Ambition & Empire - AARs

10 player variant with armed minors that can be persuaded. GM'd by Alman. Created by Jeff S Kase & B M Powell. Ended in a 5 player Draw split between the British (Aeschines), Hapsburgs (Stanislaw), Ottomans (PetesAHut), Prussia (Antigonos), and Russia (Asudevil)

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Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby Alman » 08 Sep 2015, 16:21

Well, 6 out of 10 players decided to give peace a chance and the great way wraps up with more of a whimper than a bang. Still, it was fun while it lasted and we had a good game with no NMR's and no surrenders. So here is the space for NMR's. The good Baron has been checking in from time to time and would probably enjoy your thoughts on the game from a technical standpoint. What was your experience with the Minors (remember them?)? What was your strategy with them? Share your thoughts as we put this game to bed. I may share a few things from the GM perspective after I've heard from you guys.
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Re: Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby Antigonos » 08 Sep 2015, 16:35

I will insert a real post on this when I have a moment.
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Re: Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby PetesAHut » 08 Sep 2015, 19:18

Alright, here goes my first stab at an AAR!

Bids:
I initially planned to go all out for Russia and Ottoman, but changed my bid to where it wound up. I saw a lot of hidden potential in the Ottoman position, and figured that most people would go 100 for a country with 3-4 starting units and 92 for a country with 2. Really glad I lucked out and got Ottoman after the two die roles.

Year 1:
I saw my path to victory as control of the Med. Between Italy and North Africa, there are a ton of neutrals available and I wouldn't really need to piss off more than one person to get them. All I had to do was get to them.
Right off the bat, Russia comes to me and claims that he wants to maintain peace but also wants to take Crimea early. Immediately alarm bells are going off in my head, because the only follow-up move that I foresaw was to use Crimea as a build site for an invasion of Ottoman territory. In response, I reached out to Sweden to try to find someone to attack Russia, since doing anything about Crimea myself was going to leave me without a build in the first year. I told him I'd use my DP's to support him into GBo, because I didn't need them early. Spain also came to me early, and sort of telegraphed that he was planning to work with England early (towards to what, I wasn't sure yet, but presumably to attack France). Talked to Austria about DMZ's, talked to Prussia about pooling DP's, and had conversations with England, Saxony, and Denmark that didn't lead to much.

Anyway, Russia comes back around and tells me that he's heard that I'm looking for people to help attack him. Turns out, he didn't realize that Crimea was a build center, and he backs off his earlier desire to get it early. Great, I no longer need to be super concerned about my northern border, at least for a while. In return, I decide to change course and throw support for him into GBo. Sorry Sweden, but I got the impression from Russia's conversation that Denmark was coming for you and I didn't want to be supporting the losing side of that battle.

First season rolls around and several people look like they're in trouble. France is facing a 3 man assault and Sweden is facing a 2 man attack. But nobody seems to care what I'm doing for the first season, so I'll just do my thing. I think I reached out to Spain for support into Tun, but I don't remember having a ton of conversations with anyone about what to happen here.

Year 2:
Damn, England had a good year. And the two people most likely to compete with me for control of the Med (Spain and Austria) look like they're allied with him. At this point, I was getting real concerned that I was going to get crowded out of my expansion path. If Austria sent an army towards Con, the 3 of them pooled their resources to keep me out of Alg, and one of them took Pap, my expansion path could be completely shot. And they look like they're working pretty closely at this point.

Whatever, let's just assume they're not perfect players, and even if they're trying to stall me they're not going to do it perfectly. I move to Adr while bouncing TwS (which broke a DMZ with Austria) with the idea of demanding that Austria help me out of Adr. Austria and Spain could have still taken Pap together if they pooled their resources, but I thought it was more likely that they would use DP's on TwS to get in. Meanwhile, I didn't make a big deal about the possibility of getting bounced out of Alg (I didn't think that I would get international support for the move and in fact assumed that trying to rally the world to my aid would just encourage more people to keep me out). I believe I tried to convince England at this time to keep Spain out of Portugal, with the idea of letting him expand north while Spain reels from missing out on a critical build, but this goes nowhere.

Spring passes - the results are bad, but not awful. Spain and England are working together in the Med, but Austria isn't part of it. TwS is still a possibility, but now I've pissed off the one person in the anti-French alliance that isn't trying to harm my chances as well. I start messaging everyone - Austria to keep the peace and everyone else to get DP's to keep England / Spain out of Mor. Everything goes perfectly - I get my build, England doesn't get Mor, and I'm feeling slightly better about my chances.

Meanwhile, England and Russia have run over Scandinavia, and Prussia and Austria have seized most of the German neutrals. I'm behind the 4 leaders, but I'm still at relative pairity with the only person (Spain) who is, in my mind, actively playing aggressively against me (as far as I was concerned, Spain in WeS is more inflammatory than if I was in WeS - the Ottoman Empire has a right to at least two, if not 3, of the North African neutrals and occupation of WeS was, in my mind, an act of war).

Years 3 & 4:
Year 3 for me was, while a little nerve-wreaking, pretty uneventful. Spain is throwing up a shield around Brc, but is not playing super aggressively. I pick up another Italian neutral. At the end of year 3 (or maybe during year 4), I start talking to Austria about helping me into Tus, and start talking to England about a 4 way final draw (this is the smallest draw that keeps everyone below 15 centers - more on this below). The whole point of this conversation was primarily to force him to talk to me as if he wanted me to survive (at this point, a 4 way draw had to include either me or Spain due to the layout of the map, but I thought it was still up in the air if Austria and Russia would ever coordinate something against my home SC's), which in turn meant he had to talk about how to get me more centers. I manage to get 2 builds, which puts me in the same range as Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and I start feeling much better about my future.

Rest of the Game:
I felt pretty accomplished getting to 7 centers, but the rest of the game showed that there really wasn't a ton of additional expansion that I could make. I needed every center on the Med, plus Mad and Por to solo. Once Spain was down to 3 centers he came to me telling me that he wanted to not die. I tried to use him the same way you can players with 1 center who just want to help their attacker to solo, but it quickly became obvious that this was not his intention. I think the only way I could have solo'ed was if Prussia attacked Austria at the same time as me and England (Fall 1768) and received complete obedience from Spain (and slipped a fleet north of Mid). If Austria collapsed and I got a fleet north of Mid, I think I would have opened up a 2 year window where I could make some things happen, but since neither thing happened my simultaneous stabs of Austria and England just sort of sputtered and petered out.

The Setup:
I think the 15 center win limit is too low. With 44 centers on the map, the smallest possible draw is 4, which is nearly half the starting players. Plus, there's no justifiable reason for someone to get past 11 centers. England sacrificed a center super early to [feign?] mak[ing] a 4 way draw work [I don't think he actually intended to play for a draw that early], which I don't think would have needed to happen with a higher center win condition. Now that I'm writing this out, I'm wondering if the idea is to keep as many countries alive for as long as possible to maintain chaos rather than just steamroll towards a victory. The DP mechanic to me was very interesting, because I basically used it to wage a proxy war with the Barbary states (supported by most of the map) against foreign invaders while I tried to get my own units out there.

Alman, thanks for making my first foray into forum play awesome - great job. Can we see the full DP allocation for the game?
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Re: Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby zurn » 08 Sep 2015, 20:26

Denmark/Norway AAR:

Well, after wondering since February whether this game would get off the ground, I'm glad it actually happened! Nice to see the map I whipped up get some use (not the design mind you, just the aesthetic, and even that was just a rough mashup of VaeVictus' maps and this variant; I wanted something nice to look at!).

Denmark was not what I'd hoped for, being my 8th choice. Russia and Spain were my top two, followed by Britain and the Ottomans. Note that with predictable min-maxing, the bidding system just turns into a regular preference-list mechanism, with the bid values irrelevant. I chose popular options and wasn't lucky with the rolls; I'd also avoided central powers since I'd been playing a lot of that recently. But I'm even less of a fan of two-centre powers, save the secluded Ottomans.

The obvious play was to guard against England and work with Sweden, but given lacklustre expansion options, I decided to go for the riskier Sweden route (and also to try it out). There was talk of an alliance between Saxony, Sweden, Prussia, and me, but since no-one bothered to mention what I would get out of it, I assumed it was BS from Prussia to secure his flanks. However it revealed Sweden's plans to attack Russia. I talked to Russia about cooperating against Sweden, which went fine for a while. I also warned him about Turkey planning to attack, as Turkey has mentioned, to ensure Sweden would fall fast (with only two units, I needed help). England's potential move into Norway was one I risked ignoring, and unfortunately that didn't pan out. I figured he'd concentrate on France and I'd help him against Prussia or in the lowlands, but there's no doubt it's not at all a bad move to knock me out early as well.

After that I figured my best bet was to do whatever Russia wanted, figuring he wouldn't want my centres ending up entirely with his potential enemies. I tried to get Prussia to help too, but he made a move on Copenhagen instead, while Russia stabbed me anyways and took Stockholm. (Getting Prussia's help was complicated by him being Russia's main competitor.) I also tried talking to Austria and Saxony when it was clear Prussia was against me (before the Russian stab), but that went nowhere. In the end England ended up with both Copenhagen and Norway and looking quite strong.

I agree that low victory objectives are a bad idea. I'm sure the thinking is that it'll encourage a solo win, but on a map with competent players, it just means balance-of-power considerations kick in hard in the mid-game, which puts the brakes on aggressive action. Everyone's afriad of taking a risk because the chaos of such a low victory threshold makes it that much more risky. Alliances are strained because so many powers are almost winning. This might sound like a good idea, but I've seen the results a few times and I don't think it produces satisfactory experiences, whether there's a draw or a solo. Maybe it works better with DIAS, but even with that on this map 15 is still probably too low.

I'm not too enamoured of two-centre powers either, especially when they're not given a lot of space. It really cuts down on realistic options. Saxony-Poland in particular has to hope his more powerful neighbours don't simply take him apart. Denmark and Sweden might be railroaded in their options or collectively share the same fate (ally, at least at first, or die?). Successful diplomacy can of course change anything, but you can say that of any variant and yet certain powers will consistently do better or worse regardless.

Still though, it was fun to finally try this variant. Good game everyone.

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Re: Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby Aeschines » 09 Sep 2015, 04:12

Spain, I'm glad to see you made it into the draw (somehow) :D ! You must have had help from on high (looking at you Alman, "document doctorer")

Congrats to everyone for a well played game. There isn't a one of you I wouldn't try to stab play with again.

Britain's AAR

Prebidding
Looking at the map I figured that the best power was probably Russia, with number two going to Britain. I was thinking that Russia would probably be getting a lot of attention, so I went for Britain. I seriously considered Spain as my top choice, but the fact that the Spanish would have to rely on British help to secure Portugal dissuaded me.

Early Game
My very first goal, once I drew Britain, was to secure the north and dismantle any potential rival for fleet building. The three main targets to hit were Portugal, Brest, and Chr. I figured that the easiest way to do it would likely be to open with a war against Denmark or France and then betray the other one. I decided to embark on an anti-French quest and hope for a sneaky move to Chr because Nth seems so British, I figured Denmark couldn't really deny me having a fleet there in the spring and so there was potential for a sneak-fleet into Chr.

The crux of my early game came when Spain approached me about hitting France together. That seemed perfect, I traded my help attacking France (which I had kind of already planned to do) to Spain in exchange for Spain's promise to make any center other than Portugal their 3rd home SC. Spain and I then approached the Hapsburg Empire, who viewed France as a serious continental rival. HE didn't ask for anything in return (other than the minor powers nearby) and so the triple anti-French attack was born.

The actual mechanics of the French attack were extremely complex, I can't recreate them perfectly from memory but it involved HE bouncing getting support into Bur from BaW (paid for by DPs from Saxony in exchange for promised help against Prussia) while I moved to the channel with support (I had offered the channel to France) and Spain moved on Marseilles. HE was also to have taken Savoy using DPs in the spring and support Spain into Marseilles in the fall. If everything had gone according to plan, Spain could have taken Marseilles, I would have taken Brest, and HE would have taken Sav. From there France would have been out by fall of the second year.

Unfortunately, HE screwed up. I don't know if it was purely an accident or HE intentionally trying to screw the pooch but HE didn't move the Netherlands unit at all, allowing France to walk into Burgundy. The irony of HE's mistake though, was that Poland/Saxony has betrayed the plan (or never really been committed) and so if HE had moved according to it Spain would maybe have been able to take Marseilles but I could never have taken Brest. But, the stars aligned and Spain was the one that got screwed (because now France could support Marseilles to hold). While a ridiculous amount of planning went into this battle-plan, in the end it came down to what felt like pure chance.

At this time also, I made plans to abandon my home SC in Han. I decided that it was worth it to trade any continental holdings in exchange for absolute control over the northern oceans. I offered Denmark the chance to take Han from me, expecting that Denmark would move on Han and either the Baltic Sea or Sca, leaving Chr open for a sneaky fall move. I also offered Han to Prussia, with a half-formed idea that the two might bounce each other out and leave me with an extra build. When Zurn instead went for the all-out Swedish attack, those hopes were dashed and I just had to cede Han to Prussia. The "loss" of Han was totally acceptable though, because Prussia helped me into HeW to counter the loss and my gambit of an unsupported attack on Chr succeeded. Zurn, for the record, I really did like the idea of working together with you - just because it seemed so off the wall. If you had actually gone for the Prussian attack, I would seriously have considered sticking it out with you (for at least a while) because you seemed like a good player and that alliance seemed so cool and novel.

Mid Game
Once I had secured the north I decided that I was in a position to solo and so I started working towards that goal. I did my best to help Spain, both because I liked him and because the Ottoman's aggression meant Spain would always have to devote most of his forces to defending in the Med, leaving open the potential of a late game 3 SC stab for the win.

Additionally, it was in the mid game that my alliance with Prussia really bloomed. Antigonos is a very reliable and excellent player, so I was happy to be a close ally of his. His dependability meant that I could leave my continental forces quite thin and focus on pushing into Scandinavia. Prussia and Russia didn't seem to be getting on, so I tried to exploit that so Prussia and I could crack Russia and eat the north. Unfortunately Asudevil was just too darn clever and made some defensive moves that made the epic convoy I'd been planning on totally undoable.

Around this time, while things were fairly delicate with Russia and Prussia PetesAHut as the Ottoman Empire started a 4-way draw conversation. I immediately realized that this was simply an attempt to get me to turn on Spain - so OE could rule the Med unopposed, but unfortunately because of the game mechanics the logic behind the 4-way draw made way to much sense. While I did my best to stall the conversation out (pushing for including Austria and then pushing for rejecting Austria and replacing them with Russia, etc. etc.) the fact that in a 44 SC game a player solos with 15 SCs made the inevitability of a 4 draw too real for me to argue with.

Knowing I could never justify being above 11 SCs, especially to Prussia, I consented to giving up HeW to Prussia (in lieu of giving up Chr to Russia). This was essentially the beginning of the end.

The Late Mid-Game (since there was no late game)
The game basically continued with a revolving door of 4-way draw conversations until everyone else got too tired of it and gave up. If Prussia turned on me I had a 0% chance of soloing (and potentially would even lose out of being in the draw) and, since Antigonos is astute, there was nothing I could do once I was at 10-11 SCs. I couldn't afford to become a true board leader, so instead I tried to bide my time - unfortunately, everyone else lost steam before I had any opportunities to make any exciting plays. I stabbed Spain as I was required to by the 4-way draw (Ottoman Empire's demand) and lost those potential SCs to the math of the 4-way draw.

There were two points where I felt like I might still have a shot. The first came when Russia was "kicked out" of the 4 way draw (and replaced by Austria). Asudevil, seemingly in frustration, sent me some messages saying essentially "I'm tired of this chicken-shit play, I'll help you solo." I agreed (though I feared he was just getting ammo to send to Prussia) and prepared to try to sweep through the Russian centers (and then stab Spain for the win). Unfortunately, before I was able to even get a unit into the right place, the revolving door of the 4-way draw kicked Austria out and brought Russia back in, and that idea fizzled.

The second bright moment also came from Russia. The two of us, having discussed how much we prefer fiery endings to cool ones, decided that we would work with Prussia to crush Austria and then each stab Prussia and race to the solo. This seemed like a really interesting way to go about ending the game (even if Russia wound up winning) and I knew that I had the advantage since Prussia and I had been such great allies - I could tip Prussia off just before the Russian stab and thus prevent Russia gaining ground but potentially expose a Prussian or Russian flank for my own gain. However, this great idea died too when the Ottoman Empire suddenly reared it's head in the Med and the prospect of crushing Austria became one of handing OE the solo.

The fork was really stuck in any possibility of me playing for the solo when OE betrayed me by supporting Spain into the Mid Atlantic. Since I didn't know if I Love Italy (Spain) was going for a suicide attack against me I had to cover using my fleet in the north sea, a unit which was essential for any interesting play on my part (this was the first time I've ever cursed Ireland for being passable).

In the end I accepted the draw after Russia (Asudevil) threw in the towel. I felt like a jerk forcing 5 other people to keep playing if they were all tired of the game - but I was also okay with moving on.

Also, I found it hilarious that after all of that "4-way draw is inevitable" talk, we wound up accepting a 5 way draw. :D

Good game everyone!
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Re: Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby asudevil » 16 Sep 2015, 06:02

Finally realized I never chimed in here.

I liked the mechanic of the solo being low. But would rather it been JUST a touch higher so that it was doable to get 3...like a solo at 16 so that you could go 15/15/14 and have a shot.

But honestly I have a hella time dealing with Antigonos in forum games. Somehow we just don't communicate very well. I do think too many people play for the draw in forum games when its not like "stats" matter.

This game also was "wrapping up" when school was starting up for the new year, so any desire to REALLY push more out of it got sucked up with me prepping for a new year. That's an unfortunate reality sometimes as RL takes charge.

I do think this game should have had some more play in it and I am sorry that it ended, but I didn't have more in me.

EDIT...this AAR kinda shows how "done" with the game everyone was. Only 1/2 the players chimed in...no back and forth...just kinda stale.
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Re: Ambition & Empire - AARs

Postby VonPowell » 20 Sep 2015, 06:19

Hey Gang,

I wanted to see if any other players would comment before writing something myself. It does not look like anyone else has anything to say so allow me to chime in with my own thoughts on this particular game.

After a nice run many years ago that saw A&E garner considerable interest and develop a small, but extremely loyal following, the variant fell off the Hobby's radar. I largely blame myself for this. My co-designer, Jeff Kase, got caught up in real world concerns like a promising career, marriage, and a family. That left me to carry the torch for the variant. I was not up to the task. Rather than taking positive measures to promote the variant like GMing games and writing articles, both of which might have helped A&E develop a larger base, I found myself drifting out of the Hobby. When I did come back to the Hobby in 2010, it was to work on a new variant, College of Cardinals, with Tim Hayward. The time and effort I have put into CoC has kept me from doing much to re-energize A&E.

I was delighted to learn that a game of A&E was going to start on this forum. My hope was that this game might give the variant some much needed exposure. Unfortunately, nothing from this game leaves me with the feeling that it will in any way provide A&E with a boost. The 2 SC Major Powers that everyone seems to dread playing pretty much lived up to the (mistaken, in my opinion) preconceptions so many people have for them. Alliances did not seem particularly flexible. The action never struck me as particularly riveting. No one seemed particularly interested in even trying for a solo. On the contrary, after the contest entered mid-game and the easy pickings were all taken, it looked to me that the remaining players were only too happy to settle for a big draw. I was not involved in the negotiating so I cannot say with any certainty what was actually happening, but ASU Devil's comments about the relative lack of interest and interaction serve to reinforce my own observations. <sigh> I fear the variant did not generate enough enthusiasm amongst any of its participants for them to try it again.

If my gloomy prognosis turns out to be true, I think it will be a shame. Though this particular contest might not have been the most exciting game anyone has ever played, I do know A&E is more than capable of generating riveting action. I have witnessed it do so on many occasions. I do hope that the participants in this game will give the variant another try in the future. I would like to believe they would be pleasantly surprised.

The low number of SCs required to win was indeed intended to encourage solos. I simply find it hard to believe that a larger victory threshold would do anything at all to facilitate the attainment of a solo. I find it more likely that it would result in more games ending in draws. Perhaps the draws would be smaller, but a draw is still a draw. I also wonder if the draw would have been any smaller in this game had the victory threshold been higher. Maybe. I think not, though.

I do want to thank everyone involved in the game for giving A&E a try. If you do consider playing the variant again, please let me know. I would love to follow along.

Happy Stabbing,

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