Tim Richardson

It may chance cost some of us our lives, for he will stab.

Snare, Shakespeare's King Henry IV

II. Getting a Handle on Your Knife

The second order of business in a dialogue is, of course, to let the other guy do some of the talking. So, go ahead, I'm listening. Go on, write soon. I'll get back to you next time. That's for stopping by The Unkindest Cut of All, bye-bye!

Huh? What? But Manus, I... Oh, all right.

It appears that Manus is invoking the no NAR rule, which, among the Pouch personnel is the dreaded No Article Received. So, in the words of my favorite pizza commercial, "Let's just go with what we have."

Reaching into the sparse mailbag, I wanted to thank and acknowledge Brandon from New Zealand for having the good taste and wisdom to recognize a truly gifted writer. He also noted in passing that he enjoyed my article as well. Here's what he had to say:

Well, thank you very much, Brandon. Of course, Brandon has obviously mistaken me for Somebody Else. Misinterpreting a key piece of information, he instead seizes on a carefully placed red herring: my antipathy for decision squares.

But is that really a red herring? And, truly, why would I have just called it a red herring unless it was intended to throw him off the track? And, if it is indeed intend to throw someone off track, it is possible that I am lying and that I am actually Jamie Dreier, that, in denying it and demonstrating why, can we surely not be sure?

Well, let's look at this objectively:


Now, if you understood this, then clearly I am not Jamie Dreier, because you must be. And if you are Jamie Dreier, then I must be Somebody Else, and if I am Somebody Else, then it must be my fault that you were stabbed.

The Somebody Else's Fault (SEF) Factor

Before I get into defining what a Stab is, I wanted to address a curious phenomenon in Diplomacy as it relates to the Stab -- that being that it's never the fault of the Stabber. No , sirree! It's always Somebody Else's Fault. Now, I am not sure who this yahoo is, but he's certainly cost me a lot of supply centers over the years....

It's a matter of course, I think, to pin the blame on Somebody Else once you have stabbed an ally. Even if it's done particularly well at the critical moment and results in the elimination of the Stabbee or the victory of the Stabber, I have noticed that the actual idea of stabbing never originates with the Stabber. That would be unconscionable! Can you imagine a trusted ally with whom you had slugged it out with in the trenches against a common enemy conceiving of such a banal act? The fact that it was carried out with such ruthless efficency and despotic glee notwithstanding, of course. No, no, the idea of the Stab is, almost without exception, the idea of the board's Rasputin on the other side of the stalemate line.

"Honest, Benedict, I never even saw it! But Gregor Stabonovich, here, he laid it all out for me. It's his fault, really -- I was content to take the draw until I saw how I could stab you for the win!"

Some players can even make that statement without a huge grin on their face before they add:

"Besides, Arnold, that same move you tried to attack my home centers. If I hadn't acted defensively, I would have had to pull a unit this Winter."

Defensively?!? I've heard this statement a number of times. A couple of times I even meant it. Stabs are generally pre-emptive, but can be classified as defensive if the other guy hits you at the same time but your order of supports succeeds and his does not. I mean, if that's not defensive what is, right?

There are two schools of thought on determining who is "really" to blame for the Stab: (NOTE: This is not the same thing as a decision square. No, sir.)

  1. The Stab succeeds and your ally acted in good faith that turn, it is definitely the fault of Somebody Else, most likely the fellow you were supposed to attack instead of your ally. Keep referring to him as "some sort of mad Rasputin," and allude to mind-control or perhaps the Disney conspiracy to undermine the Free World. Above all, keep talking -- he's not going to believe anything you say at this point anyway, so if you have any embaraassing truths you'd like to get off your chest, now's the time. ("Umm... I'm the one who leaked about your support of the Ionian. Oh, and I also backwashed in your beer. But it was because he made me laugh while I took a sip, so that's not really my fault either.")

  2. The Stab succeeds, but your ally attempted to stab you as well, then this was a defensive move. Somebody Else told you about the impending Stab, so this was purely defensive. They didn't give you the whole story, see, so your moves succeeded a bit too well and you got just what you deserved, you scum-sucking bastard! (You may wish to leave out that part about succeeding too well and skip right to "scum-scuking bastard.")

    Of course, if your Stab fails and your ally's succeeds, then you've got worse problems then worrying about who's to blame. Don't let him feed you any of that it was "Somebody Else's Fault" nonsense that I've heard some charlatan out there recommends. Put the blame squarely between his shoulder blades.

  3. Manus makes you. (I've found this to be an excellent excuse in just about all situations. Not only does my boss not know who Manus is or how he's responsible for my chronic tardiness, but it always gets folks off the track by virtually forcing them to ask: "What the hell kind of name is Manus Hand anyway?")

Three. There are three schools of thought on this.

Defining a Stab

A Stab is kind of like obscenity -- it's hard to describe, but you'll know it when you see it. It's also frequently enhanced by creative vulgarities. I had hoped to have a little bit more feedback from my beloved readers on just how define a Stab, but let me share one message I received from a hardened veteran of my own Web 'zine, Mike "Smacko" McMillie:

    I just wanted to say that I saw the new Dip Pouch on the net this morning and had to tear it open and read the Tim Richardson/Manus Hand/Simon/whoever else you might be article. I'm very intrigued as to where it can go from such a build up.

(Yeah, so am I.)

    Will you talk about stabbing with a build?

    How about the Spring stab vs. the Fall stab (and is it better for one country than another. i.e. England, due to the water, is better to stab in Spring, vs Austria may be a better country to stab in the Fall).

    Will you talk about the "snowballing stab" (one SC taken and the build with that then invades and the two armies get two SC's the next year, the old take Greece and build in Ven and if AH doesn't get a build [another stabbing topic, stabbing when the other country won't be getting a build or to prevent them from gettin g a build] then it is on to Serbia and Trieste, etc.) and the "constant pressure" (where the attacking forces remain of constant strength and any SC's are used to make builds for other fronts).

    My favorite is the "puppet" stab where you get a good ally or puppet to attack (and occupy your "allies" forces) and when you come to the rescue, your armies miss the mark and attack your "friend." The corrollary is your armies actually do come to the rescue and you have your way with your "puppet."

    Like I say, it will be interesting to find out how you proceed.

No kidding. But as long as I have you around, Smacko, to throw all these ideas at me I'll always have plenty of material! Thanks for writing in, and, by the way, don't you have orders due in soon?

Before we get into describing the many variations a Stab can take -- from a build to series of attacks -- let's try to get a hard-and-fast definition. I provided three elements of what I perceived a Stab to be, so let me start with the most obvious of them and see what we can work out from there:

  • Enemies are attacked. Allies are stabbed.

This seems straightforward enough. A Stab occurs when one player, who has an agreement of some sort or another with another Player(s), violates that agreement or understanding in either spirit or substance. Thus, if England and France are allied against another Power(s) a build of a Fleet in either Brest or London -- without prior consultation -- may be viewed as just as much of a Stab as an outr ight attack. Any action that violates a condition -- real or perceived -- of the alliance is a Stab. This necessarily entails that there be an agreement or unders tanding between two or more Players, because a Stab as we have now defined it is a breach of that agreement.

I think that the statement "Enemies are attacked" also holds true, or perhaps they should simply be called "targets" instead of enemies. Most of the time these guys will see the writing on the wall and put no more faith in your "That Army is just passing through" claims than they would a Clinton campaign promise. The initial attack on this Power could be viewed as a Stab, though, with this definition. Russia or Austria entering Galacia in Spring 1901 when either or both had agreed to make that territory a DMZ, for instance, fits the definition we've agreed upon. But I would hesitate to characterize opening moves like that as Stabs simply because they are opening moves. Nor would I characterize a two or three Power concerted attack on a target Power to be a Stab if conducted in the opening moves (e.g., Sealion and Lepanto or one of its variations). These are not Stabs, but a strategy of attack.

A Stab, we know, is delivered by one ally unto another. So perhaps we should first define "ally" before we can actually know what a Stab is.

Tim Richardson is your ally. Really. That Army is just passing through. Honest.

In other games, where it may not be as clear as to who or what an ally is, I offer a similarly simple definition:

  • An ally is a Power with which an agreement was reached and adhered to for at least a season by both parties.

This fits the fluid alliance-switching nature of the game well and also frames our definiton of the Stab, which may be as meticulously planned as the opening strategy or even form the basis of "switching sides" and beginning a new alliance. It could happen as early as Fall 1901, but not until then. An agreement in Diplomacy is not real and has no value unless it has been adhered to by both parties involved for at least a season, thus making them allies, thereby making a Stab -- something done to an ally -- possible.

There. Now we know not only when we've stabbed, but who.

Other Aspects of the Stab

In my first article, I also mentioned two other aspects of a Stab:

  • If it was a "good" Stab, a "good" Diplomacy player should not be surprised by it.
  • All Stabs are pre-emptive.

I think these have less to do with defining what a Stab is than how to recognize what kind of Stab has punctured the back of your ally. I do think that this is are worth discussing as we continue our dialogue, though, so we'll take these two items up next time.

Until then, remember that only the truly paranoid are never surprised.

Tim Richardson (?)
Fraternal Order of Police

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