What I Have Learned
In Three Months as a Diplomacy Player

By José L. Torres

I have owned a copy of Diplomacy since 1992 but had never played or even started a single game until...

On August 16th of 1999, I found The Diplomatic Pouch website and discovered the society of e-mail Diplomacy. I had never written press before. I had never registered with a Diplomacy e-mail judge before. I had never even played the game before, not for lack of desire but rather lack of six opponents willing to be lied to and darn well expecting me to do it. I must say that I have evolved from a newbie to an intermediate player in three months, and now I wonder what I ever did at work before I became a dipper, since back then, I didn’t have any e-mails to write or lies to spin or enemies to taunt. Or did I? What in the hell did I do in a full day of work back then? Obviously, nothing important.

I have learned so much playing Diplomacy that it is not even funny. Or rather, playing Diplomacy has taught me so much. If you look at the Pouch Deposits for the F1999M issue, you will see that the first deposit is from some little whiner who was wondering what the toll of playing Diplomacy would be when one had to deal with the emotional consequences of stabbing your friend or being stabbed by him. Stephen Lepley’s Incoming!: Insights of a Diplomacy Newbie article series had shown that some people take it hard and personal when they are stabbed. By stabbed, read betrayed. In a game of Diplomacy. Wah! In all seriousness, that dude might as yet benefit greatly from some leaps and bounds in the development of his emotional maturity.

That whiner was me. I am not the whiner. Both statements are true.

A quick word on the whiner. I do not as a blanket statement think that anyone who gets upset at the turn of events of a Diplomacy game is a whiner. But come on! See Austria’s comments below. Diplomacy is a game where seven or so people agree to compete to see who can view the current position and persuade the other participants to act in their benefit, using lies, harassment, verbal abuse or just plain asking pretty please with sugar on top. But it is just a game. Typically the difference between Diplomacy and life is that ...Diplomacy is just a game.

The object of Diplomacy is to win. The purpose is to play the game. The odds of an exciting, artistic game are enhanced when all players accept both views. [Edwin's Law]

Diplomacy has given me the stage to practice and learn so much about life. Lets start with the most obvious: negotiation. Before I started the job I love so much, I bought a car all by myself for the first time in my life. I was both uncomfortable and incapable of negotiating a good deal. I was lucky, because my wife’s cousin was the salesman, and at threat of life and limb, he was obliged not to take me to the cleaners. There was leverage applied to make an individual (the salesman) act in someone else’s best interests, but I was not the one applying the leverage.

"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement."

Just the other day, I went back and negotiated a new car. (Anyone want to buy my other car?) There was a slick salesman, the "what would it take to put you in an Oldsmobile today" cheesy line, there was the, "Gotta go see if the management will approve this" attitude and slime oozing from every pore of that car salesman (not my wife’s cousin!).

The mark of a great diplomat is the ability to negotiate successfully with people who hate you. [Monster's Law]

…Or to negotiate successfully with someone you despise. [Torres’ Corollary to Monster’s Law]

They tried consistently to get me to tell them how much I wanted to pay. My response was that I had done my homework at another dealer and I knew what their best price was, and I was there to see if they could beat it, without telling them what it was. "How much is it?" they asked. They played nice, complimented me on my cute kid, talked about what a great car it was, all while asking what that price was but I steadfastly refused to speak first. After a short while, I put the burden on him. "You aren’t serious about selling me a car tonight, are you? That’s too bad, because I am serious about buying one." From my practice negotiating in Diplomacy, I was relaxed and confident. I knew that to offer a number without knowing the price of the car was weak, but rather to portray myself as serious and disappointed that he hadn’t given me a number allowed me to imply use of my best leverage – to get up and leave. If he didn’t offer me a number and I left, he wouldn’t have done his job. If he offered a number too high, he knew I would refuse it. If he offered a number too low, he was giving away his margin. But now he had to take the risk. He went back to his manager, and left my wife and I sitting there. I knew that if I appeared nervous, he would not take me seriously, and come back with a high number.

"He lied, I knew he lied and he knew I lied. That was Diplomacy. [Kimball's Truth]"

I hadn’t visited another dealership at all. I made that part up. I had no idea what in the heck the car should really go for. Heck, I had never negotiated for a car at any time in my life by myself before! But everything about me said otherwise. I had learned that posture in negotiating had a large impact on how positive the final result was. "Wah! Please don’t attack me," doesn’t really work that well. People just don’t respect it. But you have to admire someone who shows no fear when you have your foot on their neck, someone who is a cool customer even when they are in a tight spot.

I sat back, relaxed, laughed, and thought about the time that I opened Russia with A War-Sil. (really!) As Russia, that is so much fun. The German player had opened F Kie- Hol, A Ber-Kie, A Mun-Ruh. My one unit in Silesia was threatening two home supply centers, and his fleet in holland could not even begin to challenge the fleet from St Petersburg’s move to Sweden. Germany wanted to know why I had moved there, and I said to move to Bohemia in fall because I didn’t want to bounce in Gal with the Austrian. I worked hard at making the German believe me. What was he excited about? Silesia is not a German Supply Center, after all! I would be moving to Bohemia in the Fall, and all would be fine, and I offered to support German claims in Scandinavia as compensation. Then came the kicker. Germany said, "Fine. But Munich and Berlin must stay German", to which I replied that he could guarantee that they were still German in the Fall if he covered them with his own troops. Fall 1901M Army Silesia – Munich succeeded and I had two builds that Winter (thanks to Sweden), and I laughed all the way to the bank.

So the car salesman comes back and says, "$325 per month." What he doesn’t say if that is a lease or a buy. How many years? How much down? How many miles on the lease per year? How good did my credit score need to be? I proceeded to ask him all of these details immediately.

The act of trusting someone, despite clear indications that you shouldn't, does not impress them enough that they suddenly become trustworthy. In reality, they see you as a sucker. [Harrap's Second Law]

Horsepucky! I did no such thing! I just looked at him and pretended to chuckle involuntarily and said, "Those had better be purchase numbers with zero out of pocket today or we’ve just wasted an hour of my time and your time." I paused for a second and asked with a tone of indignation and the sound of being put-off, "Is that a purchase or lease?" My face wrinkled and my tone of voice said that ‘lease’ was comparable to eating rotten fruit.

That was not his best price. I knew it. And he knew I knew it. I had other leverage in my hands that I was willing to use. I had come late at night, and they were eager to go home. But everyone had to stay because there was still a customer there negotiating a deal. They wanted to go home. They even said, "Look. Its late, we want to go home, you probably need to put your kid to bed, etc." "Oh no. We live less than a mile away and we’ve kept this kid up past midnight before with nary a complaint. We’re in no rush. Oh, I’m sorry, am I keeping you?" What could he say? "Yeah, hurry up and go? Get the heck outta here? And what if he did? Would I have lost anything? No. Just the deal, which at the time was nothing to write home about.

Speak softly, and carry a big stick. [Theodore Roosevelt’s Diplomacy]

Finally, we got the deal down to $260 with a 4 year lease. That was when I left. It was a good deal, sure. They were dying to move the car. But I decided that their final offer was too high for me to accept, that I just didn’t want to pay that much for that car. Even though it was a good deal. So I walked away. I don’t know if anyone keeps score, but I felt like I came out ahead in that one.

It is not wise to buy the car just because it is a good deal; rather, buy the car because it is a good deal for you. [Torres’ First Law of Car Buying]

Negotiation is not the only skill I’ve developed. I have a much better sense for being able to tell when a dipper is lyin’ to me and when he’s playin’ it straight. Or my boss for that matter. I have a much better insight to human nature and motivation. Have you ever watched pure greed? Try negotiating a two-way draw. Notice how sincere you were when you had no position to try to take a solo, and then how much discipline it takes to keep your word if the other fellow now lacks position. Try going for a two-way when you both cross the stalemate lines. Very interesting indeed.

If you asked me, any job which requires negotiation, or judgement of character, or insight into human nature would be smart to add in requirements for playing Diplomacy. Laywers. Sales. Real Estate agents. Press Secretaries. Presidents. Granted, these are not professions that are respected or esteemed in society. Maybe the reason why is that the rest of society often feels "taken" by these individuals because the skilled diplomat end up with more than their fair share of the pieces of pie.

Back to that whiner. In my first game ever, I played Turkey and after S1901M, I had read enough at the DipPouch to know I was staring down both barrels of a Key Lepanto. Russia was waffling and of no use whatsoever. I panicked. I read every article from every issue of the DipPouch. The only thing I could come up with was to fight hard and nobly.

Dying is what you do when you stop fighting. You can't plan to die gracefully, if you don't plan on dying. Never die gracefully, but rather fight gracefully (except when it is better to fight dirty). [Brahm's Protest]

I even wanted to resign and sign on again as Turkey, hoping that a complete change in personality would help. The GameMaster said I ought to stick with it, try hard, and even if I got whipped, I should go down fighting and ‘respect myself in the morning.’ Allright, I thought, I’ll try it. I launched a million press messages to Austria, first challenging, second compromising, third deceiving, none of which worked. Then I read more of the DipPouch.

Play the situation on the map as it is, not as it should be. It will never, ever be as it should be. [Goloth's Fourth Law]

I realized that I was trying to sway the wrong guy. By agreement with Austria, the Italian had moved to Trieste, and would have moved to Serbia had I not bounced him. But the Italian was the key, because he held position on the Austrian if he were to stab. Actually, I only realized that when I got caught lying to Austria:

Message from Turkey to Austria:


I am shocked and disappointed that Italy chose such an aggressive move against you, mostly because it may cause you to cancel your assault on the Tsar. If there is anything I can do to be of assistance, let me know.



I am impressed! Not only did you tell me you were going to stab Austria, you actually did it! Do you think he suspected that we set up the bounce in Serbia? What are we to do next in our plan of attack?

I intentionally put in the space in END PRESS in a desperate attempt to make Austria suspicious of his Italian partner. By bouncing Italy in Serbia, the unit in Trieste stayed in Trieste, and caused the Austrian to lose that center, which had not been part of their plan. But Italy and I had no agreement to bounce in Serbia whatsoever. I just guessed. In fact, Italy and I had hardly corresponded. By sending that message, I thought I might be able to sow the seeds of discord with Austria. My message was a complete failure. Here is what I got back:

Message from Austria to Turkey


It is, as ever, pleasant to hear from you.

I would, in fact, appreciate support into Greece. My generals have advised me to gain an SC abroad, in order to ensure enough builds to push the Italian bastards out of my homeland. Thank you kindly for your offer. Once I've beat them back, I will be happy to continue to work with you against the Russians. Regarding your aside, I also enjoy our correspondence. It is always a pleasure to speak to someone so plainspeaking as yourself.

Regards, ArchDuke

end press

press to E

Turkey seems to think I'm some kind of idiot. Let us continue to implement Operation Porkchop.

Regards, ArchDuke

What I later realized was that Austria had nothing to gain by calling off his attack. In fact, if he were to stab Italy while Italy was sitting on Austrian home centers, he would have everything to lose! That would be certifiably stupid. And why was I trying to talk Austria into stabbing Italy, when I should have been working the other way around? Italy had tons to gain by stabbing Austria. Since Austria was trying to take advantage of weakness shown by the Tsar, he left Vienna uncovered. Italy was his ally, right?

Never forget that opponents and allies do things for their own reasons, not yours. [Goloth's Third Law]

I never sent Austria another message, but rather decided I would make every Turk celebrate and revere the name of the Italian leader that would be the savior of Turkey and rid the Balkans of the evil Austrian. I did not beg. I did not ask please. I did not promise him things in the future. I did not show blind trust in him either, but rather told him how I hoped we could be trusting in the future. What I did was point out to him all of the things that he stood to gain if he did it and all of the things I was sure to lose if I did not help him stab Austria. I did it every message. I was sure to tell him that I was 100% behind this idea. Two messages a day (well, I exaggerate.) His response? Classic! Three little words. Wait until Fall.

Position in Spring, centers in Fall, unless the position you need just happens to be a supply center. [Highfield's Positional Principle]

Excellent. Why didn’t I think of that? Wait until it really counts. I was so panicked and obsessed with getting myself out this jam that I didn’t think clearly. What I wanted was an immediate signal that Italy would take my side and things would get better. What I should have wanted was Italy’s reply. I should have had faith. The time wasn’t right, and Italy would have gained so little if he stabbed in spring.

Diplomacy requires the strength to bear having personal enemies. [The Law of Ecton's Boasting]

What I couldn’t stand was that I had been caught in many many lies to Austria and he was going to cream me and like it. I could not stand that. In American mythology, it would be like the Hatfields asking the McCoys to come on over and set their house on fire. Or like Israel inviting Syria and Iraq to have a military parade through downtown Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. I just couldn’t bear the thought.

In spring of 1902, Italy made moves which could be used against Austria but were in keeping with his plan against Turkey. Then in Fall, when the stab happened, Austria’s world changed. She went from 5 SCs hoping for 6 down to 3 and only lucky that she wasn’t a 2 because Russia screwed up and gave away Sevastopol. But she was out of position and out of friends. Italy went from a 5 to a 7, and I went from a 4 to a 5, and Austria was toast.

Later, when Austria was on her knees, we had the following conversation:

Turkey to Austria:

I wanted to get back to you regarding our last correspondence, and specifically Operation Pork Chop.

I did not think that you were some kind of idiot. I did think that you were insincere, intolerable, and intransigent, but not an idiot. But now, I wonder about Operation Porkchop. By looking at the board, am I to assume that you are the pork? I am only wondering.

Hopefully there are no hard feelings between us.

The Sultan.

I hadn’t talked to him in many months. In fact, I ended up eating his lunch. And this was the first message he had received from me since then. This was his reply.

Austria to Turkey:

I'll take that as a compliment, given that it was expressed in the context of Diplomacy. Of course I was insincere, I was trying to mislead you. In failing, I've learned a thing or two, and maybe the next time I attempt to pull a Key Lepanto it'll work better.

You wrote that "hopefully, there are no hard feelings between us." Hard feelings are for real life.

Regards, ArchDuke of Lesser Austria

Wow. I came out on top in that one, but I will always respect his class and attitude. It is fair to say that I learned a lot about life from both Austria and Italy in this game. Oh, and by the way, what do you care what I learned about life by playing Diplomacy? Not much. It is not about what I learned or what else I can learn, but rather what you can learn, and what your experiences will do for you.

As I leave you, remember I have a car for sale and I am seeking a partner to try a Key Lepanto. And thank heaven somebody shut up that little whiner.

Almost all of the quotes come from Thaddeus Black’s Diplomacy website, and the credit for all of that wisdom goes to Thaddeus’ collection efforts.

José Torres

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