Pitt Crandlemire


Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore

This issue, I'm going to return to my examination of interesting variants which are implemented on the Internet judges. Now in the barrel, the "Asia" variant.

From the judge info.asia file:

There are absolutely no rule changes from the standard Dip rulebook. Just a new map. [...] Asian Diplomacy has almost no historical basis. However, it is very well-balanced, which should be the final criteria for a wargame. All powers have equal chances to win.
Well, that doesn't tell you much (and what it does tell you is, unfortunately, inaccurate). So, let me try to paint a clearer picture.

The Map

The territory covered by the Asia variant is, strangely enough, Asia. More specifically, start at St. Petersburg in the northwest corner, draw a line south through Warsaw, the Balkans, and East Africa to Madagascar, turn east through the Seychelles and Indian Ocean to Australia, head north through the Philippines and Japan to Kamchatka, and then turn west through Siberia and the Arctic Sea to link back up with St. Petersburg.

Major map landmarks include two landlocked seas, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, both in the west, separating Russia and Persia and linked by a canal through the Caucasus. Additionally, the Himalayas (impassable) are centrally located and divide India and China.

Significant areas of neutral SC's are Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam), Australia (Australia and New Guinea), The Stans (Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tien Shan, Novosibirsk), and the Mediterranean (the Balkans, Turkey, and Egypt).

Here is the map for the variant.

The Powers

Here they are:

Russia starts in the northwest corner with A Mos, A Sev, and F StP
Persia starts just south of Russia, along the center of the west edge of the map with A Irn, A Irq, and F Ara/ec
India starts just south of the center of the map with A Cal, A Del, and F Bom
Indonesia starts in the southeast corner with F Bor, F Jav, and F Sum
China starts east-center (just north and east of India) with A Bjg, A Tib, and F Sha
Japan starts just east of China, along the center of east edge of the map with F Hok, F Hon, A Man, and F Phi
Siberia starts in the northeast corner with A Irk, F Kam, and A WSb

The Play

I have played in a number of Asia variant games, as well as GM'ing several more. As with all Diplomacy games, nothing is fixed in stone but a number of consistent observations can (and have) been made.
Siberia must settle with Russia and Japan in 1901, as well as China to a lesser extent. The Urals SC sits square between a Siberian home SC (Wsb) and a Russian (StP). Both parties are likely to want it and both are likely to be nervous about the other holding it. A typical solution is an arranged bounce in the spring with Russia the more likely of the two to take it in the fall if the R/S alliance is unfolding. A part of that agreement normally includes a stipulation that Russia will move the fleet back to StP in 1902, leave Ura ungarrisoned, and not build further in StP.

With Japan, Siberia must resolve the status of the Novosibirsk and Yakutsk SC's. Japan's Manchurian army is pretty much powerless without support from Siberia or China. However, it can wreak havoc with Siberian lines if it's not controlled. Moreover, Siberia must worry about the activities of the Japanese Hokkaido and Honshu fleets. If they both head north, Kamchatka is threatened. All of this is unlikely, however, with just a bit of willingness to compromise on Siberia's part. Typically, Japan agrees to stay out of the Bering Strait, takes Yakutsk with a fleet, and holds the Manchurian army while Siberia picks up Novosibirsk. Also, typically, Siberia stabs Japan in 1902 with Chinese aid, especially if the R/S alliance is in effect.

Russia's two parties of interest are Siberia and Persia. The first factor to resolve is the use (or lack thereof) of the StP fleet. Any move by that fleet to the Arctic Sea is certain to be received negatively by Siberia since Arc borders two Siberian home SC's (Wsb and Kam). However, the F StP can go nowhere and do nothing useful without moving to Arc. As noted above, the most common use, if Russia is friendly to Siberia, is to take Ura in fall 1901 and then garrison StP to ensure no future builds there. This action pretty much stabilizes R/S relations and sets the stage for a later (1902 or 1903) joint R/S push due south toward Uzb and Tia.

Since, almost without exception, the smart Russian and Siberian players will form an early alliance, Russia is left with one other path for expansion - namely, south and southwest through Persia and the Mediterranean. Alternatively, Russia can choose to sit back, take the guaranteed Balkans SC, sweet talk Persia, and wait to see what develops. Russia can afford to do this since his corner position is quite secure unless he is besieged by both Persia and Siberia. So long as the Russian secures a solid alliance with one of those powers, he is in good shape through the mid-game.

Persia has a leg up in some respects, in that he has guaranteed access to the Turkey and Oman SC's in 1901, plus he's likely to get Egy in 1902. That's the good news. The bad news is that Persia is almost certain to face a hostile Russian (as noted above). In order to most effectively stave off the Russian threat (assuming that no diplomatic solution is achieved) Persia will be forced to build at least one inland fleet in Irn/nc to control Cas and move or build another fleet in the west to close off the Mediterranean. While this can be more or less easily accomplished, it leaves Persia with no freely available units to expand elsewhere Madagascar, for example, is just sitting in the southwest corner begging to be taken but, more often than not, India or Indonesia will take it first (or take it away) because Persia has no fleet to get there or to hold it.

As a result of this imbroglio, Persia must make every effort to woo India unless he has a rock-solid alliance with Russia. Typically, this is not very difficult, since India is normally focused eastward. The only potential sticking points are the Pak and Uzb SC's, both of which border Irn, a Persian home SC. Since Persia normally needs the Irn army to protect Cau from Russian encroachment in spring 1901, the usual agreement is for Persia to take Pak in fall 1901, then swap Pak to India in 1902 in exchange for support into Uzb. A normal stipulation is that India will vacate Pak in 1903, leaving it vacant thereafter.

India starts well, as he is sure of the Tien Shan and Bangladesh SC's in 1901, likely to get Sri Lanka, as well, and, with a friendly Persia, likely to get Pak or Uzb in 1902. Because of the Himalayas, India and China are effectively cut off from each other and, as a result of this lack of threat or ability to directly cooperate, not much diplomacy happens between the two until the mid-game.

As noted above, India is almost certain of gaining a Persian ally, so his only remaining early concern is Indonesia. Happily, that's not likely to be a problem in 1901 since Indonesia is more likely to be concerned with grabbing the plethora of available SC's in Australia and Southeast Asia. In 1902, however, things tend to go sour for India and Indonesia is the usual culprit. It's not uncommon for Indonesia to get three new SC's in 1901, giving him six units in 1902. That means he's almost certain to have five fleets and it's a foregone conclusion that several of them will be heading towards Sri and Ban. India has the ability to respond by building two fleets in winter 1901 but, if he does, he virtually cedes all future northern expansion in The Stans to Russia, Siberia, and China. Moreover, his fleets will be acting in a purely defensive fashion, while Indonesia is likely to still be grabbing one or more new SC's.

India's only hopes for long-term survival are a strong Persia building fleets to use against Indonesia or a strong China or Japan doing the same. Without a seaworthy ally to aid against Indonesia, India is ultimately doomed.

The player who gets Indonesia gets the golden ring. As noted above, Indonesia has ready access to a number of neutral SC's in 1901 and 1902. Further, while he's likely to tangle early with India, Indonesia enters that fight with the upper hand and will only improve on it barring a threat from another quarter. If Indonesia exerts only a modicum of diplomatic effort, that threat is likely to never develop. Persia is probably going to be involved in a war with Russia. A little reassurance from Indonesia (say, support into Madagascar) should mitigate any possible threat there. China and Japan will likely want to compete with Indonesia for the same Southeast Asia SC's. However, since it will be very difficult for the two of them to trust each other anyway (more below on that), Indonesia need only choose one to give a small bit of support to (or just play them off against the other) and they'll be too busy with their own squabbles to coordinate any action against Indonesia until it's too late.

Indonesia's only down side is that it's likely to be very difficult to get a solo. Given his need to build many fleets early, he will find himself army poor when it comes time for the land war through India. Moreover, the ease with which Siberia or Russia can shut off the northeast corner (Kamchatka and Chucki Sea) means that Indonesia can't gain any ground north of Japan without armies, too. The smart Indonesia player must make the most effective use of his fleets early and plan on an army campaign in the mid-game in order to get a shot at a solo.

With the exception of Japan (which is just about hopeless), China starts out with the most precarious position. Though China appears to have ready access to some of the available Southeast Asia SC's, he has to gravely expose himself in order to go for them. Japan's Manchurian army is poised adjacent to China's Beijing home SC. China has to make a great leap of faith to move the Beijing army without covering it with his Shanghai fleet. If he does that, however, Shanghai is exposed to Japan's Honshu or Philippines fleet. Typically, China opens conservatively, moving Sha to SCS or HK in order to take Vie in the fall. China is guaranteed Lao in the 1901 but, normally, will leave it until 1902 in order to use his Tibetan army for coastal protection.

Ideally, China would enter into alliance with Japan and the two would put a serious crimp in Indonesia's plans. However, this rarely happens due the extreme close proximity of their units, home SC's, and target neutral SC's. Complicating this further is that a C/J alliance will be pressured from both the north (Siberia) and the south (Indonesia). Even when C/J alliances form early, the strain on them is so great that they rarely last past 1902.

China does have one possible longer term ally, however, in Siberia. Should the two ally early, China will get Japan's Man SC, as well as Vie or Lao. China then has to go full bore after Japan, eliminating the island nation before Indonesia comes steaming north. The chances of success are slim but they are better than most of China's alternatives.

No chance. None. Really.

Here's the deal. Japan has no guaranteed access to even one neutral SC. Indonesia can (and most likely will) block access to New Guinea. China will do the same to Vietnam. Siberia can do the same to Yakutsk. In order for Japan to even get a build in 1901, he will most likely have to resort to the threat of hostile action, e.g. to Siberia - threaten Kam, to China - threaten Bjg or Sha. Those powers must cooperate if Japan is to get a build. The really bad news is that they are much more likely to cooperate with each other to take a Japanese SC, not give one. Worse yet, even if they do allow Japan to get a build, they'll be in better position to steal it back in 1902 than Japan will be to defend it. Japan's only saving grace is that the sea spaces in the area (Bering Strait, Okhotsk Sea, Yellow Sea, and East China Sea) combined with his three fleets allow greater mobility and flexibility. However, this is essentially useless. Playing fleet shuffleboard may be fun but it accomplishes nothing except stalling and, sooner or later, Indonesia or Siberia or China will come calling and the game will be over.


This is an unbalanced variant, but one with a lot of promise. Presently, the corner powers, particularly Indonesia, Siberia, and Russia hold undue sway on the outcome of the game. I have yet to see a game where the three of them did not last to the end game and, frequently, share in a draw. The distribution of SC's is uneven and unfair, with too many in the south, in particular. The large, centrally located, impassable area in the Himalayas causes problem with hindering Indian/Chinese relations and also serves as an anchor for far too many easy stalemate lines.

Suggested Fixes (Asia Redux)

  1. Shrink the western end of the Himalayas and extend Delhi and Calcutta so that they both border Kunlun; this would provide greater contact between India and China and would reduce the ease and number of stalemate lines and open up Indian/Chinese access.
  2. Move the Tien Shan SC to Kunlun, making it directly accessible to China and India in spring 1901.
  3. Move the New Guinea SC to Korea; this gives Japan at least one guaranteed 1901 SC and takes a nip out of the Indonesian gravy train.
  4. Change Indonesia's starting Sum fleet to an army; this slows down Indonesian growth a bit without reducing the number of SC's he has access to; it also changes the dynamic in Southeast Asia by increasing the chances that Indonesia will get an army ashore years earlier. Note: this change might unduly benefit India; accordingly, also move the Ban SC to Bur, requiring India to extend himself more to take it, leaving Cal a bit more exposed, and opening more potential for Indian/Chinese interaction.
Here, then, would be the map to this proposed second version of Asia.

So, there you have it. As it is, Asia is an enjoyable, if flawed variant. I have yet to play my suggested Asia Redux variant, however, so I can't promise that it's better. If there is sufficient interest, though, I will gladly GM a game to try it out. It's already been set up on a judge, so get in touch with me if you'd like to give it a go.

'Til next time -- whenever and wherever that might be....

Pitt Crandlemire
The Big Dipper
([email protected])

P.S. One Free Pass to Big DipperWorld (all DipRides included; DipTreats cost extra) to the first reader who sends me an e-mail correctly identifying the pun in the title of this issue (plus your name in lights in the next issue).

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