by Edi Birsan

When I first started to play Diplomacy in the mid 1960’s I was considered one of the champions of the ‘Win Only’ school of play. That philosophy, centered in New York City (…but then again most New Yorkers at the time thought everything was centered in NYC… not that much has changed in the last 40 years) held to the very simple belief:

“Either I win or there is another result.”

Size of draws, or final center count or elimination did not matter. When the game entered its final stages and you had a shot at a win you took it and counted on superior tactical ability alone to carry the day if psychological or ‘diplomatic’ manipulations failed. If you could not win the game yourself then you played for other goals many of which would be in reaction to whomever you felt like annoying the most, or who as a matter projection the person you felt annoyed you the most. When I was on a board with a Draw Whittling enemy then my non- win goals often would be to make the draw as big as possible. Sometimes it was for funny situations with for me there was always the fall back of trying to get a unit to EDInburgh especially when playing Austria, Italy or Turkey.

The Win Only school’s diametric opposed philosophy was the ‘No Lose’ or ‘Draw’ philosophy which held that it was better to be in a draw than die and that amongst draws the smallest number of people in the draw (regardless of supply centers) was better so that a 2 way draw was the ideal result but realistically the Draw players had (quite correctly) little belief in the tactical stability of a 2 way draw and the result was that 3 way draws became a major goal. If you have any doubt of the belief that 2 way draws are highly rare and tactically stable let me give you some personal experience: in 42 years of play I have been in exactly ONE real two way draw ending in a 17-17 stalemate line and that was with Tom Kobrin back in the 90’s. All the other 2 way draws- postal or in person or in tournament- were diplomatic expressions not a representation of tactical reality.

In the process of getting to the smallest number of members in a draw, often the game would wind up in the tactical position of two power blocks. The ideal situation for the Win Only school was where there was just you on one side and a bunch of people on the other side with one major power and several little powers; for example 15-10-3-3-2-1. Then you would champion the Draw Whittling position to the other major power to encourage him to cut out his partners. You then go to the minor powers and tell them the truth that their buddy wants to cut them out of the draw and that they are going to die. For draw players the worst thing in the world is to die in a game that ends in a draw without them. Many will even express the view that if they are going to die they would rather die in a game that is won by someone than one that is a draw. What you want to do as the Win Only guy is to elevate the self image of the little powers from that of a target of Draw Whittling to that of Kingmaker and maybe survivor: their major ally is going to betray them and kill them, while you just want to ‘beat’ his betrayer (do not use the word ‘win’ as for some people it is a negative connotation and even if they know what you mean by ‘beat’ it sounds so much more vengeful and satisfying to someone who is about to be a victim of heartless betrayal). Sometimes you can guarantee survival other times realistically you cannot and be up front about it: when people face elimination at the hand of their former allies they are often very astute when looking at a firing squad with clarity that prior illusions held them from seeing.

Now if the first target of the Draw Whittling does not come over to your side and often they are the first that are disillusioned with the game and so do not care, then you go to the next power in line and say “see what just happened?” You then try again always portraying his major ally as the Draw Whittler and making it clear that your priorities are number one to do better than the big power on his side that is the hideous joy killer and treasonous ally, pagan dog, heathen savage and ignoble excuse of a major power (remember that you have to do this without making it feel you are personally after the other player while making it clear that his major ally is putting his game result far ahead of any emotional attachment he has to the victim who is always a person in your view.) After all you will not ask a player of a small power (*do not use the word weak as it sets people off) to play a game for hours more just so he can be betrayed at the end and eliminated so as to get the game from a 5 way draw to a 4 way draw.

So from a Win Only point of view you want your largest opponent to always be from the Draw Whittling School and for that to be very clear to everyone who allies with the power.

Edi Birsan

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.