Touch Diplomacy

Andy Schwarz


Adjacency Diplomacy, or, less formally, Touch Dip, really began as a mental exercise to devise rules which minimized the impact of my various Diplomacy weaknesses. My main weakness is a difficulty communicating to players every season, especially in games with short deadlines. During a hectic real-time partial-press game, I realized I was barely communicating with anyone but my immediate neighbors and because of the short deadlines (25 minutes) and the pressures of using the judge in real time, I doubted anyone else was either. Though this constraint was imposed from outside the game, it seemed like it would be a fairly interesting variant even without the time pressure that made it a necessity. Thus was born Touch Diplomacy.

The rules are fairly straightforward. The map and all movement is as per standard Diplomacy. Press, however, is severely restricted. Players are allowed a single 250-word (later upped to 500, though I think 100 might suffice) public broadcast per season. This broadcast, however, has to be submitted to the GM prior to the adjudication, much like press which is published in traditional (snail mail) postal games. Players with units in adjacent provinces, however, may also send partial press, which means that powers on opposite sides of the board, say Turkey and England, may go for long stretches of the game without being able to communicate privately.

How Adjacency Press Works

Of course, it is not exactly clear what adjacency means in Diplomacy. Is a fleet in Trieste adjacent to an army in Serbia? It cannot move to Serbia, and it cannot support a unit in or into Serbia, but can it communicate with the unit in Serbia? In the first playtest of the game (cleverly entitled, "Touch" and run on Larry Richardson's Northern Virginia Judge [USVA: [email protected]]), adjacency was defined by the same rules by which legal support is determined; that is, if a unit could provide legal support to a unit holding in a given space, it was determined to be adjacent to that unit. Furthermore, if unit A was adjacent to unit B, unit B was ruled adjacent to unit A regardless of its ability to support unit A. In the example above, the army in Serbia is clearly adjacent to the fleet in Trieste, since it could support that fleet, and thus Trieste is ruled adjacent to Serbia (even though it could not support into Serbia). Similarly, an army in Trieste and a fleet in the Adriatic would be considered adjacent even though that army has no hope of supporting the Adriatic fleet. Note, however, that a fleet in Rome and a fleet in Venice are still not adjacent by this liberal ruling, since neither can support the other.

In the second playtest, equally cleverly entitled touch2 (apologies to the anti-sequel crowd, but no one seemed to confuse the games since they were not run concurrently), the liberal second adjacency clause was removed, so that one-way communication was enabled. An power with an inland army (like Serbia) could talk to neighboring powers with coastal fleets, but the power with the fleets could not send partial press back and had to use the 500-word broadcast for replies. Similarly, fleets at sea could talk to coastal armies, but the armies could not reply directly.

One final form of written communication was allowed. If two powers with no adjacent units attempted to enter the same space and neither succeeded (*bounce*), they were allowed a 30-word "communique" for each set of bounces. For example, in Spring 1901 if France orders A Par-Bur and Germany orders A Mun-Bur, they would end the turn without an adjacency. Because of the bounce, however, each power was allowed 30 words of partial press. In touch, I required both powers to send the communique or neither would receive it (I made them send the press to me and I redistributed it). This was more hassle than it was worth and in touch2, I merely monitored the communiques to ensure they stayed under the word limit. These communiques proved extremely rare, and I would consider dropping this rule from future games.

Envisioned Game Changes

When I developed these rules, it was my assumption that the interior powers, Austria, Germany, and Italy, would benefit from their position and the resulting multilateral communication. As an extreme example, before the Spring 1901 moves, the only powers allowed to send partial press to each under Touch rules are Italy and Austria. Once again, this feature coincided with a personal weakness; I still haven't survived as Italy in a standard game, and it was my hope that the enhanced early communications might overcome what I've seen as an imbalance in the game, or at least in my game.

After this first advantage for AI, it still seemed that central location would aid communication in the midgame. Again, a personal weakness: managing a middle country faced with alliance between a successful western power (England or France) and a successful eastern one (Russia or Turkey) who have teamed up to eliminate the center and share a two-way or slug it out for the win. Since Touch rules might prohibit direct communication between a successful England about to enter the Mediterranean and a successful Turkey about to break past the Ionian, the middle powers would have another advantage. Or so I hoped.

Another weakness, another theory: I assumed that once a power reached a certain hegemonous critical mass, maybe 14-16 centers, it would be difficult for the scattered small fry to stop the leviathan unless they were all mutually adjacent, since the coordination would be hampered by the need to daisy-chain all press. This is something I've seen in NoPress games; stop the leader is much harder in the end-game. As a few of our readers can attest, I'm pretty good at reaching 16 centers, but getting to 18 has always baffled me.

As so many great variant designers before me have discovered, things don't always work out the way they're planned. The two games run under Touch rules, touch and touch2, could not have had more varied results, and very few, if any, of my assumptions about the impact of the press rules were born out.

How the Theory Panned Out

Touch was a rapid victory for an edge power, Russia, played by Timothy Moore ([email protected]). In the early phases of the game, the German player (Mark Hanneman, no current e-mail address) broke out to an early lead and the almost inevitable stop the leader alliance formed in the west. Mark did his best to strengthen the coalition against him by using his central position to lie a little too often to most of the powers on the board. As press was passed from power to power [a consistent phenomenon I had not anticipated], Mark's deceptions became clear and his duplicity united Europe against him. As Germany was whittled down, Russia became the clear leader, but when it was obvious that the only way to stop Russia was to work with the treacherous German, the other powers chose to accept Russian domination. Austria was about the only power with a chance of matching Russia in a slugfest, but the Austrian player, Bruce Regittko ([email protected]) chose to stab Italy on the very turn he was stabbed by Russia, leaving him without allies and with his units facing away from the real enemy. Austria accepted Russia's terms of surrender and chose not to defend his home supply centers, letting Russia complete the solo win in 1905.

Touch2 started off with a strong FG alliance which quickly reduced England to a few armies in Scandinavia and was already pressing into the Mediterranean and toward Warsaw while AIRT squabbled in the east. Italy, played masterfully by Alexander K. "Smiley" Woo ([email protected]), saw he had no hope of surviving if France and Germany stayed allied, and he issued an ultimatum to Austria, Russia, and Turkey, demanding an eastern alliance and threatening to throw the game to France if he was not heeded. In touch2, as in the previous game, players were quite willing to forward partial press verbatim to those powers not adjacent to the author, so my theory of disjointed coordination against a hegemon was thoroughly discredited. Though Turkey, played by Charles Severance ([email protected]) took a few turns to be convinced that Smiley was not trying to lure him to his death, eventually the eastern AIRT alliance gelled and France (who had by this time stabbed Germany) was stopped just short of the victory.

Touching The Future

We didn't start up touch3 for a variety of reasons. GameMastering Touch Dip is more difficult than is Mastering a standard game. The GM has to be vigilant for adjacencies, which change from turn to turn. If the judge were coded up for this, the task of the GM would be much easier. Furthermore, the GM has to be alert and remember to broadcast all of the press he's received after each turn adjudicates. In Touch, I actually misplaced Russia's opening verbal salvo against Austria, and the delay of a day before I found it and broadcast it was enough for the two to begin negotiations. Even though I broadcast the press well before the Fall moves, the gap allowed Russia to explain it away as bravado, and had Austria seen Russia's words before direct talks began, he might not have chosen the Austro-Russian alliance. I had not even intended on GMing touch2, but when the GM from touch2 lost Internet access, I stepped in to finish things off. At the end of the second session I was pretty burned out, and I'd advise anyone toying with playing by these rules to simplify things (like allowing regular hundred word broadcasts rather than snail-mail style press) before leaping in to the job.

However, even had I been willing (and had the time) to GM a third round, I'm not sure the players were all that interested. As I write this article, many of the judges are down, and I think I could start a game allowing only one syllable words starting with X, and I could get 7 players in a day or two, but at the time, there was not a huge amount of interest in starting a touch3. Nonetheless, if this article has stimulated interest, I encourage someone to give GM'ing a whirl. I'd be happy to send you the rules for both touch and touch2 and let you devise a synthesis that suits your tastes.

The View From The Trenches

What you have above is how I saw it. Scanning through the reams of broadcasts and various EOG statements, I thought two were particularly well written explanations of what happened from the players perspective, and these are presented below. For touch, I've chosen the losing Austrian's point of view, and for touch2, the galvanizing Italian's version of how the anti-French coalition was formed. Perhaps I like their perspective best because they were the central powers who, even if they did not storm to victory, at least talk to the greatest number of powers and thus had a great view as others outpaced them, though of course, in Smiley's case, he was able to keep Austria and Italy in the draw.

If anyone is still interested after reading these tomes, please email me and I'll be happy to share the full rules and maybe even play. As long as I get to be Italy!

Andy Schwarz
([email protected])

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