"And Then the Austrian…":

by Sebastian Beer

Overheard at the last DipCon:

"So, in my game, there was this Austrian, right? In 1902 he attacked Italy… that was the guy, you know… the one without hair… sharing the room with the other guy, the big one… and he was Austria… no, Italy… or was it 1903… well, he kicked him out of Tri, and that's why the German grew big. That was the guy from Belgium. Or Holland? The real Holland, of course, not the one on the board. Because the Austrian retreated to Bud. Budapest. Or was it Vienna? Vienna, yes, because the Russian meanwhile had Turkey… you know… played by the guy who kicked out England together with Germany on my board yesterday. Or no, the Russian… erm… the Turk was France. And Turkey bounced Russia out of Bla. Turkey and Russia were standing in Rum, Gal, Ser, Gre and Boh. And then the Austrian..."

Diplomacy players are a talkative lot — like most people experiencing exciting actions in groups. But even more, they tend to assume, that their personal experiences on their boards are as exciting for the rest of the world as they are for themselves. That might be true for some stories that are really worth telling, but certainly not for any run-of-the-mill game. Nobody tells the story of the soccer game the other day in the park, unless something extraodinary happened ("and then Tommy broke his leg").

Nevertheless, you'll meet them again and again: players who are capable of telling you whole games in broad detail (with the sole exception of the important parts). Even worse: the circumstances under which you have to listen to such tales. After a long evening (and a short night) consuming whatever the bar has to offer, your head already aches without stories like the one above.

But how to avoid annoying your fellow Diplomats with gibberish accounts of Diplomacy games? Here is a checklist of points to remember — they might turn out to be useful at your next Con.

  1. Keep an eye on your conversational partner!

    Acutally, this holds true in every conversation. Keep an eye on how your partner reacts on what you say. Should he seem to be not interested/uneasy/bored, elegantly changing the subject might be a good idea ("Did Bavaria Munich finally win the Chamions League?" "Are you still divorced?" "What do you think about the Pope?" etc.).

    Typical indications for your partner wanting to change subject would be, for example: him yawning, looking away, asking "could you pass me the butter, please?", falling asleep, not answering, twitching, foaming at the mouth, etc.

  2. Be sure you know what you actually want to tell!

    What information do you want to share with your listener? Even accounts or stories consist of information. Decide what you really want to tell, tell it, and wait for your conversational partner to show some interest or change the subject. If he is English, he might be too polite not to show interest; even the slightest sign of boredom counts then. If he is American, he is going to tell you he likes your story anyway. In that case, listening to HOW he tells you that might do the trick.

    You should also consider whether the story is worth telling at all. The mumbo-jumbo above can presumably be reduced to the point: "Austria dislodged Italy in Tri and left another home-center open for retreat". The rest is balderdash. From this point of view, the question arises as to whether the story will be interesting for anyone. It happens quite often that someone accidentally leaves a center open for retreat. If there is nothing else worth telling (for example, the setup involved players on the top board of the WDC), it's better not to relate it — or keep it as short as possible, leaving out all irrelevant information.

  3. Be brief!

    Very simple: avoid unimportant details. Stick to the essential information, explain all the relevant points, and leave it at that. If it is not particularly important who played Austria, well, don't mention it! If the question of who owned Gre at that time is meaningless for your story, leave that out as well.

    !!!It is HOPELESS to describe complex positions without showing them on a board!!!

    I know only a few players who are capable of setting up a virtual board inside their minds and even covering all possible moves (hell, most people I know are having a hard time discovering possible moves when a map is right in front of their noses). Why then do people try and report exact positions in conversation so often? Please, refrain from telling other people the position on your board. Positions that need to be described with more than, let's say, three sentences are not suitable for Con-conversation. And yes, this holds true also when talking about Diplomacy.

  4. Be concrete!

    Any information that survived points 1-3 might be considered worth telling. Be careful though, that you have all the information you want to share at hand. You usually cannot pre-suppose knowledge about yourself, your habits, and the world you live in. Nobody knows what games you are currently playing, your favorite opening with England, or who "whassisname" is.

If you still don't believe me, well, just grab one of your loved ones and read them the first passage of this article. For the real Con-setup, you should provide this person with some high proof alcohol and deprive them of sleep for a few nights beforehand. And wait to see what happens.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the wonderful German-language DipZine "Die tatz" (http://tatz.ludomaniac.de/), and appears here with the kind permission of the author — who even more kindly provided us with a translation.

Sebastian Beer
(s.beer@tu-felix-austria.org )

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