There may be more than a bit of meaninglessness in the title of this post but it’s true nonetheless.
When playing Diplomacy, you are – first and foremost – a diplomat. The clue, after all, is in the name.
And yet so many players ignore this especially in webplay.
On many websites you’ll come across a variety of players. You’ll play against very skilled players, who understand the game in all its aspects – strategy, negotiation skills, relationship building and tactics. That’s one end of the scale.
At the other end you’ll come across players who simply don’t understand the game at all. These may be complete newbies who have yet to learn, nasty or vindictive players who simply bully their way through games until they’re eliminated, or players who know the game but who choose to play it badly: they wouldn’t necessarily agree that they’re playing badly but they are nevertheless.
The keys to the game are, in no particular order, the skills of the first group of players. Primarily, though, even if you’re no great strategist or tactician, the diplomatic skills: relationship building, communication and negotiation skills.
Diplomacy is about persuasion. This means being able to get your opponents to help you beat them. Each power is – approximately – equal in strength; yes, some powers are viewed as being slightly weaker than others but this is about being more difficult to play, to win with, rather than being weaker on the board.
Given this, how are you – one player in seven – going to win the game against six opponents? Well, it’s difficult, of course. This is why many games end in a draw of some kind or another. But it isn’t impossible, even involving games where all players are roughly equal in skill.
The trick is to have your opponents help you win. Germany will need help from either England or France to beat France or England. She will then need to use her alliance to beat Russia… or find an ally from elsewhere to defeat her initial ally. And so on.
There are two main ways to achieve this result. You can either find an ally who is ridiculously loyal, using the alliance to beat successive enemies and then springboard to eighteen SCs, dropping the alliance at the ideal point. Alternatively, you can use an ad hoc alliance structure, using and discarding allies throughout the game.
Both methods are skilled. Using a long-term alliance means maintaining it in the face of opponents who are hellbent on breaking it, in the face of game paranoia which leads to expectations that your ally is about to betray you, and when the game reaches the point where even the most trusting or naive of allies realises you’re going to win.
If you use a series of ad hoc alliances, using players to reach your goals at different points in the game, the skill is in building and utilising alliances at the right time. You also, though, may have to ally with a player you’ve betrayed previously in the game!
None of this is possible unless you are a diplomat. Trying to play the game with a minimum – occasionally even no communication – is, frankly, stupid. (There is a variant of the game called “Gunboat Diplomacy” in which communications aren’t allowed but I’m not considering that here.)
Trying to bully your way through games may work to some extent. At the final reckoning, though, you’re going to annoy and make enemies of most of the other players and that will make the final run-in much more likely to leave you facing an alliance of players aimed at preventing you from winning.
To do well at Diplomacy, you need to invest time and effort into communicating with other players, building relationships with them, finding common ground and common objectives, and making judgements on when to make and break the alliance.