First Games

by Edi Birsan

So you have your new game, and the time comes to get some friends together so that you can lie to them, stab them in the back and take their centers. Or, in Diplomacy speak:

"Correct the misunderstanding of the agreed relationships between the countries and establish defendable and stable borders."

There are a few basic things that you may need to consider:

  1. How to set up the game structure to meet some simple social requirements
  2. How to learn the game quickly yourself
  3. How to be able to teach the game to your friends simply

Set Up: Timing

Diplomacy games have been known to take a long time from a board gamer's perspective. The way to avoid the problem is to set a short time limit for your first games. I have found that 10 minutes to negotiate and 2 minutes to write orders is the best to start with. You will find that new players cannot talk about their positions for ten minutes, while experienced players can talk forever. Invest in a timer if you do not already have one in the kitchen. You can get these for about ten dollars at a Radio Shack type place.

Set Up: Fewer Than Seven Players

The true beauty of Diplomacy is experienced with seven players. However that is often not always possible. There is a simple variant system called Escalation, which will allow you to play the game in a balanced manner with fewer than seven players. It is also the best way for two players to practice their fundamental tactical skills with a strong emphasis on strategic thinking. There is also the Chaos Italy Variant, which is a lot of fun when you only have six players. Both these variants are available through this website.

Set Up: Read the Newbie First

Establish a pattern that when you have new players, you always read their orders first, so you can correct their orders in a positive social setting without having a lot of information out there from orders aleady read that could affect their memory of the 'intention' of their poor orders.

This is also one of the reasons that when there are two new players I recommend that they be placed in France and Turkey, so as to have as little cross effect as possible. Also, both those countries are more forgiving of poor tactical choices than any of the inner three powers (Austria-Italy-Germany).


The rules, as written, had a little too much input from a tech writer spending a lot of time and print in dealing with exceptional situations. There is a single-page DipTeach.doc that covers all the rules that you need to get going. It is also a good handy guide to have in your set to hand out to new players when you teach them the game.

The most common errors people make are:

  1. Writing a support for a unit that is moving, but failing to write WHERE it is going. For example, somebody trying to support an army moving from Paris into Marseilles might write:

    Army Mareilles Support Paris, Army Paris -> Burgundy.

    This is incorrect, and the Army Marseilles order is wasted. You need to write where the unit is going, because it could go to different places, as well as to make sure that you are not trying to support the unit to defend (not moving).

    Army Mareilles Support Paris -> Burgundy, Army Paris -> Burgundy

  2. Forgetting that you cannot cut support for an attack on yourself. For example:

    France:Army Spain -> Marseilles
    Italy: Army Gascony -> Spain,
    Army Marseilles Support Gascony -> Spain

    Here France is trying to cut the support for the attack on Spain; but because that support is directed against Spain, a unit in Spain cannot cut it. This rule applies even when there are extra supports on both sides; so if you add Army Burgundy Supports Spain -> Marseilles on one side and Army Piedmont Support Marseilles on the other, the situation is still the same. The French attack on Marseilles fails (French Armies Burgundy and Spain only tie against the Italian defense of Armies Piedmont and Marseilles), so Army Marseilles' support for the attack on Spain is not cut. Marseilles is not dislodged, and Spain is.

  3. Forgetting to write the convoy order correctly. They will order Fleet North Sea to convoy Army Edi to Norway, but forget to write the order for the Army. Or they will write "Army Edi to Norway" and forget to write the order for the Fleet, or write something like "Fleet North Sea convoys" but not say what unit it convoys.

  4. Geography/province connections. You can go from Norway to St. Petersburg; you cannot go from Spain to North Africa; you have to designate the coasts when moving Fleets to Spain from Mid or Portugal, as well as to Bulgaria from Constantinople.

All these points are covered in the teaching script and video downloads described in the next section.


The time will come when you will have to teach someone the rules to the game. This can be quite a problem, and a boring exercise for many people on both sides. It also can be rather embarrassing at times when new people ask questions out of the blue in the middle of your thinking, and you are stunned a little. The most important thing about teaching is to get through the basics, and let the more subtle issues come later. People have to start to play quickly, or they lose interest or feel the game is too complicated. The worst case is that you have the person thinking that this is a game for rule lawyers. This game is really VERY SIMPLE. In line with that, three approaches have been developed over the decades (really, after 45 years of teaching, Diplomacy isn't that scary!):

  1. The DipTeach.doc single-sheet summary of the rules: You should have this printed out and in your set, so you can hand it to someone new as a reminder. If you are really clever, go to the copy machine and copy a conference map on the other side!

  2. The A Dip Teaching Script.doc teaching script: This is presented as a word-for-word script for you to use exactly as a 7-9 minute speech to teach! It covers all the most classic errors in the course of a normal discussion of examples, and has some humor tossed in to keep people awake.

  3. For the modern era, there is a series of YouTube videos that teach the game in 4 short downloads or clips that total about 7-9 minutes with the wonder'r'us Brooklyn tones of yours truly giving the script. So you can have your new players simply go to this YouTube video listing, and have them listen to it in the privacy of their own homes.

So there you have it — the getting started quickly guide for your own home entertainment social group. Getting started into the hobby mainstream of Email games, Face-to-Face tournaments, and world class play — that is for another time and another article.

Any Questions? There will be a test at your next house game!

Feel free to write to me at:

Edi Birsan

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