by David East
Disclaimer: This article is not about any one particular game, and artistic licence has been taken!
It all started out so wonderfully, one of those new relationships where things start so well that you are completely sure that it will be that way forever and you kid yourself that the little warning signs aren’t really anything to worry about at all and so you pretend not to see them.
To be fair to myself, it was a pretty good start.
1650GB, DS team so six players a side. On the first turn everyone wrote a diplo, and most of them were pretty good. Most games you don’t get everyone writing so already things were looking up. Not only did they all write, but all of them had some useful content and some of them had some imaginative ideas too.
WK/DkLts listed the camps and artifacts they’d go for. Pretty routine but no harm sending it, and I didn’t mind that half the message was taken up encouraging us all to play well – not really useful but good to keep a team together.
DogL/BS showed the Wk/DkLts how to do it. Not only did they list preferred camp locations and artifacts, but suggested that when two players specified the same camp location or artifact the one with the lowest numbered nation should get it. Of course, it would be impossible to know whether everyone, or anyone, would actually follow this and I don’t know what would have happened if someone else had suggested a tie breaker to the player with the highest numbered nation. However, at least it gave us a bit more of a chance to co-ordinate some of the early moves, which is all you can hope for. They also explained that their cavalry would head off to attack the Northmen. This isn’t my favourite tactic, as it happens, but saying it means that the Long Rider can adjust accordingly, and perhaps help the DkLts to decide whether to reinforce Morannon or Ithil. It just shows how much you can squeeze into 50 words!
The IK/LR player was quite creative. As well as listing camp locations they specified that every time we had two armies at an FP population centre they would destroy (#250) not capture (#255). Whether that’s a good idea or not I don’t know, but it was clear and simple and would help other players to issue the right order at least once or twice in the game: it’s not that uncommon a situation after all. They were also clear that the southern cavalry would just go for Harad, listing the population centres in order. That’s the key to these first diplos: say what you will do and trust your team mates to respond accordingly, don’t try to tell them what to do. They might have already committed themselves to another strategy by the time your diplo arrives but worse than that it will probably annoy them. It certainly annoys me. Partly that’s because I just don’t take well to instructions, but mostly it’s because it’s just hopeless to imagine that you can somehow tell a team what to do via a 50 word message every five turns and expect it to work. So trust your team mates to respond to information rather than try to issue instructions. Not only that but they gave some simple messages about their armies, with the IK defending their capital and the LR southern cavalry attacking specified Harad population centres and the order they’d attack them in. Again, you can debate the tactics – play a normal team game if that’s your thing – but in Gunboat you just need to be clear and trust your team mates
The QA/FK player was solid too. They listed camp locations and also specified exactly which Harad population centres they’d attack and in what order. Really, it wasn’t looking good for Harad already. They didn’t say much about the FK, but to be fair what is there to say beyond camps? That you’ll recruit as many armies as possible for the Ithil pass? Really? I’d never have guessed!
The CL/Rhudaur player said they’d deal with the bridges as soon as they could and explained their military strategy for Rhudaur as essentially being to hold on as long as possible so that CL agents could rescue them, and could they please have some timber to fortify things. Personally, I think that this is the wrong approach and that the better GB tactic is to go for all out war with Rhudaur whilst giving them the CL backup MTown. That way you give the WK the best chance of going deep into the game, which in the long run helps the team more and having Rhudaur hiring free armies in Mordor later on is no bad thing at all. However, they made it clear what they were doing so that we could all respond accordingly. Even if there’s not much to respond to GB can be quite a lonely game. Just knowing that your team mates have a definite plan, even if it’s not your personal preference, gives you confidence to keep going when you get one of those lousy turns back with no camp creations successful, a character captured in a battle you thought you might win and another assassinated.
The DrL/Corsairs were the weak spot. They listed some camps and said that the Corsairs would attack Harad (doh!), but spent most of their 50 words with some role play stuff about “kicking FP butt” and nothing really about how the DrL, a position with lots of possible strategies, would approach things. If everyone else was at least B plus this was definitely a D minus.
But it was early days and because I felt so confident in the new relationship I pretended not to notice this little warning sign. Instead, I told myself that it would last forever (or at least the best part of the two year maximum) and that it would be deep and meaningful for those two years.
The first three months (or five turns if you’re going to be pedantic) went pretty well although a couple of strains were maybe just beginning to show. Next time around only five players wrote, but I just told myself that someone had missed the deadline. The diplos that did arrive were still mostly packed with useful information. I always think it’s a good sign if players use the full 50 words (or whatever the limit is for the particular game) because it means that they are trying hard to convey as much information as possible. Four of the five were indeed fifty words long, the exception being the DrL/Corsairs, who was still kicking FP butt in Harad but left Mirkwood as a mystery. I kind of mentally wrote them off at this stage, to be honest and at least with the help the QA and LR had given them in those first turns I felt confident that they’d defeat Harad sooner or later.
Players listed battles fought and population centres that had changed hands. Yes, I could see some of that myself from my map, but not everyone could so you have to accept that. Current FP army positions were listed too, as were artifacts found, which is always useful at least to someone, although oddly no one said what camps they’d actually placed, making a some of that information from the first round less than entirely helpful.
However, the DogL/BS fell a little bit from the high standard they set the first time around, pleading for a complicated artifact transfer because the artifact hunt hadn’t quite gone to plan so far. Really, could we hope to manage that just communicating every five turns. Everyone asked for gold too. Alright, me too, it’s the DS, what did you expect, but really five turns is too long a gap to manage that. If you’re going to play Gunboat then you have to plan and manage your own economy! Rhudaur’s plan for fortifications and hence needing timber is the sort of thing you might manage, and they did thank the DrL for sending some, so maybe that was going to work after all, despite my misgivings. Anyway, I always worry that my messages sound completely functional and it’s important to remember that a few words of thanks and similar just keep the team together that little bit better and encourage future communication.
So, still pretty good, but if I had been honest with myself the warning signs were there too and I ought to have known that our chances of lasting two years were looking a little slimmer than I’d like.
By T10 the signs were impossible to ignore. Still five diplos and even the DrL/Corsairs gave some useful information about how well it was going in Harad and when they might be able to launch a navy against Gondor. But some of the others were quite short, as though they’d been written out of a sense of duty rather than a heartfelt message which had been carefully thought through to convey as much as possible in just a few words. Worryingly, it was a different player who missed out this time and all I really got from the messages was a general sense of how the war was going. Not bad, but nothing I could respond to either.
Now, to be fair, this is a difficult time for diplos. In the later game, when positions fracture and enemies can pop up in all sorts of unlikely spots, there’s masses you can tell your team, whereas in the early middle game it’s harder. However, your messages don’t need to be perfect. Just reciting rumours so that players know who those mysterious characters at their population centres are will will, as will telling your team mates the names of your agents for the same reason. Maybe you could go further and explain that you’ve adopted a naming system for all your characters (former prime ministers, science fiction writers, whatever, I’ve seen them all), although the obvious drawback is that the other side might identify them rather easily this way too. Listing some results at obvious population centres might stop someone wasting a move sending their agent to train by stealing at a camp that no longer exists and even general information like when that curse squad you advertised back on T0 will actually be ready or just explaining your overall position does no harm and might help and makes your team more likely to stick together.
On T15 only three of us wrote, and after that just two of us and after a while we spent most of our 50 words in a quite funny correspondence about why the others never wrote. We won the game anyway, so it wasn’t all bad and so I suppose you could argue that the lack of those diplos didn’t really hurt. Or maybe the FP split up even sooner?
It’s not too hard to write. GB can be a lonely game. To be honest that suits me, because I found I couldn’t keep up with all the communication in a team game and I hated the arguments some players get into. It can be great fun discussing how to maximise your chances in a tricky multiple character hex and much more besides, and if you like that side of things then maybe GB isn’t for you.
But I prefer it, but I don’t want to be completely isolated. Is it really too much to ask that you write 50 words once every five turns?