How I Became a Diplomacy Addict

by James O'Fee

Part 1: My First game of Diplomacy

Diplomacy Map
Much of life is a series of accidents. Indeed it was through a series of accidents that I entered the Diplomacy and Postal Games hobby.

Perhaps it was at University that I saw, or was shown, an article in one of Sunday 'heavy' newspapers about the novel fad of the game of Diplomacy. Students, male and female, so the article ran, were gathering in private houses to play this new American game of persuasion and skill.

Well my exposure was something like that, except there were no pretty females involved such as those pictured in the newspaper article. A friend, Eric Wilton, invited me to spend a Saturday afternoon playing the game.

Mike Gibson
Eric was Jewish, from North London, and I got to know Eric quite well. After Uni I visited him in London and we went to the England-Ireland Rugby International played at Twickenham. Ireland enjoyed one of their rare victories with Mike Gibson, as I remember, scoring a wonderful try. Afterwards we lost touch. Eric wanted to become a stockbroker in the USA and make a lot of money. I wonder if he achieved this ambition.

This was Sussex University about 1970. We gathered in a house in Brighton close to the sea. Few of us had any idea of the idea of the rules, so someone needed to explain the outline of the game to us before we started. Perhaps there were 7 of us, I couldn't be sure.

I drew Italy. Not a great country, I learned later, if you want to achieve an outright win, but enjoying a solid early defensive position.

We're told that stock markets are driven by the two forces of greed and fear. The game of Diplomacy is much like that. What I remember of my first game is mainly confusion. I had no idea what to do, but the Italian supply centre of Venice adjoins the Austrian sc of Trieste (the only example on the board where different players have adjoining home supply centres).

Greed impelled me to attack Trieste from Venice. Now I realise that, if Italy really wishes to attack Austria, the Tyrol Attack is more effective, sending the Venice army into Tyrol and the Rome army to Venice. That way, Italy can normally count on eventually gaining Trieste if he persists with the plan.

I've suffered playing with Austria face to face. That task is indeed a challenging one. To survive, Austria needs to be diploming actively from the start with Russia, Turkey and Italy. If a hostile army invades either Tyrol or Galicia, or both, that normally means an early bath for the Habsburg. A benevolent Germany can help. Indeed, as Germany, I'd consider placing my Munich army at Austria's disposal in 1901.

Later still I became convinced that attacking Austria is not Italy's best plan if he wants to win. An early collapse of Austria — as seen in all too many games — strengthens Russia and particularly Turkey too much.

Edi Birsan
Today my first choice as Italy would be an attack on Turkey — the Lepanto strategy devised by Edi Birsan. A Lepanto doesn't yield gains so early as the attack on Austria but, with Turkey eliminated, Italy can in greater safety turn to the West. In order to win, Italy needs to push his fleets into the Atlanic in the middle game, although he still needs some strokes of good fortune to win.

Of course we had to abandon the game before an outright winner had emerged. I rather feel that I had not been eliminated by the end. I hadn't understood my first game, but it had intrigued me. Yet it was to be several years before I encountered the game of Diplomacy again.

James O'Fee is a former Irish Diplomacy Champion, which title he won at a convention at Trinity College, Dublin, in Easter of 1979. His prize was a copy of Richard Sharp's The Game of Diplomacy, which he still treasures to this day. He was an active postal player in the late 1970s and early 80s, and reportedly became the first player to win with each of the 7 countries in the British and European postal hobby. This article is reprinted from his own blog at with permission.
James O'Fee

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