The Game of Diplomacy

by Richard Sharp



Diplomacy players were quick to realize an important truth about their game: it is not so much a game as an idea, of which the familiar seven-country version is merely one interpretation. The same rules can be applied to entirely different scenarios; alternatively, the scenario can be retained and the rules modified. Literally hundreds of variants have been designed, nearly all of them invented by postal players for postal play. Some have been excellent, many completely unplayable. None has ever been marketed. To play these games, it is simply necessary to pay a few pence for the rules, usually with a mimeo-printed map.

In this chapter, I want to take a look at some of the more enduring or otherwise remarkable variants. The amount of enthusiasm and ingenuity lavished on them by their designers deserves recognition, even if the resulting game is not always a success. My own impression is that most variants simply serve to show how well designed the original is; but it is not impossible that one of these impromptu creations may yet excel the source game.


A nine-man game designed by Rod Walker, played on an expanded version of the normal board with Spain and Sweden the extra players. (Both countries are subdivided to form extra provinces, as are neighbouring areas.) The main interest of the game however lies in the use of some of the more exotic special rules, and of ‘combat factors’

The Spring Raid is used: by this rule, a unit entering a supply centre in the spring season cancels previous ownership of that centre, though new occupation is not decided until the autumn, as usual. For instance, Germany moves in the spring to Belgium, hitherto owned by France. France loses the centre immediately. If a German unit remains there in the autumn the centre becomes German, but if it is left vacant it becomes neutral. The version of the rule used in Aberration allows the current owner to authorize occupation.

This is an excellent example of the sort of unthinking rule-making that spoils many variants: clearly, under this legislation, any country which is leaving one of its centres at risk should always give permission for the enemy to occupy it! If he doesn’t, no harm is done; if he does, the Spring Raid rule has simply been nullified, and the situation is exactly as it would be under normal rules.

Another ‘classic’ variant rule used in Aberration is the Key Rule, which like the Key Lepanto opening takes its name from Jeff Key, a Texan player, rather than from its ability to unlock jammed positions. By this rule, a unit which is ordered to move but fails may be dislodged by an unsupported attack from another country. This is undeniably a useful rule, allowing some stalemate lines to be broken. The Aberration version also suspends the ‘be­leaguered garrrison’ rule: thus if Austria orders A(Tyr) S A(Tri)—Ven, France A(Pie) S A(Tus)—Ven and Italy A(Ven)—Rom, A(Nap)—Rom, the Italian A(Ven) is dislodged because of its unsuccessful attempt to move; had this unit been ordered to stand it would have held its position as under the normal rules. This part of the rule is clearly illogical — it should be impossible for a country to be forced to retreat from a province which remains vacant as a result of the action!

The third unusual rule found in Aberration is the Aberration Convoy, which adds some interesting and not unreasonable conditions to the convoying rules. If the fleet is annihilated, the army also goes... but the logical extension of this, whereby the army would also accompany a retreating fleet and be free to disembark from its new position, is not used. An excellent modifica­tion to the ‘convoy chain’ conditions states that if the army’s order differs from that given by the last fleet in the chain, the fleet’s orders prevail. Thus if Italy offers to convoy an Austrian army from Trieste to Spain via F(ADS), F(IOS), F(TYS)and F(GOL)he can in fact double-cross Austria by landing the army in some such out-of-the-way spot as Piedmont or Tuscany. Once again, though, the rule is badly expressed: a simple rewording to the effect that once the army boards the foreign fleet its destination is entirely in the hands of the fleet’s owner would remove ambiguities. Thus in the example given the Austrian order A(Tri)—Spa would imply a boarding of Italian F(ADS), and Italy could then dump the army anywhere he happened to be able to reach. This idea was developed in one of the Mercator variants.

The only unique Aberration rule is the combat factor: every new unit has an initial c.f. of ten, and every existing unit is boosted to ten during winter adjustments. During the spring and autumn seasons a unit involved in a suc­cessful action against enemy forces loses one; one involved in a stand-off loses three; and one forced to retreat loses five. A unit forced to retreat twice in one year thus achieves a c.f. of 0, and is automatically annihilated. A most interesting idea, but its concomitant problems (difficulty of recording the strength of each unit, high probability of error) have no doubt contributed to the unpopularity of this cleverly but carelessly designed variant.


This is the expert’s variant, considered by some good judges to be the one example of a variant which has improved on the original game.

The variant uses the same seven players as the normal game, but with the playing area extended eastwards as far as Persia, and with many new provinces added to the familiar areas. England for instance has an extra supply centre in Plymouth (surely it should be Bristol ?), France has Lyons, Germany Dresden, and so on; Spain is divided into four provinces, and Switzerland and some islands become passable. It is widely believed that these changes increase the strength of Italy — the one universally agreed weakness of the normal scenario — without causing any corresponding imbalance elsewhere. I cannot confirm or deny this, but will simply say that it is quite possible. Abstraction was designed by Fred Davis, one of the few really conscientious and careful variant designers, and has been very popular.

One notable innovation is the time limit: the game begins in July 1914 and proceeds on a one-month-a-season schedule until the automatic end fol­lowing the December 1918 moves. To win, it is necessary to have the largest number of units on the board after December 1918, or to reach twenty-three units at any previous time (there are forty-six supply centres on this map).

Another curiosity is the frozen regions rule, by which fleets in the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Archangel, Iceland or Lapland are frozen in from January until April. These areas are completely closed to any kind of fleet action during those months, though frozen land areas remain open to some types of army action.

An extraordinary idea is the ‘exchange’ of provinces, where two countries may agree to swap provinces they occupy, without military action, subject to a few restrictions.

But the outstanding invention in Abstraction is the Abstraction convoy, which has since been adapted for many other variants. The crossing of a single sea-space may be managed in the usual way (now referred to as the ‘fast ferry’), but longer convoys are by the ‘piggy-back’ method, a three-stage operation: the army boards the fleet, then the army-fleet moves as a single unit, then the army disembarks. It must be admitted that this drastic innova­tion caused time problems which were not suitably covered in the original version. For instance, suppose England ordered A(Lpl) boards F(IRS), A/F(IRS)—ENG S by F(MAO), A(ENG) disembarks Bre, and France orders F(ENG) stands, the only legal retreat for F(ENG) being to Brest. In theory the disembarkation is part of the move, and thus precedes and prevents the retreat ... but what was the French fleet doing between being dislodged and retreating? I know that when I first encountered this convoy rule I was constantly having to ask the GM what would happen in certain given situations, and quite often he was unable to tell me. In my opinion it was not until the modifications made for one of the early Mercator variants that the piggy-back convoy became entirely fool-proof and logical.

The convoy rule entailed both advantages and disadvantages. It increased the range of surprise attacks: thus, in the context of the familiar board, Eng­land might order A(Lpl) boards F(NAO), A/F(NAO)—MAO, A(MAO) dis­embarks Spa. On the other hand it was limited to two sea-spaces at a time, and international co-operation was hindered by the impossibility of convoy­ing another country’s army across more than one sea-space, army-fleets of dual nationality creating problems that the original design did not attempt to solve — they were merely prohibited.

In Abstraction, there was also a ‘rations’ clause, whereby an army-fleet could only remain intact for a limited period before the army exhausted its rations and ‘died’, presumably of scurvy. This was a typical example of the sort of rule-making that helps to over-complicate some variants. It seemed a good idea at the time, no doubt, but in fact it plays virtually no significant part in the game.


An early example of the ‘monster’ variant, this was an eleven-player game set in the eastern Mediterranean area. It was designed by John Robertson, a prolific inventor of unplayable variants, and was possibly the first to use a ‘single-man’ unit with no combat strength, in this case ‘Saladin’.


One of the most popular of all variants, again designed by Fred Davis, and many times revised. The game begins in 1870, but history has been slightly bent to permit the survival of the Confederate States of America, which is represented by one of the seven players, the other countries being Canada, USA, England, France, Germany and Italy. The playing area stretches from. the Mississippi in the west to the Russian frontier in the east, so that the board is essentially in two parts, separated by the Atlantic. The frozen-regions and piggy-back convoy rules reappear. One idea we have not previ­ously encountered is the off-board box: two notional spaces, named for the Panama and Suez canals, allow passage from the Caribbean area to the east­ern Mediterranean, and vice versa. This idea worked well enough in Atlantica, though it caused problems in more complex variants such as Youngstown. The original Atlantica also had a ‘lost province’ of Atlantis, the location of which was decided by the GM by die-roll! This somewhat elaborate way of introducing a single extra supply centre disappeared from later versions of the game. Atlantica is an enjoyable game, but not too well balanced, the central countries of each seaboard (USA and France) being too weak; by common consent the Confederate States have the strongest position, an odd slant on history.


An ingenious method of accommodating twenty-two players on the normal seven-man board, devised by David Wheeler (among whose many contribu­tions to the fringes of the hobby has been the controversial ‘Karma League’, whose members are not allowed to break agreements made with other members !). This game also introduced a cash element, players bidding real cash for control of supply-centres and losing their ~investments’ when the centres themselves were lost. It has been little played.


Another crowded effort from David Wheeler, similar to Auction Diplomacy but without the cash element. It has occasionally been played.


One of the more successful ‘silly’ variants, in which after each spring and autumn season a province drawn at random ‘ceases to exist’, along with any unit unfortunate enough to be occupying it. The effect of a ‘black hole’ on movement is exactly that of Switzerland on the normal board. This creation of the Californian Randolph Bart always seemed to me a classic exercise in futility with nothing but brevity to commend it; but several postal games have been run.


A minor variant from Hartley Patterson, perhaps the most successful British designer. Exactly as the regular game apart from the existence of an eighth player, who, when he judges the time to be ripe, declares a Bolshevik revolu­tion in the country of his choice and takes over half its strength. A useful way ofaccommodating eight players at a face-to-face meeting, though in practice the Bolshevik may wait a long time and then make a very brief appearance would that this had been the historical pattern!


A very popular game at present, Bourse is not a true variant but a secondary game run simultaneously with an ordinary game, allowing zine readers to enjoy some degree of participation in one of the games. Players speculate in the currencies of the seven countries; the value of each fluctuates against the dollar as the country’s fortunes rise or fall and enthusiasm for its currency waxes or wanes accordingly. Bonuses are declared at the end of the game when final supply-centre counts are known, and the winner of the Bourse is the player with the most valuable holding at this stage. Diplomacy games with Bourse games attached should certainly be regarded as variants (for rating purposes) if the players in the Diplomacy game are allowed to join the Bourse, but this does not seem to be the practice.


The famous spoof variant for forty-nine players designed by Steve Doubleday under his pseudonym of Marcus Umney-Foote. Of interest only because it proves that no variant is too idiotic to attract some customers.


A straightforward nine-man game which adds Persia and the Barbary States to the usual seven players. The modifications to the normal board are suffi­ciently slight to allow face-to-face play; in fact there seems little reason to prefer this game to the normal one unless there is some special reason for wanting nine players.


Another ‘silly’ variant which at least has the merit of humour — it was invented by an American, David Staples, to liven up a dull games meeting in West Fargo, North Dakota. The rules are simple: stir up the initial twenty-two units in a bowl and dump them in the region of Silesia! When a unit lands in a province on its own, it stays there; other units (and anomalies such as fleets in land-locked provinces) are redumped. When everyone is reasonably satisfied with the set-up the game begins, played to normal rules except that building is allowed in any vacant centre a player may own. Good fun for very late at night.


A hidden-movement game designed by Cohn Hemming of Manchester. Probably the best of the hidden-movement variants (and certainly the best named). Each unit’s range of vision depends on the type of action it is undertaking, standing units having the best range. Like all hidden-movement variants, Diplomyopia is tricky to organize, and likely to break down through GM failure.


In full, ‘The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King’, this is the most ‘realistic’ of the numerous variants based on Tolkien’s epic. Devised by Hartley Patterson, a devoted Tolkien-addict, it is certainly truer to the book than its predecessors, but not entirely satisfactory as a game. To prevent the absurd alliances between incompatible interests that occur in earlier versions, Downfall defines players as ‘good’ (Elves, Gondor, Rohan, Gandalf), ‘evil’ (Sauron, Saruman) or ‘neutral’ (Dwarves, Umbar), and prohibits overt alliances (i.e. support arrangements) between good and evil powers. There are three special units: Gandalf, played by an independent player; the Nazgul, played by Sauron initially, but later by any player wear­ing the Ring; and the Rin~g itself, which has similar properties to those it enjoys in other Tolkien variants (see Third Age) with some additional realistic touches, notably that all Sauron’s units are drastically decreased in strength if another player puts on the Ring. Victory criteria are much as in other Tolkien variants.

Two concepts not previously encountered in this survey are fortresses and multiple units. The game has seven normal and two Elvish fortresses, which add in effect a single support to any unit trying to hold them. This is undeniably ‘realistic’, but adds to the general criticism of the game, that it is too static. Multiple units are a regular feature of all Tolkien-based games: Sauron has a triple army and several doubles, while Gondor and Saruman each have a double. A multiple unit has its specified strength in attack or defence: thus a triple army is the same in effect as a single army with two uncuttable supports. The problem of cutting support given by multiples is solved here by the draconian method of ruling that any attack, even by an inferior force, cuts all the support being given. (For another solution, see Third Age.)


This little-known variant is mentioned here merely because I designed it myself and still have a soft spot for it. It is a very elaborate hidden-movement game, with spies which report the positions of other players’ units ... but can be captured by ‘counter-spies’, and then fed with false information to return to their controllers. There are also submarine flotillas for naval espionage. The game requires an extraordinarily efficient and careful games-master, an essential which has so far not been forthcoming!


A colourful variant based on the invasions of Britain by the Germanic tribes in the fifth century, well designed by Kenneth Clark, but perhaps lacking the original ideas to make it attractive to players.


Included here as an Awful Warning, this was surely the worst variant ever designed; if the name suggests that spelling was not the designer’s strong point, nor was variant design. It was greeted with hysterical laughter when it first appeared: the ‘whole world’ board includes such gems as a supply-centre called ‘East Silesja’ in the middle of Arctic Russia, while the whole thing was produced in such a rush that only sixty-six of the 203 provinces had any names at all. As a sample of the rules, it is sufficient to note that neither Russia nor America could win without occupying a specified number of Japanese supply centres ... but the atomic-warfare rules enabled other countries to devastate Japan on the opening turn, destroying so many of its centres that neither of these ‘great powers’ would ever be able to win!

Futur War is an admittedly extreme example of the mindless cobbling together of half-formed ideas which is the great weakness of much variant design. It seems barely credible, but is nevertheless true, that several people actually volunteered to play this ludicrous abortion.


Clan warfare is a natural subject for a Diplomacy variant, and the only sur­prise about this one is that it should have been invented by a player with the un-Caledonian name of Wayne Hoheisel. The obvious attraction of the clan set-up is that a player’s forces are initially scattered, so that instead of a solid power-block he has a handful of isolated bases, diplomacy being essen­tial for survival. There are nine players: England, plus the Clans Campbell, Fraser, Gordon, Graham, Keith, MacDonald, MacLeod and Stewart (disappointingly, there is no rule prohibiting alliances between Campbell and MacDonald).

An idea we have not encountered before, which has been used in one or two other variants, is the ‘boat bunch’. This is a kind of non-combatant fleet, which may be built, carried around and used for sea-crossing by an army, an ingenious way of getting round the problems caused in catering for a largely land-based power which needs to make very occasional water-cross­ings. The idea seems to work quite well.


A minor variant with the ingenious idea of allowing two remote provinces to be linked ‘through hyperspace’, whatever that may mean. Thus, say, Turkey might find himself in the position of being able to move a fleet to the North Atlantic in autumn 1901. The idea, if not the game, is worth preserving.


Though perhaps not the work of genius some once thought, this is nevertheless the only intelligent attempt so far to produce an interesting two-player game using the Diplomacy set. Steve Doubleday and Adrien Baird devised it as a face-to-face game, but it briefly achieved a considerable popularity in the postal hobby, two zines being devoted exclusively to it (these were Steve Wyatt’s Orion and Greg Hawes’s Betelgeuse, both now defunct). The two players each take one country, the game varying considerably depending on what countries are chosen Austria v. Italy is a very fast automatic win for Italy, while England v. Turkey is a protracted struggle. Players then write down, and expose simultaneously, ‘bids’ for the other five ‘mercenary’ countries; a successful bid secures control of that country’s units for the forthcoming season, while equal bids result in their standing unordered. Each country begins the game with a notional amount of capital, varying according to the assumed strength of the country, and this is supplemented by income based on the number of supply-centres controlled; these are the funds used for the bidding. The winner is the first player to get one of his own units into one of his opponent’s home centres. The same idea can be extended to other scenarios, such as the Atlantica map; while a three-handed version called ‘Tadek Diplomacy’ (after the inventor, Tadek Jarski) has also proved playable.


A horrible ‘monster’ created by Dick Vedder, with a wealth of special rules including optional hidden movement and a delightful provision that if Mecca is captured by a non-Arab power all Arab units anywhere on the board must at once start retreating towards Mecca, even if they have no hope of reaching it. Good for a laugh, but appallingly complex to gamesmaster, though it has been done.


The monster to end all monsters, and one of the best and most popular variants. This thirteen-player extravaganza was the brainchild of Doug Wakefield, then of Cheadle Hulme, now living in France. I took part in the original play-test, which was held at one of the famous ScotDipCons, when for one weekend each autumn a small semi-detached house in Rhu, Dumbartonshire, used to burst at the seams with games players from all over Britain. Doug made the trip north with the giant Mercator board strapped to the roof of his car. I approached the whole thing with extreme scepticism, but was won over by the excellent design and the unexpected possibilities of interaction between very distant countries (one memory that stands out is the rearguard action fought by France from an exile empire in Kansas, the French home­land having been over-run by an improbable alliance of Argentina and China!). This was certainly the best face-to-face variant game I have ever played in.

Mercator has since been modified several times by its indefatigable inven­tor, not because there was anything wrong with the original version, but because Doug enjoys modifying it. Among other things, it uses a rationalized version of the old Abstraction Convoy, which recognizes the existence of the three time-phases needed to make it work logically. A slightly simplified version is described under the Vain Rats entry.

One rule which caused Doug and myself much hilarity — we dreamed it up over lunch one day in a London pub — allows for joint army-fleets. I had often bewailed the fact that no existing version of the Abstraction Convoy allowed for two countries to combine to produce an A/F. But, after all, why not? It was a simple matter to arrange: the fleet-owner would control the army while it remained on board. This led to the idea of allowing the fleet to ‘dump’ the army in the Antarctic, where it would duly freeze to death unless rescued. The dumping rule has been little used, surprisingly, but the existence of bi-national A/Fs has been welcomed.

In most of its forms Mercator is a thirteen-man variant for the seven regu­lar countries plus USA, Argentina, Brazil, China, India and Japan, using a ‘cylindrical’ whole-world board; the huge dimensions of the game make an outright win an extremely slow business, and joint victories have to be allowed a pity, but necessary.


An unusual variant by Nick Morris which is played on a board representing an American city, complete with subways, where seven gangs fight for control of the boot-legging business; a special rule allows for the drowning of captured rival gang-leaders in ‘cement overcoats’.


This ridiculously named variant was one of the earliest Tolkien treatments, and was designed by Don Miller. It has fortresses and the usual multiple armies, as well as a powerful Nazgul operated by Mordor which has consider­ably extended movement range, though once it has used this it has to return home to ‘top up’ before regaining its full powers. The Ring, which functions much as in Third Age, here starts the game in a known location, the Shire, but subsequently becomes invisible — a praiseworthy if unsuccessful attempt to reproduce the conditions of the epic.

One novelty used in this game is the ‘defensive army’, a unit which requires no supply centre to sustain it and has exactly the powers of an ordinary army except that it may not move or support outside the bounds of its own home country.

This variant is open to the same criticisms as Third Age about the inconsis­tency ofthe map and nomenclature, which apply here with even greater force. It is surprisingly unsatisfactory to play, and has now been almost entirely supplanted by Third Age and Downfall.


An excellent variant of classic simplicity designed by Richard Walkerdine of Weybridge, Surrey. The normal board is used, the only difference from the standard game being the ability to form multiple units: single armies may ‘merge’ into multiples, multiples ‘split’ into smaller multiples or singles. The rules are completely clear, simple and unambiguous, and the game plays very well.


A simplified version of the old Diplomyopia produced by Andy Evans of Swansea; this is a hidden-movement game in which only moves resulting in conflict are made public. The designer’s avowed intention was to produce a really easy hidden-movement variant that would not cause too many GM headaches, and he appears to have succeeded, the game enjoying considerable popularity.


The most-played of the Tolkien variants, an extensive revision by Brian Libby of the earlier Mordor versus the World. It exists in two versions, the later Third Age II being a not very radical revision by Duncan Morris and myself to correct some of the worst faults in the map and some of the odder rule anomalies.

Third Age is a six-player game: Mordor, Eriador, Rohan, Rhovanion, Gondor and Umbar. Multiple units are used; in addition each country has one unit designated as a ‘Ringbearer’, which must be carefully preserved.

There are some special units: Gondor has a garrison in Minas Tirith which defends the city against attack and adds its strength to that of any Gondor unit occupying the city. This garrison was the subject of one essential rule revision: in Third Age I, Gondor could keep the garrison alive indefinitely by giving permission for foreign units to enter the city; when this permission was given the garrison could not be destroyed, so reoccupied Minas Tirith for Gondor as soon as the enemy unit moved out. In Third Age II both countries must agree to the peaceful occupation, otherwise the garrison is destroyed. Another change allowed the partial cutting of multiple supports by attack from lesser units, a logical proviso.

Elvish units garrison the provinces of Lorien and Rivendell. These units cannot move and are in effect identical with fortresses except that they are destroyed once the provinces are occupied. They have double strength against Mordor.

The Ring is a vital extra piece. It is ‘invisible’, and is initially hidden by the GM at a randomly chosen location within the western part of the board (where Mordor cannot easily reach it). Any unit may transport the Ring, but only the designated Ringbearers can wear it, and only at considerable risk. It takes one turn to put the Ring on, and for the following turn the wearer becomes a triple army (or quadruple in combat against Mordor). He must now sacrifice another turn to take off the Ring again; if he is unable or unwilling to do so he falls into its power and can never remove it, becoming in effect a second Mordor.

There are four different victory criteria. Mordor can win simply by captur­ing the Ring with his triple army; and any country can win by occupying all the supply-centres on the board, an achievement which is likely to be beyond the reach of any player but Mordor, though possibly another player could achieve it by wearing the Ring permanently (in which case this is the only way he can win). If the Mordor triple army is destroyed, and no country has become stuck wearing the Ring, the game ends in a victory for the largest of the other countries. Finally, and least likely to be managed, a country may win by destroying the Ring, which means putting it on in a province adjacent to Barad-Dur (a hazardous undertaking!) and successfully entering Barad-Dur on the following turn.

Third Age has been much criticized for its map and province names (one of the players, Eriador, is stuck with the name of a country which had been unknown for centuries at the time these events are supposed to take place). Certainly it is less true to the book than, say, Downfall. But it does at least play reasonably well; though Mordor wins most games it has been shown that a really effective combining by the others can prevent this melancholy outcome.


A curiosity the seven players play on two boards simultaneously, each taking the same country on each board. Centres gained on one board can be built for on the other, and so on. Every centre is connected not only to the usual centres on the same board but to the identical centre on the other board. An ingenious way of making a fairly difficult game virtually impossible.


An incautious suggestion of my own, which was surprisingly taken up with some enthusiasm by readers of Dolchstoss. Each country has one ‘secret weapon’ in the shape of an optional rule which is not disclosed until it is actually brought into play. In the original version the seven rules were: defensive armies (see Mordor versus the World); Spring Raid (see Abstraction); Key Rule (see Abstraction); garrisoning, whereby a country may give up a build to construct a garrison, equal in strength to two armies but unable to undertake any action outside the centre in which it is built; foreign build, whereby a country may build in any vacant foreign centre it owns; the Mulitiplicity merge and split rules ; and a version of the Abstraction Convoy, repro­duced here because I believe it to be the simplest and most logical version so far of that complex rule.

The convoy procedure is as follows. There is a pre-movement phase, in which armies may embark on or land from fleets — neither action can be supported, and in fact neither can be stopped (provided landings are made in unoccupied provinces !). In the movement season proper armies may again be disembarked, and this time the fleet component may support the army’s landing as its own main move, this support being subject to all normal rules about cutting, etc. Also, during this period, army-fleets in being may move as normal fleets do, except that they may not enter land provinces. The army adds nothing to the strength of a fleet. In the post-movement season, armies may again disembark, unopposed, in any vacant land province. If an army boards a fleet which then comes under attack and is dislodged, the army naturally retreats with the fleet (the original rule was that the boarding failed, quite illogically as it should have been completed before the attacking fleet appeared over the horizon !), and if the fleet is forced to retreat to a land space it and the army are both destroyed. Note that the post-movement season takes place atier the retreats, as is only logical — this solves the problem mentioned under Abstraction concerning the army trying to disembark in the only available retreat province of the fleet it has just dislodged.

The revised version of Vain Rats seems likely to be much more complex, with some typically unnerving contributions from the devious brain of Doug Wakefield.


The ten-player Youngstown Variant was formerly the most played of the ‘big’ variants, but has recently been eclipsed by Mercator. Designed by Rod Walker, it is named after the American town where it was first played. It includes China, India and Japan in addition to the usual seven players; special features include off-board boxes (the use of which has caused games-masters some headaches) and three ‘colonial’ fleets — an English one at Johore, a French one at Saigon and an Italian one at Mogadishu — to enable countries which might otherwise be uninvolved in some areas of the board to have a stake there.

Many games of Youngstown have been played — there was one extreme case in which ten players started a postal tournament of ten simultaneous Youngstown games, each of them playing each country once, but I do not know what happened to this unlikely experiment. The trouble seems to be that few of these games have led to an outright win: Youngstown is definitely a ‘drawish’ variant. China is massively strong, and a very frequent result has been a draw between China and one or more of the European countries. In Britain, at any rate, the consensus now seems to be that Youngstown is a bore, and its day seems to be over.

The above catalogue of variants is only a small sample of the huge range available. There are many for which I have never had the rules; in one case — the monstrous Paratime variant — I tore them up in disgust. There are others whose rules are couched in a sort of inter-galactic jargon which renders them entirely incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with space fantasy. Some are merely boring, adding nothing but spurious variety to the normal game; some are too original, such as the dreaded Hypereconomic Diplomacy which would need a book the length of this one to explain it; some are devised by mad Americans who threaten legal proceedings against anyone who so much as mentions them. Perhaps one good one appears each year. usually the work of Fred Davis, Hartley Patterson or Doug Wakefield, though others have had isolated triumphs. Readers interested in further research into this wide field should be able to obtain information from the UK Variant Bank, the location of which at the time of going to press will be given among the ‘useful addresses’.

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