Son of Scatter
by Nicky Palmer
used to be a pleasant if erratic zine called Hannibal which had the most
generous remuneration for contributors in the hobby - no less than 7 free
issues! I was allied to one of its numerous editors, Andrew herd, in a Dolchstoß
game, and at some stage he wrote to me "Dear Nicky, You've stabbed me, you
rat. May I have a contribution to Hannibal?", or words to that effect. This
started a process in which I contributed every seven issues.
second time this happened I couldn't think of a damned thing to write about, yet
I had to find something... or pay for an issue. Inspiration came with a
Christmas present: Nimzowitsch's My System. I've never read it, but the blurb is
jolly good: "Nimzowitsch's system was ridiculed by the chess world when it
first appeared, but is now acknowledged to be the basis for the hypermodern
theory of play which is part of every leading player's armoury; the concept was
a stroke of genius which revolutionized chess..."
When Diplomacy became better known than chess they'd say that about me. It only
remained to find some playable theory that flew in the face of accepted wisdom.
Thus was born the "Scatter Theory".
accepted wisdom I tried to dynamite was that attacks should be made in strength:
"Strike to kill, not to wound." Thus Germany, on this "big
Bang" approach still used by most players, should, say, conclude solid
treaties with Russia and England, and hurl everything against France. After
France would come, say, Russia. And so on. The odd defensive unit is allowed,
but never fight in more than one place at once.
Scatter Theory you do the exact opposite. Germany (again) sends one unit into,
say, the Low Countries, one to Scandinavia, perhaps one to Galicia. You then
tell your neighbours, "I have a unit in your area. One unit can't hurt you,
but it can tip the scales in a close battle. Would you like it to help you, and
if so, what do you bid?"
laughs like mad, but accepts the help of the useful single unit rather than the
dangerously powerful assistance of someone else's entire forces. Gradually you
begin to grow larger than the rest, but nobody minds - you are the weakest force
in each area. You have Third World popularity and Superpower prosperity. And you
can steer the game your way in every part of the board. Is Turkey too strong?
Offer your Balkan unit to Austria. Worried by English success in Iberia? Offer
your A(Gas) to France. At the right moment, you then make a dash for victory.
laughed as I sat down to play..." that bit succeeded magnificently. Even
Andrew Herd added an editorial note that surely I only intended to use the idea
in special situations ("Certainly not - it always works," I replied in
true Nimzowitsch style, adding an indignant "hrrumph" for good
measure). "But gradually a look of astonishment came over their
faces..." and for a while it looked as though it might. I tried it out in
two games - BDC 77C and BDC 41I. In the first it arguably kept me alive despite
massive attacks (dead now, though); in 41I it went magnificently for a while,
with Italian armies all over the place orchestrating a Europe-wide campaign
against Richard Sharp's dangerously strong Germany. Pete Birks reported that
Duncan Morris had won a game with the theory, and he thought it would be
increasingly important in the future. (He didn't take the £25 I offered him -
just asked me to the next poker game.)
it grieves me to reveal that the theory doesn't work. It's not that your
powerful neighbours clobber the weak force on their borders - the impulse to
attack the strong is the controlling instinct all right. But, being all over the
board, you are in every argument, and make twice as many enemies as everyone
else. After a while there is a general feeling that they are fed up with your
mercenary troops floating about the place, and once you get a lead and there is
a concerted drive to stop you, you can do nothing, because your assets are
scattered thinly in indefensible areas.
course, you can diminish the risk by reliability: if your Balkan unit has been
backing Austria throughout, why should he attack you? But this means abandoning
the use of the scatterlings to check burgeoning rivals: if Austria outpaces you,
you want to change sides to one of his opponents.
I'm not giving up my claim to eternal glory so easily - the thing nearly works!
My present belief is that one should incorporate two restrictions: (1) try to
co-ordinate your gains to get three builds in one year, then try to get an
unbreakable grip in one area; (2) resist the temptation to keep switching to
preserve the balance in each sector; instead choose someone marginally weaker
than his opponents, and stick with him - the marginal progress you help him make
shouldn't build him up into a threat if all your other fronts are working... and
if they aren't, perhaps he'll offer you second!
from Dolchstoß No.50 - February 1977