In its premiere issue, The Diplomatic Pouch Zine carried an article on two particular Diplomacy playing styles, named Care Bear and Cut-Throat. Care Bear sounds like the strategy players typically (and naïvely) use in their first few games (how few depends on their intelligence quotient). I don't know that I have ever played with anyone that used the Cut Throat strategy. I propose to introduce a third strategy called True Blue; a strategy which I feel is a valid long term strategy (as opposed to the two others).
A little background is perhaps in order. I am not some great diplomacy "star" who ranks high in the standings. As far as email diplomacy I have helped out taking over a few losing positions, tried out a few weird variants, and have shared in a recent three way draw. Before that I played ftf regularly in high school and college. I spend most of my time working and taking care of my family, so I don't have all that much time to play, but I do teach a class on the game at our home school support group. A note on scope is also useful. I do not intend for this strategy to be guaranteed useful for any particular variant of Diplomacy, most particularly the internet variant gunboat. It is intended only for Standard Diplomacy, either ftf or email.
"True Blue" implies integrity and strength, and that is exactly the qualities that it rewards. To use the True Blue strategy in diplomacy one must live by the dual maxims "peace through strength" and "If I say it, I mean it."
Note that this strategy says nothing at all about the nature of any alliances that you form. It does not imply that when you go to an alliance it is "till death do us part." An alliance is not a marriage; it is a banding together of exclusive self-interests for a common goal. Alliance should be viewed, in the True Blue Strategy, as running the gamut from "Let us agree on this one thing this turn" to "If we do not all hang together we shall most assuredly all hang separately." A player playing True Blue should let the circumstances entirely dictate the nature of the alliance. Nor does this strategy imply anything at all in the nature of trust level. Being trustworthy does not imply being naïve or trusting. At every turn a player must always ask himself, "How can my allies and my enemies destroy me this turn?" A True Blue will make all the necessary arrangements to prevent any such attacks.
What True Blue does imply is that when one says something, one means it and one does it. Thus, a player must be very careful what he says. He must also be very careful what position he puts himself into in the alliance. There can never be anyone else that is able to speak for you. A True Blue can only "stab" in the sense of "not doing what his ally (or for that matter, his enemy) expected him to do," never in the sense of doing what he expressly said he would not do.
So, given this enormous (as it must seem to most players) limitation, where is the payoff? How can someone win the game if he is deprived of the massive stab that is part of victory? My answer is "reputation." The reputation that one gets from acting in this way is worth more (in my opinion) than the gains one gets from "the big stab." Let me give you a couple of examples: Let us assume that there is a game going on including (but not limited to) Vaughn (the True Blue player), Mike (an ordinary player), and... ummm... we'll pull a name out of a hat and call the other player Dan (an expert in misinformation and the big stab). The game is, of course, a Standard (non-gunboat game) and all of the players have played each other before. Each respects the other and there is no particular binding friendship or lasting emnity between any of them.
So. Given these examples, where is the payoff for the True Blue player over and against the standard player ? In each of the cases above, Mike will be asking himself, "Who can I trust?" In each case, if the True Blue player has been true to his strategy, the obvious answer will be Vaughn. Whether it is a question of a "false start" (getting an opponent to go out on a limb right in the beginning of the game and thus destroying his diplomatic options), a question of information, or those "make or break" moves that come throughout the game, in each case the issue of trust comes to the fore. In each of these situations the True Blue player enters with an advantage against someone with a "tainted" reputation.
If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.