Pitt Crandlemire


Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right...

(with apologies to Stealer's Wheel)

This issue: a discussion of the Shift variants, Shift-Left and Shift-Right. The judge's info.shift file describes these variants as follows:
The Shift-Right and Shift-Left variants of Diplomacy follow the same rules as normal Diplomacy; the only difference is in the starting positions of the powers. The concept is simple: everyone begins the game with their units occupying the home centers of another power.

This sounds simple, but it makes for a very interesting variant, to say the least. Each Great Power starts with the same number and type of units that the country they are occupying would normally start with; thus, in Shift-Right, Austria starts in England and has F Edi, F Lon, and A Lvp, just as England normally would. The crucial difference, however, is that Edi, Lon, and Lvp are still English home supply centers, not Austrian ones. Austria's home supply centers are still Vie, Tri, and Bud. If Austria ever wants to build a unit, he must capture his home SC's.

Therein lies the rub. Each player must migrate from his starting point to his home SC's, must arrive at those SC's still in possession of enough in-transit SC's to keep the units he started with, and do so in a timely manner if he hopes to have any chance of winning the game. Thus, the key issues become distance and migratory path to one's home SC's.

As the info.shift file can tell you, the starting positions for Shift-Right and Shift-Left Diplomacy are as depicted in the table below.

In Shift-Right Diplomacy...
The units owned by this country... Begin the game in this country...
The home centers of this country... Are initially occupied by this country...
...in Shift-Left Diplomacy

As the table shows, Shift-Left Diplomacy shifts everyone in the opposite direction than does Shift-Right (Germany and Turkey still just trade).

A quick review of the starting board positions suggests that several powers have particular advantages due to their starting positions. Here's an examination of each power's starting position in Shift-Left based on their possible avenues for getting home. These are evaluated by distance, SC availabilty, and the possibility of conflict (this analysis works equally well for Shift-Right; simply swap the powers):

Germany (starting in Turkey with F Ank, A Con, A Smy)
  • via Russia - distance: fair, SC's: fair, conflict: low
  • via Balkans/Austria - distance - poor, SC's: good, conflict: high

    Turkey (starting in Germany with F Kie, A Mun, A Ber)
  • via Russia - distance: fair, SC's: fair, conflict: low
  • via Balkans/Austria - distance - poor, SC's: good, conflict: low

    Italy (starting in England with F Edi, A Lvp, F Lon)
  • via France - distance: fair, SC's: fair, conflict: low
  • via Atlantic - distance: good, SC's: fair, conflict: low

    Russia (starting in Italy with A Ven, A Rom, F Nap)
  • via Austria/Balkans - distance: fair, SC's: good, conflict: high
  • via Balkans/Turkey - distance: poor, SC's: good, conflict: average

    France (starting in Russia with F Sev, A Mos, A War, F Stp/sc)
  • via Germany - distance: good, SC's: fair, conflict: average
  • via Scandinavia - distance: fair, SC's fair, conflict: low

    Austria (starting in France with F Bre, A Par, A Mar)
  • via Germany - distance: fair, SC's: fair, conflict: average
  • via Italy - distance: fair, SC's: poor, conflict: low

    England (starting in Austria with A Bud, A Vie, F Tri)
  • via Germany - distance: poor, SC's: fair, conflict: average
  • via Italy/France - distance: horrible, SC's: fair, conflict: average
  • via Mediterranean/Atlantic - distance: poor, SC's: fair, conflict: low
  • Add to this mix a few special factors: In discussing the likelihood of success for each power, I would rank the powers in Shift-Left in the following order:
    France, Germany, Turkey
    All have good starting positions and a decent chance to get home early without losing units (a slight edge goes to France because of the extra starting unit).

    A good starting position and a quick journey home; Italy's only problems are that he's almost guaranteed to tangle with England on the way and that Austria will probably still be sitting in Venice trying to get into Austria. On the other hand, once he gets home, Italy will probably still be holding a few English SC's so he will build quickly.

    Good starting position and a fairly easy path home but, boy oh boy, once he gets there, he's in big trouble. If Russia hasn't cleared the area yet or if France, Germany, or Turkey decided to go through, Austria is going to end up sitting on his own doorstep with no way in.

    Looks good until you realize he's going to have to deal with France, Germany, and Turkey (either in Austria/Balkans or in Russia) and meanwhile, Austria's going to be breathing down his neck.

    You're kidding, right? England has virtually no chance in this variant; he's got the longest trip home, all of his possible paths put him squarely in conflict with another power, and -- to add insult to injury -- he has to be sure that his single fleet gets through to his island nation or else his home SC's will just sit there belonging to Italy. (Or he could convince other powers to become able and willing to convoy the English armies home...fat chance of that!)
    Regardless of which power you are assigned in a Shift variant game, the key issue during the opening game is to lose as few units as possible while getting from the start to your home SC's. Ideally, you would lose none and pick up one or two extra along the way, so that you can build quickly once you take your home SC's. Assuming you survive the opening game (what? no England left?), the mid-game and end-game play out pretty much the same as in standard Diplomacy.

    Ultimately, I don't think the variant is very well balanced. If you get England in either Shift-Right or Shift-Left, your work is cut out for you. On the other hand, if you overlook the distinct disadvantage that England has (and this could actually be ameliorated somewhat in Shift-Right by giving England two fleets to start), the variant is quite enjoyable. In the early going, you find yourself playing with a sort of "slash and burn" or "loot and run" mentality. You know that you have no chance of keeping the SC's you start with, so you plan strategy to grab new ones even as you plan how, which, and to whom you will lose your old ones. I had the sense of being a medieval mercenary warlord roaming and ravaging the coutryside. Once you get to your home SC's, the game takes on a bit of the flavor of the 1898 variant as you rush to occupy all your home SC's and build the units of your choice faster than your opponents.

    All in all, I highly recommend the variant. If you'd like to check a game out, grab a HISTORY of game twist on the USTO judge. And, if you're interested in playing in a game, drop me a line and I'll start one (or more) if there's sufficient interest.

    'Til next time (whenever and wherever that might be), I am,

    Pitt Crandlemire
    The Big Dipper
    ([email protected])

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