The Ultimate Tactical Ploy and Diplomatic Challange: The Rulebook Contradiction

by Mark Berch

Let’s be candid: rulebook paradoxes are, generally speaking, a bore. These arise in peculiar situations where there are two possible adjudications, each internally consistent but different from the other. This hardly presents a problem. After all, the GM is "right" with either one. Oddly, the ruling that most use is to say that all units hold, which is consistent with neither adjudication! Most of them are so complicated, involving multiple convoys, that just about the only way they can occur is if the players decide to harass the GM. They are of interest mostly to those who write computer programs and scholars of the Rulebook.

The Rulebook contradictions are another matter. These are situations where, rather than two correct adjudications, there are none. That is, the GM is wrong whichever way he rules. These arise when there are two rules which are in conflict with each other, and the Rulebook fails to state which has priority. Furthermore, these are not complicated, requiring only one single fleet convoy. Further, they actually have a military use to them; there’s an advantage to setting them up. They will be discussed in turn, with ramifications that have not been hitherto presented.

A. The unwanted, unnecessary convoy

Consider the following situation:

England: F(NWG) C FRENCH A(Cly)-Edi

France: A(Cly)-Edi

Russia : F(BAR)-NWG, F(NTH) S F(BAR)-NWG

France points to rule VII.l, third paragraph. His army moves to an adjacent province and is unopposed, so the move succeeds. Not so, retorts England. Rule XII.3 says that if the convoy is disrupted (by dislodging the fleet) then the army cannot move. That being so, England is free to retreat to Edi. This is the military advantage - just moving F(NWG)-Edi would not have gained the centre. The problem is, the Rulebook does not state which rule takes precedence.

Rod Walker, in addressing this situation, refuses to believe there is even a conflict. In The Gamer’s Guide to Diplomacy he simply proclaims that "the convoy order is not relevant". In Appalling Greed issue 13 he flatly states that "there is only one possible ruling here. Rule VII.l is controlling..." No reasons are given as to why he selected that one rather than XII.3. In Diplomacy World 28 he is calling the contradiction "nothing more than a red herring" and a "technicality", and XII.3 "not even applicable".

I don’t see it that way, and neither did Alan Calhamer. In Tau Ceti No.5, he is quoted as saying, "I am afraid we simply need another rule to cover this case." I agree. The player’s best move is to lobby the GM, to direct his diplomacy at the GM! But which is the better choice? I believe that a strong case can be made for the notion that XII.3 should control. That is, the army should not move.

1. Let’s add the following orders to the above (nationality irrelevant): F(NAO) & F(IRI) & F(ENG) & F(NTH) C A(Cly)-Edi. Now we’ have three paths: a good convoy, a disrupted one, and the overland route. In order to have the army move, both XII.3 and XII.4 must .be violated. Immobilising the army breaks only one rule. Isn’t it better to break one rule rather than two?

2. There is also the question of the intent of Rule XII.4. Generalizing slightly, this says that if there are two routes to go from A to B, and one of the routes is a disrupted convoy, then the army doesn’t move. That is, the army is fatally attracted to the broken convoy rather than the other available route. If we apply tha to this situation, the army will not move.

3. Looked at another way, the core question here is whether the convoy can be "refused". Some have suggested getting around this problem by giving the player this "right" explicitly, either by allowing him to say "via" to specify which route he wants, or by saying "convoy refused". But the list of things that a player can do in a move season is limited and closed: move, support, convoy and hold. You cannot hop, skip, jump - or refuse. If "Refuse" can be added, then the doors are open for other additions as well. And even if we stop at "refuse", think of the new problems. If one can refuse a convoy, it seems only logical that one can refuse a support. That would wipe out the "Reinhardt Gambit", whereby one foils a self-standoff by supporting one of the moves. So far as I know, no present postal GM would allow a player to refuse a support. Yet I suspect that the first person to see his self-standoff foiled by the Reinhardt Gambit argued that- he didn’t "intend" for his move to be supported, in much the same way that the French player above did not "intend" for his unit to be convoyed. In short, it seems to me that if you can be victim of an unwanted support, you can be victim of an unwanted convoy.

4. The most direct way of viewing this is as follows: If a move can be viewed as both a convoy and a non-convoyed move, which takes precedence? In fact, the Rulebook directly answers that question in its very last sentence: the convoy prevails. Consider the following: A(Pic)-Bel, F(ENG) C A(Pic)-Bel, A(Bel)-Pic. Nationalities do not matter. The A(Pic)-Bel move, if viewed as an overland or non-convoyed move, would be blocked by A(Bel)-Pic. But if viewed as a convoyed move then it can go. The last sentence of the Rulebook indicates that the latter view will prevail, the convoy view takes precedence.

5. Finally, there is the argument from values. Diplomacy as a game values the sly, the cunning, the underhanded, the crafty. It would seem a shame to turn down such a cunning manoeuvre without a compelling need.

B. The Finessed Cut

So far as I am aware, this is the first time the following has been presented:

England: F(NTH) C FRENCH A(Bel)-Hol

France: A(Bel)-Hol

Russia: F(Den)-NTH,F(Hol) S F(Den)-NTH

Once again, in this example England would like to be dislodged - presumably to take a strategic retreat. Russia doesn’t care to risk Hol, so the support comes from there. France’s motives are not known. Perhaps he wants to thwart the dislodging of F(NTH); perhaps he wanted to cut another possible support which F(Hol) might give; perhaps he just wanted to move into Hol. At any rate, under Rule X, A(Bel)-Hol has indeed cut the Russian support. However, XII.5 says that a conveyed army’s attack does not cut support given to an attack on the convoying fleet - the attack does not "protect" the fleet and without that protection, the fleet is dislodged. The problem here is XII.5 and X are in conflict, and there is no place where the Rulebook says which is to take precedence. My own recommendation, as given above, is that the convoy rule takes precedence, and England be allowed, his crafty finesse of the attempted cut.


C. Chicken & Egg Convoys

Consider the following:

England: A(Yor)-Hol, F(NTH )C A(Yor)-Hol, A(Kie) S A(Yor)-Hol

France: F(ENG)-NTH, F(Lon) S F(ENG)-NTH

Russia: F(Den)-NTH, F(Hol) S F(Den)-NTH

The nationality of the armies does not matter; for simplicity they are made English. Ignore the convoy for a moment. F(NTH) is a "Beleaguered Garrison" (Rule IX.5). Since the French and Russian attacks are of equal strength, neither enters and so the fleet is not dislodged. Now consider the convoy. Since the fleet is not dislodged, the convoy is still valid (XII.3). The convoyed attack on Hol does not cut the -support given by F(Hol) for F(Den)-NTH (XII.5). This is just as well, since if it did cut the support then the French attack would dislodge F(NTH) and then F(Hol) wouldn’t be cut, leading to an internal contradiction. OK; XII.5 says that F(Hol) doesn’t have it’s support cut, so the convoy is still intact due to the Beleaguered Garrison rule. But F(Hol) has no support, and A(Yor)-Hol is supported from Kie, so F(Hol) is dislodged. However, Rule X says explicitly that a dislodged unit cannot give support under any circumstances? What is to be done? Again, target your diplomacy toward the GM. Here the argument that the support of F(Hol) is cut runs into an insoluble problem: cutting that support destroys the Beleaguered Garrison situation and thus the convoy, meaning that F(Hol)’s support can’t be cut. That was the type of problem XII.5 was designed to avoid.

Finally I wish to unveil what I dub as "Berch’s Ghastly Mess". In the contradiction above, replace the English A(Yor)-Hol with a German A(Bel)-Hol and amend the English fleet to order F(NTH) C GERMAN A(Hol)-Bel. This then combines both A and C one has to deal with both contradictions to sort that one out.

What kind of solution is best? Ideally the Rulebook should be modified, but the chances of this happening are very small. GMs can deal with the problem when it comes up, or can add a houserule to take care of these situations. Such a rule should cover all of the problems discussed above, and not introduce any new ones. I suggest the following:

"In case of any rule contradictions, Rule XII shall prevail."

Such a provision would resolve A, B and C above. It would treat the army’s move as a convoy in A and B, and would keep the convoy intact in C. Those, who like Rod Walker feel that the army move should be considered overland, not convoyed, won’t like that. However I cannot think of a simple rule that would cover their adjudications to A and B and also deal with C as well. That is, perhaps, the best argument of all for the supremacy of Rule XII over VII and X when they conflict.

SA The most recent UK 1989 rules (which, by common consent are very badly drafted) offers no solutions. Indeed, it amazes me that anyone can even understand the 1989 rules, which are hopelessly ambiguous in places. If anyone out there is depending on the 1989 rules I’ll supply a copy of the 1971 rules for free - consider it a public service). The Avalon Hill 1992 Deluxe Edition Rulebook says: Rule XIII.6 (BOTH A CONVOY ROUTE AND AN OVERLAND ROUTE) says: " route must be considered and the other disregarded, depending on intent as shown by the totality of the orders written by the player governing the army"… God knows what you make of that.

First published in Diplomacy World issue 29



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