In Diplomacy relationships are everything, as should be clear by now. The closest form of relationship in Dip is the alliance.
There are different ideas about alliances in Dip. One idea suggests that they don’t actually exist… Yeah, made me scratch my head that one, too.
This is explicable though, if you’re prepared to stretch he idea of what an alliance actually is.
In the real world, alliances were usually formed by treaties. This was true in the late-19th/early-20th centuries, even as it is true today. In Diplomacy there certainly aren’t any treaties!
This may pose the question: why not?
Well, Calhamer considered including treaties, or contracts. What he realised, however, was that the game would then collapse into contractual negotiations. The actual point of the game, to control Europe, would never be allowed to happen.
The point of treaties is that neither side is allowed to break them. So, England and France sign and treaty against Germany. When Germany is defeated, then the terms of the treaty are met and the alliance is no longer in place. Nice and simple.
But what if France finds out that England is being played by a female sanitary product? What if Germany turns out to be the better ally than England? How can France change allegiance without breaking the terms of the treaty?
Well, frankly, that’s a little ridiculous a scenario. Diplomacy’s a game. Nobody would take it that seriously, would they?
Hmm. Maybe you need to play more Dip!
The main point is one I’ve already made, though – the game would be so delayed that it would never be over. It’s often long enough as it is. So there are no treaties in Diplomacy.
To stretch this to say there are no alliances, though, is silly. When France and England agree to work together to defeat Germany they ally against that power. To suggest anything else is ridiculous.
However, the idea behind the alliance in Diplomacy is that it is a fleeting thing; it isn’t meant to last longer than necessary.
Here is where one of the major arguments in the Hobby rears its head, the debate between the Soloists, Calhamerists and the Drawmongers. The debate over the philosophy behind the alliance.
Soloists play only for the solo victory. Anything else is not worthwhile. While a Soloist may accept a draw, this is seen as a failure. The solo is all important.
Calhamerists have a similar stance. The solo is the main objective (as the rules state clearly). However, Calhamerists will see a draw as still being worthwhile in the right situation. They play as Calhamer designed the game – aim for a solo victory but accept the draw if it makes sense.
Drawmongers (also known less charitably as ‘Carebears’) have a different philosophy. A Drawmonger will accept a draw if she finds a player she likes playing against. An alliance, to a Drawmonger, is something that can last for the whole game. A Drawmonger will accept a game-long alliance and be prepared to share a draw rather than go for the solo, even.
I have never really understood the Drawmonger philosophy if I’m honest. The draw is a way to end a game that is unlikely to end any other way; the objective is the solo. Calhamer called a draw a “secondary objective”. Drawmongers see it as an equivalent objective as the solo. Bizarre.
I do understand one aspect of the Drawmongers’ thinking, though: it takes a great deal of skill to maintain a game-long alliance.
The point is that other players will see this type of alliance as massively dangerous. How are you, a single player, going to prosper against a solid dual alliance? This becomes even more of a threat in the later stages of the game.
Other players will simply aim to split the allies. In the face of such a diplomatic assault, there is a good degree of skill in holding that alliance together. I can see and accept that.
But it isn’t how the game was designed. It doesn’t take much reading of Calhamer’s writings to see that.
An alliance in Diplomacy is supposed to be for achieving a set goal. It may go beyond that objective, of course. It may be that the alliance is working so well that it makes sense to aim for other goals together. But it should never be something players form to last the whole game. At some point the alliance should break. At some point players should try to win the game!
This is why I call it the Musketeer alliance. What was once “one for all” should become “all for one”.
While as part of an alliance one plays to maximise every ally’s objectives, at some point one should switch the aim to trying to steal everything for one’s self. Together an alliance strives to place the allies into a position from where they have a chance of winning the game. At this point the alliance should break and individual players – or, at least one player – should try to solo.
A strong and successful alliance will see all members subsuming their own, individual goals beneath their common objectives: one for all.
When the point arrives that this is no longer the optimum position for you to take, though, then it makes no sense to maintain that alliance, in the same form, at least. It may be that it is re-formed so that those players who now share common goals continue to work together to achieve these goals… but even this should reach a natural end point.
Ultimately, an alliance – any alliance – should only be used to place you, alone, in a position from where you can attempt the solo. You’re aiming to take everything yourself: All for one – you!