by Eric Hunter and David Cohen

Frontline is a new column which will look at different contentious issues in Diplomacy, and attempt to examine both sides of the question.

The first topic to be featured is that of draw-whittling: the practice of deliberately eliminating one or more Great Powers from a DIAS game that (i) has lost diplomatic and tactical fluidity, and (ii) seems likely to end in a draw; so as to reduce the number of players included in the draw at the end.

In another article in this issue, Edi Birsan discusses the diplomatic consequences and possibilities of draw-whittling attitudes. However, that doesn't address the 'ethical' (for want of a better word!) aspects of the matter. Is draw-whittling a legitimate approach to Diplomacy that arises naturally from the stated objectives of the game; or is it unnecessary and vindictive?

Below, Eric Hunter (pro) and David Cohen (con) present two very different philosophies on this question.


A Modest Proposal
In Favor of Draw-Whittling


Against Draw-Whittling,
or "Live and Let Live"

Is draw-whittling a good idea, or a pointless waste of time? Obviously it is not something that should ALWAYS be done, or small Powers would have no reason to work with a Stop-the-Leader Alliance to prevent a Solo; but on the whole, it is a device to keep the end-game dynamic and interesting when games might otherwise end as soon as one Power has established a secure base of Centers, and a lead in Center-Count that cannot be easily overcome.

Why is draw-whittling a legitimate course of action?

  1. For each player, the game has three end-states: Solo, Draw, and Loss.

  2. A Solo is the "Object of the Game", so it therefore clearly has value.

  3. A Draw is defined as a secondary objective in these terms, "players can end the game by agreement before a winner is determined. In this case, all players who still have pieces on the board share equally in the draw."

Therefore, a draw also has some value which is shared among the survivors. So, the more survivors, the smaller each one's share will be. In a two-way, five people have lost, and the reward is split two ways. In a five-way, only two people have lost, and that (theoretically smaller) reward is split five ways; so a two-way is clearly better than a five-way.

My primary objective is to Solo, and hence defeat my six opponents. If circumstances require that I accept a draw instead, I still prefer to cause as many of my opponents to lose as possible, so the smaller the draw, the better. Is a two-way "worth more" than a five-way? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Is it better to defeat five opponents than just two? Clearly yes, in my view. Finally, if a large draw is just as good as a small draw, then the most rational course to take is to vote for a seven-way in 1901, and avoid the possible loss, is it not?

Additionally, if you are the largest Power in a possible Draw, encouraging whittling, and simultaneously warning the smaller Powers that they are going to be whittled can entice one of them to help you cross the stalemate-line and get the Solo that a large Draw would have stopped.

Who should be eliminated from a draw, if whittling is engaged in? This is very definitely a judgment call. A knowledge of stalemate lines is crucial (, as is a psychological assessment of the target. Will he threaten to throw the Solo to avoid being whittled? How quickly will he act on that threat, if he makes it? If his Centers are taken, can his place in the line be filled by new builds before the largest Power breaks through the line? Remember, even if you believe that a small Draw is better than a large Draw, a large Draw is still better than a loss.

Given the approved definition of draw-whittling, let us presume a "pure" scenario. In a non-tournament game, in Winter 1914, a sixteen dot Germany — safely ensconced behind one of the usual Gibraltar to St. Petersburg stalemate lines — is facing a couple of well positioned Mediterranean Powers who have made it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no intention of turning on each other, and the front is completely locked up. Also present, and bottled up by German Armies in Liverpool and Yorkshire, is an English Army in Edinburgh. The English have recently been taken over by a replacement player, previously unknown to the German, so there is no in-game or outside reservoir of either good or ill will. The other three players have stated that they would be willing to enter into a DIAS, and a proposal for a four way DIAS has been made. The question for the German is whether it "should" be a three way draw or a four way draw.

The object of the game is to win. There is no chance for a win in this game for Germany. Given that there are no other in-game motivations, such as revenge, it seems better for Germany to end the game now, for more than one reason.

First, to move on now would get the German player more quickly into a new game, with a chance to win, and the new game will also likely be tactically fluid, and thus more enjoyable than playing out Spring 1914 and Fall 1914 in a robotic campaign to take Edinburgh. This rationale applies to both "normal" and gunboat Diplomacy.

The second reason, applicable only in non-gunboat situations, is more important, this being positive metagaming consequences. The "mercy" shown to the English player may engender good will in all the other Powers, and the quicker end will also free up the other players to more quickly join new, tactically fluid and, presumably, more enjoyable games.

Eric and David
c/o The Editor

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