Next level of gunboat metagame

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Carl Tuckerson
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Next level of gunboat metagame

#1 Post by Carl Tuckerson » Wed Apr 24, 2019 1:35 am

props to Cleasar, mhsmith and swordsman for inspiration.

A good discussion thread about gunboat led to the subject of the metagame.
(Disclaimer: "The metagame" is a collection of trends across many gunboat games with many players regarding countries' attitudes toward each other. We are not talking about the rules violating type of "metagaming" where you play with people you know outside of the game and use out-of-game interactions to get an in-game edge. Maybe we need a different term for "the metagame" to avoid confusion...)

Some examples of possible metagame trends in webDiplomacy gunboat, pulled from that thread, follow.
1. Italy infrequently attacks Austria in 1901.
2. Austria and Russia very frequently fight.
3. Germany often lets Russia into Sweden.
Unlike board design or starting units, which are fixed pieces of information about the game, the metagame is implicit to the place of play (in this case webDiplomacy) and the players themselves (who may choose to deviate from metagame norms). Things don't have to be this way. In fact, once a metagame is known, it behooves players to adjust their behavior to get an edge within the presumptions of the metagame. This creates metagame shifts, which in a well-designed game creates ebb and flow among the players' respective successes and results in a fresh and balanced experience.

It's worth noting that this topic is really geared toward gunboat (hence my title restriction). You could theoretically have a full press metagame as well, but the extensive negotiations of press games impair our ability to discern trends, because those games conform far more to the personalities playing them.

~

Long intro over. I want to try to figure out the gunboat metagame on this site What are some trends you have noticed regarding the metagame on webDiplomacy? And how might you adjust your strategy as one of the powers affected by the trends?

One example that swordsman brought up is that Austria and Russia fight a lot. I find this example very interesting because I think Austria and Russia make for an excellent team in full press games, albeit one that is difficult to establish. Furthermore, Russia is almost universally deemed the worst power in gunboat, and I wonder if part of that isn't due to the fact that the war with Austria can be such a loser for Russia, even if you overpower Austria tactically and capture some home centers; you're just expanding into one of the most hotly contested regions of the map, with multiple strong rivals still lurking. It seems to me that Russia would certainly benefit from being able to focus elsewhere, and maybe Austria wouldn't mind it either?
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#2 Post by mhsmith0 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 2:29 am

Off the cuff, I'd say that a really massive sticking point between Russia and Austria is Galicia. In press games, the two of them can negotiate a DMZ there, and if it holds, then Russia can easily send an army north and contest Scandinavia reasonably effectively without worrying overmuch about getting swamped on the south end of things. Austria, meanwhile, can use A Vie to pop into Tyrolia and make life hard for Italy (much more so if Italy is hostile), or use A Vie to pop into Trieste to be protected against an early Italian stab while not needing to sacrifice the Greece push.

In gunboat, however, you basically can't do that, because it's HUGELY detrimental to either side to have the other occupy that space early. Russia in Galicia threatens two of Austria's home centers and forces a lot of energy in defense, while Austria in Galicia prevents Russia from taking Rumania and opens up Warsaw to a sneak attack if Russia goes hard on Rumania.

The overwhelming disadvantage to *NOT* bouncing in Galicia substantially forces Russia and Austria to bounce, because to lose that space is to potentially lose the game.

FWIW I suspect this is part of why the A/I meta exists, since from Italy's perspective, Austria is stuck fending off Russia anyway so it's not like Austria is any kind of early threat, while at the same time, Italy is incapable of actually negotiating with Russia to mutually benefit from Austria's death while muscling out Turkey (and from Russia's end, R/T carving up Austria is something of a path of least resistance, particularly if Turkey is a fleet-heavy build).
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#3 Post by mhsmith0 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 2:33 am

In terms of Germany and Sweden, I'm not actually sure how prominent the site meta is in terms of allowing Russia in (in my GBT game as Russia, I was pretty screwed early in a fairly obvious way, AND Germany got attacked by Austria, AND Germany STILL didn't let me into Sweden, which actually really hurt me since I was basically counting on getting that build).

I think the generic logic is that letting Russia into Sweden is a pretty strongly anti-English move, so if England has avoided the channel and is goign hard for Norway, there's a decent gain to letting Russia get that build and fight England there. That may well be even stronger if France is in the channel, since it gives you a chance to see off a competitor fairly early, and then it's mainly a matter of avoiding getting overrun by France (which is obviously a real risk).

OTOH, if Russia is looking *TOO* strong early, for instance if he's in Galicia and Turkey opened pro-Russia, then there's a real incentive to bounce in Sweden to prevent an early Austrian collapse, which as Germany you generally very much want to avoid.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#4 Post by ziran » Wed Apr 24, 2019 2:55 am

Russia has not one, but two must bounce moves: Gal and BLA. Arguably it has no choice at all in it's opening.

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#5 Post by mhsmith0 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 3:27 am

In gunboat, Russia has a very simple choice in spring 1901 (3 of its 4 moves are super obvious and constrained)

1) The Octopus: Move MOS to STP and contest Norway
2) Southern Defense: Move MOS to UKR and contest Rumania

Option #1 makes Russia stronger in the north (and *SHOULD* help encourage Germany to let Russia into Sweden unless Germany is super pro-England for w/e reason), but risks getting rolled up in the south

Option #2 makes Russia stronger in the south and probably guarantees Rumania unless Austria is crazy hostile and/or Turkey opened anti-Russia for some weird reason, but risks allowing England to convoy into Norway and roll things up in the north.

In press diplomacy, Russia can essentially negotiate with the entire board as to whether to take option 1 or 2...
If Russia can negotiate a F/G Sealion, then STP is usually fantastic and will basically secure a northern expansion and a pretty safe border;
If Russia can negotiate an A/I/R alliance, then Turkey can be sent home quickly and then Russia can join with Italy to kill Austria, or run AIR for western expansion, or some other approach;
If Russia can negotiate an I/R/T (let's kill Austria) alliance, then Austria can be sent home quickly and then Russia can pick one of I/T to ally with to kill off the other
etc

In gunboat, Russia can't negotiate anything, and the generic default move set for a lot of people will just kind of eventually settle into an anti-Russia outcome. In particular, Russia can't directly negotiate with Italy (if Italy really wants to kill France, then going north is a waste of time; if Italy has a strong preference of which of Turkey or Austria to kill first, then Russia probably doesn't care much other than slightly preferring to kill Austria most of the time I think; etc), and also can't negotiate with Austria over vacating Galicia (DMZ there is pretty strong for both IF IT HOLDS), etc. Lack of negotiation means lack of early game coordination, and I think Russia in particular needs that sort of coordination pretty strongly in order to succeed as a power.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#6 Post by mhsmith0 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 3:30 am

I think it'd probably be helpful to Russia if there was a strong gunboat meta of England always opening to the channel, but my sense is it's pretty hit or miss there, and Russia suffers from England going hard after Scandinavia because that's yet another enemy that Russia has to deal with when it has plenty of enemies already.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#7 Post by swordsman3003 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 11:53 am

It absolutely astounds me that the English gunboat meta is to open east and to avoid opening to English Channel.

I think this is a significant contributing factor to why France seems so strong. I’ve played way, way too many games which begin with England throwing everything east (mangling Russia and Germany) only to lose all the English home centers to France. This often sets up an INEVITABLE French solo win because the tactical situation in the northeast makes it impossible to assemble a stalemate line around Scandinavia (eg there are two English units at Norway and STP and this is all that remains of England).

I don’t want to hear it about how England has “no choice” but to attack all-out in the east and hope to make so many builds so fast that France can be contained. I always open to English Channel and do very well as England gunboat.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#8 Post by osric_athanasius » Wed Apr 24, 2019 12:00 pm

I am struck by Russia's communication problems. Now we know that certain moves can be interpreted by other players to suggesting alliances.
The question then becomes what moves could be used to suggest an alliance with Italy or other powers?

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#9 Post by mhsmith0 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 4:06 pm

osric_athanasius wrote:
Wed Apr 24, 2019 12:00 pm
I am struck by Russia's communication problems. Now we know that certain moves can be interpreted by other players to suggesting alliances.
The question then becomes what moves could be used to suggest an alliance with Italy or other powers?
Opening to STP suggests an alliance with Germany (and somewhat indirectly with France) against England. Opening to the south and then taking Rumania with a fleet instead of an army suggests an anti-Turkish open.

You mainly can't coordinate with Italy early game as Russia in gunboat, so it's a matter of hanging on and trying to find a way to work together if you're in a position to do so (and if it's not just "oh Italy can overrun the Balkans and head towards Warsaw and Moscow and really doesn't need any help from you")

PS fwiw I agree that a meta of England ignoring the channel is pretty questionable. An early E/F where both ignore the channel is potentially quite strong for both, but I think stronger for France than England (France has basically 0 hostile powers in that world, and can basically pick whether to attack England, Germany, or Italy from late 1902 or early 1903 on). Even worse for England, if France gets into the channel wholesale, England will basically spend the whole game on its back foot since it's super hard to get rid of France without help. I find the neutral-ish yorkshire opening for England (Lon-ENG, Edi-NTH, Lvp-Yor) pretty decent, and then you can react as appropriate (in my original GBT game I did this, F/G bounced in Burgundy, but I foolishly convoyed to Norway instead of the open Belgium and ended up fighting Russia despite it being kind of dumb to do this)
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#10 Post by Claesar » Wed Apr 24, 2019 4:34 pm

mhsmith0 wrote:
Wed Apr 24, 2019 4:06 pm
...
I find the neutral-ish yorkshire opening for England (Lon-ENG, Edi-NTH, Lvp-Yor) pretty decent, and then you can react as appropriate (in my original GBT game I did this, F/G bounced in Burgundy, but I foolishly convoyed to Norway instead of the open Belgium and ended up fighting Russia despite it being kind of dumb to do this)
Funny, because I opened the same way and did convoy to the open Belgium. But Germany let Russia into Sweden. I never took Norway and was attacked by all neighbours.

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#11 Post by mhsmith0 » Wed Apr 24, 2019 4:41 pm

I think you basically need to pick F or G and go hard after them once you push into an open Belgium slot. Potentially you abandon Scandinavia wholesale which *SHOULD* keep Russia off your back since almost always he has bigger problems down south anyway.

Then again in my "finals" game as England I did yorkshire and ran up against hostile openings from France AND Russia, got 0 builds, and spent much of the game kind of struggling, but made common cause with Germany before making a poor stab and then ending up in a 3wd that should have been a 2wd but i can't whine too much about that i think :P

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#12 Post by Carl Tuckerson » Wed Apr 24, 2019 8:54 pm

I'll have more substantive thoughts after work but great discussion so far guys. This is exactly what I was hoping for.

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#13 Post by Carl Tuckerson » Thu Apr 25, 2019 5:12 am

Well, I thought I would, but the stuff I'm producing ain't great. Hopefully it'll still advance the conversation.

~~

I know we were talking about the metagame and not specific openings, but the comments on Russia got me thinking. Speaking for myself, when I play Russia in gunboat I feel locked into the "Southern Defense" opener that smith described. I think ziran is correct to say that moves to Galicia and Black Sea are mandatory, because permitting the opposition to take them invites disaster, and acquiring them yourself might give you a new path forward. Opening to St. Petersburg instead of Ukraine places your fate much more into Germany's hand. On some level your fate always lies in the hands of another, but I try to make choices that minimize the extent to which this is true (which is not necessarily correct).

To the extent that Russia controls its own fate, I think Ukraine is critical in preserving its options to pursue Austria or Turkey. Russia needs another unit in the south, regardless of its first target. Russia cannot breach Galicia, to say nothing of Austrian supply centers, with just two armies; nor can Russia breach Black Sea, to say nothing of Turkish supply centers, with just one fleet. Since Russia cannot be sure of Sweden, Romania must be the target, which demands the army from Moscow move to Ukraine to secure the target. Incidentally, that also provides Russia the choice of which unit to place in Romania, which in turn provides Russia the choice of target (since Sevastopol will be open for a fleet build and Moscow/Warsaw an army build).

~~

Y'all have talked about this already, but I will pose the question more explicitly: when should Germany bounce Russia out of Sweden, and what can England do to induce Germany to bounce Russia?

When I play Germany, the litmus test is the English Channel. If England has made a move for the Channel, I will bounce Russia out of Sweden. The basic reasoning here is that I want to signal cooperation with England, and also that I don't want England to feel compelled to withdraw from hostilities with France to deal with a Russian threat to Norway. But if England does not move to the English Channel, I'm very likely to let Russia into Sweden, because the situation is more ambiguous, and I don't want to risk alienating Russia if it turns out that I need Russia against England in 1902 and beyond. It's less that I actively want Russia to do well in Scandinavia or that I want England to get blown up, but rather that I want to preserve the option to use Russia against England if England decides to pick on me. Further, it's also better for me if Russia has a fighting chance against England, even if England doesn't intend to hurt me but just wants to take Scandinavia and survey the scene.

~~

On a related note, I aggressively favor opening to the English Channel as England. I'll often follow up to Mid-Atlantic Ocean and convoy to Norway, but whatever I decide to do once I'm in English Channel is almost secondary to signaling a clear desire for alliance with Germany. The trap I notice is that I find that Germany often lets Russia into Sweden anyway! (Hence my initial posit that Germany often lets Russia into Sweden.) Then I've aggravated France (sometimes severely by moving to MAO) and I have a hostile German and Russian players to worry about. It seems that despite France's reputation as the best gunboat power, many German players do not share my disposition on how to handle Sweden.

Also, to bring this back to the metagame... if England's best opening is in fact to the Channel, at what point should France consider moving to the Channel itself, or otherwise reacting to the reality of England being in the Channel after Spring 01?
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#14 Post by Claesar » Thu Apr 25, 2019 10:43 am

Carl Tuckerson wrote:
Thu Apr 25, 2019 5:12 am
...
Also, to bring this back to the metagame... if England's best opening is in fact to the Channel, at what point should France consider moving to the Channel itself, or otherwise reacting to the reality of England being in the Channel after Spring 01?
I'd rather react to the reality if it comes to that. If I fear England will move to the Channel, I tend to open:
Par-Bur
Mar-Gas
Bre-MAO

If Germany bounces you in Bur, you can cover Bre and still grab two builds. If you so desire. Few English players here move ENG-MAO in Autumn.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#15 Post by swordsman3003 » Thu Apr 25, 2019 12:30 pm

Sticking to the metagame, I think that Germany -- more often than not -- blocks Russia from moving into Sweden. In high-level matches, the German player might be clever enough to see the long-term disadvantages to bouncing Russia at Sweden when England has made a pro-France opening. But I think the average player thinks that the purpose of opening KIE>DEN is to block Russia from getting Sweden and robotically executes this tactic every match.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#16 Post by ziran » Thu Apr 25, 2019 2:00 pm

Claesar wrote:
Thu Apr 25, 2019 10:43 am
Carl Tuckerson wrote:
Thu Apr 25, 2019 5:12 am
...
Also, to bring this back to the metagame... if England's best opening is in fact to the Channel, at what point should France consider moving to the Channel itself, or otherwise reacting to the reality of England being in the Channel after Spring 01?
I'd rather react to the reality if it comes to that. If I fear England will move to the Channel, I tend to open:
Par-Bur
Mar-Gas
Bre-MAO

If Germany bounces you in Bur, you can cover Bre and still grab two builds. If you so desire. Few English players here move ENG-MAO in Autumn.
I'm a fan of this opening, I once got three builds, despite England opening to the channel. E and G supported eachother into Bel, while I was the only one that moved into it.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#17 Post by Carl Tuckerson » Thu Apr 25, 2019 11:40 pm

Claesar wrote:
Thu Apr 25, 2019 10:43 am
Carl Tuckerson wrote:
Thu Apr 25, 2019 5:12 am
...
Also, to bring this back to the metagame... if England's best opening is in fact to the Channel, at what point should France consider moving to the Channel itself, or otherwise reacting to the reality of England being in the Channel after Spring 01?
I'd rather react to the reality if it comes to that. If I fear England will move to the Channel, I tend to open:
Par-Bur
Mar-Gas
Bre-MAO

If Germany bounces you in Bur, you can cover Bre and still grab two builds. If you so desire. Few English players here move ENG-MAO in Autumn.
Slight quibble but wouldn't you rather move Marseilles to Burgundy and Paris to Gascony? I think I would rather be in Marseilles/Gascony than Paris/Gascony for A01. Don't know if it really makes a difference though.

Quibble aside I like that opening quite a lot. I have generally defaulted to forcing Burgundy since it gives you influence on Belgium and covers Burgundy from German attack, but I think it might just be better to do things this way (regardless of which army moves to which province). I bet the Gascony army has massive deterrence value against a move to Brest in A01 that a fleet in Mid-Atlantic Ocean wouldn't.
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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#18 Post by Claesar » Fri Apr 26, 2019 8:26 am

Carl Tuckerson wrote:
Thu Apr 25, 2019 11:40 pm
... If I fear England will move to the Channel, I tend to open:
Par-Bur
Mar-Gas
Bre-MAO

If Germany bounces you in Bur, you can cover Bre and still grab two builds. If you so desire. Few English players here move ENG-MAO in Autumn.
Slight quibble but wouldn't you rather move Marseilles to Burgundy and Paris to Gascony? I think I would rather be in Marseilles/Gascony than Paris/Gascony for A01. Don't know if it really makes a difference though.
...
No, that's exactly my point. If I fear Italy will open to Piedmont, I start with
Mar-Bur and Par-Gas. That way, if Germany bounces you, you can cover Mar while still grabbing Par and Por.

To counter England opening to the Channel Par-Bur is best, surely.

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#19 Post by Claesar » Fri Apr 26, 2019 8:34 am

I sandboxed it for you:

Spring: https://imgur.com/a/8EBzjof
Autumn: https://imgur.com/a/dM916ZJ

But now that I think about it, Mar-Bur and Par-Gas offers the same functionality.. Interesting!

EDIT: Works too! https://imgur.com/a/D1jWQcu

I've been doing it wrong.. Thanks.

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Re: Next level of gunboat metagame

#20 Post by ibadibam » Fri Apr 26, 2019 5:02 pm

Carl Tuckerson wrote:
Wed Apr 24, 2019 1:35 am
We are not talking about the rules violating type of "metagaming" where you play with people you know outside of the game and use out-of-game interactions to get an in-game edge. Maybe we need a different term for "the metagame" to avoid confusion...
You're right: this isn't metagaming because there's no "game outside the game". What we're talking about are strategic conventions.

Doubtless there are some elements that are specific to the culture of WebDip, but it's more the result of each player choosing the opening that affords them the greatest flexibility in the face of uncertainty, and the tactical collisions those openings produce.

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