by Stephen D. Koehler
Imagine: you sit down at AvalonCon or Origins and get ready for a grueling eight-hour slugfest in the first round of the Dip tourney. You reach into the box, held high over your head, and pray: "France, please let it be France. Or England, I'll take England. I'll even take Turkey. Please, please, please, please, please!" You find a plastic anchor and pull down your have and, with trepidation, unclench your fist so that only you can see the result: Red! "Argh! Austria!" you scream. Well, at least the tourney is best two out of three!
I have often gotten into discussions with people about "game balance," weak powers versus strong ones, and such. Who hasn't had the feeling described above? Whether you hate Germany, Italy or Austria in Diplomacy, China or France in Colonial, or Milan or Florence in Machiavelli, there are certain countries that you would rather not play, or, at least, those you find difficult to win with.
I've been toying with a concept, which I suppose is not original, of inventing a Diplomacy variant that removes the luck of the draw from the game. What would such a variant look like? How would it work.
There were several concepts that seemed to work well. First, everyone had to be in a similar position at the beginning of the game. That seemed to me to dictate a circular board, with the players arranged around the outside edge. There could be no central powers. If fact, every power should be identical.
I scribbled on a napkin while drinking coffee and realized that simply having the players all look the same and all face, say, clockwise, was rather boring. It also meant, if there were seven players, dividing the circle into seven pie pieces, each identical, and placing a player on each slice. This did not seem satisfying since it resulted in little interaction between the slices. It also meant each territory would be identical to six others.
On the second cup, I scribbled some more, and realized that I could attain equality of position even if all players were not strictly identical. As long as they were symmetrical, the fairness issue would be solved. This meant making the player's territories mirror images of each other, with two players located on each slice. This, in turn, meant that there had to be an even number of players. I decided on eight.
I quickly realized that a player would be faced with two players to contend with. There would be no direct interaction with the others. This was more difficult to solve. The center of the circle could be opened and neutrals placed there, but still confrontation would be with your neighbors as they pinched your progress to the center.
My solution was to allow travel across the perimeter of the circle, to the opposite side. This immediately doubled the potential allies/foes. Scatter some neutral supply centers around the perimeter, and some wild possibilities emerged.
I tried to make the proportions of land territories to seas basically equivalent to regular Diplomacy, but with eight players, it had to be a little bigger. The more I look at the game, and try to imagine how it might play out, the more confused I get. Hence, the name, Migraine Dip!
Well, below is my offering for your consideration.
There are Eight Powers: Beta, Gamma, Delta, Kappa, Lambda, Sigma, Theta, and Zeta.
Played using regular dip rules, except that each player, at the start of the game, determines which of his three units are fleets. 20 centers to win.
The edge of the map is connected to the edge on the opposite side of the circle. Therefore, sea-zone "West Mystic Ocean" is adjacent to sea-zone "East Mystic Ocean", and land-zone "Nortia" is adjacent to land-zone "Antoria".
The land-areas "Cantaria" and "Chimara" (the half-circles) are each just one area.
Therefore, a unit could move from "Bilington" to "Cantaria(coast 'a')" to "Lilington". These land-areas have two coasts, like Spain in regular Dip. Note that the coasts are a bit counter-intuitive. At the top, "Chimara(a)" is on the right, while at the bottom "Chimara(a)" is on the left. Land areas "Zobaru", "Dogaru", "Lokaru" and "Sotaru" also have two coasts.
There are 12 crossing arrows ("<------>").
They work to allow armies and fleets to pass across a narrow span of water. They have no effect on ships in the span of water, and ships in the sea-zone have no effect on units using the crossing arrows. A crossing arrow crosses the "Straits" in the middle, but as noted above, has no effect on ships in these areas. A unit can support across a crossing arrow normally. There is no adjacency across four-way corners. Therefore, "Groach Sea" is not adjacent "Jalta", etc. "Nortia" is not adjacent to "South Majestic Ocean" or "South Turgid Ocean", etc.
A Comparison with Regular Dip:
Players | Land Spaces | Sea Zones | Home Centers | Neutral Centers | Total Centers | Centers to Win
Regular Diplomacy: _____7___________56____________19____________12_______________22_______________34_____________18
Migraine Diplomacy: ____8___________63____________20____________14_______________24_______________38_____________20
Notes on Naming Conventions:
I tried to make the names semi-intuitive.
Prefixes: All territories in and near a Great Power's Home begin with that Power's letter. Thus, territories (and one sea) in and around Beta's home begin with "B" (Barka, Bengor, Bilington, Bocha, Buteny and Blissful Sea).
Neutral territories are named with the nearby Great Powers in mind. Thus, territories in between Beta and Zeta begin with a "B" or a "Z" and also have the other letter in the prefix (Baztor, Zobaru, and Ziblia). Big Guntar Straits (BGS) is the body of water between Beta and Gamma.
As a result, from the first few letters of most territories and seas, you should be able to tell where it is located.
Suffixes: As a result of the configuration of the board, for each territory and sea, there are seven similarly shaped spaces on the board (four being identical and four being mirror images). Similarly shaped spaces on the board have the same ending.
Thus, the land-locked home-center of Beta is called Barka. Gamma's is called Garka, Delta's is Darka, etc. As a result, it should become possible, after several turns of play, to remember a shape of a particular territory by its name and vice-versa.
The territories in the "corners" begin with "C" (Cantaria and Chimara).
The oceans around the edge of the board are given directional names to assist in locating them (i.e. East Mystic Ocean (EMO))
Care has been taken to ensure that if you use the first three letters of all territories (BAR for Barka) and the initial letters of all water spaces (BGS for Big Guntar Straits) you will get a unique abbreviation for each space on the board.
The five territories in the center are not intuitive so don't try to figure them out!
There seems to be some confusion about the circular corner spaces and their coasts. There are two coasts because each side is separate. They are not connected.
The double lines merely indicate the coast of a land province.
It might be helpful to realize that there are a total of Five land masses in Migraine Dip:
GDST and ZBLK are a bone- or dumbbell-shaped landmass. They each consist of two nodes, joined by Chimera and Cantaria respectively. Chimera(a) borders Gil and Sil. Chimera(b) borders Dil and Til. Cantaria(a) borders Lil and Bil. Cantaria(b) borders Kil and Zil.
In order for a fleet on Chimera(a) to get to Chimera(b) it would need to travel all the way around one of the nodes. Chi(a)-NMO-BGS-GS-DS-DKS-ERO-Chi(b).
Name / Abrreviation / Center (not, neutral, or home)
Antoria ANT Neutral
Barka BAR Beta
Big Guntar Straits BGS
Bilington BIL Beta
Blissful Sea BS
Bocha BOC Beta
Cantaria CAN Neutral *
Chimara CHI Neutral *
Dark Koga Straits DKS
Darka DAR Delta
Diglia DIG Neutral
Dilington DIL Delta
Docha DOC Delta
Dog Sea DS
Dogaru DOG *
East Mystic Ocean EMO
East Royal Ocean ERO
Easton EAS Neutral
Fidgia FID Neutral
Garka GAR Gamma
Gilington GIL Gamma
Gocha GOC Gamma
Groach Sea GS
Harkoom HAR Neutral
Jalta JAL Neutral
Karka KAR Kappa
Kilington KIL Kappa
King's Sea KS
Kocha KOC Kappa
Larka LAR Lambda
Liklia LIK Neutral
Lilington LIL Lambda
Locha LOC Lambda
Lokaru LOK *
Lucky Sea LS
North Turgid Ocean NTO
North Magestic Ocean NMO
Nortia NOR Neutral
Saint's Sea SS
San Lasta Straits SLS
Sarka SAR Sigma
Silington SIL Sigma
Sitlia SIT Neutral
Socha SOC Sigma
Sotaru SOT *
South Turgid Ocean STO
South Magestic Ocean SMO
Tarka TAR Theta
Thin Zainy Straits TZS
Tilington TIL Theta
Tocha TOC Theta
Twine Sea TS
West Mystic Ocean WMO
West Royal Ocean WRO
Weston WES Neutral
Zarka ZAR Zeta
Ziblia ZIB Neutral
Zilington ZIL Zeta
Zobaru ZOB *
Zocha ZOC Zeta
Zwik Sea ZS
- indicates two coasts