion that a Crystal Ball Diplomacy game should never end in a draw. As I said, I did accept a draw in the game forecast, though. What's up?! Well, I thought Russia shouldn't have accepted the draw because he could have gotten a solo. I didn't think I could reach a solo so I was willing to accept a draw. Russia was either too tired to continue or else he thought I shouldn't have accepted the draw. I'm not sure who was right, but I felt that I got a draw when I should have lost to a solo. So I stick with my statement that all games should end in a solo in this variant. If you get a draw, I maintain it's because someone made a mistake in judgment someplace. This means that either you're a lucky dog, or that the someone who made a mistake in accepting the draw is you.

The trick to getting to a win is to gain critical mass then lunge for the solo and maintain that momentum. If you move too early then the other powers will be able to gang together and fragment you. And they won't stop!! After all, it's just as hard to stop as it is to get going! You can end up in some pretty strange positions and never recover. I saw Russia with an army in Spain, completely cut off from the rest of his units, as he tried to get a solo. He fizzled out quickly, though, as his units were strung out all over the place and he was picked apart. His units couldn't coordinate, and without certain support, he soon couldn't find half of them because they'd been bounced or dislodged.

In almost every standard game, someone reaches twelve to fourteen SC's at least. Once someone does reach this mass, the lunge to eighteen is very difficult, though. But if you get this far in a Crystal Ball game, you should be able to get the solo if you have momentum on your side. In fact, if you know you are going to reach twelve to fourteen units, you should make your lunge and get that momentum going right away. If you're at critical mass and set up really well, your lunge has a one-turn grace period that really helps it. In normal games, once you've reached critical mass, when you lunge, the whole board can often react quickly enough to stop you.

You need to have your units well coordinated and ready to move and you should have a promising growth curve to maintain the momentum. A disgruntled power helping with proxies will also be helpful (but be sure such a power is as committed to your solo victory as you are, or else take your proxies "in-house" before he can use them against you at a critical moment). Then go-go-go.

Joe Carl, Jr.
([email protected])

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