If like me you grew up on Michael Green's "The Art of Coarse Acting", "The Art of Coarse Fishing", and "The Art of Coarse Golf" to name but a few of his popular books, you will know what it is to be coarse.
The coarse golfer is one who can play 19 holes without ever troubling the fairway. The coarse sportsman is the one whose performance on the field is entirely constructed in the bar after the game. The coarse actor is the third citizen stealing the scene with loud shouts of "Lend him our ears, very good, very good," during Marc Antony's oration.
Michael Green's popular series set out a philosophy of the Coarse fellow for whom success is measured not by how well you do, but how well you draw attention to yourself, how much notice you attract along the way. While the handicap golfer steams down the fairway, avoiding the rough, the coarse golfer is the one whose entire career is spent in the rough, and what a jolly sight more interesting a place it is too!
Michael Green never wrote a book called "The Art of Coarse Diplomacy", but he should have; and, had he played the game, he surely would have. The time is long overdue for this masterpiece; but, unfortunately, being a coarse fellow myself I don't have the time or talent to write the book myself. So I offer instead these thoughts, so that some writer worthier than I will take up the pen in this cause. Of course, if they ever do, I will immediately complain, sue the pants off them for breach of copyright, and claim their work as my own. That is the way of the coarse!
The coarse Diplomat, then, is the chap at the end of the bar boasting about how he stabbed everyone else in alphabetical order. He's the chap who gave all his units hold orders in 1901 because he submitted orders for the wrong country, and then claimed it was all because he was afraid of "Early Leader Syndrome". He's the chap who loudly says he prefers variants. He claims it's because they are better balanced, but actually it's because he's never won a standard game. He's the chap who ordered Warsaw to Sevastopol and is genuinely surprised that it didn't work. He's the chap who claims he knew Calhamer, and that in the original version of the game, Warsaw and Sevastopol are next to each other.
Michael Green's anti-hero's side-kick is a chap called Askew, and it just so happens that I know a chap called Askew too. No, honest, I do! A few years ago he signed up for a game of e-mail Diplomacy I was GMing. Everyone sent in their preferences, although he did not specify any power — "anything will be OK" he wrote. I duly posted a list of power assignments and Askew drew England. Within a few days he wrote back saying what a bloody awful power England was, and how he couldn't possibly play such a colonial imperialist power — it was bad enough he had to live on the godforsaken island, now he had to play it too!
I posted the group and asked if anyone cared to swop with him. The crafty Italian player, Kevin jumped at the chance, new power assignments were posted, a deadline set and prelims started to trickle in. A few days before deadline, his were the only orders I had yet to receive. I e-mailed him about four times in a 48 hour period and received no reply. Players started telling me how silent the Italian was. On deadline he duly NMRed. I posted a 48 hour grace notice, and when that expired without a word, I replaced him, and assigned a new deadline. By return of e-mail came a reply. What did he care? He was so darn busy, too busy for a silly game?
The first rule of Coarse Diplomacy then is always to NMR in Spring 1901.
You can NMR in other seasons too, preferably as many as you can; but nothing is quite so sweet as NMRing in the virginal Spring. Opening moves are so boring, so predictable, aren't they? The Italian will Lepanto, ho-hum, while Russia and Turkey bounce in the Black Sea, and France and Germany bounce in Burgundy. There goes the Russian, steaming towards Sweden; and oh look, what a surprise, the English are setting up a convoy to Norway. For the coarse Diplomat this is all very tedious. And all those boring emails in which players waste their bandwidth on long explanations about how they favour a central alliance, but they've played against this player before and on balance, maybe it would be best to ally with England.
And what about the ones who role-play, you know, the overly formal epistle from Arch-Duke Archibald III in which he talks about palace life and promises to send his Janissaries to your assistance. Janissaries? Too awful to contemplate! Then there's the chap whose English is not too good — although it seems a great deal better than most of the English-speakers in the game. Too tedious to reply.
Anyway, if you communicate with other players you give your game plan away, don't you? Bound to, and anyway most of the others have already told you who you're allied to, so there's not much point in actually writing. Suspense, mystery, yes, that's the way!
In the face-to-face game it is rather more difficult to avoid at least a passing word with at least one other player; but even here, the coarse Diplomat is able to avoid negotiations skilfully. A mystery disease can both garner sympathy and keep one from the room during tedious negotiations. And what cad would stab a terminally ill man?
The second rule of Coarse Diplomacy is never to speak to any of the other players unless it is to deliver an insult!
The rule book defines a win as a solo victory. Solos are not easy to come by; and for many players forcing the draw, or topping the board become realisable game aims. Not for the Coarse Diplomat. What makes Diplomacy so different from other games is the ability to say one thing and do another. Let's face it, the stab is what really makes Diplomacy different, and for the Coarse Diplomat, enjoyable.
The third rule of Coarse Diplomacy is that the aim of the game is to stab as many people as you can during your inevitably brief stay in the game!
Some start with their neighbours, others prefer to leave them till last. Askew, whose progress I have been following all these years, when he does bother to turn in a set of orders follows a rather simple rule of thumb when it comes to choosing a victim to stab. He works his way through the alphabet. At first I couldn't work it out, his stabs seemed utterly random. It wasn't based on AEFGIRT, or on first names. At one point I thought it might be based on numbers, how many dots each player had; but at last I got it. Askew was stabbing people based on the names of the Openings they played. He tended to work A-Z so French players playing the Atlantic Openings tended to get hammered.
Now, this approach presents a few problems of course. If you are playing England and the French open with the Atlantic, well and good, easy to stab. But what if it's the Turk who trumps the Frenchman by opening with the Astonishingly Arrogant Ankaran Assault Opening? Not too easy for the English to stab the Turk before being eliminated from all those NMRs. For mere mortals not too easy, but for the coarse Diplomat not a problem at all. How does he do it? Well, the key to understanding how it's done is to appreciate that for the coarse Diplomat, the stab is not confined to the board at all! Indeed, while most players try to keep what happens on the board separate from real life, the coarse Diplomat seeks to do the opposite.
For example, our friend Askew would find no difficulty stabbing the Turkish player from his base in the Irish Sea. It would not take a complicated chain of negotiations to achieve the stab either, a simple drawing pin left casually on a seat, or a clumsy spillage of boiling hot coffee into the lap during a delicate stage in negotiations would suffice. I'm not saying Askew would go so far as to sleep with the wife of an adversary over the board — that would require charm and personality, of which Askew has neither — but he would certainly not be above announcing to the world that he had.
The fourth rule of Coarse Diplomacy is that there is no difference between real life and Diplomacy.
This rule leads us inevitably to the last rule of the coarse Diplomat, as day follows night, or as the words "It'll never happen again, your honour" follow a night of revelry in a public place.
It follows that if real life and a board game cannot be distinguished, that the coarse Diplomat has mastered the art of holding a grudge. While most of us feel slightly upset if a fellow has promised to support us into Munich and then fails to do so, a few hours and several beers later we are the best of mates again. Not so for the coarse Diplomat; a single mis-order may lead to a vendetta, a faribel pursued with an energy and single-mindedness that would put the Count of Monte Cristo to shame.
Askew once asked me to support him into Tunis. It was the end of a long game, and I was in a position to take Tunis myself, and thereby win the game. I told him this, but he insisted that it would be better if I supported him in. I refused, and he began to keep up such a barrage of words that eventually, to keep him quiet, I agreed. Of course I had no reason to do so, and no intention either. I seldom win a game these days, and this was too good an opportunity.
When the orders were read out, Askew fixed me with a withering stare. In that moment I realised…
The fifth rule of Coarse Diplomacy is that Revenge is a dish best served, hot or cold, it makes no difference, but served off the Diplomacy board.
The whole of the rest of that evening I was aware of Askew's eyes following me round the room. I felt like a condemned man. Where and when would the axe fall? How would Askew exact his revenge? By the end of the evening I was a nervous wreck. It was only as I said my goodbyes and turned for a final wave around the room before hurrying off to catch the last bus home that I realised Askew was smiling at me beatifically. How and when he exacted his revenge I do not know, but I knew that somehow he had, and all these years that thought has haunted me.
So, if you're out there, Askew, reading this by any chance: please, please, put my heart at rest and let me know what it was that you did to get back at me! As I write these words a horrible thought comes to me. Perhaps Askew did nothing, nothing whatsoever, knowing that his smile alone would make me think that he had, and thus rob me of my peace forever!
No, surely not, surely… no-one could be so Machiavellian, surely?
Not even in Diplomacy!
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