The King of Games

Diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest things in the nicest way. Isaac Goldberg

The game simply called Diplomacy splits opinion.  Some love it, some hate it.  I am in the former camp, as you might have guessed.

I’ve played Diplomacy for years, now.  I’ve written about it for fewer years.  I’ve run the biggest Diplomacy website on the net.  And still I’m learning.

What is Diplomacy about?  There are always different emphases but Diplomacy is about relationships.

When you first look at the game, you see the board which is a stylised map of pre-WWI Europe.  You see the pieces on the board (the units) which represent armies and fleets.  You watch players capturing spaces on the board.  The conclusion you may reach is that this is a war game.

You’d be wrong.

Perhaps this is why some people dislike the game.  They expect a war game, perhaps a WWI simulation.  Maybe they are looking for a more sophisticated game machine, being able to move units around battlefields, build different types of units or play one of those simplistic social media MMPGs.

Rather than this, Diplomacy is a game where communicating with each other is more important.  It isn’t a war game, it’s a diplomacy game.  It’s a game where players persuade others to help them achieve goals and objectives, despite the fact that they are all competing against each other.

If you look a little deeper, you’ll see that players do work together.  So Diplomacy could be a game of alliances.  It’s about building trust and working together.  And then the guy you’ve been working with attacks you, out of the blue.

This could well be another reason some people don’t like the game.  You can’t trust people!  Well, no, you can’t.  But this is a game set pre-WWI.  It was a time of rapidly changing alliances, of often conflicting arrangements between powers.  Yet every power was looking out for her own interests.

So Germany – the main spinner of this web of treaties – had an alliance with Austria-Hungary against Russian expansion in the Balkans; she had an alliance with Italy which would support Italy against attack from Austria (amongst others); she had a treaty with Russia called the Reinsurance Treaty which stated that neither would attack the other.

And yet, when WWI erupted across Europe, Germany was at war with Russia and Italy – eventually – sided with the Triple Entente powers of England, France and Russia against the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.

So, no, you can’t trust anyone.  In Diplomacy everyone is looking out for their own interests.  The alliance with you suits their purpose… while it lasts.

You’ll find that Diplomacy is a long game with spells where nothing happens on the board.  You could well be playing for three hours and be about half way through.  And most of that time is spent negotiating with other players with no board action.

For the impatient, it can be frustrating when it’s played on the internet.  Deadlines are long – measured in days, often.  A game could well last several months.

But this is to misunderstand the game.  While the action on the board settles who wins and loses, it is the action off the board which is fundamental.  It is the negotiations, the diplomacy (get it?) that decides what happens on the board.

The most well-known quote about the game is printed (or was printed) on game boxes: “Destroying friendships since 1959.”  It is a game of truth and lies, of trust and betrayal.  How much you focus on the ‘negative’ rather than the ‘positive’ is up to you.

The key, though, is to know when to betray an ally – to ‘stab’ – and when to support her.  And to keep in mind that everything you do is aimed at winning the game or preventing someone else from winning.

I’ve seen Diplomacy described as being too simplistic.  This is presumably in comparison with more interactive game machines.  This could well be the reason those who don’t like the game don’t like it.

But this is a complete misunderstanding of how to play.  What is more complicated than human relationships?  This is what the game is about.

If you haven’t played the game before, I won’t have sold it to you above.  You’ve got to try it – and try it again, and again, and again to come to a meaningful opinion.  Find good players, play with them and work at the game.

There’ll be more on where to play Diplomacy in future.  If you want to get ahead, search some sites out.

And have a go.

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