Sherlock Holmes,
Consulting Diplomat

by Manus Hand
Master Aenigmatist

The Missing Master's Mystery

Publisher's note: The Blind variant (as described in the mystery below) is implemented on The Pouch's Web- and e-mail based Diplomacy adjudicator, the DPjudge. Head over to the DPjudge and get into a game!

It has been quite a while since my friend Sherlock Holmes and I have made an appearance in these pages. Holmes had been extraordinarily busy of late, assisting the local constabulary in bringing to justice assorted miscreants and unsavory characters, and I (when not otherwise engaged by my medical practice) had found barely enough time to chronicle Holmes's more dangerous adventures for publication in The Strand. So it was with a great deal of happiness that I greeted my friend's invitation to accompany him to the Calhamer Club.

"Holmes," said I, "that is a capital idea! It has been far too long since we have stopped in and occupied ourselves with the majesty of the Game of Diplomacy."

"Indeed it has," came my friend's reply, as we stepped into a hansom cab. Away to the Club we went, talking jovially the whole time. Holmes remarked that he had been wanting to visit the Calhamer Club for quite some time, but the call of his civic duties had kept him from the pleasure. He expressed hope that his mind could be diverted from the unraveling of Professor Moriarty's most recent nefarious doings.

We drew up to the Calhamer Club and paid the driver. Stepping into the Club and removing our top hats, we were immediately greeted by a great number of our friends, bidding us welcome and inquiring as to what had kept us away for so long. Cigars and cognac followed in the library as we got re-acquainted and were entertained by the tales of the latest games in which the Club members had involved themselves. We were just contemplating beginning a friendly game amongst ourselves, when one of our number, Colonel Roger Bertrand-Sallow Sykes, a distinguished veteran of the late war, approached us.

"My dear Holmes," said Colonel Sykes, "I wonder if I could trouble you to examine a curious Diplomacy situation with which I have become encumbered."

"Certainly, Colonel," came Holmes's reply, "if there is anything with which I can assist you, by all means, do not hesitate to ask." He drew deeply from his pipe, smiling ever so slightly in anticipation of a tactical exercise that had apparently confounded a decorated military mind.

"I appreciate your willingness to listen to my sad tale, Holmes, and I know that if there is anyone who may be able to help, it is you. If you cannot, however, do simply say the word and do not bother yourself. The situation, you see, shall resolve itself after seven or eight months have passed, God willing."

I was quite confused by this, and could not help myself interrupting. "Colonel, how can a problem of Diplomacy possibly be resolved simply by the passage of time?"

Holmes was ahead of me. "Undoubtedly, Watson, what our friend the Colonel is saying is that although the answer to his question is unknown to him now, something is scheduled to happen later in the year that will enlighten him. The Colonel simply wishes to see if there is any way that the wait can be avoided. Am I correct, Colonel?"

"Quite so, Holmes. Allow me to explain the situation. A fortnight or so ago, seven players here at the Club began a game of Blind Diplomacy...."

"What is Blind Diplomacy?" I interjected, asking for clarification.

"You are unaware of the Blind variant, Doctor?" inquired the Colonel, somewhat surprised. Turning to my friend, he wondered, "Holmes -- might I ask? -- are you familiar with Blind Diplomacy?"

Holmes, of course, was indeed familiar with the variant, and he proceeded to describe it to me as follows: "There are variations on the variation, you understand, Watson, but I believe the Colonel refers to the standard mode of Blind play that is recognized by the Calhamer Club. In such a game, the participants are aware only of certain pieces on the board. These pieces include the player's own pieces (of course) and only those other pieces that are located atop or adjacent to any of the player's own home supply centres, or that are located adjacent to one or more of the player's own units."

This was a bit much to digest quickly, so I sought some elaboration. "Do you mean, Holmes, that if I were playing England, I would know nothing of the board at the beginning of the game except the position of my own three units?"

"Well," answered Holmes, "obviously every player is aware of where all the units on the board begin the game -- it is a standard Diplomacy set-up after all. But because none of the non-English units begin the game adjacent to any English home supply centres or adjacent to any English units, you (as the English player) would be unaware of where any non-English unit ended the opening move -- unless, of course, once the turn has been adjudicated, the unit does become adjacent to one of your home centres or to one of your units."

"I believe I understand," I said, "but humor me with a few examples, if you would."

"Take Italy, Watson. Because the Austrian fleet begins the game in Trieste, which is adjacent to Venice, the Italian player is aware of that unit, and will be informed as to its disposition -- whether it is still in Trieste or not -- after the Spring 1901 orders are adjudicated. Similarly, the Austrian player will know whether the Italian army in Venice remains there after Spring 1901. If it moves to Tuscany or Rome or Apulia or Piedmont, however, and assuming Austria does not follow into Venice, the Austrian would be informed only that the Italian army is no longer in Venice, but would not be told where it did end the turn.

"As another example, consider the Russian and Turkish players both ordering (as is common) to the Black Sea on the first turn of the game. Neither of the players can 'see' his opponent's fleet (although they both know by being familiar with the initial set-up of the game that the opponent's fleet is in fact in its usual starting location). If the adjudication results indicate to the player, be he Turkish or Russian, that his move to the Black Sea has failed, each player is able to deduce that the other's fleet was ordered to the Black Sea as well and has also 'bounced' back, and that both fleets remain in their game-start position.

"Consider now, Doctor, the case of a German player. When the game begins, he 'sees' nothing but his own units. Again, this is because no other unit is positioned to start the game adjacent to either a German unit or German home centre. After the Spring 1901 orders are adjudicated, the German player is informed that a French army has appeared in Burgundy. He is entitled to this knowledge by virtue of Burgundy's proximity to Munich, a German home centre. Now I ask you, Watson, what can the German player deduce at this stage?"

I was unsure how to respond. "I would say he should deduce that France is either greedy or untrusting," I said, smiling, with my humorous overstatement bringing laughter from amongst our friends.

"I mean tactically, Watson." Seeing that I was stuck for an answer, Holmes continued. "The German player can deduce precious little. He does not know whether it was the army that began the game in Marseilles or the army that began the game at Paris that moved to Burgundy. For all he knows, the other French army could be in Gascony, Brest, Paris, Picardy, Spain, Piedmont, or Marseilles.

"If this same German player had attempted, in Spring of 1901, to enter Burgundy himself, and was informed not only that his move had bounced, but that a French army had arrived in Burgundy, this German player can be sure only that the other French army must have spent the first move of the game supporting the move into Burgundy. The German knows that either Paris or Marseilles is occupied, but has no way of knowing which.

"So you see, Watson, although the starting position is well-known to all the players, after the first move each player's knowledge of the board becomes less than perfect, each in its own way. Each player knows where his own units are positioned, but may or may not know exactly where any one or more of his opponents' units are located -- nor is he made aware of how many supply centres each of his opponents may own at any time after the first game-year has been played. In fact, if a player's piece comes adjacent to a centre that he himself does not own, he will not be informed as to which player (if any) is its current owner."

"Ah! I see now why it is called Blind, Holmes!"

"Quite so, Watson. There is only one person -- the Master of the game -- who has full knowledge of the board. This person, of course, is responsible for order adjudication and for distributing to the players their new, personalized, view of the board after each turn."

Colonel Sykes took this opportunity to re-enter the conversation. "That, Holmes, is the problem now facing me! In the game I am speaking about, the Master has no knowledge at all of the position of the pieces on the board!"

"How can this be, Colonel?" asked Holmes, visibly perplexed.

"At the beginning of the game, my friend Captain Sir Percy Meriwether (perhaps you know him?) was chosen to be the Game Master of this Blind game I speak about. Unfortunately, Captain Meriwether's duties to the Crown recently called him abroad on urgent business and he shall not return to the realm until his service to Her Majesty is completed. This is certain to be a good number of months, Holmes, and Captain Meriwether is already unreachable by wire or post. His duties are -- shall we say? -- of a somewhat secret nature, and even if there were a way to reach the Captain, to do so would be putting his life in peril."

"I see. And Sir Percy neglected to locate a willing replacement Master for this game?" I put in.

Holmes knew better, though. "No, Watson, obviously Captain Meriwether did indeed identify a new Master -- otherwise there would be no alternative but to await his return. Colonel Sykes apparently has some alternative, but one that requires some assistance to obtain. If I may hazard a guess, Colonel, I would say that our friend the Captain has either mislaid or -- more likely -- hidden from the curious eyes of his players the position of the units on the board, and has left the task of locating the list to his designated successor as Game Master. Am I right, Colonel?"

"In a sense, you are, I suppose," came the reply. "However, Holmes, if you speak of a written list of unit locations, I am afraid I am aware of no such thing. In fact, nothing of substance is actually missing. This is not a case of searching the nooks and crannies of the Club for a purloined list of units. No, it is a far more difficult case than that.

"You see, Holmes, I am, as you have doubtless surmised by now, the new Game Master, and all I was given by Captain Meriwether before his departure is a list of curious facts about the game. Not a list of unit positions, simply a list of... well, interesting observations, if you will. I have this list in my possession -- in fact, in my vest pocket just here," he said, tapping his ample midsection.

"There is something about the list that you do not understand," said Holmes, simply.

"Holmes, there is nothing about the list that I do understand. I am completely baffled as to how the bare facts that Captain Meriwether entrusted to me could possibly allow me to reconstruct the position!"

I had a sudden realization. "Why not simply ask the players?"

Both Holmes and the Colonel looked at me askance, and I knew immediately that they viewed the question with some ridicule. "Watson," said Holmes, "although we know that the members of the Calhamer Club are beyond reproach and are ethically sound gentlemen, all, you are quite aware that the maxim of the Club is not to assume that this is the case when The Game is involved. Think, Watson, of how you would be able to respond to the Colonel's questions about the game were you one of the players, and were you inclined to make claims that were not factual. The Frenchman can claim to have just successfully moved into Berlin, and no one can deny that he did so. The German would protest -- in his own private discussion with the Master -- that no, Berlin is vacant, and that in point of fact, Germany has been the more successful player, and that Paris is now a German centre. The Master has absolutely no chance of ensuring that the position is correct if he establishes it from the claims of the players. No, Watson, asking the players simply does not work."

Holmes had, once again, ably pointed out the fallacy in my reasoning, and the Colonel picked up his story from there. "Quite right, Holmes. I have nothing to go on but the mad scribblings of the departed Captain Meriwether. Although I am in grave doubt as to whether they can possibly be of any assistance to me, I would be grateful if you could take a look at them. At the very least, I would hope that you could save me some sleepless and worrisome hours by verifying my suspicion that the notes are quite useless for the task at hand -- reconstructing the board position to enable me to Master the game as it goes forward."

And with that, Colonel Sykes drew from his vest pocket a folded piece of writing paper. He laid it, still folded, on the table before us. "As I say, all that the Captain left me were his own peculiar observations on the game, recorded just as one would write notes to one's self when noticing curious aspects of any Diplomacy position. I frankly wonder whether he meant to hand me a list of units, but mistakenly handed me these silly notes instead!"

Colonel Sykes then stood back from the table and addressed himself to the Club members who were with us, and who had been listening to the singular discussion. "Gentlemen, I see among you certain players who are involved in the game in question, and I must of course ask you for the courtesy of your departure while Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, and I examine Captain Meriwether's notes."

Hearing this, three or four of the members politely took their leave, exiting toward the game room, and bringing with them certain of their companions. This left the Colonel with a slightly smaller audience.

Unfolding the paper on the table, Colonel Sykes continued. "The one thing I do know is that the game has just finished processing of the Fall 1902 movement phase. Captain Meriwether informed me that my first duties are to collect adjustment phase orders from the players." Smiling, he added, "it would obviously prove useful if I could at least know who owns which centre!"

"Certainly so, Colonel," said Holmes, also smiling. "Now, let us see what the Captain has left to you." Holmes stepped to the table and bent over the paper. It read:

Notes after Winter 1901 Adjustments:
  • More than one power built more than one new unit.
  • Every build was used to place into a home supply centre the same type of unit as began the game there.
Notes after Spring 1902 Movement:
  • For all any player knows, each of his opponents may have held every unit on every turn!
Notes after Fall 1902 Movement:
  • One dozen units invaded another power's territory on this turn (moving within another power's solid national border-line on the map), yet no power was invaded only by a single army.
  • There have been no support orders in the game, no unit has been involved in a standoff, and only three units have ever issued a HOLD order.
  • Half of the convoys that have taken place delivered the convoyed army to a supply centre.
  • Every player owns at least two units which cannot currently offer support for any of his other units to hold.
  • Only four spaces on the board have not yet been occupied; a fleet could move into each of these spaces on the next turn.
  • No power currently occupies any of his own home supply centres.
  • Every neutral supply centre is now owned, and each one was occupied either at the beginning or conclusion of the turn just completed.

I was aghast. "Colonel, you are right! This is simply a collection of ordinary observances about the game. There is nothing here that can possibly be used to reconstruct the position! In fact, if I understand the rules of this variant properly, what is described here is not possible! If I read this accurately, even after Spring of 1902, no player had yet 'seen' any other players' units, and yet on the next turn, a whole host of invasions took place, yes? Correct me if I am wrong, but I understood that a player can see any unit adjacent to his home supply centres, so it would seem to me that a power cannot possibly have any home supply centre invaded without that power first 'seeing' the advancing invader! Colonel, I must say, I believe you have been made the victim of a clever, but flawed, prank!"

Keeping his eyes fixed on the paper, Holmes slowly intoned, "The notes say nothing about home supply centres being invaded -- only home territory, Watson. Honestly, you leap far too many fences of logic." His statement was delivered curtly, and it was obvious that no reply was expected. I noticed that my friend was not dissuaded by the curious list. It was apparent that he had found in the notes a challenge suited for his well-trained mind. He stood at the table concentrating on the paper, drawing from his pipe, and staring at an empty Diplomacy board.

After a short while (during which he occasionally waved for silence from the rest of us), Holmes retreated to an overstuffed chair, brought his fingertips to his forehead, and closed his eyes, deep in thought.

The Colonel and I, along with the others in the library, could do nothing but stare at my friend, and after a while, understanding that his requests for our silence were simply preludes to a request for solitude, we adjourned ourselves to the dining hall and called for snifters of brandy.

Can you tackle the task like the great Holmes? (Why, it's elementary, is it not?) Reconstruct the board from Captain Meriwether's information, then mail your answer to The Pouch. Be sure to include a list of supply centre owners, as Colonel Sykes would be lost without it!

After about half an hour, the tall figure of my friend appeared in the doorway. Had I not been as well-acquainted as I am with the great mind of Sherlock Holmes, I would have been as amazed as were our fellow Club members when Holmes calmly announced, "Colonel, if you would like to accompany me back to the library, I will inform you as to the location of the pieces on the board in your Blind game, and as to each player's disposition entering the upcoming adjustments phase."

-- Dr. John H. Watson
via Manus Hand
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