It has now been a couple of months since Survivor 2 has ended, and finally we can turn on the TV without hearing that word "Survivor" umpteen million times. I apologize to all the people who are sick of that word, not to mention the "Reality TV" craze that is only going get worse before it gets better. The good news though, is that all this has spawned quite an interesting Diplomacy variant. This article is meant as an introduction to the Survive Diplomacy variant. If you want to learn of the background of the Survivor concept, read on. Otherwise skip directly to the discussion about the rules, and don’t worry if you don’t understand the jokes. Now, love or hate the TV show Survivor, you have to admit that when played well there is a fair amount of diplomacy involved. Anyone who reads posts on r.g.d. during the run of the show can attest to that. It’s all about eliminating your enemies and keeping yourself alive, even if it means stabbing your friends. Sound familiar? I did not watch the first season save for thirty minutes of the final episode.
For the last challenge, right before the penultimate vote, three contestants were required to hold onto a totem pole structure. Last one holding onto this pole received immunity for the next vote. Imagine my surprise when one of these contestants let go of the pole a mere hour into the challenge! Once I figured out why, I became impressed with the diplomatic nature of the show. Allow me to explain this in more detail. The three contestants at this point were: Rudy: A well-loved guy who would easily have won the final vote against anyone. Meaning he has a giant bullseye on his back that screams out "knife goes here". Kelly: She was not loved, nor hated in general, and had the best chance of winning the log challenge. Richard: AKA "The Rat". Hated by all, but his diplomacy skills are far above average, even among us Dippers. You see, Richard knew that if he let go of the log early, he was still safe from being voted off. Rudy would have voted Kelly, and Kelly would have voted Rudy. Both Kelly and Rudy wanted to go into the final two against Richard in the hope the jury would vote against Rich and for them. I was greatly impressed with Richard’s ability to size up this situation and manipulate the other contestants, right up until the very end. Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you probably know Richard won the first Survivor.
(For completeness I suppose I must discuss the second Survivor, which I did watch. All I can say is there was no diplomacy involved in this one at all. No strategy at all by any of the players, regardless of the millions and millions of times Tina said that word. When faced with an opportunity to most likely win, care-bear "Oedipus” Colby voted with his heart instead of his dagger. When the time came for Amber to assert her individuality and cleverness by switching sides, she stayed on her sinking boat blissfully unaware of rising waters. Also, I work at a gas station, and we can’t give away copies of the "Jerri" Playboy magazine. ‘Nuff said.
Once Survivor 2 finished, I imagined if I could incorporate the concept of "voting someone off the island" to Diplomacy. Thus, I invented the basic set of rules for Survive Diplomacy that are still used now. The entire rule document can be found here at the Survive Dip website. There aren’t many rules, and they can be summed up in three simple sentences: Every second year, during adjustments, the players of the game vote out one other player. The number of votes each power has to cast is the number of SCs they own. The player voted out NMRs the rest of the game.
This is basically all there is. The only other major thing you will find in the official rules is the definition of "NMR" and how to deal with tie votes. I had briefly considered to have "immunity" and other challenges in the rules, but I rejected those ideas for the sake of simplicity. It may also have added a randomness to the rules that most of us would hate.
On how to play this variant, Bill Cook of the very first Survive game summed it up quite well in his EOG: "The early negotiations surprised me. From what I read, I was playing a different game from everybody else. They were all playing Diplomacy, with some weird Survivor rules thrown in. I was playing Survivor, with Diplomacy used to allocated votes. Everybody was negotiating early moves, DMZ's and what not, and I wanted to talk about long term voting alliances." This cannot be stressed enough – whereas Diplomacy is a game where the diplomatic and strategic considerations drive the tactical, where the game is won, in Survive the tactical and diplomatic considerations drive the strategic, where the game is won. While it is important to get DMZs, neutrals and whatnot, as Mr. Cook says, you need to address voting alliances first. It helps if you are in an alliance that owns a majority number of SCs, obviously. But here is where the complexity and beauty of Survive Dip lies. Who is it good to vote against? If you are Russia, diplomacy will dictate whether to move against Turkey, but either way, is it a good idea to vote against Turkey? Or France? Or Italy? Unlike regular Diplomacy, where more often than not, it is a good idea for Italy and Austria to ally, there will never be a similar "common sense" alliance in Survive Dip. Votes know no boundaries. When it comes time to vote, the entire board does not separate England and Turkey, they have a profound impact on the outcome of each others game. To do well, a player must be aware of what all players on the board are doing. There is no need to discuss long-term battle plans against another power if you can manage to get them voted off.
The power in Survive Dip does not lie solely in board strength, it lies mainly in your political prowess. Okay, so you have a group of powers that promise to vote with you. Things are looking good! But then another aspect of Survive Dip rears its ugly head – RAMPANT PARANOIA. A big stab in standard is two or three SCs. Even then, you can always fight back, or throw your SCs to another power to spite your stabber. But what if your allies could stab you out of the game in one swift, decisive and efficient move? It is a most unsettling feeling that cannot be expressed in words. There is no ‘on-board’ evidence indicating an impeding vote against you. The vote is numerically dictated by the size of the participants, but how they will vote has no precursors. And thus in Survive Dip, your paranoia can make you change sides and philosophies many times within a single phase. And in the end, no matter how confident you are, there is always that chance the master will call your name when it’s time to leave… The pace of this variant is very fast. If you manage to make it that long, a standard game can reach end-game in 4 to 8 years. This catches most people completely off guard. Typically the vote in 1906 has two giant powers and one middle-sized power remaining. The middle-sized power is the Richard discussed above: he is unlikely to be voted out. He is generally the kingmaker, and in the position of most power. The common scenario is that the middle power chooses which of the giant powers is voted off, and races to beat the remaining power to a majority SC count. A sound strategy in Survivor, which is incomprehensible in standard Dip is to arrange to be the middle power in 1906. The larger powers must then balance whether to support you. This generally takes the form of them trying to become the middle power themselves, or at least presenting a case which makes them appear as the simpler power to fight when the battle becomes a two way battle following the vote. You cannot do well by racing to grab as many SCs as you possibly can, unless you can be assured of controlling the next vote. You need to find a balance between gaining strength, and avoiding unwanted attention. This is where most of the criticism of this variant is focused on. Why play a game where third place gets you a gold medal? I believe this criticism is misplaced. Survive Dip is not standard. In standard, the goal is to get 18 centers; in Survive the goal is to *ahem* survive. If your strategy is to race to 18 centers and hope not to get voted out, you are playing the wrong game. Your strategy must allow you to survive all the opponents; that is the winning condition. While getting to 18 centers is a means to win, it is not the only means to win, and not to be pursued to the exclusion of other considerations.
Standard is a game where tactics ultimately determine the winner, and diplomacy and long term strategy is used as a means to strengthen those tactics. Survive is the opposite. Long term strategy, using diplomacy and tactics as inputs determines the winner. Your orders are used help strengthen your long term strategy, and strengthen you diplomatically. Your diplomacy is essential in carrying the voting. The nature of the beast has been radically changed. Lessons you’ve learned in standard may no longer apply.
On the other side of the coin, Italy and Russia are getting leery of Austria’s intentions, and finally decide to vote out Austria instead of deal with the risk of keeping him alive. Events like these are part of the growing pains of Survive Dip. In the example, instead of the dominant IAR defeating their enemies, the entire alliance collapses under its own growing paranoia. A good analogy of this is a rolling snowball. It begins small, rolling down a hill, but it gets bigger and bigger until it is destructive. Fortunately there is a cure, but you must first shed another instinct learned from standard – you do not necessarily need a neighbor as an ally. Think about who is the "white stuff" in these alliances: EFG? Germany. IRT? Turkey. FIA? Italy. Notice how all these triples are based on neighbors. Now try to tell me who is the "white stuff" in an ETF alliance, or GIR. Not so easy this time. These "unnatural" triples are immune to the early stages of paranoia that claim many of the normal triple alliances because no power is sandwiched directly between any other. The natural instinct of diplomacy players is to strike deals with one neighbor against another (to help strengthen your tactics). This is great for standard, but can lead to death in Survive. All players are equidistant when it comes time to vote. You must gain friends anywhere you can get them. (Unless you are so naturally paranoid you ask, "now why are these guys wanting to ally with me?")
I have created Survive5 and Survive6 on USIN, WGP-, 48 hours. As soon as I notice this article is published, I will set them list. Feel free to email myself or John Pitre (email@example.com) and we will most likely be happy to create any other game for you.
So go out and play Survive Diplomacy! Just don’t expect Mark Burnett to save you by snagging your can of rice on a twig for you to find.
DIPLOMACY copyright Hasbro Inc.
The Ancient Mediterranean map and rule variations copyright Don Hessong
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