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Adjutant
 
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Post 13 Sep 2016, 6:07 pm

First, I want to thank Sendric, who did a great job as GM, and everyone here at Redscape for welcoming me and inviting me to play. And congratulations to China/India/Kenya for their victory (despite China and Kenya ruthlessly nuking me to get it).

I am a first time NWO player. When I was initially invited to play the game, I looked over the rules and hesitated when I saw the rules for nukes. But I decided to give it a try because a large scale Diplomacy game sounded fun. While the large-scale Diplomacy aspects of NWO was fun, ultimately nukes ruined the experience for me.

Here’s why I think NWO nukes break Diplomacy:

First, nukes remove tactical options from the game. When you are a smaller power, it is impossible to defend yourself against a larger power with nukes. You can’t outguess the larger power. You can’t find a tactical move that they missed. All the larger power has to do is nuke your armies and walk right over you.

Second, nukes remove strategic options from the game. In a normal game of Diplomacy, it is possible for smaller nations to gang up on the leader (or leading alliance) and perhaps prevent them from winning. Or stall for time while they convince one of the alliance members to stab the other. That is not the case in NOW. Smaller nations are extremely hesitant about challenging the leader because they could be wiped of the map with a round or two of nukes. The only thing you can hope for is for the large powers to nuke each other into irrelevance. And if they don’t, tough luck, there’s nothing you can do about the large power.

Because of this, there are less diplomatic options available once the nukes start flying, particularly for smaller countries such as Egypt.

I had been expecting China to stab me for two years before it happened. So why did I keep my southern boarder defenseless? Nukes meant if China wanted to attack me, then there was no stopping him so why waste the units there. Why didn’t I attack China before he attacked me since I was expecting it? Nukes meant this hypothetical attack would have gone nowhere and I would have died sooner.

My only course of action in the game was to be a “good little ally” and hope that if/when China decided to stab one of his African allies it would be Kenya instead of me.

Eliminating China from Africa early might have prevented my radioactive death. However, Kenya did not want to attack China in the early game, leaving me with the option of attacking China alone. This never was really an option, as from the beginning Israel was outrageously demanding and erratic, and then later Italy was paranoid and untrustworthy, requiring my attention north and east when it should have been focused south. By the time China started lobbing nukes around, it was all over for Egypt.

I don’t know that there is a “fix” for nukes in NWO, as many players appear to like the variant the way it currently is. If I were to propose a change, it would be to add some sort of limit to the number of nukes that could be used. However, it is not my goal to fix NWO, but rather explain my thoughts on the variant.

I look forward to playing a non-nuclear game of Diplomacy with Redscape sometime in the future.
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Post 13 Sep 2016, 8:02 pm

consiliarium wrote:If I were to propose a change, it would be to add some sort of limit to the number of nukes that could be used. However, it is not my goal to fix NWO, but rather explain my thoughts on the variant..


I seem to recall back in the early days of NWO that one of the rule sets included a maximum number of nukes that could be used and if the board exceeded that number, everyone lost. I don't know why that rule was abandoned, but might be a solution.

I agree that nukes were really out of hand: First, I think the best players realized that this is the way to win, so we see more of them, but I also think that if all the tiny powers were in the game it would have colored the game quite differently. We were short, like 8 or 10 tiny powers in this game, and when these tiny powers start the game they don't have as many places to grow, and it forces conflict sooner. If there are only a couple of tiny powers around a huge power, they all grow the first few years, getting fat and happy, but the tiny powers are only being fattened up because the huge power grows a lot more. More tiny powers means fewer places go grow without conflict and it can slow a bigger player down.
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Post 14 Sep 2016, 8:48 am

geojanes wrote:
I seem to recall back in the early days of NWO that one of the rule sets included a maximum number of nukes that could be used and if the board exceeded that number, everyone lost. I don't know why that rule was abandoned, but might be a solution.

I agree that nukes were really out of hand: First, I think the best players realized that this is the way to win, so we see more of them, but I also think that if all the tiny powers were in the game it would have colored the game quite differently. We were short, like 8 or 10 tiny powers in this game, and when these tiny powers start the game they don't have as many places to grow, and it forces conflict sooner. If there are only a couple of tiny powers around a huge power, they all grow the first few years, getting fat and happy, but the tiny powers are only being fattened up because the huge power grows a lot more. More tiny powers means fewer places go grow without conflict and it can slow a bigger player down.


I have to agree with George here in regard to the tiny powers. The fact that there was only Japan and Vietnam as neighbors to me changed the game drastically in the Pacific. Couple that with the quiet Russia meaning most people wanted to be friends with me, and we end up with me being able to launch 55 nukes, with 17 more on the launch pad when the game ended. I don't know what the limit used to be as it was before my time here, but it's quite possible that I would have broken the nuke limit myself this game.

While some of this definitely stems from people getting better and better at implementing nuke cycles, the missing players cannot be understated. A Kazakhstan, Korea, Philippines, and Mongolia all could have drastically changed how the game played in Asia. Instead, once I had India and Pakistan fighting, I got to stab Russia, then the US, then Vietnam, then Malaysia, all at my leisure. Having to contend with smaller powers on my borders earlier would definitely have required a shift of resources somewhat, thereby limiting my ability to go crazy nuclear so early.

That said, it's hard enough to get 35 people playing, 45 might be a pipe dream at this point. Perhaps this is something we need to consider if future games have lower amount of players again?
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Post 14 Sep 2016, 9:23 am

How about a fractional loss of a vote for every nuke used? You can use as many nukes as you want but it's going to cost votes.
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Post 14 Sep 2016, 12:35 pm

While I can understand how a new player would take this attitude towards the nukes in this game, I don't agree. This particular running of the game was unusual in many ways, but in particular it was unusual for the under-performance of France, Russia, UK and (to an extent) USA. This fundamentally altered the balance of power in ways which will have caused you to get a slightly skewed impression.

While it's true to say that nukes allow large powers to bully small ones, usually this comes at a significant opportunity cost elsewhere. To put it simply, every nuke that's used against a small power is one that isn't used against one of your proper rivals. This might not seem like such a big deal, but it can be. We've seen many times over the years that a big power will fire a couple of nukes at some small nation in order to grab some territory only to find that this allows their fellow great powers to hit them at a time when the nukes they just spent on a marginal gain left them without sufficient firepower to respond. It's a fine balancing act and too much bullying of little guys has been the death of any number of big nations. The reason we didn't see that this time is that there was no counterbalancing force to China, but I can't emphasise enough that this is the exception and not the rule.

I'd also add that it's quite possible for a coalition of small nations to effectively take down a major power. Sure, they usually can't completely eliminate one of them due to the large geographical spread of units the big guys have, but they don't need to do that. Simply slowing down their growth is typically all it takes. There was a game not too long back where a series of pissant attacks from small nations meant that USA ended one game year on 'only' +3 at the end of Year 3. You might think that's still pretty healthy growth, but for USA it was catastrophic because it meant that he fell a long way behind his main rivals and was never able to recover. Sure enough a couple of years later he had to eat a ton of nukes without enough BBs in the bank to let him respond. We've also seen games where Sweden, Poland and Ukraine have ganged up on Russia and caused early elimination simply by restricting his early growth opportunities and opening him up to strikes by his big power rivals. This kind of thing happens a lot, it just needs good diplomacy to bring about.

The crucial ingredient is great power balance, which we never had in this recent game. When we do have it then the level of nuclear bullying declines as the big boys focus more on each other. Give it another shot and you'll probably learn to stop worrying and love the bomb... :wink:
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Post 14 Sep 2016, 1:30 pm

I was going to respond but I think this variant is not my cup of tea. I like Modern, Colonial and the original Diplomacy game and that's about it. I am not into nukes or coalition victories.
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Post 14 Sep 2016, 2:05 pm

Sassenach wrote:While I can understand how a new player would take this attitude towards the nukes in this game, I don't agree. This particular running of the game was unusual in many ways, but in particular it was unusual for the under-performance of France, Russia, UK and (to an extent) USA. This fundamentally altered the balance of power in ways which will have caused you to get a slightly skewed impression.


I don't expect to convince anyone that nukes should be removed from NWO nor am I trying too, as for many that is an attraction of the variant.

Sassenach wrote:The crucial ingredient is great power balance, which we never had in this recent game. When we do have it then the level of nuclear bullying declines as the big boys focus more on each other. Give it another shot and you'll probably learn to stop worrying and love the bomb... :wink:


I realize that this game isn't representative of all the NWO games, before I played this one I looked at the previous match. Still, I don't think a better balance of power between the large nations would fix the issues I had with the variant.

geojanes wrote:I seem to recall back in the early days of NWO that one of the rule sets included a maximum number of nukes that could be used and if the board exceeded that number, everyone lost. I don't know why that rule was abandoned, but might be a solution.


If there was a nuke limit as geojanes described (or something similar), I would be willing to try it again.
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Post 15 Sep 2016, 10:50 am

consiliarium wrote:
Sassenach wrote:While I can understand how a new player would take this attitude towards the nukes in this game, I don't agree. This particular running of the game was unusual in many ways, but in particular it was unusual for the under-performance of France, Russia, UK and (to an extent) USA. This fundamentally altered the balance of power in ways which will have caused you to get a slightly skewed impression.


I don't expect to convince anyone that nukes should be removed from NWO nor am I trying too, as for many that is an attraction of the variant.


I totally get that this variant is not everyone's cup of tea. We all like Diplomacy for different reasons, so when you change something we aren't going to have the same opinion on it.

I actually agree with your statement that it limits tactical options a bit, but I don't mind so much because I don't really think the game is about tactics. Sometimes email Diplomacy does become a game of tactics, but that's actually why I hardly ever play email Dip. In fact the last two games of NWO are the only email Diplomacy games I've played in the last several years.

Last game I was Germany and I think I was reasonably successful at rallying the little guys (and some big guys) to attack the larger powers in unison. We managed to eliminate both UK and Russia that way, and to a lesser extent France. It's definitely possible for the small powers to work together to knock out the big guys, but it's a major diplomatic lift. You have to spend a lot of energy writing to a lot of players that you might not otherwise talk to. It's work.

For whatever reason, that didn't happen this game. I was in a very different position, but I never saw much interest by small powers in working together to attack the big ones. Everyone just seemed focused on growing in their own area, and not especially concerned with stopping the leader. I know some of it is worrying about being killed, but my attitude is that being eliminated is just a different version of not winning. If I'm not in the coalition anyway, why not go down swinging?

If 6 of us all stab the leader, yeah there's a risk that he uses all his nukes to retaliate against me and I die. But probably it won't go down like that unless I've pissed him off way more than the other attackers. More likely he uses his nukes tactically to try to survive and I only eat one or two. Cost of doing business.

I kind of feel like somewhere along the line China became so strong that everyone just gave up on stopping him. I talked to people for a couple of years about things they could do to slow him down, but I got absolutely nowhere with it. Even when I still had a couple nukes, there was no interest. I think what was going on in this game wasn't so much about the nukes. I think it was like a standard game where some guy gets up to 16 after 1905, and the rest of the board just throws up their hand and gives up.

I agree with others who've suggested that part of the problem was the lack of players. This is part of what let China get big enough where he could fire 10 nukes a turn. That's not normal. Usually you have so save up BBs for one big round of nukes, and then you have hardly any the next couple turns.

This game was weird that way.
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Post 15 Sep 2016, 11:28 am

It seems reasonable to conclude that with fewer countries great powers have an easier path to growing quickly and perhaps distorting the game with nuclear might. So either play with the full complement of players or rein in nukes a bit, I think.
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Post 15 Sep 2016, 12:00 pm

We've played with reduced player numbers before and it wasn't such an issue. Obviously the game is way better with a full complement, but raw numbers per se is not the issue. In this case I think it was more that the distribution of players was slightly out of balance. Tom is not to blame for this, it's always a hugely difficult job to try and figure out which nations can safely be left out and you can't expect to get it right all the time, but in hindsight we clearly needed more players in east Asia.

If we'd begun the game with two more players than we had then Korea and Philippines would probably have made the cut. That would have changed the dynamic a fair bit.
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Post 16 Sep 2016, 12:41 pm

I was emailed and asked for my input...

I think several people hit the nail on the head,
First, the nukes are ALWAYS ridiculous, make no mistake, they always get out of hand and yes, that oddly seems to be one of the goofy charms of this game. That said, I agree this particular game might be a bit crazier than most in this aspect. But to those new to the game, yes it was never ever claimed to be fair!

I think you have several reasons it got out of hand here, not having played, and only followed briefly, I can only guess at some of these and how much they applied here...

Missing several smaller powers made a big difference, no need to evaluate things, that absolutely contributed to this problem. You REQUIRE a whole bunch of smaller powers or it's too easy to do away with them.

China was too powerful, I spoke up about this the last time China was given an African center, I spoke up about it again here, yet both times it remained and changed the dynamics of Africa and the far east both. It threw a monkeywrench in the games balance.

Just a guess (I really have no idea on this possibility!)
The game simply can not be randomly assigned powers. The GM needs to give the larger power not just to the "better" players (that part is true) but ALSO to the more active players. If a larger power is assigned wrongly (or if that very active person runs into personal life problems) then the entire game can suffer. Again, this is not a complaint that any particular player/power was poorly assigned (I just don't know), just that it is always a possibility!

The game was played with a few attempts to reign in nukes in the past
I know we once limited the number of nukes launched ending the game in nuclear winter where all players lost. That was probably a good idea as far as being more like real life? But it certainly did not work for the game, it was a horrible failure!

Another game saw larger powers only being allowed to nuke powers one (maybe it was two?) class sizes smaller than themselves and any that were bigger. I think they were able to hit non city sites of any size but cities of smaller nations could not be touched. That too failed badly!

Nukes WILL get out of hand, simply accept that!
But try to keep it at least somewhat sane, I think if you corrected those things mentioned above, you might just find things working out to that just north of insane level we want to see?
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Post 16 Sep 2016, 7:01 pm

Thanks Tom. Some good advice here.

Do you recall why the game that used the nuclear winter rule was a failure? Was it particular to that rule, or was it something else with the players or a combination?
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Post 30 Sep 2016, 11:39 am

sorry, I am only checking things every so often of late...

That game was so long ago (and I never bothered keeping records, that's just not "fun")
But I recall it not working at all.
Seldom are changes like that deemed a failure because of ONE issue, no doubt several factors came into play but the biggest reason for it not working was the game changed in a bad way. People LIKE nukes, they even like them when it gets out of hand (but maybe a bit less-so). The whole idea behind nukes was lost, people still fired them and just didn't care if the game would be lost, they got revenge or had fun firing off their share, others could see the game was going to end in nuclear winter and the whole game was just a bad bad play!

It "makes sense" certainly and I can see the game actually working out well in a play here or there and heck, maybe if it were played often enough, players would learn to adjust? But that's not a good game in my opinion.
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Post 04 Oct 2016, 12:40 pm

There's always going to be a majority of players who don't feel that they're in with a good shout of the win. There isn't really much incentive for these players not to keep firing nukes and to hell with nuclear winter. In fact, enemies of the leader would have a perverse incentive to do it as a way to drag down the big dog to their level.
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Post 04 Oct 2016, 1:09 pm

Instead of making everyone lose, why not make "nuclear winter" trigger a game-ending vote, with top result taking it. Those in the lead will be launching as many nukes as they can anyways, so if they're so far ahead that it's ending the game, might as well end it sooner and declare a winning coalition. You could make it a per-country nuclear limit.