Back in 2003/04 I was working on an ambitious design project together with David Cohen. The aim was to create a eurocentric world Diplomacy variant set in the year 1648. Also, we aimed to include armed neutrals, which might be swayed by greater powers by the means of their budgeted diplomatic points (as explained further below).

Why 1648? The geopolitical balance of power (so important for a Diplomacy variant) was at that stage quite intact since neither Spain, France, England or any other power predominated. Spain was by the mid-17th century in steep decline and France had yet to become fully ascendant. And outside Europe, Persia, Mogul India and China were all still dynamic powers rather than "inept orientals" and hence could perfectly well be turned into player-controlled powers.

Ultimately, however, David and I had different design visions and the project faltered (in part because David sought a yet more monumental scale than I), though if I am not mistaken, David did create a number of continent-wide variants based upon some of his work for our project.

Anyway, my sketch for the European map section was similar to what a variant exclusively about Europe would look like and I worked on this spin-off project as well. I recently took a renewed look at that half-finished work and worked on a presentable map. This is the result:


As you can see, there are nine player powers (Austria, Denmark-Norway, England, France, Poland-Lithuania, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Spain, Sweden) and a host of one-supply centre minor powers. The initial units are also shown, small-case letters denoting armies and upper-case being fleets.

DIPLOMATIC POINTS


The main difference in terms of rules compared to Standard Diplomacy is the use of diplomatic points to influence the minor powers' units. These may either hold or support the order of an adjacent unit's holding or move order. Each turn, players secretly allocate their allocated diplomatic points (usually 3) to influence what order the respective minor powers' units shall execute. For instance, the Polish player might spend his three diplomatic points to try and sway F Courland to support A Warsaw to Prussia. Should no competing order be allocated 3+ diplomatic points by other players, F Courland would then execute that order. I hope you get the gist of the rule. The Diplomatic Points mechanism was first introduced in Baron Powell's excellent "Ambition & Empire" 18th century variant and I used the same mechanism for my "Locarno: Europe 1626" and "The Road to War: Europe 1936" variants (see their Boardgamegeek entries).

GEOGRAPHIC PECULIARITIES


The map as such is pretty straightforward as Diplomacy variants go. Note though that Ingria allows fleets to pass through it to and from Novgorod (hence the Neva river shown on the map). That allows Russia to get fleets into the Baltic.

Further South, I mean to allow Poland, Russia and the Ottoman Empire to all treat the Crimea as a build centre once conquered. That way, the Black Sea need not remain an "Ottoman lake" and it does justice to Poland's and Russia's presence on the shore of the Black Sea.

Flanders is sorta the reverse of the above in that it isn't a build site for Spain. It's just the historical outpost and cannot thus serve as a major power base for Spain. Anyone familiar with the history of Spanish Netherlands will understand the historical rational for this rule, but it also is there so as to make the encirclement of France by Spain less stark.

FURTHER DESIGN QUESTIONS

Creating the right interaction between the various powers remains a critical matter I have to mull over. Too little or too much friction between two powers may ruin a variant. Getting it right is important for diplomatic balance. No power ought to be railroaded into fighting a war with another and all neighbours should have ample scope for constructive cooperation. Numerous alternative openings must make perfect sense. These are of course all typical considerations variant designers take into account...

I've tried to portray the degree of friction between the powers at the outset of the game in the below sketch (much the same way social relations are mapped out on sociograms). The thicker the line connecting the powers, the greater the potential friction:


Red lines indicate that I'm concerned there might be too much friction between those powers, while green lines indicate my desire for greater friction between those powers.

SWEDEN-RUSSIA: I'm concerned Sweden's armies might find few alternatives to turning eastwards against Russia. While they did plenty of that historically, perhaps I need to find ways to encourage Sweden more to act against Poland (they sure did plenty of that in history, too!)?

SPAIN-TURKEY-RUSSIA: My concern is that Turkey may be too remote. I think I may have to integrate these powers more closely. That alone would lessen the France-Spain tensions by helping Spain to look more towards the Med. As for Turkey-Russia, I am thinking of making Persia an armed neutral and perhaps a Georgian armed neutral as well for Turkey and Russia to fight over, while also ensuring Voronezh edges closer to Damascus.

ENGLAND-SPAIN: I badly need some more tension there. Perhaps I should draw the MAO sea area to abutt Bristol? Make Spain and England fight more over Ireland and Portugal - as they did historically on numerous occasions?

AUSTRIA vs. FRANCE, DENMARK, SWEDEN: Historically AUSTRIA (or rather the Holy Roman Emperor) fought with these over Germany during the Thirty Years War. I don't think there's all that much friction there, at least at the outset. So perhaps I ought to add some spice there? I am thinking about giving the Holy Roman Emperor some clout among the German armed neutrals that gives him incentives to protect these against foreign aggression.

OUTLOOK

Well, those and more issues abound. I'd very much welcome input and advice from others. In any case, I thought it a shame to leave this project in limbo since it does present an exciting and pretty balanced time in Europe's history. And the Diplomatic Points mechanism is huge fun as anyone who's played the wonderful "Ambition & Empire" can attest.

Perhaps I ought to do a play-by-email playtest of this sometime soon. Anyone interested?

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