by Conor Kostick

The 2011-12 cycle of the national Diplomacy championships has just concluded, with Ireland finishing top despite the opposition of strong teams from France, Italy, and the USA.

National teams of seven compete every two years for the title of world champions. The tournament is played online and has a qualifying phase and a final.

Ireland qualified out of their group in second place, behind New Zealand, but went on to dominate the final, winning three of the seven boards.

The Irish players were:

  • Aidan Duggan (Captain), a software developer in Dublin working for a leading provider of financial software. In his spare time he plays as many games he has time for, from boardgames and cardgames to roleplaying games and rugby.
  • Rick Powell, an IT project manager for a worldwide retailer.
  • Brian Dennehy, a Software Development manager for a large online retailer.
  • Conor Kostick (Vice-Captain), an author and lecturer in medieval history at TCD.
  • Nigel Phillips, a former archaeologist now working as Director of Planning and information at the University of Huddersfield. He is a keen sword and country dancer.
  • Mike Cosgrave, who lectures in history and international relations at UCC. He is co-ordinator for the new MA programmes in War Studies (online) and Digital Arts and Humanities. He blogs at
  • Cian Ó Rathaille, Science Communicator and Co-founder of Fusion Factory.
  • Liam O’Tailliuir (sub), a Telecoms Engineer from Dublin. His part time pursuits include teaching Water Safety and hosting a weekly podcast on gaming in Ireland (

I suppose the first point worth making concerns the way we organised as a team, which was by consensus, rather than by command. We had an email group for our team chant, and for me this was the best part of the tournament. Diplomacy is normally an individual game, and it was enjoyable to discuss what was happening as a team and get tactical discussions going on the different positions. All relevant inter-team correspondence was posted to all our players, so everyone could see what was going on. Though we played as a team through these discussions, ultimately, the decisions on moves rested with the individual players.

Rather than talk about the tournament board by board, I think it helpful to analyse it by phases, with a focus on the critical issue of Hiberno-French relations.

  1. The opening.

    At the beginning of the final round of the team tournament, there was a lot speculation about which teams were working together. Because Ireland and USA had swapped solos in the qualifying phase, the other teams were on guard against that alliance. But contrary to what most players think happened in this tournament, there was no USA-Ireland communication at all at this stage. My experience of working with their officers in the previous round was that they would not be happy about some kind of meta-agreement in the abstract. I had played against one of the Rest of the World (ROTW) officers before and respected him as someone who delivered on his agreements, so I offered an agreement with them, but they didn't want to play the meta-game. This is understandable, because it spoils the individual boards. But the aim of this tournament was explicitly to encourage cross-board team play and ultimately I think ROTW missed out on a potential tournament win due to this approach. I also wrote to NZ, mainly because in the qualifying stage there had been some friction between our teams and I wanted to ensure that did not carry on in the final. Then France wrote to me, the only team to approach Ireland for an agreement. With France, I thought it best to play on their — partly realistic — concern that everyone else would gang up against them and with France too, I felt that a deal would be meaningful.

    In general, though, as a team we decided there was no meta-game going on worth worrying about and each played our own opening on its merit, with a slight bias here and there in favour of France (just some swapping of intelligence really) but, again, we were all free to play as we liked and that meant some openings that worked against France. Michael (all seven boards were named after archangels) was one of these. At this time, therefore, I had underestimated the one tangible meta-agreement to have established itself to any extent, which was USA-Italy (although this seems to have only affected a couple of boards).

  2. After Selaphiel showed the potential for a French solo.

    Around about year 1904 (all games ended 1911), Italy allowed France to obtain a position on Selaphiel that meant France could solo the board whenever they chose. Naturally, this meant France was now the enemy. Ireland carried on a meta-diplomacy with France, but the correspondence was nearly all froth on both sides and no substance. I used the Stabbeurfou interface to write to all the other officers to stop the solo while it was still possible to do so and our players proposed moves that might have stopped it. There was, to my mind, a surprising lack of response and we were particularly disappointed when the Argentinean player gave up. Why would anyone believe the promise of a player that he will not take a solo? Even if in the past, under certain circumstances, that player has refused a possible solo, you simply can't allow them the option.

    Now, due to the huge bonus for a solo, the only way to win was to swap solos with another team. For Ireland this was a possibility with only two teams, ROTW and USA. ROTW declined, USA said 'yes'. The swap agreed was for Ireland (Rick Powell) to solo his board, Balachiel, and USA to get Jugudiel, but while the agreement saw USA and Ireland suddenly make rapid progress together on three boards, matters became complicated when USA changed their officers and we began to get contradictory perspectives from the individual USA players. It became clear they were not united and not all playing to the deal. In some ways this suited Ireland, as the original agreement we had thought we had reached was more likely to lead to USA 1, Ireland 2 than the other way around. If the USA had given us a solo on Balachiel, I’d have (probably!) given them one back on Jugudiel and it would have come down to a close finish based on the scores on the other boards. When this negotiation began to break down, the US player on Jugudiel, nevertheless, and reluctantly, allowed me a solo in order that France could be caught.

  3. After the solo on Jugudiel.

    Because France was in such a bad position elsewhere, the main danger to a win for Ireland was now from Italy, especially because a new USA change of direction was attempting to give Italy the tournament victory, and (as France had predicted at one point), we had to re-open negotiations with France, who were playing now for a podium finish. The strange nature of the team game meant that there was even a time when it would have made sense for Ireland to give ROTW a solo on Uriel, just because Italy had a small lead over Ireland on that board, which would have dropped to 0 (no player scores any points if someone on their board solos). While ROTW were not in the running for first, due to poor positions elsewhere.

  4. After Selaphiel could not be soloed by Italy.

    Now, first place was assured for Ireland and there was a sudden flurry of diplomacy in regard to the battle between USA, France, ROTW and Italy for second place. Ireland played a neutral role in this and each player did as they chose. Although Ireland were indebted to USA for the solo on Jugudiel, the diplomats to whom we felt a sense of obligation were no longer in charge of their team. France, on the other hand, having been our main opponents since phase 2, had done us the favour of refusing the plan to make Italy champions. So all in all, we thought it wrong to intervene to tip the balance either way. In the end, USA got second just above France.

For more on Team Ireland's perspective, be sure to check out the interview with Aidan and Conor, which is available as a podcast at the site in the entry of August 15, 2012!

Conor welcomes email comments to kostickc AT!!!

Conor Kostick

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